Land of the Rising Sun.
The Rise of Nationalism,
and the Impact of the Sam-Il (3-1) Movement
As A Living Symbol of Anti-Japanese Resistance.
David B. Kent.

  • THE HERMIT KINGDOM: Confucianist Advantages for the Japanese.
    • The Demise of the Yi Dynasty.
    • The Use of Confucian Ideals and the Counfucianists by the Japanese.
  • AWAKENING: The Dawn of Nationalist Thought.
    • Promptings of the First Repulsion to the Imperialists.
  • IDEOLOGY & LEADERSHIP: Origins of the 3-1 Movement in Self-Determination.
    • The Impact of the Peace Treaty and Wilson's Fourteen Points.
    • The 33 Leaders and the Participation of the Masses.
    • Organisational Structure and the Policy of Non-Violence.
    • The Impact of the Movement on the Colonial Power.
  • RESEARCH OBSTRUCTION: The Problems of Research.
    • A Short Note Relating to Research on Korean History.


AUGUST 1910 - AUGUST 1945
Background Factors
    "By their looting of Asian Countries, the Europeans managed to harden one of them - Japan - for great military exploits that assured it of an independent national development"(1).  

Japan's isolationist policy was one of seclusion, therefore as an outsider, Japan was able to carefully scrutinise and reflect upon the actions of the West, and their role of conquest in Asia. Also after seeing the effects in the later part of the 19th Century that the impact of Western Imperialism had on the nations of India and China, Japan may have held some fear for itself. Additionally in retrospect, it can be interpreted that much of Japan's Imperial endeavours were only `copy-cat' actions of the West, as Japan was the only Asian nation to harness the power of Imperialism, and determined that it would create and maintain colonies. Thus Japan following Europe's lead struck out at its closest neighbour - Korea.  

The colonisation of Korea was completed on August 24, 1910, with the signing of the `Annexation Treaty'. This would then prove to be a precondition for brisk and brawny industrialisation. During the occupation period Korea would provide solutions to food shortages in Japan by allowing the importation of cheap food stuffs. This element can be illustrated by looking toward the Japanese food riots of 1918. As a result of a shortage of rice the government then developed a thirty year plan to increase Korean rice production in order to meet the needs of Japan. At this time approximately 14% of the Korean rice crop went to Japan, but by the 1930's it had increased to approximately 48%(2). As a result Koreans were producing more to keep up with the demand and consuming less. With rice being syphoned off to Japan the staple Korean food turned from rice to Manchurian millet. The effect of higher rice productions to supply Japanese needs also meant undiversified crop output.  

The Japanese also exploited Korea for a stock of cheap labour, which coincided with opportunities for overseas investment by the Japanese. The result of occupation for Korea was stagnation whilst Japan furthered its industrialisation. Along with this, and the development of the Empire, emphasis would shift to see Korea become a source of Industrial raw materials.  

As its needs for Imperialism grew, Japan introduced to Korea a great deal of infrastructure such as roads, railways, and communication facilities. In particular the implementation of a developed communication system was necessary for the conquest of Manchuria, called Manchu-Guo by the Japanese once it had been established.  

With "the mighty trio of Government railway lines, private lines and motorcar routes, coupled with the Japan Sea routes ... the peninsula (was elevated) to a position more valuable as a land-bridge connecting Japan with the continents of Asia and Europe"(3). Yet the development of such infrastructure would come at a cost - forced labour. Land would be confiscated without compensation, and the Koreans forced into the construction of public works.  

Thus the imposition of colonial rule upon Korea saw the Japanese become immediately deeply resented - a resentment that still lingers fiercely today.  


The Sam-Il Movement
    "There is reason to believe that the Koreans gave one of the most extraordinary examples of passive resistance to foreign domination that the world has ever seen"(4).   

On the 1st of March 1919, thirty three patriots penned a `Declaration of Independence' for Korea and gave it to the Japanese Colonial Government. This document called on Japan for voluntary withdrawal from its Imperialistic course.  

The inspiration for these actions came from the `Fourteen Points', and the right of national `self-determination of weak nations' proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace talks. After hearing news of the talk by Wilson, Korean students studying abroad in Tokyo published a statement demanding Korean independence. News of these actions spread to the Korean peninsula where thought for the Declaration of Independence for Korea would be spawned, thus providing the genesis of the March 1st Movement.  

Secret plans were drawn up and information disseminated by word of mouth throughout the cities, towns and villages. The movement was set to be staged two days before the funeral of Emperor Ko-Jong. Looking through Korean eyes this funeral placed not only a seal on the Yi Dynasty, but on one of the last symbols of the Korean nation. The death of the Emperor in 1919 also saw the death of any possibility of an independently ruled nation. Thus the mandate of rule lay with the Colonial conquerors.  

This situation provoked the initial momentum for Korean independence movements, and what ensued was a demonstration for national independence. The thirty three patriots who formed the core of the March 1st Movement assembled at Pagoda Park in downtown Seoul to read Korea's `Declaration of Independence'. Crowds that had also assembled in the park formed a procession. The leaders of the movement signed the document and sent a copy to the Governor-General with their compliments. They then telephoned the central police station to inform them of their actions. As such the procession was soon squelched and the leaders of the movement arrested. It is said that the crowd was fired upon by the officers. According to the reports issued by the Yon-Hap news agency "more than 6,000 demonstrators were killed and about 15,000 wounded. Some 50,000 others were arrested by the Japanese police". According to another (western) report the crowd was cheering the arrested men(5).  

Coinciding with these events special delegates associated with the movement, read copies of the proclamation from appointed places throughout the country at 2pm on that same day.  

Thus one of the earliest displays of nationalism under the Japanese occupation of 1910-1945 came in the form of the Sam-Il (three one) Movement; occurring on March 1st of 1919.  

As international response to the incident was non-existent or nearly so, one of the most important teachings resulting from the Sam-Il Movement for the nationalists, was that they essentially needed to rely on their own vigour. They could not expect assistance from other, foreign nations to fight a battle that was not their own.  

Initially the origins of the nationalist movement rested in the arms of officials of the Yi Dynasty and intellectuals. Approaching the time of the March 1st Movement and afterwards, the nationalist movement began to switch to a more peasant based orientation. An orientation which included workers, farmers, students, and progressive intellectuals. As a result of the influential Russian revolution and the spread of Communist propaganda from China and Russia, the nationalist movement in Korea began to possess socialist trends. Then shortly after in 1925 the Korean Communist Party (KCP) would take solid form giving a fair indication that by that time revolutionary sentiment had certainly penetrated Korea.  

The rise of the `Korean Revolution Manifesto' then became known as the continuation of the 3-1 Movement. Indisputably underlying the document are tones of Korean resentment and hostility for the Japanese, as the following passage from the manifesto highlights:  

"`Burglar Japan usurped our independent right and deprived our nation's right to live, by violence'. It continues to point out the vampiric acts of exploitation by Japanese imperialists one by one and condemns their barbarous persecution separately, saying that `based upon the above mentioned facts we declare that the burglar politics of Japan is the enemy for our nations existence and that it is our proper right to overthrow the imperialist Japan by a revolutionary means"(6)  

  • What was the legitimacy for Colonial rule in Korea?
  • What was the initial response by the people to the colonialists?
  • What were conditions like under the Empire?
  • How did Japanese rule benefit/hinder Korea?
  • What were the origins of Korean Nationalism?
  • What prompted the rise of the March 1st Movement of 1919?
  • What impact did the March 1st Movement have on the Colonial Administration and the peoples of Korea?