Yu Gwan-Sun

Yu Gwan-Sun

30.00

Giclée print 11’ x 14’ // 27,9 x 35,6 cm
Printed on 300 gsm paper, slightly textured with a chalky smooth cotton feel. 
Signed and numbered.
Includes A5 card detailing Yu’s extraordinary story.*

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*YU GWAN-SUN’S STORY

In the early 1900s Korea became the target of the imperialistic expansion ambitions of Russia and Japan, who wanted control over North East Asia. Mounting tensions culminated in a war, which saw Japan victorious over Russia, and Korea the trophy for the winner, first becoming a Japanese Protectorate in 1905, and then annexed to Japan in 1910, effectively losing its sovereignty.

Japan ruled Korea by force and with great oppression, and set out to repress Korean traditions and culture, robbing them of land, freedom of speech, and everything else in between. As the situation became worse, an increasing number of independence activists started appearing across the nation. Partly inspired by the US President’s post-WWI declaration of support for the right of self-determination for all nations, and partly enraged for the suspected poisoning of the Korean Emperor at the hands of the Japanese, on 1st March 1919 crowds gathered in Seoul, where the Declaration of Independence was first read, and people holding Korean flags shouted “Manse!” to show their resolute desire for independence. 

Yu Gwan-Sun – a student, and one of the first Korean women to have access to modern education – was just 16 when she joined the first demonstrations in Seoul. A few days later, she returned to her hometown, a village south of Seoul, and from there visited tens of neighbouring towns, distributing copies of the Declaration of Independence and inciting locals to organize their own protest. Her efforts led to a 3,000-strong peaceful demonstration, which Japanese forces violently repressed killing 19 people, including Yu's parents. 

Rallies against Japanese rule spread nationwide, with an estimated 2 million people taking part in more than 1500 protests over a few weeks. Despite the peaceful nature of the demonstrations, Japan responded with violence – killing, injuring and arresting thousands of Koreans, but was unable to stop the ripple effects of the March First Movement.  

Yu was eventually arrested and sentenced to 5 years in prison, where cells were so small that it was impossible to stand or lie down properly. Despite the horrible conditions during her detention, Yu continued to express her support for Korean independence and even organised a large-scale protest on the first anniversary of the March First Movement.  

As a result, she was moved to an underground cell, where she was brutally tortured for months. Yet, even in the face of merciless beatings, she refused to forsake her beliefs: “Even if my fingernails are torn out, my nose and ears are ripped apart, and my legs and arms are crushed, this physical pain does not compare to the pain of losing my nation”, she wrote in prison. She died of her injuries 6 months later, when she was still just 17 years old.  

Yu’s efforts did not immediately result in Korea’s independence (1945), but thanks to her unrelenting resistance and protests, she became a symbol of Korea's fight for independence.