Declaration Project

Editor’s note: On March 1, 1919, after 9 years of Japanese occupation, 33 primarily cultural and religious leaders of the Samil Movement (most political leaders were jailed or in exile) convened and drew up a proclamation of independence. This sparked a nationwide protest movement, called the March 1st Movement or the Samil Independence Movement, which featured widespread demonstrations to end colonial rule. While the movement was eventually suppressed by Japanese forces, which remained in Korea until 1945, it nonetheless led to some reforms. Further, it its call self-determination led to the creation of the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai.  March 1 independence day celebrations are held annually in both North and South Korea.


Declaration (Proclamation) of Korean Independence
We herewith proclaim the independence of Korea and the liberty of the Korean people. This we proclaim to all the nations of the world in witness of human equality. This we proclaim to our descendents so that they may enjoy in perpetuity their inherent right to nationhood.Inasmuch as this proclamation originates from our five-thousand-year history, inasmuch as it springs from the loyalty of twenty million people, inasmuch as it affirms our yearning for the advancement of everlasting liberty, inasmuch as it expresses our desire to take part in the global reform rooted in human conscience, it is the solemn will of heaven, the great tide of our age, and a just act necessary for the co-existence of all humankind. Therefore, no power in this world can obstruct or suppress it!Victims of the outdated notions of aggression and brute force, we have now suffered for a decade, for the first time in our long history, under foreign tyranny; our right to existence deprived, our spiritual growth stunted, our national pride and honor damaged, and our opportunity to make our own creative contribution to the progress of world civilization lost.Surely, if we are to eradicate our longstanding sense of injustice, if we are to extricate ourselves from today’s pain, if we are to forestall tomorrow’s threat, if we are to resuscitate our trampled national pride, if we as individuals are to reach our full potential, if we are to deliver our children from the legacy of shame, if we are to bequeath to our future generations blessing and prosperity, our first and foremost duty is to secure the independence of our people. If each and every twenty million of us carry a sword in our hearts and if we are supported by today’s shared human conscience ready to stand by us equipped with arms of justice and morality, what can stop us from pressing forward to defeat the strongest? If we regroup and build up our strength, what aim can we not accomplish?

Though Japan has repeatedly violated its promises since the Treaty of 1876, we do not here condemn its perfidy. Though its scholars and government officials dismiss our great dynastic achievements in order to prop up its claim that our history began as a foreign colony with a primitive civilization, though it merely seeks a conqueror’s gratification willfully ignoring the ancient foundation and the outstanding characteristics of our people, we do not here take it to task. We are pressed to reprimand ourselves, and thus have little time to reproach others. Busy with today’s work, we have little time to chastise yesterday’s actions.

Today, our only duty is to rebuild ourselves, not to demolish others. It is to explore our new destiny according to the solemn dictates of our conscience, not to squabble with others over fleeting grudges and old animosities. It is to restore our natural, rational foundation by rectifying the unnatural, irrational ambition of the Japanese politicians in the grip of obsolete ideas. The annexation made without national consensus has inevitably led to intimidation used as a temporary measure, inequality caused by discrimination, and statistics falsified to justify it. Just look at the result today! The chasm of rancor has grown so wide that bridging the two peoples with differing interests seems all but impossible.

To boldly right old wrongs, opening a new relationship based on true mutual understating, is certainly the best way for both countries to avert disaster and foster amity. To forcibly bind twenty million people filled with bitterness and enmity will not secure lasting peace. Moreover, it will exacerbate the apprehension and distrust of four hundred million Chinese people who hold the key to East Asian stability, which will undoubtedly lead to the unrest and eventual downfall of the entire region. Therefore, establishing Korean independence today will permit Koreans to return to their rightful lives, will enable the Japanese to break away from their wrongful path and concentrate on their responsibility as a major player in East Asia, and will free the Chinese from their nightmare of uncertainty and anxiety about Japan. Korean independence will indeed be an indispensable step toward the stability of East Asia, which will in turn contribute to the attainment of world peace. With the well-being of all humanity at stake, the establishment of Korean independence is a grave issue that transcends mere animosity between two nations.

Behold! A new world is approaching before our very eyes! The age of might has receded, and the age of morality has arrived. The spirit of humanism cultivated throughout the past century now begins to throw its light on a new chapter in world history. Just as a new spring has come, hastening the rebirth of every living thing, our pulse, once frozen in the bitter cold and snow, now quickens in the warm breeze and sunshine. The good fortune of heaven and earth has returned to us, and we ride the changing tide of the world. Do not hesitate or flinch! By protecting our inalienable individual right to freedom, we will enjoy our lives to the full. By realizing our bountiful creativity, our national civilization will flower in the warmth of spring that pervades the world.

We hereby rise up! Conscience is on our side, and truth marches with us. Men and women, young and old, leave your darkened corners and partake in the joyful resurrection along with all creation! The spirit of our many ancestors protects us from within, and the tide of the new world from without. To begin is to succeed! Let us march straight into the light!
We hereby pledge the following:

  1. Today’s undertaking reflects the demands of our people for justice, morality, survival, and prosperity. Therefore, we will act solely in the spirit of liberty, never in the spirit of enmity.
  2. To the last person and to the last moment, we will forthrightly express the will of the Korean people.
  3. We will respect order in all our actions and ensure that our demeanor and claims are always honorable and upright.

The first day of the third month of the 4252nd year of the founding of Korea,

The signatures attached to the document are:

Son Pyung-Hi
Kil sun-Chu
Yi Pil-Chu
Paik Yong-Sung
Kim Won-Kyu
Kim Pyung-Cho
Kim Chang-Choon
Kwon Dong-Chin
Kwon Byung-Duk
Na Yong-Whan
Na In-Hup
Yang Chun-Paik
Yang Han-Mook
Lew Yer-Dai
Yi Kop-Sung
Yi Mung-Yong
Yi Seung-Hoon
Yi Chong-Hoon
Yi Chong-Il
Lim Yei-Whan
Pak Choon-Seung
Pak Hi-Do
Pak Tong-Wan
Sin Hong-Sik
Sin Suk-Ku
Oh Sei-Chang
Oh Wha-Young
Chung Choon-Su
Choi Sung-Mo
Choi In
Han Yong-Woon
Hong Byung-Ki
Hong Ki-Cho


Source for translation:


Further reading:  Asia’s Unknown Uprisings, Vol. I: South Korean Social Movements in the 20th Century, George Katsiaficas, Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2012.