Kim Gu, Korea’s Champion

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Kim GuToday is the 61st anniversary of the assassination of Kim Gu, the three-term president of the Provisional Government of Korea. Kim’s life exemplifies the violent world of Northeast Asian politics in the early twentieth century. The victim of an assassin, Kim was himself an assassin.

On October 8, 1895, Empress Myeongseong (명성황후), the wife of Emperor Gojong (고종) of the Korean Empire was assassinated by a group of Japanese assassins (the Eulmi Incident; 을미사변; 乙未事變). Miura Goro, then Japan’s Resident Minister in Korea, was suspected as the mastermind of the assassination. In February 1896, Kim stayed at an inn in Chihapo, Hwanghae Province while traveling to southern regions. There he found a Japanese man named Tsuchida Josuke (土田譲亮), who was disguised as a Korean and concealing a Japanese sword, and killed him believing that he was involved in the assassination of the queen. In his biography ‘Baekbeom Ilji’ (白凡逸志), Kim describes his motivation at the time as follows.

Since many Japaneses go through Chihapo every day, there is no reason for him to disguise as a Korean if he were an ordinary merchant or workman. Could he be Miura or one of his accomplices who killed the queen, fled from Seoul and hiding here? Even if he is not, a Japanese man with a disguise and a sword can do nothing but harm to my country and people. I will revenge for my queen by killing this Japanese man.

– Baekbeom Ilji

The following morning, Kim attacked Tsuchida, took his sword, and killed him with it. The “Report from acting administrator Hagihara Moriichi of Incheon Consulate on the current situation of Incheon” describes Tsuchida as a “commoner from Nagasaki Prefecture” and an “employee of a Nagasaki trader on a business trip” [1]. However, this does not prove that Tsuchida was not involved in the assassination of the Empress Myeongseong, as this assassination was carried out not only by Japanese soldiers but also by many Japanese Ronins, as described in the report by Ezo Ishizuka (石塚英藏), the Japanese adviser to the Korean Empire at the time[2]. In addition, Kim stated in ‘Baekbeom Ilji’ that Tsuchida was concealing a sword and had identification papers that showed him to be a Japanese army lieutenant[3]. Official Japanese interrogation police records from the time also verify the fact that Tsuchida was carrying a sword around.

After the killing, Kim left a hand-written document which said “Kim Changsoo from Haeju, Hwanghae Province, killed this Japanese man to revenge the murder of Korean Queen”, as documented in Baekbeom Ilji. He waited at his home at Haeju for three months before the police came and arrested him.

Successive Japanese administrations tortured him. Still, Kim persevered to lead Korean exiles, and founded the Korean Liberation Army. Only Lee Seung-man kept him from his rightful place as the first president of a liberated Republic of Korea in 1948. I admit I admire what I’ve read of this man, a far cry from the disgust I feel about Lee Seung-man. My wife and I were just talking about Kim before I wrote this, and when I read the Wikipedia article it rekindled an old interest in the man. I also admit this is hardly a well-researched post on the man – something I might remedy in the future. Many years ago, I wrote a novel about a Korean guerrilla fighting in Manchukuo against the Japanese. Perhaps, I was unwittingly writing a biography. Anyway, I like this quote:

…I want our nation to become the most beautiful nation in the world. I do not want our nation to become the richest and the most powerful nation in the world. Because I have felt the pain of being invaded by another nation, I do not want my nation to invade others. It is sufficient that our wealth is such that it makes our lives abundant and our military strength such that it is able to repel others’ invasion. The only thing that I desire in infinite quantity is the power of a highly-developed culture. This is because the power of culture both makes ourselves happy and gives happiness to others.

I am neither nationalistic nor pacifist, yet I can admire Kim Gu’s kind of patriotism.

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Filed under: History, Korea, Politics Tagged: kim changsoo, kim gu, lee seung man, rok, South Korea


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