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Liberation of Korea: Independence Movement and International Relations

1. Liberation of Korea : Independence Movement and International Relations

Educational materials of Modern Korean History # 1
(National Museum of Korean Contemporary History)

Liberation of Korea : Independence Movement and International Relations

1. Korea Becomes a Japanese Colony Amidst Connivance of Powers

In the age of imperialism of late 19th century international relations were the critical factors that would affect the fates of nations or peoples. Korea was no exception.

Imperialism in the late 19th century

Japan, with the backing of the United States and Great Britain, defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War, and annexed Korea with the agreement of Russia and the connivance of the United States and France. Korea, having no support from any global power, lost its sovereignty.

Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)
A war fought between the Russian and Japanese empires over exclusive control of Manchuria and Korea

The Anglo-Japanese Alliance (1902)
An alliance signed between Great Britain and Japan as part of keeping Russia in check

The Taft-Katsura Secret Agreement (1905)
A secret agreement where both agreed on Japan’s colonization of Korea and the American colonization of the Philippines

August 29, 1910
Japan annexes Korea
The Korean Empire loses its national sovereignty

2. Independence Movements Spread (March 1 Movement - 1920s)

Japan’s tyrannical rule during the 1910s fueled the ire of Koreans.

Following the end of World War 1 in the late 1910s, the creation of the principle of national self-determination galvanized independence activists in Korea.

Lenin (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov)

Principle of national self-determination
(advocated by US President Woodrow Wilson)
A group that has a national or ethical awareness can create its own country and found its own government

Korean independence activists in the United States, Japan, Russia and other parts of the world took part in diplomatic activities and proclaiming independence...

Korean students in Tokyo who lead the February 8 Proclamation of Independence

February 8 Proclamation of Independence
An independence proclamation made on February 8, 1919 by Korean students studying in Tokyo

Proclamation of the national assembly in Russia
A document that proclaims the independence of Korea and a promise of open conflict if Japan disagrees

...and within Korea, the nationwide March First Movement took place, creating a unified voice for independence and sending those cries all over the world.

The March 1 Proclamation of Independence
A document by 33 representative figures proclaiming that Korea is an independent, sovereign state

March First Movement (1919)
A non-violent demonstration against Japanese oppression of Korea that took place on March 1, 1919 and proclaimed independence from Japan

Map of places where the March First Movement was witnessed

Following the March First Movement, provisional governments were established in Korea, Siberia, Shanghai and other parts of the world, and all of these governments came together to form the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in September 1919.

Seoul - Hansung Provisional Government (April 1919)
Maritime Province of Siberia - Korean National Assembly (March 1919)
Shanghai - Korean Provisional Government (April 1919)
Jilin - Goryeo Provisional Government (April 1919)
Pyongyang - New Korean Provisional Government (April 1919)
Seoul - Korean National Provisional Government (April 1919)
Shanghai - Unified Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea (September 1919)

Syngman Rhee / Inaugural President
Yi Dong-hwi / Inaugural Prime Minister

Moreover, within Korea, the Capacity-enhancing Movement, which focused on domestic industry and education, took place, while nationalist and socialist factions came together under a united national party.

Capacity-enhancing Movement
A social movement whose objective was to develop skills in preparation for independence from Japan. The movement was established in response to Japan’s change of Korean policy following the March First Movement to cultural oppression

“We feel the vital and urgent need and declare the creation of the Korean Unitary Independence Party.
- Promotive Association of the Korean Unitary Independence Party

In Manchuria, anti-Japanese military operations like the Battle of Bongoh and the Battle of Qingshanli were active.

Battle of Bongoh (June 1920)
A battle that took place in Bongoh, Manchuria between the united Korean independence armies and Japan and resulted in a great loss for Japan

Battle of Qingshanli (October 1920)
A battle in which Kim Chwa-chin’s Northern Military Administration Office Army and Hong Bum-do’s Korea Independent Army fought against and defeated Japanese troops deployed to suppress independence fighters

Such independence activities within and outside Korean borders played an important role in arousing dormant anti-Japanese sentiments.

3. Western Powers Supporting Japan until the 1920s

The Western powers supported Japan until the 1920s.

Following the end of World War 1, the Paris Peace Conference opened to create a new peace order. Kim Kyu-sik was sent to represent Korea, but the world powers including the United States paid little attention.

Paris Peace Conference (January 1919 – January 1920)
An international meeting among the victors of World War 1 to decide on the peace terms for the Central Powers

Kim Kyu-sik

Independence documents submitted to the conference by Kim Kyu-sik

With such hurdles, Korea‘s independence was a very difficult task.

4. US-Japan Tensions Erupt into the Pacific War

Throughout the 1930s, Japan instigated the Manchurian Incident and the Second Sino-Japanese War. This triggered an end of alliances between Japan and the West,

Manchurian Incident (September 1931)
A war where Japanese soldiers invaded Manchuria, China’s northeastern region

Second Sino-Japanese War / July 7, 1937
A war that was meant for Japan to take over the Chinese mainland

In the 1940s, Japan advocated the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and invaded Southeast Asia. Tensions between Japan and the United States grew as the US imposed embargoes on Japan.

The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere
A Japanese political slogan that promotes a Japan-lead bloc of Asian nations free from Western imperialism

On December 7, 1941, Japan staged an attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Following the attack, the stage was set for the battles between the Allies joined by the United States, and the Axis Powers.

Attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941)
An attack on Pearl Harbor, the base of the US Pacific Fleet by the Japanese Navy

Allied Powers / Axis Powers

5. Independence Activities Continue Despite Hardships

Independence activities continued amidst rising Japanese militarism.

The Provisional Government established the Korean Patriotic Legion, which planned various heroic struggles against Japan.

Scene of Lee Bong-chang’s assassination attempt of Japanese King Hirohito

Yoon Bong-gil’s bombing / Hongkou Park, Shanghai

In 1935, various parties and groups of numerous ideologies came together to create the Korean National Revolutionary Party.

Cho So-ang / Korean Independence Party
Kim Du-bong / Korean Independence Party

Yoon Se-joo / Organization for the Independence of Joseon
Kim Won-bong / Organization for the Independence of Joseon
Park Hyo-sam / Organization for the Independence of Joseon

Yoon Ki-sup / New Korean Independence Party
Shin Ik-hee / New Korean Independence Party
Lee Chung-chun / New Korean Independence Party

Kim Kyu-sik / Korean Independence Party of the Americas
Kim Hak-kyu / Korean Revolutionary Party
Choi Dong-o / Korean Revolutionary Party

Choi Chang-ik / Socialist
Heo Jeong-suk / Socialist

Korean National Revolutionary Party founded

Around the Manchurian territory bordering Hamkyung Province, the Chinese Communist Party’s Northeast Anti-Japanese Army’s guerilla units were active.

Leading figures of the Northeast Anti-Japanese Army in the 1930s

Members of the Northeast Anti-Japanese Army

Meanwhile, in Korea, Korean cultural preservation movements were active through activities like the Korean Language Society’s standardization of the Korean language and research into Korean history.

A meeting of the Korean Language Society regarding the standardization of the Korean language

Chintan Hakpo
A journal by the Chintan Society that researches Korean history from a Korean point of view

6. Independence Activity Picks Up After the Sino-Japanese War

As Japan engaged in the Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific theater of World War 2, Korea’s independence movement began to expand into military and foreign diplomatic fields.

In China, the union of different independence organizations and the collaboration of leftist and rightist factions acted as support for the Provisional Government.

Korean National Party / Korean Revolutionary Party / Korean Independence Party
Korean Independence Party

Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, Korean Independence Party
Korean National Revolutionary Party / Socialist groups,

In 1940, the Provisional Government proclaimed the creed for the foundation of Korea and established the Korean Liberation Army.

Creed for the foundation of Korea is proclaimed (November 1940)

The Provisional Government of Korea establishes the Korean Liberation Army
September 1940

Alliances formed with the Office of Strategic Services, special forces for infiltrating Korea are formed

In Hawaii, Korean expatriates established the United Korean Committee and financially supported the Provisional Government and diplomatic activities.

United Korean Committee / (April 1941)
A unified independence group based in Hawaii

Syngman Rhee
Chairman of the North American Diplomatic Commission

In northeastern China, the Socialist-leaning Korean Independence Alliance was founded and fought against Japan with the Chinese Communist Party.

Korean Independence Alliance founded (1942)

Korean Volunteer Army

In Korea, Lyuh Woon-hyung created the underground Korean Restoration Brotherhood in August 1944.

Lyuh Woon-hyung

Event Reenactment

Korean Restoration Brotherhood (August 1944)
An underground organization created by Lyuh Woon-hyung

7. The Allies’ plan about Korea after the War

Japan was now facing the prospects of defeat. The United States started from the southern Pacific Ocean and fought northward against Japan.

In December 1943, the heads of the United States, Great Britain and China discussed the issue of Korean independence and issued the Cairo Declaration.

Cairo Conference (November 22~27, 1943)
A summit meeting of the United States, Great Britain and China in Cairo, Egypt to discuss how to fight Japan and how to proceed after the war

The declaration mentioned Korean independence. However, the independence came with a condition of taking place in due course, which referred to a period of trusteeship.

“The aforesaid three great powers, mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, are determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent.”
- from the Cairo Declaration

The Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin agreed to the idea of a trusteeship for Korea in the following Tehran Conference.

Tehran Conference (November 28 – December 1, 1943)
A summit meeting of the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union in the Iranian capital of Tehran

8. Japan’s surrender and the end of the World War 2

In April 1945, US President Franklin Roosevelt suddenly passed away due to a stroke, and his vice president Harry Truman assumed the presidency.

April 12, 1945
US President Franklin Roosevelt passes away

Vice-president Harry Truman becomes President

Unlike Roosevelt, Truman decided to get Japan’s surrender before the Soviet Union began fighting against Japan.
As a result, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

August 6, 1945
Atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima

In reaction, the Soviet Union, which had dragged its feet over fighting Japan, immediately declared war on Japan two days later on August 8 and began its march toward Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula

August 8. 1945
The Soviet Union declares war on Japan

The United States dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki. On August 11, Japan conveyed its desire to surrender.

August 9. 1945
Atomic bomb dropped over Nagasaki

August 11. 1945
Japan conveys its intentions to surrender

9. The United States and the Soviet Union Agree to the 38th Parallel Division

It was now the United States’s turn to hurry. Soviet troops had already entered the Korean Peninsula on August 9, which lead to the possibility of the Soviet Union taking over the entire peninsula.

Tumen River
August 9

The United States proposed a division of the peninsula for joint trusteeship, and suggested the 38th parallel, to which the Soviet Union agreed.

10. Deep gratitude of Liberation

Liberation finally came on August 15, 1945. People massed on the streets, holding Taegukgis, or Korean flags, and crying for independence.

August 15, 1945

However, the joys of liberation were soon overshadowed.

11. The Soviet Influence above the 38th Parallel

The Soviet Union had fortified the 38th parallel and restricted the movement of residents even before the United States army landed in Korea. The 38th parallel became something like a national border.

August 24, 1945
Soviet forces are stationed in North Korea (Pyongyang)

The Soviet Union dispatches security forces along the 38th parallel
Railroad, telephone and electricy are all cut
Residents are restricted

12. The First Council of Foreign Ministers, where US-USSR Tensions Grew

Moreover, ties between the United States and the Soviet Union began to get strained.

During a meeting of foreign ministers held in September 1945, the Soviet Union demanded joint trusteeship of Japan, but the United States and Great Britain refused.

Event Reenactment

London Conference of Foreign Ministers
September 12-October 2, 1945

Soviet demands
1. Rights to joint trusteeship of Japan
2. Free access to the Dardanelles Strait in Turkey
3. Cessation of Libya’s Tripolitania

Following the meeting, Stalin pushed for the Communization of East Asia.

13. The Soviet Union’s Secret Orders

Firstly, Stalin issued a secret order to establish a separate government in North Korea.

Chinese Civil War (April 1927 - May 1950)
A civil war between the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang for control of China

14. North Korea’s Transformation into Socialism

As part of its plan, the Soviet Union brought Kim Il-sung in September to North Korea, and established the North Korean bureau of the Communist Party of Korea in October.

Kim Il-sung comes to North Korea
September 19, 1945

North Korea Bureau of the Communist Party of Korea established
October 10, 1945

In February 1946, the North Korean Provisional People’s Committee was established, with Kim Il-sung as the chairman.
It was, for all intents and purposes, a single government responsible for creating and implementing laws.

North Korean Provisional People’s Committee established
February 8, 1946

Kim Il-sung appointed as chairman

The committee’s first task was land reform, meant to completely change North Korean land division and society.

Land was confiscated without compensation from landowners, and freely distributed among farmers. In reality, it was merely a granting of farming rights.

North Korean land reform / implemented in March 1946
All privately owned land confiscated with no compensation and divided among farmers for free
Landowners are expelled from their homes

Moreover, the Soviet Union purged anti-Communists and nationalized 90% of North Korea’s major industries.

Anti-Communists purged

90% of major industries nationalized

15. Epilogue

In contrast to North Korea’s rapid transformation towards socialism, South Korea still lacked direction.

U.S. forces arrived in South Korea late, and prominent figures like Syngman Rhee and Kim Koo weren’t able to return in a timely manner.

The U.S. Army government insisted on waiting for consensus from the victors of World War 2 regarding Korea instead of implementing a new ruling order.

In a few months after the liberation a dense fog lay over the Korean Peninsula due to the diverging paths of the two Koreas.

How will this crisis be overcome? Korea once again needs courage and wisdom.

North Korea goes on its own path after liberation
What is the way to establish an unified government?