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March 1st Movement Day

March 1st Movement Day 2020 and 2021

The March 1st Movement, also called the Independence Movement, was an uprising of the Korean people against the Japanese occupation on March 1st, 1919.

20201 MarSunMarch 1st Movement Day
20211 MarMonMarch 1st Movement Day

In Korean, the movement is called “Sam-il”, meaning three-one, numbering the month and day on which it began.

Japan had invaded Korea 14 years earlier, in 1905, and had cruelly oppressed the Korean people, giving them great impetus for desiring to regain their independence. In January of 1919, at the Paris Peace Conference that followed World War I, Woodrow Wilson presented his Fourteen Points. This document affirmed the right to self-determination for all nations, and when it came to the ears of certain Korean students in Tokyo, they published a statement demanding independence. This statement, along with the death and suspected murder, of Korea’s former emperor on January 21st, mobilized resistance in Korea.

On March 1st, leaders of the independence movement met at a Seoul restaurant to read and sign a recently drafted Korean Declaration of Independence. The document declared Korea an independent state, affirmed their inherent right to liberty and nationhood, and concluded that no power on earth could prevent Korea’s freedom, saying it was “the solemn will of heaven” and “the great tide of our age.”

The signers of the declaration then sent a copy to the Japanese governor and contacted the central police station with the news of Korea’s independence and allowed themselves to be arrested. However, large crowds gathered in Pagoda Park to hear a Korean student publicly read the new declaration, and official Sam-il Movement representatives read the declaration from pre-appointed locations all over Korea. Large processions began to swell in the streets until the police could not control them and the military had to be brought in. In all, two million people marched in the protests, and there were over 1,500 distinct demonstrations.

Soon, Japanese forces turned violent and began massacring protesters. Many atrocities were committed, most notably the burning alive of the whole village of Jeam-ri in a church building while shooting into the flames to make sure no one escaped. Thousands were killed, maimed, or imprisoned in the suppression of the protests. Nonetheless, the March 1st Movement led to the creation of a Provisional Government of Korea and the formation of a Korean Liberation Army in China, and independence was finally gained following World War II.

On May 24, 1949, the Republic of South Korea declared March 1st a national holiday set apart to honor the bravery and sacrifice of those who rose up against Japanese oppression. To the present day, every year, Koreans wave South Korean flags, join in reenactments of the March 1st processions, and shout “Manse!” (Hoorah!) as they march. They also attend the ceremonial reading of their Declaration of Independence in Seoul’s Pagoda Park where it was first publicly read in 1919.

Besides the parades and ceremonies, some other things to do if in South Korea on March 1st include:

  • Visit the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul. It is located at the site of a former army headquarters and contains indoor and outdoor exhibits of thousands of pieces of equipment and other items that tell the story of Korea’s military history.
  • Peruse the National Museum of Korea, which holds three floors of exhibits on Korea’s history and culture. On the first floor, learn of Korea’s ancient history. On the second floor, admire Korean paintings and calligraphy. On the third floor, you will find sculptures and craft creations. Outside, you can relax amid gardens, waterfalls, and pagodas.
  • See Yongdusan Park in Busan. The park is situated on a forested mountain that is shaped like a dragon’s head. It contains Busan Tower, a museum of Korean musical instruments, and an exhibit with model boats, including traditional Korean sailboats. Beginning in March, there are traditional arts performances every Saturday at 3pm.

Touring South Korea on Independence Movement Day is a great opportunity to learn of Korea’s history and culture, and tourists will enjoy the parades and patriotic fanfare that surrounds them.