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Background to the March First Movement: Koreans in Japan, 1905-1919 Kenneth M. Wells The title of this article evokes the traditional approach to the Korean nationalist movement in Japan during this period. The custom of subsuming the whole movement in Japan under the heading, March First Movement, derives from the fact that on February 8, 1919, just three weeks prior to the sensational March First Movement, Korean students in Tokyo staged a rally for Korean independence. These students based their Declaration of Independence on the principle of national self-determination , which was then being applied to various peoples of Europe at the Paris Peace Conference. The March First Movement was ignited by a similar Declaration of Independence anchored by the same Wilsonian doctrine. Hence almost invariably, whenever the Tokyo Student February Eighth Movement is mentioned in histories of Korean nationalism, it is presented as a precursor to the March First Movement in Korea. At the same time, it is assumed that the Tokyo movement was the culmination of the nationalist activities and cogitations of the Koreans in Japan since 1905, that is, since Japan established direct political control over the Korean peninsula. ' This is the traditional perspective. However, it has not won the loyalty of all Korean historians. My own doubts about this orthodoxy were planted some years ago on reading a passage in Kim Sôngsik's study of student movements, in which he queried whether the February Eighth Movement did not in fact stand in a closer relationship to post-1919 nationalism than to the March First Movement. He pointed out that the average age of the organizers of the former was twenty-six, in contrast to an average age of forty-seven for the organizers of the latter, and suggested that the younger group carried the future.2 6 WELLS What became of this new interpretation? The following year, in 1975, another book on student movements was published, penned by Chöng Sehyön. My eye hit upon a subheading, "The ideology of the February Eighth Movement," and I read with some expectation. However, the Tokyo movement was once more compared with the March First Movement, with the tentative conclusion offered that on balance the former was a little more positive on democracy than the latter.3 Little more has been added on this subject since. Han Chöngil's work on the 1929 Kwangju Student Movement, published in 1981, does indeed repeat Kim Sôngsik's opinion that one of the outstanding features of the February Eighth Movement was the uncompromising tone of the "Resolution"— its threat of an "eternal, bloody war" against Japan for independence.4 But of the content of the nationalism of the students and its relationship with later nationalism, nothing further is said. What ought to have been a seminal thesis seemingly disappeared through some historiographical trapdoor. When one inquires more deeply into the matter, the question arises whether Kim Söngsik did not actually spring the trapdoor on himself. He accepted the orthodox view that because the February Eighth Movement was the biggest and boldest thing the Koreans did in Japan, it was therefore something they had been building up to. Having accepted this view, he then proposes an entirely unorthodox division between the February Eighth and March First movements. Surely this is to accept what is dubious and reject what is sound in the orthodox position. There are probably no two movements in Korean nationalism so similar and so clearly linked as these. Had Kim Söngsik suggested that the Korean nationalist movement in Japan up to 1918 stood in a closer relationship to post-1919 movements than did either the February Eighth or March First movements , I think he would have been on securer ground. This, in essence, is the thesis I wish to pursue in this article. Since I am focusing specifically on this problem, I am less concerned with a description of the February Eighth organization, which has already been provided in the several works cited above. The Question of Placing the March First Movement in Korean History The issue here concerns the placement of events, movements, and people on a nationalist map. Any student of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1529
Print ISSN
0145-840X
Pages
pp. 5-21
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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