By Do Je-hae
Despite recent shaky relations, the two Koreas are united in commemorating the legacy of independence activist Ahn Jung-geun (1879-1910).
Ahn was executed 100 years ago today in a Chinese prison for his 1909 assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Hirobumi Ito (1841-1909), who had masterminded Japan's annexation of Korea.
Representatives from the two Koreas will participate in a series of commemorative events from today for Ahn in Lushun, China, the site of the prison where he was executed a few months after he shot Ito to death at a train station in the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin.
A Seoul-based commemorative association for Ahn has invited 10 North Korean representatives to join the tribute that will include a Catholic mass, a tour of venues related to Ahn's activities in China and a seminar on Ahn's pan-Asianist philosophy.
Around 90 figures from South Korea will take part in the events, including lawmakers from the National Assembly Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee.
The joint commemorations are aimed at carrying on Ahn's spirit and rediscovering the identity as one people who share a common history.
While ideological differences have divided the two Koreas, one thing they have always had in common is their resentment against the former imperialist Japan and reverence toward those who fought against it, particularly Ahn.
He is a rare figure in modern Korean history in that he commands an equal level of respect from both countries, according to historians.
"Due to the unique status he enjoys in both countries, he could serve as an inspiration for inter-Korean peace," researcher Shin Woon-yong wrote in his latest book.
A recent survey found that Ahn was the most respected anti-Japanese activist in South Korea, followed by Yoo Gwan-sun (1902-1920), a female student organizer in the 1919 March 1st Independence Movement; and Kim Gu (1876-1949), a leader of the Shanghai Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea founded in 1919.
For North Korea, the most iconic anti-Japanese fighter is Kim Il-sung (1912-1994), the founding father of the communist state. In 1935, Kim became a member of the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army, a guerrilla group led by the Communist Party of China. North Korean students are taught that it was Kim's army that singlehandedly drove the Japanese off the Korean peninsula.
North Koreans perceive Ahn as "the greatest anti-Japanese fighter after Kim Il-sung," according to Shin. An autobiography by the former North Korean leader states that as a young boy, he grew up listening to stories about Ahn from his father.
North Korea saw Ahn, born in Hwanghae Province, now a part of North Korea, as a "sincere patriot who fought against Japanese rule" and elaborated on his accomplishments in its history books.
Some 20 surviving descendents of Ahn live in the North.
There have been incidences of inter-Korean cooperation in the past regarding the recovery of Ahn's remains that are yet to be found and repatriated to Korea.
During inter-Korean ministerial talks in 2005, North Korea agreed to conduct joint research with the South to locate the remains.
If they are ever found, his descendents have expressed their wish to have them buried in the demilitarized zone as a symbol of peace.
Extensive media attention has been paid to the issue of relocating the lost remains lately. Seoul will propose that Korea, China and Japan discuss cooperation on finding the remains during a ministerial meeting of the three countries in May.
Japan's cooperation seems unlikely, given its tendency to label Ahn as a "terrorist and assassin."
"The assassination of Hirobumi Ito is commonly perceived in Japan and by many Japanese people completely differently from the view that the people in South and North Korea have," Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said during a press conference in Tokyo.
As an architect of Japan's parliamentary democracy and the father of modernization, Ito is one of the most highly-placed politicians in its modern history.
A series of domestic and international commemorative events surrounding the date of Ahn's execution are focused on remembering Ahn as a pacifist and a supporter of pan-Asianism, an ideology formed in opposition to the Western colonization of Asia.
As a Pan-Asianist, Ahn wanted Korea, China and Japan to work together to counter colonial forces from the West and restore peace in East Asia.
"His proposal of an East Asian Union for peace, solidarity and co-prosperity is a crucial task for our times," said Park Yoo-chul, head of a committee organized for a new museum for Ahn, which will be opened on Oct. 26, coinciding with the date of the 1909 Harbin assassination.
More than 2,000 people, including descendents of Ahn and high-ranking officials, will gather at Seoul Plaza today, paying a floral tribute and holding a torchlight procession through downtown later in the evening.
A separate ceremony and lecture will be held in New York, hosted by the Association of Commemorative Services for Kim Gu.
남북한 안중근 추모행사 공동진행
최근 불안정한 양국관계에도 불구하고, 남북한은 안중근 (1879-1910)의사 업적을 기리는 이 특별한 애국적인 임무를 공동으로 거행한다.
안의사는 한국의 일본 병합을 주도했던 이토 히로부미 (1841-1909) 전 일본 총리를 암살했다는 이유로 100년 전 오늘 중국 감옥에서 순국했다.
남북 대표단은 오늘부터 중국 뤼순에서 거행될 일련의 합동 추모행사에 참석한다. 뤼순은 안의사가 중국 북동부 지역의 할빈역에서 이토를 사살한 후 2-3개월 만에 처형된 감옥이 있는 도시이다.
남측 안중근 의사 기념사업회는 북측 대표 10명을 가톨릭 미사와 중국에서의 안의사 활동과 관련된 장소 방문, 안의사의 범 아시아 철학 관련 세미나 등 추모 행사에 초청했다.
남측에서는 국회 외교통상 통일위원회 의원을 포함해 90 여명이 이들 행사에 참여하기로 돼 있다.
이 합동 추모행사는 안의사의 평화주의 정신을 기리고 역사를 공유하고 있는 동족으로서의 동질성을 재조명하는데 목적을 두고 있다.
역사가들에 따르면, 안의사는 남북 양측에서 똑같이 존경을 받는다는 점에서 극히 드문 근대 한국 역사 인물이다.
한국 근대사 영웅의 한 사람인 안의사에 관한 최근 저서에서 신운용 연구원은 “양측에서 똑같이 존경받는 특이한 신분 때문에 안의사는 남북 평화를 향한 자극제로 작용할 수도 있다”고 말했다.