By Jinhoon Lee
Welcome to the blog series, “Leaders of One Dream One Korea,” where the author introduces various leaders of the past and present who are at the forefront of efforts being made toward Korean unification. This second edition of the series features Kim Gu (1876-1949), one of the most significant activists in the movement for Korean independence. Continue reading to discover a century-old dream that remains relevant as a common vision toward a unified Korea.
“I hope that world peace could be established from and through our nation. I believe that Hongik Ingan, our founding principle visioned by our founding father Dangun, is such a culture.”
Kim Gu and the Korean Independence Movement
On August 22, 1910, the Japan?Korea Treaty brought Korea under Japan’s colonial rule. Longing for the freedom of their nation, a number of key Korean leaders secretly established a provisional government to fight for the independence of the Korean people. In the center of this effort was Kim Gu, who served multiple terms as president and vice president of the government. Despite the risks and threats, Kim Gu continued with his rebellions against a colonial government and his sacrifices are still remembered and cherished by many Koreans to this day.
Kim Gu’s Vision for Korea
“If God asks me ‘what is your wish?’ I would answer without hesitation that it is ‘the liberation of Korea.’
If God asks ‘what is then your next wish?’, I will once again answer that ‘it is the liberation of my country.’
When God asks for the third time ‘what is your next wish?’, I would again, this time with a louder voice, answer that ‘my wish is the complete independence and liberation of our country Korea.’”
Kim Gu, My Wish
The anguish of the Korean people under colonial rule ignited Kim Gu’s dedication to liberate Korea. However, his vision was not to re-establish the old Joseon dynasty (1392-1897) or to bring back the collapsed Korean Empire. Instead, he saw that higher principles and values were necessary for new and independent Korea.
“The reason for unhappiness and misfortunes of today is due to a lack of benevolence, righteousness, and love. If we develop these aspects within ourselves, all two billion people in the world could live in comfort. The only thing that can cultivate such a spirit comes from one’s culture…
I’m only encouraging in creating a culture of love and peace, so our people and all humanity can prosper and live with joy as neighbors… When we realize that this work is left for us by heaven, we finally have found and recognized the proper direction for our future…
I do not want our country to be followers of others, but to become a source and an example model for this noble culture that I aforementioned. I hope that world peace could be established from and through our nation. I believe that Hongik Ingan, our founding principle visioned by our founding father Dangun, is such a culture.”
Kim Gu, My Wish
Hongik Ingan, the founding principle of ancient Korea, Gojoseon (Unknown ~ 108BC), implores the Korean people “to live and work for the benefit of all mankind.” Kim Gu, living in a period where Koreans were, within, engulfed by the anguish of Japan’s colonization and, without, surrounded by the tragedies of World Wars, desired a new Korea to bring positive transformation to the world.
On August 15, 1945, after the detonation of two atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan announced unconditional surrender to the Allies, bringing Koreans their long-sought independence. However, the joy of Koreans was only short-lived as the tension of the Cold War led Korea to its division, where the United States occupied the South and the Soviet Union the North.
Kim Gu, not wanting Korea to fall victim to the effects of the Cold War, protested against a trusteeship of the United States and the Soviet Union and argued for the autonomy of Korean people. However, with Kim Gu’s assassination on June 26, 1949, his dream for Korea faded into history.
And the year after, in June of 1950, North Korea initiated an all-out war against the South with support of the Soviet Union and China, leading Korea into the division that still lasts today.
Reigniting the Korean Vision: The Korean Dream
With more than six decades of division and socio-economic seclusion of North Korea, people grew to accept a divided Korea as the new norm and the issue of Korean unification became distant from international concern. Even Koreans themselves, especially the younger generations, showed indifference to the issue. However, North Korea’s growing nuclear power and its instability in recent years has started to call for attention that is long overdue. This state of affairs is portrayed well by the recent North Korea-United States Singapore and Hanoi Summits of 2018 between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, which received a global spotlight.
These changes provide a new window of opportunity for Korea. The issue now lies on figuring out what scenario would most benefit Korea and a global community. Will there be an all-out nuclear war? Or do we want peaceful unification? The answer is clear. It is undisputed that peaceful unification is the way to go, where the safety and well-being of both Koreans and that of the international community can be secured.
To achieve this goal, it is urgent for the Korean people to come up with a coherent and unified plan toward unification and the values suggested by Hongik Ingan that can be that unifying vision.
The tragic circumstances of the 20th century divided Koreans into two different ideologies and two different nations. However, the situation of our time is now calling for Koreans to reunite and Hongik Ingan can be a common vision for North and South Koreans to move toward a purpose beyond themselves to “live for the benefit of all mankind.”
Learn more about a common vision for Korea in Korean Dream: A Vision for a Unified Korea by GPF Chairman and Founder Dr. Hyun Jin Preston Moon.