15
Aug
12

Korean Independence Day–광복절 (Gwangbokjeol)–A History Lesson

In response to a comment on a previous post about this holiday, I decided to do a post related more to the history of the holiday (although I might have done this in previous years, I can’t remember).

Korean Independence Day–광복절 (Gwangbokjeol)–is celebrated on Aug. 15 each year and it commemorates a couple of significant events in Korea’s history.

First, on Aug. 15, 1945, Korea was liberated from 35 years of Japanese colonial rule. During it’s time a Japanese colony, Koreans were required to give up their culture and heritage. They were forced to take on Japanese names, speak Japanese, learn Japanese history, and eat Japanese foods. So when Japan surrendered the Koreans had much to rejoice over.

Then during the process of liberating the Korean peninsula, the country that had been one for thousands of years was cut in two. This happened when the US liberated the southern part of Korea while Russian troops (our ally in World War II) come in from China and liberated the northern half of the country. Russia and the US agreed to meet in the middle at the 38th parallel. From what I’ve read the US troops truly believed that when they met the Russians it would be to give Korea back to it’s people–all of Korea.

But the Korean peninsula is valuable property to it’s geographical neighbors, and not everyone involved in the liberation process had the same idea. China and Russia wanted Korea to be communist. Russia also had a vested interest because control over Korea would provide Russia with much needed sea access. The US, of course, had no plans to turn the peninsula over to the communist.

So Russia retained control over the northern part of Korea, while the US held the southern half. Three years after liberation Korea remained divided; the US helped the South Korea become its own country while Russia helped establish the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).

On Aug. 15, 1948, Syngman Rhee (who had been educated in the US) was sworn in as the first president of the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Gwangbokjeol was declared public holiday in South Korea on Oct. 1, 1949.

North Korea celebrates the liberation holiday on Aug. 15 as well. Their holiday is called Chogukhaebangui nal (조국해방의 날; literally “Liberation of Fatherland Day”).

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