With the 99th anniversary of the Samil Independence Movement (March 1), a movement among students demanding that universities tear down pro-Japanese individuals’ statues is coming into the spotlight.
The Samil Independence Movement holds historical significance in Korea, as the movement directly challenged Japan’s colonization of Korea. Starting in Seoul on March 1, 1919, demonstrations quickly spread throughout the entire nation until full suppression by the Japanese a year later. The movement brought about national unity and is now recognized as a national holiday.
Based on the day’s historical importance, most of the controversial statues in the spotlight are those of individuals who have played a large role in establishing and developing the universities, but with historical evidence of being pro-Japanese during the Japanese colonial era.
Korea University has recently faced conflict between the students and the school after Kim Sung-soo, the establisher of Korea University, was deprived of his decoration on Feb. 13, and his pro-Japanese activities were acknowledged. Based on this, students have been constantly demanding that his statue be pulled down, along with the complete removal of commemoration of Kim utilizing his name and achievements.
“The school should tear down Kim Sung-soo’s statue, change the name of ‘Inchon Memorial Hall,’ and likewise remove all vestiges of him,” declared the Korea University student government association on Feb. 15.
Such demands date many years back. The undergraduate and graduate student government associations held a press conference in July last year and made similar demands.
Despite students’ continuous requests, the school has yet to respond to students’ wishes, fueling more intense responses from the students. On March 8, the student government association and civic groups gathered in front of Kim Sung-soo’s statue and once again demanded its removal.
“In addition, we are planning on gathering signatures for the removal of Kim Sung-soo’s vestige,” said Kim Min-ju, the Head of Human Rights Union at Korea University student government association.
Like Korea University, there are and have been many cases in which students demanded the removal of pro-Japanese individuals’ commemoration on various campuses. Such individuals include Yonsei University’s first president, Baek Nak-jun, and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies’ founder, Kim Heung-bae.
Ewha too, has gone through many conflicts with the school regarding Kim Hwal-ran, the first president’s statue. Students’ continuous demands for its demolishing have been ignored, and many observers have concluded that the school’s and students’ perspectives on the matter differ greatly.
One example is the installation and removal of a sign reading as follows: “This sign was set up to reveal the pro-Japanese stances of Kim Hwal-ran, the first president of Ewha Womans University,” created by the Living Modern History Club last October. Though actively supported by the students, the school removed the sign based on grounds of lacking proper consultation.
“I don’t understand why the school is so steadfast in keeping Kim’s statue,” commented an anonymous Philosophy Major student. “With such disapproval from the students along with social criticism of having a pro-Japanese individual on campus, I at least expected installation of signs or comments by the school.”
Such sentiment is shared in many campuses, where students are indignant at the schools’ lack of response.
“It is very frustrating that the school is not responding at all,” commented Kim. “However, there might be change as there is pressure coming in from the government regarding the issue. We will have to wait and see.”