National Liberation Day, or Gwangbokjeol as it is known in South Korea, commemorates the end of Japanese colonial rule at the end of World War II and the establishment of the Republic of Korea.
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The liberation of South Korea from Japanese occupation by the armed forces of the United States and Soviet Union occurred on August 15, 1945. National Liberation Day is observed every year on that historic date with great fanfare and patriotic fervour.
Years of Darkness
Gwangbokjeol means “the day the light returned,” and that’s exactly what happened on August 15, 1945. A long period of occupation by the armed forces of Imperial Japan had finally come to an end. At last, freedom and ultimately regaining nationhood awaited the people of South Korea.
Korea was formally annexed by Japan in 1910, but the Japanese government had been exercising political influence over the Korean peninsula for some time. King Kojong, the last ruling monarch of Korea, was forced to abdicate the throne in 1907. The king’s feeble son assumed the throne at the behest of the Japanese government, but the puppet king became the victim of a Japanese peerage after marrying a Japanese woman.
Korea was ruled by high-ranking military officers until the Japanese were defeated in 1945. In spite of a growing independence movement, known as the March First Movement, the Korean population was treated like a conquered people. Korea’s relations with Japan worsened beginning in 1937 when the Japanese government, increasingly influenced by military leaders, initiated the Second Sino Japanese War. Korea and the Korean economy were soon mobilised to benefit the Japanese war effort. The Japanese ultimately attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, and the Pacific rim was engulfed in a horrible world war.
National Liberation Day commemorates the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea. Unfortunately, the liberation of Korea by American and Soviet forces was only a prelude to the Korean War against the communist dominated north. The Korean War began in 1950 and lasted until 1953 when a tenuous cease fire was instituted. The result was a divided Korea, a reality which has caused a good deal of heartbreak for the people of South Korea. This hard reality has only added to the meaning of Gwangbokjeol for the citizens of South Korea.
National Liberation Day is a time for patriotic fanfare, parades and community festivals. The South Korean national flag, or Tae-guk-gi, is prominently displayed by smiling politicians and proud citizens. After all, the Republic of Korea is still a relatively young nation, and the ongoing tension with communist North Korea adds a tragic perspective to the celebration.
The famed Sejon Center for the Performing Arts is the site of an annual Liberation Day celebration. The event is attended by high-ranking political officials, Independence Movement representatives and members of the international diplomatic community. The mayor of Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, is joined by a group of dignitaries to ring a large bell at precisely 12 noon to honour the memory of former Independence Movement leaders.
The brief history of south Korea has been punctuated by momentous events and striking achievements. The Republic of Korea was established in 1948. In 1950 the young nation proclaimed its independence from the communist ruled north. The communist regime responded by invading the south, resulting in three years of war and countless casualties on both sides. The Republic of Korea wasn’t admitted to the United Nations until 1991. South Korea is now a respected economic power with a high standard of living. It’s no wonder that National Liberation Day is so popular in South Korea.