Fellow Koreans and compatriots abroad,
This March First Independence Movement Day ceremony is being held amid an emergency situation. Even though we are in difficult times in many respects, it is very meaningful to hold a ceremony to commemorate the 101st March First Independence Movement Day here at Paiwha Girls’ High School, where shouts for Korea’s independence rang out on March 1, 1920, in celebration of the first March First Independence Movement Day.
In December 1919, the Provisional Republic of Korea Government published its first official calendar “Daehan Millyeok” with March 1 designated as Independence Day and marked as the National Day.
The Provisional Government promulgated the decree of its Ministry of Interior, defining March 1 as “the sacred day when Koreans were brought back to life.” It also held a ceremony and celebrations in Shanghai to mark the inaugural March First Independence Movement Day. And it played a pivotal role in the multiple manse protests commemorating the March First Independence Movement that broke out simultaneously across the country, including here at Paiwha and many places around the world.
Incarcerated in Seodaemun Prison, Ryu Gwansun and many other independence activists risked their lives shouting manse for Korea’s independence. Those who were in Tokyo, Vladivostok, the United States and France also declared Korea’s independence and its people’s self-reliance. All through the Japanese colonial period, March First Independence Movement celebrations continued wherever Koreans resided.
The Japanese imperialists intended to erase the memories of that day and silence Koreans by carrying out special security checks and preemptive arrests of anyone under suspicion. However, students boycotted classes, merchants closed stores and workers went on strike, reviving the spirit of the March First Independence Movement.
We have consistently celebrated the March First Independence Movement without a single break over the past 100 years – even in 1951 when the country was ravaged by the Korean War and in 1998 when we were engulfed by the financial crisis – and this has reminded us of unity’s tremendous force.
The March First Independence Movement once again reminds us that we can prevail over anything as long as we stand together. On March 1 every year, the reverberating chorus of manse, calling for independence, has inspired us with courage. All the people will come together and overcome even today’s crisis without fail.
My fellow Koreans,
In 1919 alone, some 7,600 Koreans were killed, more than 16,000 were injured and over 46,000 were arrested and detained in the aftermath of as many as 1,542 manse demonstrations. This was unprecedented throughout the world. Despite harsh repression from Japanese imperialists, the spirit of our nation was never broken. Students, farmers, workers and women all emerged as protagonists themselves for independence, self-development and capacity-building, actually fostering even greater hopes in the process.
On January 13, 1920, The Independent, an organ of the Provisional Government, ran an article written by General Hong Beom-do of the Greater Korea Independence Army, confirming the legitimacy of the armed struggle and renewing the determination to reclaim our lost country. On January 30 the same year, Sinheung Military Academy in West Gando held a graduation ceremony for 76 Koreans who would later become the heroic fighters in the battles of Fengwudong and Qingshanli.
Education campaigns for the Korean nation helped build the people’s capacity. Activities to promote women’s education as well as their rights and interests began. Workers resisted colonial exploitation and oppression, entrepreneurs strenuously worked to cultivate modern businesses and the people launched a drive for a self-reliant national economy.
As the awakened people continued their efforts for self-development, armed independence armies fighting imperialist Japan conducted as many as 1,651 military operations to advance into the Korean homeland in 1920 alone.
In June the same year, our independence armies engaged the Imperial Japanese Army’s “Weolgang tracking unit” in the first all-out war in the history of their struggle for independence and achieved a great victory. That was the Battle of Fengwudong led by General Hong Beom-do. The Provisional Government called it the first great victory of the war of independence.
In March 1920, the Northern Military Administration Office Army – a Korean independence army – and the Czech Army signed an arms trade deal in Vladivostok. Around 9,000 people formed a human chain to transport the weapons, which became partners in the victory of the Battle of Qingshanli in October.
The soldiers equipped with modern arms and systemically trained and our fellow Koreans who provided food and clothing were all members of an independence army and the heroes of the victory.
In this year marking the centennial of the battles of Qingshanli and Fengwudong, I would like to join the people in recalling with a sense of pride how the March First Independence Movement created triumph from hope.
Fellow Koreans and compatriots overseas,
Today I’d like to share news that will please all of our people: The remains of General Hong Beom-do – the commoner-turned great commander of the Greater Korea Independence Army who spearheaded victories at the battles of Qingshanli and Fengwudong – can be repatriated finally.
Last year, we brought back home the remains of independence activists Gye Bong-woo and Hwang Woon-jeong as well as those of their spouses. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Fengwudong this year, the remains of General Hong will be repatriated and buried in his homeland on the occasion of the Kazakh President’s visit to Korea.
I extend my profound gratitude to the officials of the Kazakh Government and Kyzylorda provincial government for their cooperation as well as to the ethnic Koreans there, who protected the General until the last moment and have looked after his grave.
Remembering each and every independence activist is to awaken our self-esteem and pride. It is also about overcoming difficulties and bolstering strength to usher in a brighter future. The Government will honor the spirit and cause of our independence activists and continue to reciprocate by showing the highest respect. I hope that the repatriation of General Hong Beom-do’s remains will serve as an opportunity for us to contemplate the patriotism of our forefathers and realize the value of the nation’s existence.
We have overcome countless hardships.
Last year, we could pursue “independence in materials, components and equipment” while envisioning a “country that cannot be shaken.” This was possible thanks to our potential to overcome national crises and the spirit of the March First Independence Movement – we can accomplish anything if we do it together.
Amid the ruins of the Korean War, we nurtured our capabilities through a united strength. Starting from an economy that relied on grants and loans, the Republic of Korea has emerged as a cutting-edge manufacturing powerhouse, ultimately standing tall as an ICT industry powerhouse.
Even now, the people are all coming together. We will be able to overcome the COVID-19 outbreak and revive our shrunken economy.
I’d like to express my deepest respect to the citizens of Asan, Jincheon, Eumseong and Icheon who warmly welcomed Korean residents returning from Wuhan in China; people in Daegu and Gwangju who shared extra face masks; and those who are joining blood drives.
The Good Landlord Campaign that started in Jeonju’s Hanok Village and Moraenae traditional market is spreading to traditional markets and shopping complexes around the country. Banks and public institutions also voluntarily lowered commercial rents, thereby sharing hardships together. Large businesses have made charitable donations and lent a helping hand for mutual benefit to their small and medium-sized suppliers. Even at this moment, many doctors and nurses armed with protective suits are doing everything they can in isolation wards. I extend my deepest respect and gratefully applaud everyone for having shouldered these pains together and raised hopes.
In particular, ceaseless support and warmhearted contributions for people in Daegu and Gyeongsangbuk-do Province epitomize the Republic of Korea’s potential. About 250 public health physicians dispatched from all over the country and many volunteer medical professionals are safeguarding those regions while putting the health of residents there before their own. Numerous companies and ordinary citizens have been sending donations and relief supplies. Daegu and Gyeongsangbuk-do are never alone.
The Government is making the utmost effort in cooperation with Daegu and Gyeongsangbuk-do to prevent the further spread of the disease in addition to expanding the temporary screening stations set up to exclusively handle suspected cases and diagnostic examinations, securing beds and treating the infected. I believe that an increasing number of people will join these efforts and that we will succeed in defeating the virus without fail.
The Government is now waging all-out responses after raising the crisis alert to the highest level. Moreover, we are doing all we can to revive the economy with the mindset that we are in an “emergency economic situation.”
The Government has started providing support tailored to microbusiness owners and SMEs as well as various service industries such as tourism, dining and air and maritime transport. In addition to the provision of stronger support for overcoming the damage, a support package to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak will be swiftly implemented. These contain unprecedented plans to stabilize the livelihood of ordinary people and enhance economic vitality.
To this end, the Government will actively disburse reserve funds, promptly draw up a supplementary budget bill and submit it to the National Assembly. The National Assembly has also agreed to cooperate beyond party affiliations in the interest of a larger cause.
We are all the principal agents of the infectious disease prevention and control efforts. There is nothing we cannot do if we trust each other and cooperate.
By overcoming the pressing COVID-19 outbreak at home and achieving peace and common prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, we will build a Republic of Korea that cannot be shaken. That is genuine independence and the completion of a new independence.
The Government will take the initiative and do everything it can. By joining forces, let us demonstrate the potential that has proven resilient in the face of a crisis.
Now, there are increasingly more factors tied to unconventional security threats such as disasters and catastrophes, climate change and the spread of infectious diseases, international terrorism and cybercrimes. These are difficult for a single country to resolve through its own ability alone. We’ve come to keenly realize once again the necessity of cross-border cooperation at this time due to the global spread of COVID-19.
The March 1 Declaration of Independence also underscores the spirit of unity for mutual understanding and sympathy. The endeavor for peace in East Asia and humanitarianism is the spirit of the March First Independence Movement and the Provisional Republic of Korea Government.
We can respond to unconventional security threats only when we strengthen cooperation, not only with North Korea but also with adjacent countries like China and Japan and nearby Southeast Asian nations.
I am looking forward to cooperation with North Korea on healthcare as well. The lives of the Korean people will be safer when the two Koreas can respond together when infectious diseases spread among humans and animals and jointly cope with disasters and catastrophes in border areas and climate change on the Korean Peninsula.
Two years ago, South and North Korea accomplished the historic feat of reaching the September 19 agreement in the military domain. When we expand inter-Korean cooperation into various areas while abiding by that agreement, peace on the Korean Peninsula will become more solid.
Japan is always our closest neighbor. Patriotic martyr Ahn Jung-geun stood against Japan’s aggression with the force of arms, but he clarified that his true intention was to achieve peace together in the East, not to show hostility against Japan. The spirit of the March First Independence Movement was also in the same vein.
When we squarely face the past, we can surmount wounds and move forward toward the future. We will not forget the past, nor will we remain in it. I hope that Japan will also take on the same attitude. Joining hands while reflecting on history is the path toward peace and prosperity in East Asia. Let us prevail over crises together and make joint efforts for future-oriented cooperative relations.
Fellow citizens and Koreans overseas,
We have revived the spirit of the March First Independence Movement whenever we encountered national crises and disasters. With our combined strengths, we have triumphed over war and poverty and accomplished economic growth and democratization.
The COVID-19 outbreak can threaten our lives temporarily, but it cannot break our unity and hope. Just as the spirit of the March First Independence Movement, which overcame oppression and was resurrected as hope, became the strength that ushered in a new era over the past 100 years, we will win the battle against COVID-19 without fail and revive our economy, making it more dynamic.
We are the source of courage and hope for each other. Let us all believe in and encourage each other and overcome today’s hardship. Let us vigorously march forward on a new 100-year journey.