Tour Through Time: Stop 16: Shinsa-Dong

After crossing the Han River we arrive in the Do San Memorial Park in Shinsa-Dong, Seoul. It was built in 1973 to mark the 95th anniversary of Ahn Chang-Ho’s birth. His body was exhumed from the Manuri Cemetery in Seoul and reburied in the park alongside his wife, Lee Hae-Ryon.

Ahn was born on Torong Island on 9th November 1878 (not 1876 as most sources quote). He was born into a farming family and converted to Christianity as a teenager. In his early 20’s he established Cheomjin, the first co-educational elementary school in Korea. At 24 he emigrated to America with his wife with the aim of achieving a western education which would enable him to help further the education of Koreans. It is said that as he saw the volcanic peaks in Hawaii he decided to call himself Do San (Island Mountain), resolving to “stand tall above the sea of turmoil existing in Korea at that time”. However, upon arriving he was shocked at the lack of unity between Korean Americans so instead focussed his efforts on creating enlightenment and unity between them. He had a very hands-on approach, travelling from house to house helping with household chores, planting flowers, cleaning windows and even cleaning toilets.

In Riverside, California he noticed that just like in his homeland, Japanese labour contractors controlled the jobs and excluded the Koreans, so Ahn convinced orchard owner Cornelius Earle Rumsey to loan him $1,500 to set up a Korean employment agency. Ahn was able to repay Cornelius within a month which impressed him so much that Cornelius decided he would only ever employ Koreans. Both then worked to provide affordable housing for Cornelius’ employees, leading to the first Korean village in California.

After founding the Korean National Association in America he returned to Korea and formed an independence group known as the Shinmin-Hoe (New People’s Association) which promoted Korean independence via the cultivation of nationalism in education, culture and business. By 1910 it had grown so large that it attracted the attention of the Japanese, who fabricated a fake plot to assassinate Governor-General Masatake Terauchi and used this to arrest the Shinmin-Hoe leaders and 600 innocent Christians. 105 Koreans were tried after horrific torture during which many of those arrested died. These events drew the attention of the worldwide community and international pressure was placed on the Japanese who eventually allowed most to go free.

After the assassination of Hiro-Bumi Ito Japan tightened its grip on Korea’s leaders and Ahn was forced into exile in Manchuria before returning to America. In 1911 Japan passed the Education Act, forcing all Korean schools to close. Meanwhile in America Ahn was elected chairman of the Korean National People’s Association which negotiated with the United States Government, and formed the Hungsadan, a secret association of patriots whose goal was to “lay the groundwork for the great undertaking of enlightening the people of Korea. It was the Hungsadan that helped put pressure on American President Woodrow Wilson to speak on behalf of Korean autonomy at the Paris Peace Conference. After the Sam-Il demonstrations took place Ahn travelled to Shanghai to help form part of a Provisional Korean Government and help draw up a Democratic Constitution for Korea along with future South Korean President Syngman Rhee. In 1932 he and other independence activists were arrested following bombings by Korean patriot Yoon Bong-Gil and was shipped back to Korea. He was sentenced to 4 years in prison but was paroled after 2 years. Due to continuing political unrest he was arrested again in 1937 and despite his age was tortured until he was released on bail to Kyungsung University Hospital in Seoul, suffering from severe tuberculosis, pleurisy and peritonitis. Here he sadly passed away on 10th March 1938.

We will be marking our arrival here with a 2 minute plank before continuing 37 miles south east to the tomb of a great King.

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