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The Declaration of Independence, March 1, 1919: A New Translation Han-Kyo Kim The Declaration was drafted in a few days by a twenty-nine year old scholar-publisher, Ch'oe Namsön (1890-1957), who, however, did not himself sign the formal Declaration, professing disinclination to become openly involved in the national independence movement. All the same he was imprisoned for nearly three years after the 1919 March First Movement . He devoted most of his later years to writing Korean history, but his wartime collaboration with the Japanese tainted his image in Korean eyes. The Declaration is written in a literary form that was modern by 1919 standards, but which relied heavily on the classical Chinese writing style in which Ch'oe excelled. An earlier English rendition of the Declaration appeared in C. W. Kendall, The Truth about Korea (San Francisco : Korean National Association, 1919), and has since been reprinted elsewhere. The Kendall translation conveys the general meaning and, to some extent, the literary flavor of the original document, but contains many inaccurate passages, including the erroneous identification of the 1876 pyöngja suho chogyu [Treaty of Amity and Commerce] as a 1636 agreement. The concluding Three Open Pledges were allegedly drafted and appended to the Declaration of Independence by Han Yong-un, a Buddhist leader and one of the thirty-three signers of the Declaration. My own translation presented here benefitted greatly from Professor Dae-Sook Suh's suggestions for emendations, many of which I have incorporated in the text. The Declaration of Independence We hereby declare that Korea is an independent state and that Koreans are a self-governing people. We proclaim it to the nations of the 2 KIM world in affirmation of the principle of the equality of all nations, and we proclaim it to our posterity, preserving in perpetuity the right of national survival. We make this declaration on the strength of five thousand years of history, as an expression of the devotion and loyalty of twenty million people. We claim independence in the interest of the eternal and free development of our people, and in accordance with the great movement for world reform based upon the awakening conscience of mankind. This is the clear command of Heaven, the course of our times, and a legitimate manifestation of the right of all nations to coexist and live in harmony. Nothing in the world can suppress or block it. For the first time in several thousand years, we have suffered the agony of alien suppression for a decade, becoming a victim of the policies of aggression and coercion which are relics from a bygone era. How long have we been deprived of our right to exist? How long has our spiritual development been hampered? How long have the opportunities to contribute our creative vitality to the development of world culture been denied? Alas! In order to rectify past grievances, free ourselves from current hardships, eliminate future threats, stimulate and enhance the weakened conscience of our people, eradicate the shame that befell our nation, ensure proper development of human dignity, avoid leaving humiliating legacies to our children, and usher in lasting and complete happiness for our posterity, the most urgent task is to establish firmly national independence. Today when human nature and conscience are placing the forces of justice and humanity on our side, if everyone of our twenty million people arms himself for battle, whom could we not defeat and what could we not accomplish? We do not intend to accuse Japan of infidelity for its violation of various solemn treaty obligations since the Treaty of Amity of 1876. Japan's scholars and officials, indulging in a conqueror's exuberance, have denigrated the accomplishments of our ancestors and treated our civilized people like barbarians. Despite their disregard for the ancient origin of our society and for the brilliance of the spirit of our people, we shall not blame Japan; we must first blame ourselves before finding fault with others. Because of the urgent need for remedies for the problems of today, we cannot afford the time for recrimination over past wrongs. Our task today is to build up our own strength, not to destroy others...


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