The Life of Joong-Gun
Ahn, Joong-Gun was born in 1879 in the town of Hae-Ju in Hwang-Hae Province. His family moved to the town of Sin-Chun in Pyongahn Province when he was about ten years old. When he grew up he became a teacher and founded a school, called the Sam-Heung ("three success") School. The Japanese occupation of Korea would mean that his school, like all others in Korea at that time, would come under great hardships. Due to its location, it would also become caught up in a Japanese power play.
Korea was dragged into conflict as a result of trouble erupting in China in 1900. In response to the Boxer rebellion, the colonial powers descended upon the Orient in force to protect their interests. Prompted by the movement of Russian army units into neighbouring Manchuria in 1902, England formed an Anglo-Japanese Alliance, and a Russo-French Alliance was subsequently established in 1903, quickly followed by a movement of French and Russian troops into northern Korea. The Japanese saw this action as a threat to their intention to claim Korea for the Japanese Empire and demanded the removal of all Russian troops from Korea. When Russia rejected this demand in 1904, Japan initiated a naval attack. Korea claimed neutrality, but was invaded by Japan nonetheless; in autumn 1905 Russia surrendered and Japan was firmly established in Korea. This invasion was not viewed as an act of aggression anywhere outside of Korea.
Long-term occupation of Korea required the takeover of the Korean government. Hiro-Bumi Ito, one of Japan's leading elder statesmen of the time, masterminded a plan to complete the occupation and political takeover of Korea, and was named as the first Japanese Governor General of Korea in 1905. From Japan, Ito pressured the weak Korean government into signing the "Protectorate Treaty" on November 19, 1905, which gave the Japanese the legal right to occupy Korea. Ito arrived in Korea in March 1906 to take the reins of power and ordered all foreign delegations in Korea to withdraw, leaving Korea at the mercy of the Japanese. The new Japanese puppet government passed laws that allowed Korean land to be sold to Japanese, although land was just taken anyway.
The Korean people were incensed by this, and waves of anti-Japanese violence swept the country. A number of guerrilla groups were formed to attack the Japanese occupation forces, but they were crushed by the much larger Japanese army. Popular violent unrest continued to spread as many loyal Korean government officials committed suicide, and Korean signatories to the Protectorate Treaty were assassinated.
In the face of this oppression, Ahn, Joong-Gun went into self-imposed exile in Manchuria where he formed a small guerrilla movement. His force, of about 300 men, carried out raids across the Manchuria-Korea border in order to maintain pressure on the Japanese.
In June 1907, the Korean emperor, Ko-Jong, secretly sent an emissary to the Hague Peace Conference in order to expose the aggressive Japanese policy in Korea to the world. When Hiro-Bumi Ito found out about this, he forced Ko-Jong to abdicate the Korean throne. Following this, in July 1907 the Japanese officially took over the Government of Korea. This led to severe rioting throughout Korea, involving many Korean army units. The Japanese responded by disbanding the Korean army and police force. The Korean army retaliated by attacking the Japanese troops, but were quickly defeated.
In response to increased Japanese activity in the Kando region on the border with Manchuria, Ahn, Joong-Gun led his guerrillas on a raid there in June 1909. The raid was a success, resulting in many Japanese deaths. Despite such guerrilla activities being planned and executed from within China, the Japanese arrived at an agreement with the Chinese and signed a treaty with them on September 4 1909. This treaty granted the Japanese access to connect to the Southern Manchurian Railway, allowing them to exploit the rich mineral resources in Manchuria. In return, the Japanese gave China the territorial rights to Kando. This act of selling Korean territory to another country was the final straw for patriots like Ahn. He retreated to his headquarters in Vladivostok, Siberia, to plan the assassination of the man he saw as responsible - Hiro-Bumi Ito.
Ito had planned to meet with a Russian official called General Kokotseff in Harbin, Manchuria on October 26 1909, to calm Russian fears over Japan's intentions to annex Manchuria and invade China. When Ito's train arrived at Harbin train station at 9:00am on the day of the meeting, Ahn, Joong-Gun was waiting for him. Even though he knew that he would be tortured if he was captured by the Japanese, Ahn shot Ito as he stepped off the train. He was indeed captured by Japanese troops, and imprisoned at Port Arthur. Whilst in the Japanese prisons, he suffered five months of barbaric torture. Other prisoners told that despite this unbelievable treatment, his spirit never broke. At 10:00am on March 26, l9l0, Ahn, Joong-Gun was executed at Lui-Shung prison at the age of just 32.
Ahn, Joong-Gun's scarifice was one of many in this chaotic time of Korea's history. His attitude, and that of his compatriots, symbolised the loyalty and dedication that the Korean people felt towards their country's independence and freedom. Ahn's devotion to his country was captured in the calligraphy that he wrote in his cell in Lui-Shung prison prior to his execution, which said simply "The Best Rivers and Mountains". This can be interpreted to mean that he felt that his country was the most beautiful on earth. His life took him from educator to guerrilla leader, but above all this he was one of Korea's great patriots.