Faithful to the End to the Principle of Nonviolence

The Historical Value and Heritage of the March 1st Movement (3)

Cho-Lee Yeoul | 기사입력 2021/03/12 [19:04]

Faithful to the End to the Principle of Nonviolence

The Historical Value and Heritage of the March 1st Movement (3)

Cho-Lee Yeoul | 입력 : 2021/03/12 [19:04]

Editor’s note: This is the third article in Ilda’s four-part series examining the role of women in the March 1st Independence Movement, documenting that time in women’s history, and considering its meaning. The March 1st Movement of 1919 (also referred to as the Manse Demonstrations, because “manse”—similar to “hurrah!”—was what protesters shouted) was one of Korea’s first large-scale displays of resistance to Japanese occupation.


Japanese Empire’s Sexualized Oppression of Female Demonstrators


The March 1st Movement was a nonviolent demonstration in which unarmed demonstration leaders and participants stood up to armed Japanese police officers by shouting, “Manse!” and waving the Korean flag.


Koreans’ nonviolent resistance was met with ruthless violence by the Japanese.  Women, especially, were subdued in the most severe way through sexual abuse and torture.


▲ A restored torture chamber in Seodaemun Prison History Hall   ©Lee Ok-im

In his book Korea’s Fight for Freedom, journalist Frederick Arthur McKenzie described how Japanese who felt threatened during the March 1st Movement used their swords “freely.”


The Japanese Empire had enacted regulations that forbid torture, but McKenzie charged that in reality torture was condoned and carried out wholesale upon prisoners who had not yet been brought to trial. He listed the commonly-used forms:


1. The stripping, beating, kicking, flogging, and outraging [rape] of schoolgirls and young women.


2. Flogging schoolboys to death.


3. Burning--the burning of young girls by pressing lighted cigarettes against their tender parts, and the burning of men, women and children by searing their bodies with hot irons.


4. Stringing men up by their thumbs, beating them with bamboos and iron rods until unconscious, restoring them and repeating the process, sometimes several times in one day, sometimes until death.


5. Contraction--tying men up in such fashion as to cause intense suffering.


6. Confinement for long periods under torturing conditions, as, _e.g._, where men and women are packed so tightly in a room that they cannot lie or sit down for days at a stretch.


McKenzie also stressed that the torture was not the work of a few men exploiting their position every now and then, but “employed in many centres and on thousands of people.”


In order to discourage female manse protestors, Japanese police would use sexual torture on them in front of others. This was the cruelest method of suppression to the women of the day, who considered it shameful for others to see their body.


“The rule in many police stations was to strip and beat the girls and young women who took any part in the demonstrations, and to expose them, absolutely naked, to as many Japanese men as possible. The Korean woman is as sensitive as a white woman about the display of her person, and the Japanese, knowing this, delighted to have this means of humiliating them.”


▲ Restored standing cells(narrow spaces in which a person can only stand) in Seodaemun Prison History Hall   ©Lee Ok-im

Documentation of the violence and torture that was carried out on female demonstrators can also be found in foreign and domestic newspapers of the time.


“When women are arrested, they are stripped in the street, stood where military police can watch, and harassed.” (The Independent)


“They stripped them, kicked them, and squeezed their breasts as if handling cows.” (Beijing Daily News)


“We would like to report in full the abuse of arrested women and girls, but it is unprintable.” (Japan Chronicle)


“They are whipped at intervals in order to prolong the pain, and when ordered to put their clothes on, their limbs have already become paralyzed and they cannot move.” (China Press)


To women who were actually sentenced to imprisonment for being leaders of the demonstrations, the vicious sexual abuse went a step further. Records at the Seodaemun Prison History Hall state: “One of (Imperial Japan’s) common methods of torture was to soak a ‘bull-penis cudgel’ (a dried bull penis) in water and insert it into a woman’s private parts.” There are also cases exhibited in the hall in which women’s arms had been cut off.


McKenzie wrote that having to take their clothes off in front of men “seemed horrible to the girls,” and relates a comment made by an American woman who had heard the stories of girls who had been taken to Jongno Police Station:


“I cannot tell you, a man, all that these girls told us. I will only say this. There have been stories of girls having their arms cut off. If these girls had been daughters of mine I would rather that they had their arms cut off than that they faced what those girls endured in Chong-no.”


A peaceful movement based on principles of non-violence


Though aware that they might be sexually persecuted or assaulted, women—students, teachers, housewives, gisaeng—came out of their houses and schools and became leaders of the March 1st Movement. They opposed Imperial Japan in a variety of ways, including by organizing numerous secret meetings and submitting petitions to foreign peace activists.


Together with the India’s nonviolent protest movement satyagraha (Sanskrit for “insistence on truth”), which demanded independence from Britain and was begun by Mahatma Gandhi in 1917, the March 1st Movement is a nonviolent national peace movement worthy of being documented in world history.


Imperial Japanese police officers suppressed Koreans’ peaceful manse demonstrations with ruthless violence and slaughter, but the movement, based on a commitment to unarmed resistance and the principle of nonviolence, swept over the nation like a wave.


Koreans never used force in the course of the demonstrations, though they could have amassed a group and occupied a Japanese police station, overpowered military police, or harmed Japanese who were staying in Korea.


“The movement was a demonstration, not a riot. On the opening day… there was no violence. The Japanese, scattered all over the country, were uninjured; the Japanese shops were left alone…” (Korea’s Fight for Freedom)


Even when the policed attacked and brandished swords, leaders of the March 1st Movement issued instructions not to resist using force.


Koreans’ method of defying this imperialist force that occupied other countries and shattered peace was to protect peace—to “show peace.” In this way, a nonviolent struggle could be judged to be more courageous and radical than an armed struggle.


The nonviolent resistance of the March 1st Movement showed how potent the mental strength and will of the Korean people were, and it inspired citizens around the world who were watching.


In the preface to Korea’s Fight for Freedom, Frederick Arthur McKenzie expressed great respect for Korea’s peaceful anti-Japan movement, and urged the world to reevaluate the Korean people.


▲ Sigumun, a hidden passage built by Imperial Japan to secretly remove bodies when it was necessary to hide the fact that they had been executed.   ©Lee Ok-im

“Here was a nation that had been ticketed and docketed by world statesmen as degenerate and cowardly, revealing heroism of a very high order…


The Koreans took their stand—their women and children by their side—without weapons and without means of defense. They pledged themselves ahead to show no violence. They had all too good reason to anticipate that their lot would be the same as that of others who had preceded them—torture as ingenious and varied as Torquemada and his familiars ever practiced.


They were not disappointed. They were called on to endure all that they had anticipated, in good measure, pressed down and running over. When they were dragged to prison, others stepped into their place. When these were taken, still others were ready to succeed them. And more are even now waiting to join in the dreadful procession, if the protests of the civilized world do not induce Japan to call a halt.


It seems evident that either the world made a mistake in its first estimate of Korean character, or these people have experienced a new birth. Which is the right explanation? Maybe both.”


Missionary James Scarth Gale could not repress his admiration for Koreans’ willpower, after witnessing the sight of young girls who didn’t stop the manse demonstrations even while they were enduring indiscriminate assault and sexual torture at the hands of Japanese police officers, and female students who came out of prison said, “As I bore [what happened in prison] for my country, I did not feel the shame and misery of it.”


In a report documenting Korea’s independence movement and Imperial Japans’ suppression, he wrote, “Young female students managed to bear what even grown men could not,” and that though Westerners considered Koreans a cowardly people, he had never heard of a people as brave and honorable as they were.


The spirit of nonviolence with which unarmed protesters faced Japanese police officers who violently suppressed them, and which caused them not to use violence against the Japanese even when they had a large group gathered is our historical heritage and a value that, as the March 1st Movement is restored as women’s history, should be re-engraved in our consciousness.


By Cho-Lee Yeoul

Published March 13, 2013

Translated by Marilyn Hook


*Original article:


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