By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
The South Korean Embassy in Mexico and the Korean Cultural Center hosted a spectacular, one-night-only performance by the renowned National Gugak Center of traditional music and dance at Mexico City’s Teatro Metropólitan on Saturday, April 6, to mark the 100th anniversary of that country’s March First Independence Movement against Japanese colonial rule and the subsequent establishment of the first provisional independent Korean government.
In a solemn sit-down dinner at the Galería Plaza Hotel prior to the performance, South Korean Ambassador to Mexico Kim Sang-il spoke about the March First Movement and its significance for the Korean people, whose ancient civilization dates back to the first century B.C., with the birth of the Three Kingdoms, Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla.
Over the centuries, Korea was invaded and subjugated by various outside forces, including those of Japan and China, and in 1910, it was annexed by Japan after years of war, intimidation and political machinations.
Under Japanese rule, the Koreans were subjected to fierce cultural repression, including the banning of their native language and the burring of over 200,000 ancient documents in an effort to annihilate their national history and identity.
“One hundred years ago, on April 11, the Provisional Government of Korea, a direct consequence of the March First Independence Movement, declared our country a democratic republic,” Kim said.
“Because it was impossible to install the Provisional Government of Korea under Japanese colonization, some 30 provincial leaders met in Shanghai, China, to make this proclamation.”
Kim said that the first order of business of the provisional government was to draft a constitution based on 10 articles, a document that would later be expanded to include eight chapters and 56 articles.
These early founders of the Korean republic would face numerous difficulties, including oppression, persecution, a lack of financial resources and internal division, the ambassador said.
“But despite all this, its members maintained an intense battle for freedom against colonial rule, organizing their own troops under the name of the Liberation Army,” he said.
Notwithstanding, the Japanese continued to occupy Korea until the end of World War II in 1945.
Eventually, the Koreans managed to free themselves from the yoke of Japanese colonial rule, but the so-called Land of the Morning Calm would face decades of anything-but-calm in the years ahead.
In 1950, the peninsula became a Cold War proxy between the United States and Russia and China, leading to a devastating three-year war that split the country into two separate nations, South Korea and North Korea, and resulted in the death of nearly 10 percent of its population and the destruction of more than half of its infrastructure and homes.
(Technically, although an armistice ended the fighting between North Korea and South Korea on July 27, 1953, no formal peace treaty was ever signed, leaving the two nations engaged in a frozen conflict that still simmers to this day.)
Yes despite the unfathomable suffering that they endured, and the constant threat of nuclear attacks from an unstable and erratic Pyongyang, the people of South Korea managed to rebuild their nation and become the 11th-largest economy worldwide and the fourth-largest in all of Asia.
Ambassador Kim noted that the peninsula has remained a point of political and geographic volatility until recent talks between Seoul and Pyongyang marked the start of a delicate rapprochement between the two Koreas,
He said that it was the desire of the 1919 Korean martyrs that Korea would be a single nation in which the people of the north and the people of the south would share in an environment of mutual peace and prosperity.
“Many Koreans have great hopes for the future, betting on a closer relationship between the two Koreas, since thousands of families remain separated by the (political) division of the peninsula,” Kim said.
“Today, we celebrate that hope of reconciliation, freedom and fraternity, just as well celebrate the relationship of friendship and cooperation between Korea and Mexico, which I am sure will only become stronger in the future.”
Korea’s National Gugak Center is that country’s most renowned academy of traditional dance and music.
Headquartered in Seoul, its history dates back to the Eumseongseo music institute of the ancient Silla Kingdom in the seventh century, although it was founded under its current name in 1950,