The independence movement of 1919 is commemorated in South Korea with its own special holiday, which is called March 1st Movement Day. In Korean, it is called “Samil Jeol”.
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In the aftermath of World War I, Korean nationalism was stirred by the Fourteen Points of US President Woodrow Wilson. He expressed a desire for self-determination for all the world’s national groups, and Koreans chafed under the harsh, undemocratic rule of Japan at the time.
Korean students who were studying in Japan began the movement by writing up a document demanding full independence from foreign rule for all of Korea. This paper was later read in public in Korea, and in spite of the attempt to keep the protests peaceful and safe, Japanese military police ultimately suppressed the independence procession held in Pagoda Park.
Police then rounded up the protestors and crammed them into a church that they promptly set ablaze. Soldiers even fired into the flames through the windows to ensure there were no survivors. As the Korean independence movement continued, many more were killed, mistreated, or sent to prison.
Eventually, Japan granted Korea more self-government to quell the protests. True independence did not come until after World War II, but March 1st Movement Day looks back to these early struggles for freedom lest they be forgotten.
Many Koreans visit historic sites like Seodamun Prison History Hall or Independence Hall of Korea on March 1st Movement Day. It is a day to fly the Korean flag, learn about Korean history, and take pride in being Korean.