[Bronze Prize] Ahn Jung-geun and His Vision of a Genuine Peace and Prosperity in East Asia
In 1909, a year before Korea faced the tragic 35 years of Japanese colonization, there was one man who reignited the last dying flames of resistance. His name was Ahn Jung-geun, a saint who fought till the last moments of his life to realize his ideal of a peaceful and prosperous East Asia. When Ahn fired the three shots in Harbin Station, he was not just shooting on the behalf of gloomy and despairing Koreans, but on the behalf of all East Asians.
Ahn Jung-geun was a man who was more complex than the single action which made him famous. He was Korea's first modern martyr, a visionary who believed in truth and justice for the peace and prosperity of East Asia. Ahn was the first and the last hope of East Asia in an age where the imperialism's shadow loomed in every corner of the world.
In the early 1900s, East Asia was in a total chaos. Korea and China were in a political whirlpool. China was trying to recover from a massive defeat in the Sino-Japanese War in 1894 and Korea signed two treaties, the Five Articles Treaty of 1905 and the Seven Articles Treaty of 1907. Ahn's role was pivotal in that he sought to destroy the eye of this massive political hurricane.
Japan, on the other hand, opened its doors to the West in the 1850s. After securing diplomatic ties with the United States in 1854, the Meiji restoration started in 1868 and ended in 1912 with the establishment of the first modern parliament in Asia, along with the adoption of a western court system and administration methods. Japan had a steady industrial program engineered by the government. To meet the growing demand at home, a continual increase in industrial output was essential. Therefore, Japan adopted imperialism as a national policy and set its sights on its nearest neighbor, Korea.
To understand Ahn's motivation for such a radical measure to bring justice for his region, it is important to understand the sharply contrasting visions that he and Ito had. Ahn was a believer of egalitarianism. He not only sought for the independence of Korea but also considered himself as a bulwark against imperialism. He believed that a prosperous East Asia could only be realized through the eradication of all forms of imperialism. As a Christian, he believed that it was God's will that justice be done for all those suffering from torture and discrimination.
By contrast, Ito Hirobumi's vision of East Asia was based on increasing the influence of Japan as an industrialized nation. He viewed Japan's neighbors as markets which would bring massive economic profits. Although Ito frequently spoke of what he called an "East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere," it was just a euphemism describing the subservient position which Korea and China would serve for Japan's development. He had no interest regarding the welfare of either Korea or China. Imperialism was the key to Japan's prosperity and Korea and China were the doors.
Ahn Jung-geun was a freedom fighter before his successful assassination of Ito Hirobumi. He commanded independence armies all across from Korea to Russia, fighting against Japanese forces. As Korea drew closer to its fate of being colonized by Japan in 1910, Ahn knew the importance of realizing his vision of an East Asia free from the turmoil and havoc ravaged by imperialism.
Since imperialism was a prime policy not only favored by Japan, but also by most Western nations, Ahn's revolutionary spirit would still have been part of his nature, regardless of which nation tried to dominate Korea, and may have considered any form of imperialistic approach, especially by the West as a deterrent to his ideals of egalitarian peace and prosperity.
It is important to note that during one of his trials at a Japanese court, he is reportedly known to have said, "I, as the Commanding General of the Korean Independence Army, fought against Japanese imperialism and for the genuine welfare and peace for East Asia," in a testimony explaining his motive for the assassination of Ito Hirobumi. Had his motive been myopic and just focused on the independence of Korea, he would not have said such words, or have the courage to shoot Ito Hirobumi. Yet, history already has confirmed of his deed and his words are clearly recorded, which means his intentions for a global scale has also been confirmed.
Ahn's vision for a progressive East Asia was to realize it through diplomacy and a mutual relationship between Korea and East Asia. His ideal of egalitarianism and his advocacy for stability and prosperity for his region were not sudden responses to imperialism. He knew that Korea had to progress and to cultivate an international reputation, regardless of the torture from Japanese imperialism. He believed such progress could only be realized through industrial growth.
He was disappointed with Japan's adoption of imperialism because it was an obstacle to Korea's industrial progress and affluence, a phenomenon he wished would be shared with all East Asian nations.
Ahn was a true revolutionary who abhorred all forms of imperialism and worked all his life for the realization of an East Asia free from poverty and torture. He was the first martyr of modern East Asia's history. In his determination and hope to bring freedom and justice against imperialism, he fired the first signal of revolt at Harbin Station in 1909-a year that East Asians should eternally remember.