The question came to me in a roundabout manner, while reading a translation of the Korean Declaration of Independence. I've reproduced some excerpts below (emphasis added):

Though Japan has repeatedly violated its promises since the Treaty of 1876, we do not here condemn its perfidy. Though its scholars and government officials dismiss our great dynastic achievements in order to prop up its claim that our history began as a foreign colony with a primitive civilization, though it merely seeks a conqueror’s gratification willfully ignoring the ancient foundation and the outstanding characteristics of our people, we do not here take it to task. We are pressed to reprimand ourselves, and thus have little time to reproach others. Busy with today’s work, we have little time to chastise yesterday’s actions.

Today, our only duty is to rebuild ourselves, not to demolish others. It is to explore our new destiny according to the solemn dictates of our conscience, not to squabble with others over fleeting grudges and old animosities. It is to restore our natural, rational foundation by rectifying the unnatural, irrational ambition of the Japanese politicians in the grip of obsolete ideas. The annexation made without national consensus has inevitably led to intimidation used as a temporary measure, inequality caused by discrimination, and statistics falsified to justify it. Just look at the result today! The chasm of rancor has grown so wide that bridging the two peoples with differing interests seems all but impossible.

To boldly right old wrongs, opening a new relationship based on true mutual understanding, is certainly the best way for both countries to avert disaster and foster amity. To forcibly bind twenty million people filled with bitterness and enmity will not secure lasting peace. Moreover, it will exacerbate the apprehension and distrust of four hundred million Chinese people who hold the key to East Asian stability, which will undoubtedly lead to the unrest and eventual downfall of the entire region. Therefore, establishing Korean independence today will permit Koreans to return to their rightful lives, will enable the Japanese to break away from their wrongful path and concentrate on their responsibility as a major player in East Asia, and will free the Chinese from their nightmare of uncertainty and anxiety about Japan. Korean independence will indeed be an indispensable step toward the stability of East Asia, which will in turn contribute to the attainment of world peace. With the well-being of all humanity at stake, the establishment of Korean independence is a grave issue that transcends mere animosity between two nations.

Far from an astute student of history, not having been exposed to more than a handful of declarations of independence, I can't make any objective comparison, but I feel Korea's declaration expressly and emphatically embraces a surprisingly forgiving and peace-driven movement, despite Japan's imperialistic history.

I had read somewhere that the declaration was simultaneously announced throughout Korea; to verify, I found Elwyn Corby's Koreans protest Japanese control in the "March 1st Movement," 1919, from which some excerpts are reproduced below (again, emphasis added):

On March 1st, the thirty-three leaders proclaimed Korea’s independence, and announced a series of nonviolent protests about to begin all across the country. After presenting the declaration, the thirty-three leaders sent out copies of the declaration to activists around the country, called the police to explain what they had done, and were promptly arrested. After that point, the campaign for independence had no primary leader.

Campaigners held nonviolent rallies in Seoul, Ansong, P’yongyang, Chinnamp’o, Uiju, and Wonsan on March 1st, and over the next two days groups organized more rallies and marches in Hwangju, Sangwon, Kaesong, Suan, Anju, Sonchon, and the vast majority of the country’s cities and towns. The protestors were school children, housewives, farmers, craftsmen, as well as politicians, intellectuals, and religious leaders. These protests were designed to appeal to the consciences of the Japanese, and erupted unpredictably throughout the country.

I created a map on Google Maps, marking the locations of the rallies according to the above source:

Korean Declaration of Independence - Rallies

Not that the map had much bearing on this, but from what I was reading, it appeared that the movement wasn't merely a thing of intellectuals, officials, and such, nor a thing localized to specific regions, e.g. ports and business centers—it seemed to permeate class and location. Further reading (though unfortunately only of translated sources, which I feel may tend to be biased toward Korean nationalism) consistently points to a unified, peaceful movement for independence, even despite violent and gruesome retaliations by Japanese officials.

I'm aware that I make several leaps in logic now, but I'd like to get to the point and gain some direction from H.SE: I find it hard to believe that the people of this culture—so desiring of harmony, so inspired by peace, even with the very neighbors that oppress and deny them such pursuits—would have opted for war, rather than compromise, in deciding the future of their nation.

Perhaps, however, I'm being overly cynical and conspiracy-theorist-like (insinuating that Koreans were puppets in a war outside their interests) and overly idealistic (regarding the ambitious Korean's conception of internal peace, following Japan's surrender in WWII).

Is there historical scholarship that believes that Korea would have divided, absent the influence of external powers? Or is there scholarship that explains why Korea remains split, even today?

  • Korean Institute of Military History The Korean War Allan Millet trans., rev ed. 3 vol University of Nebraska Press, 2000 at Volume 1, refutes the premise of this question which is a duplicate of history.stackexchange.com/questions/7525/… Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 10:15
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    I changed the question to ask for "scholarship," not opinions, and suggest that people NOT vote to close it (in its current, or to-be-further modified form).
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 12:56
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    Kudo's to @TomAu for a valiant edit; however I believe the question is still marginal. The first line still asks for opinions and shops for sources, which are discouraged by the FAQ. Fundamentally this question asks us to confirm the OP's beliefs rather than to engage in scholarship. There is an interesting question here, but I lack the expertise & wisdom to submit a revision.
    – MCW
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 13:04
  • I'd also love to see the question revised to focus less on the evils of Japan and more on "What are the forces that caused Korea to split, and to remain split?"
    – MCW
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 13:05
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    @MarkC.Wallace: I also deleted the subjective first line in my re-edit. "Day job" pressures prevented me from doing "more" the first time. But the reason I'm spending so much time on this question is because of its potential interest to my day job.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 14:32

1 Answer 1


Frankly, Korea's history has been so defined by external powers that it would be difficult to imagine what things would have been like without them. You are getting seriously into realms of speculative history.

For the most part, the reason people band together into large states or countries is so that they can deal with other such large entities. So it is quite likely that, absent any external threats, there would never have been any reason for the various districts to band together at all. So you could have seen less unity there, not more.

If we look back at history, Korea had a long period of unification from roughly 57BC. However, what helped enable the unification was an alliance one of the major states (Silla) had with China's Tang Dynasty, and then later revolt against Chinese rule. Without the interference of China, the unification may never have occurred.

Ironically, it may have been Korea's rejection of external influences during the "Hermit Kingdom" period of the Joeson Dynasty that left their military so far behind the rest of the world that they became an inviting target to impearlistic foriegn powers. China had a similar attitude during the same period, with similar results.

So one could argue that Korea owes what unification it ever had to "the influence of external powers", and its current disunion to a period where there was no such influence.

  • Actually Korea is more "united" today than it was under the "Three Kingdoms" that include (modern) "North" Korea, Southwest Korea, and Southeast Korea.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 11, 2013 at 15:11

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