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Who was Yo Un-hyung? (Part I)
Lee Wha Rang
Mong-yang has been the forgotten leader of the Korean people for half a century. History books erroneously label him as pro-Japanese, pro-America, Pro-Soviet, a Red stooge, an Yankee stooge, and so on. The truth is that he was none of the above. He showed to true path for the Korean people to follow. Few followed the path and Korea is still divided. Today, the new generations of scholars and politicians are rediscovering Mong-yang, the Father of Democracy in Korea. The era pf Mong-yang is about to dawn on Korea. Mong-yang is coming back to Korea.
Yo Wun Hyung (몽양 여운형 - Lyuh Woon-hyung in older publications) was born on May 26, 1886, in Yangpyong-gun, Kyongi-do, and died on July 19, 1947, in Seoul. Yo's mother, while carrying him in the womb, had a dream of the Sun shining down on her son, and so, Yo was given the penname - Mong Yang (Dreaming of the Sun). As a child (1891-1900), Yo studied the Chinese literature and Confucianism. In 1894, Yo's uncle led a peasant army and rebelled against the Seoul government. When the government forces defeated the peasant army, Yo's family fled to a remote village in order to escape the harsh retributions.
In 1899, Yo married Yu (Rhew) Se-young's daughter. In 1900, he entered the famed Baijae Institute (배재학당), a Christian school, but in the following year, he was punished for refusing to attend Christian church services. He quit the school and entered the Hongwha Institute. In 1902, he entered the National Communications School.
One prior to graduation, Yo quit the school because he did not wish to work for the government, a requirement for the graduates, and instead organized an anti-smoking movement. Smoking was prevalent in Korea at the time and Yo had the wisdom and foresight to curtail smoking. He stopped smoking in at age 21. 1903 was was a bad year for Yo, for his wife died in the summer, a few months later, his father died and his mother, too, passed away soon after. Yo's father was a wealthy landowner and Yo set free his tenant farmers and other virtual slaves. He gave them enough land and money to become self-sufficient.
In 1906, he met Clerk, a Presbyterian minister and became interested in Christianity, and in 1907, Yo established a Christian school, Kwangdong, with Minister Clerk's help. In 1908, he took a job at the Sungdong Church as an assistant to Minister Clerk and was baptized. Two years later, he took a teaching job at the Chodang Institute (草堂의숙), which was closed down by the Japanese later that year. He studied theology at the Pyongyang Presbyterian Seminary from 1911 to 1912.
Yo joined the New People's Association (Sin-min-hoe) founded by Ahn Chang-ho in 1909. Ahn was considered to be the spiritual leader, the Gandhi, of Korea. Ahn was an eloquent public speaker and had many followers among the youth of Korea, among them was Yo and his younger brother.
At the same time, Yo believed that Korea needed a strong military capability and raised funds and recruits for the Righteous Army (Yi-byong). Yo maintained close contacts with General Yi Kang-nyon, who commanded the Righteous Army in the Kang-rung region. Upon Japan's virtual take-over of Korea, Yo went to the Sin-hung Military Academy in Manchuria, which was established by the New Korea Association in 1913 for the purpose of training Korean officers.
After spending several months at the Sinhung Military Academy, Yo went to China and enrolled in the English Language Dept of the Gumlung Institute (Nanking) in 1914. Upon graduation in 1917, he worked at an American book store (協和書局) in Shanghai. Yo set up a school (仁成學校) for the Korean children in Shanghai and ran it for nine years as its principal. Yo's brother, Yo Un-hong returned from America and took over the principal's job in 1920. Yo worked hard to raise money for Koreans to study at modern schools. His scholarship fund helped more than 300 young Koreans to receive advanced education in China, the United States and Europe. Among them was Gen. Lee Bom-suk, who was to serve under Rhee Syngman as prime minister in 1949.
In August 1918, Yo, Chang Duk Su, Cho Dong Ho (趙東祜), Kim Chol, Sun Wu-hyok and Han Sin-gyo got together and agreed to form the New Korea Youth Party ( 신한청년당 - 新韓靑年黨), which was officially inaugurated in November of that year. In the same month, Yo met Charles Crane, a special envoy of the US President Wilson, in Shanghai and pleaded for Korea's independence. Crane's mission was to publicize President Wilson's ཊ-point' proclamation on January 1, 1918, that, amongst others, proclaimed - "A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined."
Yo Un-hyung erroneously took Wilson's words at face value and believed Korea would be freed per Wilson's proclamation. Per Crane's suggestion, Yo and Chang Duk Su wrote a petition for Korean Independence for Crane to deliver to President Wilson. Crane suggested that Yo ought to send a Korean delegation to the Paris Peace Conference. Crane's official mission was to persuade Sun Yatsan to send a Chinese delegation to Paris. Yo and company began a general peaceful uprising in Korea timed with the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, totally unaware of the secret pact of the US, Japan, and France to exclude Korea and Indochina from the Paris Conference.
In 1918, Yo met Sun Yat-sen, the Father of Modern China, and sought his advice on the Paris Conference. In January 1919, Yo sent Kim Gyu Sik (金奎植) to the World Peace Conference representing Korea in the name of the New Korea Youth League. Some historians claim that Kim Gyu-sik was sent by the Korean Provisional Government of Shanghai (KPG). The fact of the matter is that the Paris conference was held in January 1919, some three months prior to the establishment of KPG. Later that month.
Yo dispatched delegations to Japan and Korea for the purpose of organizing a general uprising, became to be known as the 3.1 Independence Declaration and March. Yo went to Manchuria and Siberia on a similar mission to inform and rally Korean nationalists in those regions.
Yo's New Korea Youth Party was not the only Korean organization to send delegates to the Paris Peace Conference. Ahn Chang-ho wanted to send Rhee Syngman to Paris but the US State Dept refused to allow Rhee to leave the country. Various nationalist organizations in Russia and Korea elected delegates to represent Korea at the Paris Conference. But Kim Gyu-sik was the first to arrive in Paris (February 1919) well ahead of other delegates and cleared the pathway for the others to join him. The Peace Conference lasted well over six months.
At the time, Manchuria and Siberia were the main stages of Korean independence activities, and Yo wanted to get connected with the nationalists in these regions. He left Shanghai in January 1919 and went to Jirin, one of the main hubs of Korean nationalists. Yo went to Vladivostok to meet with Lee Dong Young and other Korean nationalists. He met and organized various nationalists factions and had them to declare Korea's independence on February 15, 1919 at Nicholsk, Siberia. The Nicholsk conference established a provisional government of Korea, months ahead of the provisional government in Shanghai.
Lee Wha Rang is a contributor for Korea WebWeekly.
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