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HOME  > Past issues  > 2019 February 27 - March 5  > On centennial of Korean Independence Movement, Japan should reflect on past colonial rule
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2019 February 27 - March 5 TOP3 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

On centennial of Korean Independence Movement, Japan should reflect on past colonial rule

February 27, 2019

One hundred years ago on March 1, the Korean independence movement broke out against Japan’s colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula. This was a burst of long held in criticism against Imperial Japan which annexed Korea in 1910. As shown by the independence declaration proclaiming that Korea is an independent nation and Koreans are free citizens, the movement which was supported by over two million people across the nation sought to transmit Korean people’s determination for independence to the international community.

How did Japanese media at that time cover this movement? Historian and former Tsukuba University Professor Kang Dong-Jin points out that although most major newspapers devoted much space to the incident, none of them supported or even sympathized with the independence movement. In addition, when the Imperial Japanese government ordered the Government-General of Korea and military forces to brutally crack down on the movement calling for independence, news media also launched a campaign against Korean independence activists, labeling them as violent rioters and rebels, which fueled extreme prejudice against Koreans. These biased reports were a factor behind the tragedy in September 1923 in which thousands of Koreans were massacred by police and vigilante corps amid the chaos caused by the Great Kanto Earthquake.

At that time, the government authority and media in Japan worked together to create public sentiment supportive of the outrageous oppression of Korean nationals. A handful of Japanese intellectuals showed some sympathy for Koreans, but no political party or news media championed Koreans’ demand for independence, which was called for in the March 1 movement. The absence of a party or media sympathizing with Koreans ended in 1922 when the Japanese Communist Party was founded with its commitment to fully support the call for independence in the colonies worldwide and again articulated in 1928 when the first issue of the party’s organ, Sekki, came out.

Since its first issue, Sekki expressed solidarity with the Koreans’ struggle for independence. The organ almost every year called for actions on the anniversary of the start of the March 1 Independence Movement and the annexation of Korea on August 29, which Koreans referred to as the national disgrace day. Sekki on March 1, 1931 carried an article titled, “The March 1 anniversary”. Referring to the fact that a large number of Koreans were slaughtered after the Great Kanto Earthquake, the article stated, “This must be remembered as the most shameful incident for the working class in Japan. We the Japanese proletariat should work to wipe out this disgrace”, expressing solidarity with Koreans and making important action proposals which are still relevant today.

Stating that Japan’s colonial rule was internationally accepted, that the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty was legally concluded, and that the annexation was justifiable, successive post-war governments have continued to justify Japan’s colonial rule and still refuse to face up to Japan’s past acts of aggression and exploitation. This is essentially why war-related issues, such as the issue of forced Korean laborers, continue to be unresolved more than 50 years after the conclusion of the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea.

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