These were the words of Seo Sang-don that inspired hundreds
of members of the Daegu County Council to join a movement to repay the stacking
debt owed to Japan. The National Debt Redemption Movement is another monumental
operation that has its roots in the city of Daegu. Led by Seo Sang-don
and Kim Gwang-jae, they would do anything for their country and wouldn’t let Imperial
Japan stop them.
What caused the national debt?
In 1905, the Korean Empire was coerced by Japan to sign the
Protectorate Treaty against its will. But the year before, Foreign Minister Yun
Chi-ho and Japanese envoy Hayashi Gonske signed the very first Korean-Japan
protocol agreement which brought in several other foreign advisors onboard. These advisers included Megata Shigetoshi, Shidehara Hiroshi, and
D.W. Stevens who all would have complete control over the state’s
administration of finance, the police, external affairs, culture, and overall
Japanese imperials sought out every opportunity to dominate Korea politically, militarily, and economically with the aim to colonize. Megata Shigetoshi, the controller of the finances, transferred HUGE loans from Japan all the while being well aware of the embezzlement and high-interest charges that came with these loans and bonds. While this devious plan went on for years, the people of Korea finally caught on to this critical problem that had to be stopped. Thus, the movement was launched just three short years before Korea completely fell into the hands of Japan.
Two men lead an entire nation
An organization of patriotic nationalists called the 'Great Eastern Literary Association' wished to open a New Education Campaign.
This would include establishing brand new education facilities across the
Gyeongbuk Province starting at the beginning of 1906. The problem was Japan had
already built a Japanese institute --Daegu Insacheong-- that ruled the
entire district. So, as a rebuttal to secure the rights of Korea as a sovereign
state and to combat Japanese rule, Kim Gwang-jae and hundreds of members installed the Daegu County Council.
Later on at a
January 1907 meeting, Seo Sang-don introduced the National Debt Redemption.
From then until 1910, citizens of Korea carried out
the nationwide fundraiser
in order to repay the
debts of the nation during the financial crisis.
Who participated in the movement?
Everyone was involved. This wasn’t a mandatory movement. All of the
donations by the citizens were completely from the heart in order to stop the
annexation of Korea; a grassroots campaign launched by the people. Everyone
from all walks of life was involved: thieves, prisoners, villagers, children,
monks, woodcutters, rickshaw drivers, beggars, and barmaids participated to
protect the country’s economic sovereignty.
Small-scale traders at Seomun Market even
donated the hard-earned money they got from selling products like bean
sprouts and straw sandals.
For the first time in Korean history, a campaign to help
smokers quit for 3 months sought out to help raise a good chunk of money. This
campaign spread like a wildfire nationwide and turned the country into a full-blown movement.
Go Jong gave up smoking when he heard about the grand campaign. “My people
stopped smoking and are collecting money to repay the national debt, so I will
not smoke anymore.”
As you can imagine, this movement made Japan furious. It was a success in terms of bringing people together to reclaim their land. With
the donated funds, Korea wanted to purchase land to establish a civil college
but Japan wasn’t having that. Ultimately, the 13 million won goal wasn’t
reached, but that doesn’t mean the movement was ineffective. This act of pure
patriotism out-rivaled social and economic division, gender differences,
religion, and nationality.
The idea of independence was embedded in the minds of every citizen and it cultivated nationwide consciousness. It helped breed Korean’s harmony that started the wave for several other independence movements. The records of the movement also made its entry in the UNESCO Memory of the World as of 2017; the first of its kind in the city of Daegu. The Foreign Debt Redemption Movement Memorial Hall serves as a place for education and enlightenment.
42 Dongin 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, Daegu, South Korea