Ahn Jung-geun Led Enlightenment Movement
This is the sixth in a series of articles highlighting the life of Ahn Jung-geun on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his assassination of the first Japanese resident general of Korea, Hirobumi Ito, on Oct. 26, 1909, in China.
By Kim Sue-young
People complain about a small paper-cut but there was a man who willingly cut off a part of his finger.
Independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun (1879-1910) swore to save the country from Japan's brutality, severing his fourth finger above the knuckle to seal his oath.
Ahn made good on his word when he risked his life to assassinate Hirobumi Ito, Japan's first resident general of Korea, in 1909.
He would not have accomplished such a feat had he not put top priority on the people and the nation.
Ahn was faithful Catholic but he appeared to value his country more than anything else when he said, ``The country precedes religion.''
In a bid to understand how his strong nationalism and political ideology had been formed, it is essential to look into his background and early life.
Ahn faced a turning point in his life when he began to believe in Catholicism under the influence of his father Ahn Tae-hoon.
He is believed to have seen religion as a key to opening a new era since he said, ``I hope that many of our Korean people will reflect on their lives… and repent of their sins… so that they can become righteous children of the Lord of Heaven (God).
``This way we can make today a virtuous age and so enjoy great peace together. Then after we die we will ascend to heaven and receive eternal joy without end.''
This remark shows that he had a different view on religion at that time, said Shin Un-yong, a researcher at the Patriot Ahn Jung-geun Memorial Conference in Seoul.
``He tried to make `this world' an era of morality by realizing religious lessons unlike Catholics then who focused on the afterlife,'' he said in a collection of articles, titled ``Ahn Jung-eun and His Time.'' ``This religious view later led to his nationalism,'' he added.
The independence fighter began to turn his eyes to civil rights after witnessing the corruption of government officials and realizing the lack of concern foreign priests had for the Korean nation.
He suggested establishing a college to Bishop Gustave Mutel, leader of the Catholic Church in Korea, in 1899, a year after Father Joseph Wilhelm who had baptized Ahn came to the parish church in Cheonggye-dong, Seoul.
But the bishop rejected his proposal and warned him not to mention it again, saying, ``If Koreans begin to pursue learning, they will neglect religion.''
The bishop's rejection appeared to be a shock to Ahn because he recalled in his autobiography that he could not help but being ``indignant.''
He became critical of foreign religious figures and their lack of concern for the fate of the Korean nation. He could no longer trust foreigners, saying that to learn the French language was to become a slave of the French.
Ahn quit his study of French and said, ``Religion does not take precedence over the country.''
The patriot, thus, strongly believed that civil rights could only be truly realized in a civilized and independent country.
His nationalism and faith in the importance of civil rights laid the foundation for his promotion of the enlightenment movement, his raising of an army of loyal troops to resist Japanese colonial rule, and his later patriotic deeds, Shin said.
Ahn sought to cross into foreign countries in order to spread the save-the-nation movement in 1907.
He wanted to foster circumstances beneficial to Korea and raise an army with support from the international community, according to Shin.
Before, he met with French Father Le Gac Charles Joseph Ange in Shanghai, China and was given detailed tips to help the country achieve independence _ developing education and society, uniting the people and cultivating strength.
The religious leader noted that Korea could win independence in this way and some missionaries were sympathetic with Korea's situation and were willing to help Ahn.
Following this advice, Ahn went to Jinnampo, a small town in northern Korea, in 1905, after the Eulsa or Protectorate Treaty depriving Korea of diplomatic sovereignty was signed. He established Samheung School a year later.
``Ahn reaffirmed his belief that reforming the country through education was a shortcut to the nation's independence,'' Shin said.
He asked Samheung School students to study hard for the future of Korea, saying that Koreans could achieve what they wanted and finally something good could take place if God was moved by their efforts.
``Ahn put more weight on national development than on individual development, underlining the importance of learning,'' Shin said.
The patriot also practiced his faith by serving as the second principal between 1906 and 1907 at Dongui School run by French Father Faurie Jean.
His non-violent movement soon faced limitations as he witnessed Koreans living under the harsh oppression of Japan in Gando, a small piece of marshland in northeast China.
The area was forcibly taken by Japan in the early 1900s.
``Ito commits atrocities, deceives the Japanese Emperor and kills people. He even threatens the world, so it is right to resist Japan,'' Ahn told his fellows.
He decided to raise loyal troops in 1907 and headed to Vladivostok.
About two years later, he joined the move to form federal loyal troops, the first of their kind.
With advance operations, about 700 to 800 voluntary soldiers infiltrated into Korea by land and another 300 including Ahn landed on shore.
They killed four Japanese observing soldiers but did not win any major victories later.
Ahn analyzed their unsuccessful results and concluded that since the loyal troops organized themselves they were not sufficiently disciplined and so easily fell into disorder.
However, Russian authorities called the operations led by Ahn and his fellows ``an unprecedented success.''
The loyal troops were said to have only fought when they had the advantage, to be calm in battle, and to have been excellent shots.
``Ahn's connection with the loyal troops led him on to future patriotic deeds and showed Korea's strong desire for independence to the Russians,'' Shin said. ``It also showed Japan Korea's strong will to achieve independence.''
Ahn sought social reforms and committed himself to saving the country in accordance with his faith and ideology.
But it is still difficult to completely understand what he had thought and what drove him to throw himself into the saving-the-nation movement, Prof. Oh Young-sup at Yonsei University in Seoul said in his essay published in the book.
``First of all, there are not many materials and documents to study the patriot,'' he said. ``Besides, he underwent several changes in his political and social ideology.''
He noted that a new method is necessary, such as analyzing newspapers, magazines and books he read.