The March First Movement, or Samil Movement, was one of the earliest public displays of Korean resistance during the Japanese military occupation of the Korean Empire. The name refers to an event that occurred on March 1, 1919, hence the movement's name, literally meaning "Three-One Movement" or "March First Movement" in Korean. It is also sometimes referred to as the Manse Demonstrations (만세운동).
The Samil Movement came as a result of the harsh and brutal repressive nature of Japanese occupation under its military rule of the Korean Empire following 1905, and the "Fourteen Points" outlining the right of national "self-determination" proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919. After hearing news of Wilson’s speech, Korean students studying in Tokyo published a statement demanding freedom from Japanese military occupation.
At 2 P.M. on 1 March 1919, the 33 nationalists who formed the core of the Samil Movement convened at Taehwagwan Restaurant in Seoul, and read the Korean Declaration of Independence that had been drawn up by the historian Choe Nam-seon and the poet Manhae (also known as Han Yongun). The nationalists initially planned to assemble at Tapgol Park in downtown Seoul, but they chose a more private location out of fear that the gathering might turn into a riot. The leaders of the movement signed the document and sent a copy to the Japanese Governor General, with their compliments.
|“||We herewith proclaim the independence of Korea and the liberty of the Korean people. We tell it to the world in witness of the equality of all nations and we pass it on to our posterity as their inherent right. We make this proclamation, having 5,000 years of history, and 20,000,000 united loyal people. We take this step to insure to our children for all time to come, personal liberty in accord with the awakening consciousness of this new era. This is the clear leading of God, the moving principle of the present age, the whole human race's just claim. It is something that cannot be stamped out, stifled, gagged, or suppressed by any means.||”|
They then telephoned the central police station to inform them of their actions and were arrested afterwards.
Before the formal declaration, Korea also aired the following complaints to be heard by the Japanese people through papers and media:
These grievances were highly influenced by ‘‘‘Wilson’s Declaration of the Principle of Self Determination’’’.
Despite the nationalists' concerns, massive crowds assembled in Pagoda Park to hear a student, Chung Jae-yong, read the declaration publicly. Afterwards, the gathering formed into a procession, which the Japanese police attempted to suppress.
Coinciding with these events, special delegates associated with the movement also read copies of the independence proclamation from appointed places throughout the country at 2 PM on that same day, but the nationwide uprisings that resulted were also brutally put down by the Japanese police and army.
Protests nevertheless continued to spread, and as the Japanese national and military police could not contain the crowds, the army and even the navy were also called in. There were several reports of atrocities. In one notable instance, Japanese police in the village of Jeam-ri herded everyone into a church, locked it, and burned it to the ground. They even shot through the burning windows of the church to ensure that no one made it out alive.
Approximately 2,000,000 Koreans had participated in the more than 1,500 demonstrations, many who were massacred by the Japanese police force and army.
According to the frequently referenced The Bloody History of the Korean Independence Movement (한국독립운동지혈사, 韓國獨立運動之血史) by Park Eunsik, 7,509 were killed, 15,849 were wounded, and 46,303 were arrested. From March 1 to April 11, Japanese officials reported that 553 people were killed with over 12,000 arrested, while 8 policemen and military policemen were killed and 158 were wounded.
Many of those arrested were taken to the infamous Seodaemun Prison in Seoul where they were imprisoned without trial and tortured. Several hundred people were murdered in extrajudicial killings in the "death house" at the rear of the site.
In 1920, the Battle of Chingshanli broke out in Manchuria between exiled Korean nationalists and the Japanese Army.
A delegation of overseas Koreans, from Japan, China and Hawaii, sought to gain international support for independence at the ongoing Paris Peace Conference. The United States and Japan blocked the delegations attempt to address the conference.
The March 1st movement resulted in a major change in Japanese imperial policy towards Korea. Japanese Governor-General Hasegawa Yoshimichi accepted responsibility for the loss of control (although most of the repressive measures leading to the uprising had been put into place by his predecessors) and was replaced by Saito Makoto. Some of the aspects of Japanese rule considered most objectionable to Koreans[specify] were removed. The military police were replaced by a civilian force, and limited press freedom was permitted under what was termed the 'cultural policy'. Many of these lenient policies were reversed during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II.
Women also found new opportunities after the movement to express their views for the first time in Korea. Ideas of female liberation were allowed to be printed after the rebellion. Such journals as the Sin Yoja (New Woman) and Yoja Kye (Women's World) were printed.
The March 1 Movement was a catalyst for the establishment of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai in April 1919 and also influenced nonviolent resistance in India and many other countries .
In April 1919, the State Department told the U.S. ambassador in Japan that "the consulate [in Seoul] should be extremely careful not to encourage any belief that the United States will assist the Korean nationalists in carrying out their plans and that it should not do anything which may cause Japanese authorities to suspect [the] American Government sympathizes with the Korean nationalist movement."