Ryu Gwansun

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Ryu Gwan-sun
Ryu 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
  • Ryu Jung-gwan (father)
  • Lee So-jae (mother)
  • Ryu Gye-chul (older half-sister)
  • Ryu Woo-seok (older brother)
  • Ryu In-seok (younger brother)
  • Ryu Gwan-seok (younger brother)
Korean name
Revised RomanizationRyu Gwan-sun
McCune–ReischauerRyu Kwan-sun

Yu Gwan-sun (Hangul: 유관순, Hanja: 柳寬順) (December 16, 1902 – September 28, 1920) was a Korean independence activist organizer in what would come to be known as the March First Independence Movement against Imperial Japanese colonial rule of Korea in South Chungcheong.[1] The movement was a peaceful demonstration by the Korean people against Japanese rule. Ryu became one of the most famous figures in this movement and later a symbol of Korea's fight for independence.


Ryu Gwan-sun was born into the Goheung Ryu clan. There has been controversy in the past over the labeling of statements regarding the law of "두음법칙(頭音法則)". In April 2007, there was a local court's decision to accept an application to change the name of the family register, and various state agencies discussed the labeling issue.[2] As a result of the discussion, Ryu's family name could be written in Korean as "Ryu" in accordance with the Supreme Court's registration rules, which took effect in August 2007. In October 2007, the Constitutional Court confirmed that the revised family registry rules were not a problem.[3] For this reason, it was wrongly reported that the Constitutional Court ruled it unconstitutional directly.

The Yu-Gwansun Memorial Association (Hangul: 유관순열사사기념사업회), a non-profit organization registered with the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs (Hangul: 국가보훈처) first used "Yu" and changed it to "Ryu" in 2001, but has long been labeled "Yu-Gwansun" in textbooks and official events according to the "두음법칙(頭音法則)", and has been listed in the order since 2014.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Ryu Gwan-sun was born into the Goheung Ryu clan on December 16, 1902, near Cheonan, in South Chungcheong Province of Korea as the second child of three children.[5] 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.[6] 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.[5] In 1919 while a student at the Ewha Girls' High School, she witnessed the beginnings of the March First Independence Movement. Ryu, 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[7] the Ewha Women's School, were temporarily closed by the Governor-General of Korea, and Ryu returned home to Cheonan.[8]

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 Ryu and her friends to join a demonstration that would take place in three days on March 5th, 1919.[5] Together with her classmates, Ryu 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.[5] Ryu 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.[9][10][11][5][12]

Aunae Market demonstration and arrest[edit]

Identity cards

Along with her family, Ryu 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 [13][14] 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 [7] chanting "Long live Korean independence!" (Korean: "대한독립만세"). By 1 p.m., Japanese military police arrived and fired on the unarmed protesters, killing 19 people including Ryu's parents. She was arrested.

The Japanese military police offered Ryu 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.[15]

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, Ryu's continued support for the independence movement resulted in her being severely punished and tortured in prison.

On March 1, 1920, Ryu prepared a large-scale protest with her fellow inmates to mark the movement's first anniversary.[7] Ryu was imprisoned separately in an isolated cell.[7] She died on September 28, 1920 from injuries sustained from torture and beatings in prison.[16] 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.[10][17]

"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.[5]

After death[edit]

Memorial hall

Japanese prison officials initially refused to release Ryu'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 Ryu's school, who voiced their suspicions of torture to the public. Walter, who dressed Ryu for her funeral, later assured the public in 1959 that her body had not been cut into pieces as alleged.[18] On October 14, 1920, Ryu'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 Ryu'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.[19]


Ryu became known as "Korea's Joan of Arc".[20] 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, Ryu became a symbol of the Korean independence movement through her unrelenting protests and resistance.[21] After Korea gained independence, a shrine was built in honor of Ryu with the cooperation of South Chungcheong province and the city of Cheonan.[22][23]

She was posthumously awarded the Order of Independence Merit in 1962.[20]

In 2018 The New York Times published a belated obituary.[5]

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."[24]

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.[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

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. ^ "헌재·대법 '호적성씨 표기' 올 상반기 결론". 서울신문 (in Korean). Retrieved 2021-03-16.
  3. ^ "국가법령정보센터 | 헌재결정례 > 호적부상의 성 표기 정정신청 거부행위 위헌확인". www.law.go.kr. Retrieved 2021-03-16.
  4. ^ "류관순→유관순 열사로 바꿉니다".
  5. ^ 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". Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  6. ^ "유관순". terms.naver.com (in Korean). Retrieved 2021-04-07.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 어린시절과 학창시절 [Childhood and school days] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  9. ^ Korean People Who Died in Prison Custody: Ryu Gwan-Sun, Ryun Dong-Ju, Pak Paengnyeon, Kim Jeong-Ho. General Books LLC. 2010.
  10. ^ a b Connor, Mary (2001). "Famous Koreans Six Portratis" (PDF). Education About Asia.
  11. ^ 천안시 유관순 열사 기념관 3.1 만세운동 [Cheonan-si Yugwan-soon Thermal Memorial 3.1] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  12. ^ Famous Koreans: Six Portraits -Ryu, Kwan-Sun (1904–20) – By Mary Connor at aasianst.org Archived 2006-10-04 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "97년전 오늘은 유관순여사가 옥중고문으로 순국한 날입니다". insight. 2017-09-28.
  14. ^ "머문 곳마다, 주위 사람들과 함께… 유관순 열사는 일상이 독립운동이었다". seoul.co.kr. 2019-03-06.
  15. ^ 아우내 만세운동 [A long life movement] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  16. ^ Lonely Planet; Simon Richmond (2012). Lonely Planet Seoul. Lonely Planet. pp. 294–. ISBN 978-1-74321-363-6.
  17. ^ "Yoo Kwan Sunsa" 옥중투쟁 [Struggle in captivity] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  18. ^ 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."
  19. ^ "유관순". terms.naver.com (in Korean). Retrieved 2021-05-30.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ McMurray, Nathan. "Society: The March 1st Independence Movement and its big sister". 10 Magazine. Retrieved 2015-05-05.[permanent dead link]
  22. ^ 천안시 유관순 열사 기념관 열사의 순국 [Cheonan Yoo Kwan Soon Memorial Hall] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  23. ^ "South Korea Independence Day: Nation Marks 66th Anniversary Of Liberation From Japan (Photos)". HuffPost. 2011-08-11. Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  24. ^ 유관순 [Kwan Soon Yoo] (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.
  25. ^ 유관순상 / 유관순횃불상 [Yoo Kwan Soon / Yoo Kwan Soon Statue]. terms.naver.com (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-10-11.