Memoir of Independence Activist's Wife

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement this year, three topics have drawn attention.

One, whether South and North Korea could stage joint events to remember this historical day together, which was not realized.

Two, shedding more light on those independence fighters who have not been honored because of the strict evidence-based qualification requirement.

Three, acknowledging women fighters whose dedication and sacrifice have largely been kept behind curtains or ignored.

Some three million Korean independent fighters are estimated to have dedicated their blood and soul, lives and property, under Japanese colonial rule. Of them, only some 15,000 have been recognized and honored, and among these, only 359 women fighters are included as of 2019.

The recent spotlight on woman activists is partly attributable to a few remarkable memoirs written by women of independence fighting families. The example of Yi Hoe-yeong's family is probably the most remarkable and moving.

In the rustling winds of late December in 1910 ? around four months after Japan's annexation of Korea ? over 60 members of the Yi family rode on 10 horse-driven carriages across the Yalu River, heading for Jilin Province in northeastern China.

It was not by personal decision but part of a campaign of the New People's Association ("Sinminhoe"). It was a patriotic underground national organization, initiated by Korea's civil leaders for restoration of independence.

Yi Eun-Suk, born in 1889 to a literati family, married Yi Hoe-yeong at the age of 20. In 1910, the six Yi brothers, without exception, joined in the exile to Gando, in Manchuria to stake their lives on independence activities. Lady Yi joined the family journey into the wild territory.

Her memoir abounds with unimaginable dire hardships and moments of remorse. The book covers details from the exodus to Gando to the final reunion of the family in Seoul after the Korean War. Of the six Yi brothers, only Si-yeong could make his way back home alive. He assumed the role of vice president of the newly launched Republic of Korea government in 1948.

As one of the renowned literati and richest families in the nation, the six brothers had houses which amounted to sizable quarters of land in the central part of today's Seoul.

Before heading to Manchuria, they sold off all their land, houses and possessions, garnering enormous funds of about...

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