Ryu Gwansun

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Ryu Gwan-sun
Yu Gwan-sun.JPG
BornDecember 16, 1902
DiedSeptember 28, 1920(1920-09-28) (aged 17)
Kyōjō Prison, Keijo, Japanese Korea
(now Seodaemun Prison, Seoul, South Korea)
Known forMarch 1st Movement
Korean name
Revised RomanizationRyu Gwan-sun
McCune–ReischauerRyu Kwan-sun

Ryu Gwan-sun (December 16, 1902 – September 28, 1920), also known as Yu Gwansun, was a Korean independence activist organizer in what would come to be known as the March 1st Movement against Imperial Japanese colonial rule of Korea in South Chungcheong.[1] The March 1st Movement was considered a peaceful demonstration by the Korean people against Japanese rule. Ryu Gwan-sun became one of the most well-known participants in this movement, and eventually, a symbol of Korea's fight for independence.

Early life and education[edit]

Ryu Gwan-sun was born on December 16, 1902, near Cheonan, in the South Chungcheong Province of Korea.[2] She was considered an intelligent child and would memorize Bible passages upon hearing them only once. She attended the Ewha school, today known as Ewha Womans University, through a scholarship program that required recipients to work as a teacher after graduation. At the time, few Korean women attended university.[2] In 1919, while she was a student at the Ewha Girls' High School, she witnessed the beginnings of the March 1st Movement. Ryu, along with a five-person group, took part in the movement and participated in demonstrations in Seoul. On March 10, 1919, all of the schools, including[3] the Ewha Women's School, were temporarily closed by the Governor-General of Korea, and Ryu returned home to Cheonan.[4]

Political activism[edit]

On March 1, 1919, Seoul was overflowing with marches by people from around the country protesting Japanese involvement in Korea. Ryu left Seoul after the Japanese government ordered all Korean schools to close on March 10 in response to the ongoing independence protests. She returned to her home in Jiryeong-ri (now Yongdu-ri) and, while there, took a more active role in the protest movement.[5][6][7][2][8]

Aunae Market demonstration and arrest[edit]

Along with her family, Ryu rallied tirelessly going door-to-door and encouraged the public to join the independence movement that was starting to take shape. She spread the word of an organized demonstration that she had planned[citation needed] with Cho In-won and Kim Goo-Eung and rallied the people from neighboring towns, including Yeongi, Chungju, Cheonan and Jincheon. The demonstration took place on April 1, 1919 (March 1 in the lunar calendar), in Aunae Marketplace at 9:00 a.m., with approximately 3,000 demonstrators [3] chanting "Long Live Korean Independence!" (Korean: "대한독립만세"). By 1:00 p.m, the Japanese military police arrived and fired on the unarmed Korean protesters, killing 19 people which included Ryu's parents. Ryu was arrested.

The Japanese military police offered Ryu a lighter sentence in exchange for her admission of guilt and her cooperation in finding other protest collaborators. However, she refused to reveal the identity or whereabouts of any of her collaborators even after being severely tortured.[9]

Imprisonment and utterance[edit]

After Ryu's arrest, she was initially detained at the Cheonan Japanese Military Police Station then transferred to the Gongju Police Station prison. At her trial, Ryu argued the proceedings were controlled by the Japanese colonial administration, the law of the governor-general of Korea, and was overseen by an assigned Japanese judge. Despite her attempts to obtain what she believed was a fair trial, Ryu received a guilty verdict on counts of sedition and security law violations and was sentenced to five years imprisonment at Seodaemun Prison. During her imprisonment, Ryu continued to support the Korean independence movement which resulted in her being severely punished and tortured by Japanese prison officers.

On March 1, 1920, Ryu prepared a large-scale protest with her fellow inmates in honor of the first anniversary of the March 1st Independence Movement.[3] Ryu was imprisoned separately in an isolated cell.[3] She died on September 28, 1920 from injuries she sustained from torture and beatings inflicted by the Japanese prison officers.[10] According to records discovered in November 2011, of the 45,000 who were arrested in relation to the protests during that period, 7,500 died at the hands of the Japanese authorities.[6][11]

"Japan will fall", she wrote while in prison:

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.[2]

After death[edit]

Japanese prison officials initially refused to release Ryu's body in an attempt to hide the evidence of torture. Authorities eventually released her body in a Saucony Vacuum Company oil crate due to threats made by Lulu Frey and Jeannette Walter, the principals of Ryu's former school, who voiced their suspicions of torture to the public. Walter, who dressed Ryu for her funeral proceedings, later assured the public in 1959 that her body had not been cut into pieces as had been alleged.[12] On October 14, 1920, Ryu Gwan-sun's funeral was held at the Jung-dong Church by Minister Kim Jong-wu and her body was buried in the public Itaewon cemetery, which was eventually destroyed.

After the independence of Korea in 1945, a shrine was built in Byeongcheon-myeon with the cooperation of Chungcheongnam-do Province and the Cheonan army. Meanwhile, since 1946, a memorial service was organized by people from Ewha Womans University, including Shin Bong-jo and Park In-duk. Around this time, people who took over Ryu's coffin from Seodaemun Prison opened the box and there were rumors that the body had been cut into pieces.

Her body was buried at the cemetery in Itaewon, but it is believed to have been treated as an unbroken tomb in 1936 during the process of relocating the cemetery in Itaewon for the purpose of creating a housing site.[13]


Ryu became known as "Korea's Joan of Arc".[14] While the March 1st Movement did not immediately gain freedom for Korea, the Japanese colonial government soon implemented more lenient political controls. Because she did not abandon her convictions even after her arrest, Ryu became a symbol of the Korean fight for independence through her unrelenting protests and resistance.[15] After Korea gained independence, which occurred in 1945, a shrine was built in honor of Ryu with the cooperation of South Chungcheong province and the city of Cheonan.[16][17]

She was posthumously awarded the Order of Independence Merit in 1962.[14]

In 2018 The New York Times published a belated obituary.[2]

Declaration of independence by the women of Korea[edit]

"Today, when the world claims peace (…), we must live under the rule of law, but we must live without fear and fear for our own children. It is our duty to become an active new nation under the rule of independence and to follow these teachers in the basement of Gucheon without any difficulties. With tears rising from the soy sauce and hard work coming from the music, we will lie down on our beloved fellow Koreans! Do not let the time be too early to do anything; let the work run fast."[18]

Award of Ryu Gwan-sun[edit]

In South Chungcheong Province, a group of women (include students) or group that have contributed to the development of the nation and the community are selected from all over the country. Honoring the patriot Ryu Gwan-sun.[19]

Further reading[edit]

  • Shin, Gi-Wook, and Rennie Moon. 2019. “1919 In Korea: National Resistance and Contending Legacies.” The Journal of Asian Studies 78 (2). Cambridge University Press: 399–408.


  1. ^ Bright Figures in Korean History (한국역사를 빚낸사람들), Kim, Han-ryong Compiler (김한룡 엮음) 대일출판사
  2. ^ a b c d e Kang, Inyoung (2018-03-28). "Overlooked No More: Ryu Gwan-sun, a Korean Independence Activist Who Defied Japanese Rule". Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  3. ^ a b c d "Yu Gwan-sun, the Indefatigable Independence Fighter". KBS World Radio. Korea Communications Commission. 2013. Archived from the original on 2016-08-06. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
  4. ^ 어린시절과 학창시절 [Childhood and school days] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  5. ^ Korean People Who Died in Prison Custody: Ryu Gwan-Sun, Ryun Dong-Ju, Pak Paengnyeon, Kim Jeong-Ho. General Books LLC. 2010.
  6. ^ a b Connor, Mary (2001). "Famous Koreans Six Portratis" (PDF). Education About Asia.
  7. ^ 천안시 유관순 열사 기념관 3.1 만세운동 [Cheonan-si Yugwan-soon Thermal Memorial 3.1] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  8. ^ Famous Koreans: Six Portraits -Ryu, Kwan-Sun (1904–20) – By Mary Connor at aasianst.org Archived 2006-10-04 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ 아우내 만세운동 [A long life movement] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  10. ^ Lonely Planet; Simon Richmond (2012). Lonely Planet Seoul. Lonely Planet. pp. 294–. ISBN 978-1-74321-363-6.
  11. ^ "Yoo Kwan Sunsa" 옥중투쟁 [Struggle in captivity] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  12. ^ Interview with Jeanette Walter quoted in Living Dangerously in Korea: The Western Experience 1900–1950, Clark, Donald N. (Norwalk, CT: Eastbridge, 2003). "... when I was in Korea in 1959, I was interviewed by a group from Kwansoon's school, and I assured them on tape that her body was not mutilated. I had dressed her for burial."
  13. ^ 네이버 뉴스 라이브러리. Naver News Library. Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  14. ^ a b "Korea's Joan of Arc latest figure in East Asia's colonial propaganda war". The National. 2014-11-24. Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  15. ^ McMurray, Nathan. "Society: The March 1st Independence Movement and its big sister". 10 Magazine. Retrieved 2015-05-05.[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ 천안시 유관순 열사 기념관 열사의 순국 [Cheonan Yoo Kwan Soon Memorial Hall] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  17. ^ "South Korea Independence Day: Nation Marks 66th Anniversary Of Liberation From Japan (Photos)". HuffPost. 2011-08-11. Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  18. ^ 유관순 [Kwan Soon Yoo] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  19. ^ 유관순상 / 유관순횃불상 [Yoo Kwan Soon / Yoo Kwan Soon Statue]. terms.naver.com (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.