Yu Gwan-sun

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Yu Gwan-sun
BornDecember 16, 1902
DiedSeptember 28, 1920(1920-09-28) (aged 17)
Known forMarch 1st Movement
  • Ryu Jung-gwan (father)
  • Lee So-jae (mother)
Korean name
Revised RomanizationRyu Gwan-sun
McCune–ReischauerRyu Kwan-sun

Yu Gwan-sun (Korean유관순; Hanja柳寬順; December 16, 1902 – September 28, 1920) was a Korean independence activist. She is particularly notable for her role in South Chungcheong during the March 1st Movement protests against Japanese colonial rule.[1] She has since become one of the most famous Korean independence activists and a symbol for the movement.

Early life and education[edit]

Yu Gwan-sun was born on December 16, 1902, near Cheonan, in South Chungcheong Province of Korea. She was the second of three children.[2] Her bon-gwan is the Goheung Ryu clan [ko].[citation needed]

Her family was influenced by her grandfather Ryu Yoon-gi and her uncle Ryu Joong-moo, who were Protestants, and she also grew up in this atmosphere.[3] She was considered an intelligent child and could memorize Bible passages after hearing them only once. She attended the school Ewha Hakdang, today known as Ewha Womans University, through a scholarship program that required recipients to work as a teacher after graduation. At the time, few women in the country attended university.[2] In 1919 while a student at the Ewha Girls' High School, she witnessed the beginnings of the March First Independence Movement. Yu, along with a five-person group, took part in the movement and attended demonstrations in Seoul. On March 10, 1919, all of the schools, including[4] the Ewha Women's School, were temporarily closed by the Governor-General of Korea, and Yu returned home to Cheonan.[5]

Political activism[edit]

On March 1, 1919, Seoul was overflowing with marches by people nationwide protesting Japanese occupation of Korea. After this protest, organizers arrived at Ewha Haktang and encouraged Yu and her friends to join a demonstration that would take place in three days on March 5, 1919.[2] Together with her classmates, Yu marched to Namdaemun in Central Seoul. There, they were detained by the police, but were shortly freed after missionaries from their school negotiated for their release.[2] Yu left Seoul after the Japanese government ordered all Korean schools to close on March 10 in response to the protests. She returned to her village of Jiryeong-ri (now Yongdu-ri) and there, she took a more active role in the movement.[6][7][8][2][9]

Aunae Market demonstration and arrest[edit]

Identity cards

Along with her family, Yu went door to door and encouraged the public to join the independence movement, which was starting to take shape. She spread the word of an organized demonstration that she planned [10][11] 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), at Aunae Marketplace at 9a.m., with approximately 3,000 demonstrators chanting "Long live Korean independence!" ("대한독립만세"). By 1 p.m., the Japanese military police arrived and fired on the unarmed protesters, killing 19 people, including Yu's parents. She was arrested.[4]

The Japanese military police offered Yu a lighter sentence in exchange for admission of guilt and her cooperation in finding other protest collaborators. She refused, and remained silent even after being severely tortured.[12]

Imprisonment and utterance[edit]

After her arrest, Yu was initially detained at Cheonan Japanese Military Police Station and later transferred to Gongju Police Station. At her trial, she argued that the proceedings were controlled by the Japanese colonial government, the law of the governor-general of Korea, and was overseen by an assigned Japanese judge. Despite her attempts to obtain a fair trial, she was found guilty of sedition and security law violations and received a five-year sentence at Seodaemun Prison in Seoul. During her imprisonment, Yu's continued support for the independence movement resulted in her being severely punished and tortured in prison.

On March 1, 1920, Yu prepared a large-scale protest with her fellow inmates to mark the movement's first anniversary. Yu was imprisoned separately in an isolated cell.[4] She died on September 28, 1920, from injuries sustained from torture and beatings in prison.[13] According to records discovered in November 2011, 7,500 of the 45,000 arrested in relation to the protests during that period died at the hands of Japanese authorities.[7][14]

"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]

Memorial hall

Japanese prison officials initially refused to release Yu's body in an attempt to hide 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 Yu's school, who voiced their suspicions of torture to the public. Walter, who dressed Yu for her funeral, later assured the public in 1959 that her body had not been cut into pieces as alleged.[15] On October 14, 1920, Yu's funeral was held at Jung-dong Church by Reverend Kim Jong-wu and her body was buried in a public cemetery in Seoul's Itaewon district. The cemetery was later destroyed.

After national liberation in 1945, a shrine was built in the township of Byeongcheon-myeon with the cooperation of Chungcheongnam-do Province and the Cheonan army. Since 1946, a memorial service organized by people from Ewha Womans University has honored Yu. Around this time, people who took Yu's coffin from Seodaemun Prison opened the box, and this triggered rumors that the body had been cut into pieces.

Her body was buried in Itaewon Cemetery, but the body disappeared while the Japanese Empire was moving the tomb to make it a military base. Currently, her grave in Cheonan, Chungcheongnam-do, has no body.[16]


Yu became known as "Korea's Joan of Arc".[17] While the March 1 movement did not immediately gain freedom for Korea, the Japanese colonial government soon implemented more lenient political controls. Because she never abandoned her convictions even after her arrest, Yu became a symbol of the Korean independence movement through her unrelenting protests and resistance.[18] After Korea gained independence, a shrine was built in honor of Yu with the cooperation of South Chungcheong province and the city of Cheonan.[19][20] In South Chungcheong Province, an award is given in honor of Yu.[21]

She was posthumously awarded the Order of Independence Merit in 1962.[17]

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 internal organs 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."[22]

Name spelling[edit]

There is some uncertainty over how to spell her surname in Hangul, which also affects the English spelling of her surname. In the South Korean standard of the Korean language, the initial at the start of words is dropped when spoken, and is called the "initial sound rule" (두음법칙). Yu's family name "" becomes "" even if it was originally pronounced "". In April 2007, an application was made to a local court to allow people to request changing their surname's spelling in the family register from to .[23] This was eventually confirmed by the South Korean Constitutional Court.[24]

The Yu-Gwansun Memorial Association (유관순열사사기념사업회) used from its founding in 1947, but eventually changed to in 2001. However, in 2014, it reverted to the spelling, citing a need to remove confusion, in light of the consistent use of by textbooks and both official Korean government and unofficial texts.[25]

Popular culture[edit]


  • Portrayed by Go Chun-hee in the 1948 film Yu Gwan-sun
  • Portrayed by Do Geum-bong in the 1959 film Yu Gwan-sun
  • Portrayed by Eom Aeng-ran in the 1966 film Yu Gwan-sun
  • Portrayed by Moon Ji-hyun in the 1974 film Yu Gwan-sun
  • Portrayed by Go Ah-seong in the 2019 film A Resistance
  • Portrayed by Lee Sae-bom in the 2019 film 1919 Yu Gwan-sun


  • Portrayed by Jung Mi-sook in the 1993-1994 KBS animation series Cho-ryong's Old Travel

Art and poetry[edit]

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 f g Kang, Inyoung (2018-03-28). "Overlooked No More: Ryu Gwan-sun, a Korean Independence Activist Who Defied Japanese Rule". The New York Times. Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  3. ^ "유관순". terms.naver.com (in Korean). Retrieved 2021-04-07.
  4. ^ a b c "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.
  5. ^ 어린시절과 학창시절 [Childhood and school days] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  6. ^ Korean People Who Died in Prison Custody: Ryu Gwan-Sun, Ryun Dong-Ju, Pak Paengnyeon, Kim Jeong-Ho. General Books LLC. 2010.
  7. ^ a b Connor, Mary (2001). "Famous Koreans Six Portratis" (PDF). Education About Asia.
  8. ^ 천안시 유관순 열사 기념관 3.1 만세운동 [Cheonan-si Yugwan-soon Thermal Memorial 3.1] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  9. ^ Famous Koreans: Six Portraits -Ryu, Kwan-Sun (1904–20) – By Mary Connor at aasianst.org Archived 2006-10-04 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "97년전 오늘은 유관순여사가 옥중고문으로 순국한 날입니다". insight. 2017-09-28.
  11. ^ "머문 곳마다, 주위 사람들과 함께... 유관순 열사는 일상이 독립운동이었다". seoul.co.kr. 2019-03-06.
  12. ^ 아우내 만세운동 [A long life movement] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  13. ^ Lonely Planet; Simon Richmond (2012). Lonely Planet Seoul. Lonely Planet. pp. 294–. ISBN 978-1-74321-363-6.
  14. ^ "Yoo Kwan Sunsa" 옥중투쟁 [Struggle in captivity] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  15. ^ 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."
  16. ^ "유관순". terms.naver.com (in Korean). Retrieved 2021-05-30.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ McMurray, Nathan. "Society: The March 1st Independence Movement and its big sister". 10 Magazine. Retrieved 2015-05-05.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ 천안시 유관순 열사 기념관 열사의 순국 [Cheonan Yoo Kwan Soon Memorial Hall] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  20. ^ "South Korea Independence Day: Nation Marks 66th Anniversary Of Liberation From Japan (Photos)". HuffPost. 2011-08-11. Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  21. ^ 유관순상 / 유관순횃불상 [Yoo Kwan Soon / Yoo Kwan Soon Statue]. terms.naver.com (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  22. ^ 유관순 [Kwan Soon Yoo] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  23. ^ "헌재·대법 '호적성씨 표기' 올 상반기 결론". 서울신문 (in Korean). Retrieved 2021-03-16.
  24. ^ "국가법령정보센터 | 헌재결정례 > 호적부상의 성 표기 정정신청 거부행위 위헌확인". www.law.go.kr. Retrieved 2021-03-16.
  25. ^ "류관순→유관순 열사로 바꿉니다". 14 March 2014.