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The Life of Do-San

Ahn, Chang-Ho was born on the island of Bong-sang-do in South Pyongahn-do on November 9, 1876, the third son of the farmer Ahn, Heung-kuk. His year of birth was the year in which the Japanese forced a series of Western-style trade agreements on Korea, which was the start of some years of increasing Japanese influence that would lead to Japan's eventual annexation of the country in 1910.

He abandoned traditional learning in his home town and studied for two years at a missionary school operated by the Salvation Army. He became a Christian and felt that although he opposed the Japanese occupation, he couldn't hate the Japanese as men. He decided to seek a source of national strength and cultivate it to regain national independence and prosperity.

In 1894, at the age of 18, Ahn became a member of the Tongnip Hyophoe "Independence Association," which promoted independence from Japan and worked to reform domestic affairs and reduce dependence upon foreign countries. But the group's activities were interrupted by the conservative ruling class, so Chai-pil, the leader of the group, was forced into exile in the United States. This strengthened Ahn's belief that Koreans themselves were to blame for their failures and that victory must therefore come from within.

In 1899, Ahn established the Cheomjin ("gradual progress") School in Pyongyang, the first modern and co-educational private school ever established by a Korean. The name of the school seemed to reflect his political philosophy of evolutionary social changes through education.

Ahn, Chang-Ho was one of the first Koreans to emigrate to the United States. He arrived in America in September 1902 with his newlywed wife, Lee Hae-Ryon, and, as the steamship approached Hawaii, Ahn resolved to stand tall above the sea of turmoil existing at that time in Korea, and decided to call himself "Do-San" (meaning "Island Mountain"). While living in San Francisco, he organised the San Francisco Social Meeting on September 23, 1903, and initiated a social reform movement that was desperately needed by the Korean American society. An accomplished orator and leader at the age of 24, Ahn guided his countrymen to form a respectable community for Koreans in the United States. He organised a society that became the Kungminhoe (Korean National Association), which inspired Korean immigrants to hope for national independence.

In 1906, following the Russo-Japanese war, Ahn learned of the Japanese "Protectorate Treaty" that had been enforced on Korea, which gave the Japanese the legal right to occupy the country, and returned home. He organised an underground independence group in Pyongahn-do called Shinmin-Hoe (New Peoples' Association), an organisation dedicated to promoting Korean independence through the cultivation of nationalism in education, business and culture.

In 1908 the Shinmin-Hoe founded the Tae-Song ("large achievement") School in Pyongyang. This school was designed to provide Koreans with an education based on national spirit. Ahn, Chang-Ho worked a ceramic kiln as a commercial enterprise to raise funds for the publication of books for young people. The political environment of the time, however, was not conducive to the founding of such a school; in fact the Japanese were in the process of eradicating education for Koreans, in order to ensure illiteracy and essentially create a class of slave workers.

With Yi Kap, Yang Ki-tak and Shin Chae-Ho, Ahn embarked on a lecture tour of Korea, warning of the national crisis being incurred by the Japanese and urging the people to unite and resist the Japanese. Ahn repeatedly told Japanese leaders that Japan would profit more with Korea as a friend rather than an enemy.

The Shinmin-Hoe had amassed around 300 members by 1910, and it represented a palpable threat to the Japanese occupation. The Japanese occupiers were actively crushing such organisations, and the Shinmin-Hoe soon became the focus of their efforts. In December 1910, Terauchi, the Japanese Governor General, was due to attend the dedication ceremony of a new railway bridge over the Amnok River. The Japanese used this to pretend to uncover a plot to assassinate Terauchi on his way to this ceremony; 600 innocent Christians and all of the Shinmin-Hoe leaders were arrested. 105 Koreans were brought to trial following severe torture, which left many of those arrested dead. The world community was so concerned that the alleged plot was such an obvious fabrication that international pressure grew, and eventually most of the defendants had to be set free.

By this time, the Japanese had become fairly successful at detecting and destroying resistance groups. They were not successful, however, in suppressing the Korean desire for freedom and self-government. The resistance groups moved deeper underground, and guerrilla raids from independence groups based in Manchuria and Siberia increased.

After the passage of an Education Act in 1911 the Japanese began to close all Korean schools. As a result of this, the Tae-Song School was forced to close in 1913, and, by 1914, virtually all Korean schools had been shut down. This amounted to cultural genocide, and the chances of survival of Korean culture rested in the hands of a handful of dedicated patriots working outside of Korea.

When Japanese Governor-General Hiro-Bumi Ito was assassinated by Ahn, Joong-Gun, Japan tightened its grip on Korean leaders. Ahn, Chang-Ho was forced to go into exile in Manchuria, then Siberia, Russia, Europe, and finally the United States. In 1912, Ahn was elected chairman of the Korean National People's Association, which had emerged as an organisation for Koreans living abroad, and played an active role in negotiations with the US government. Around this time he also established Hungsadan, a secret voluntary group of ardent patriots. These and other organisations pressured President Woodrow Wilson into speaking on behalf of Korean autonomy at the Paris peace talks, and, in 1918, a representative of the Korean exiles was indeed sent to these talks.

In 1919, when the Yi Dynasty was forcefully absorbed into the Japanese Empire, Ahn established underground activities designed to regain Korean independence. He travelled to Shanghai in April 1919 to be part of the provisional Korean government in exile there and was involved in the drawing up of a Democratic Constitution for Korea. This document established the freedom of the press, speech, religion, and assembly. An independent judiciary was created and the previous class system of nobility was abolished. After two years, despite the progress he had made, Ahn became disillusioned with the infighting amongst these provisional Korean leaders in Shanghai and resigned from his position.

On March 1 1919, the provisional government in Shanghai formally declared its independence from Japan, and called for massive general resistance from the people of Korea. During the ensuing resistance demonstrations the Japanese police opened fire on unarmed Korean crowds, killing thousands. Many thousands more were arrested and tortured. Even after this, Ahn, Chang-Ho continued to work on in the United States on behalf of his country of birth. He created a village in Manchuria for wandering Korean refugees, and in 1922 led a commission which compiled all historical materials relating to Korea, particularly concerning the Japanese occupation.

In 1932 Ahn, Chang-Ho was arrested by the Japanese following a bombing carried out by Yun, Pong-Gil (although Ahn himself was not involved in the incident) and he was placed in prison in Taejon. After briefly being released he was arrested again by the Japanese police and stayed in prison until 1938 when, in poor health, he was allowed to leave the prison on bail. He died in a hospital in Seoul on 10 March 1938.
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