Ryu Gwansun / EN

Published on 10/26,2015

Ryu Gwansun (December 16, 1902 – September 28, 1920), also known as Yu Gwansun or Yoo Kwan-Soon, was an organizer in what would come to be known as the March 1st Movement against the Japanese colonial rule of Koreain South Chungcheong. The March 1st Movement was a peaceful proclamation by the Korean people for their freedom from the Japanese. Ryu Gwansun became the symbol of this movement and she is one of the most famous independence fighters in Korea.

Early life and education

Gwansun was from Chungcheong, Seoul. She had a teacher, Alice Sharp, who was a western missionary. Sharp referred Gwansun to Ewha Woman’s School, which is now known as Ehwa Women’s University, in Seoul. She left Seoul after the Japanese closed down the school because of independence protests. She returned to her hometown and decided to get involved in the protest movement. In 1919, Ryu was a student at Ewha Womans University's high school in Seoul, where she witnessed the beginnings of the March 1st Movement. Her deep faith in God and the teachings from the Methodist Ewha School gave her the courage to act boldly.


When the school went into recess, following an order by the Japanese government closing all Korean schools, she returned to her home in Jiryeong-ri (now Yongdu-ri).
There, along with her family, she began to arouse public feeling against the Japanese occupation. She also planned a demonstration for independence, which included people from some neighboring towns, Yeongi, Chungju, and Jincheon. The demonstration was scheduled to start on the first lunar day of March 1919 at 9:00 a.m. in Awunae Marketplace. About 2,000 demonstrators shouted, "Long live Korean Independence!" ("Ĺ˝Ě8"). 
The Japanese police were dispatched at around 1:00 p.m. that same day, and Ryu was arrested with other demonstrators. Both of her parents were killed by Japanese police during the demonstration.
Ryu served a brief detention at Cheonan Japanese Military Police Station, and then she was tried and sentenced to seven years of imprisonment at Seodaemun Prison. During her sentence, Ryu Gwan-Sun continued to protest for the independence of Korea, for which she received harsh beatings and diverse, extremely severe forms of torture at the hands of Japanese officers. She died in prison on September 28, 1920, reportedly as the result of torture.
Her final words were, "Even if my fingernails are torn out, my nose and ears are ripped apart, and my legs and arms are crushed, this physical pain does not compare to the pain of losing my nation. My only remorse is not being able to do more than dedicating my life to my country." While she was imprisoned, she had to endure inhuman treatment. She endured the most brutal and barbaric mental and physical tortures. Even through these inhuman tortures, she did not abandon her protest. From constant tortures and sufferings, she died and her last words were “Japan shall fall.” She died along with an estimated 7,500 others who were all innocent Korean citizens. Approximately 45,000 denizens were arrested in the same period.

The Japanese prison initially refused to release her body, but eventually and reluctantly the prison released her body to Lulu Frey and Jeannette Walter, principals of Ewha Womans School, and only after Frey and Walter threatened to expose this atrocity to the world. Her body was reported to have been cut into pieces, but in fact according to Walter, who dressed her body for funeral, this allegation was false. The body was contained inside an oil crate which was supposed to be returned to Saucony Vacuum Company. The Japanese authorities did this as a retaliation against the threat from Ehwa School.


She was posthumously awarded the Order of Independence Merit in 1962. The March 1st Movement did not immediately grant freedom to Korea, but the Japanese colonial government implemented more lenient policies. Additionally, the protests had great influence and even people in the foreign community living in Korea started to support Korean independence. While Koreans were fighting for freedom, Gwansun became a powerful symbol. She was admired because she did not abandon her conviction regarding the importance of Korean Independence, regardless of brutal tortures and awful circumstances. She is also called Korea’s Joan of Arc, because Gwansun saved Korea from the Japanese oppression, which lead to the Independence of Korea. However, Gwansun did not physically fight against the Japanese. Instead Gwansun and other citizens protested and resisted peacefully. Also, she gave hope to the Koreans. “Therefore, she and those who supported her cause are a symbol of Korea’s commitment to the global heritage of passive resistance against oppressive rule.
This nonviolent and peaceful protest is similar to Martin Luther King’s civil rights march. The difference is that Gwansun and her fellow’s plan was secretly done, out of sight from the Japanese.

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