8/15: Freedom fighter remembered

August 15, 2014
Kim Mi-kyung, far right, holds a scroll given to her by independence fighter Kim Gu as she stands with her grandchildren. (Park Sang-hyuk/The Korea Times)

Kim Mi-kyung, far right, holds a scroll given to her by independence fighter Kim Gu as she stands with her grandchildren. (Park Sang-hyuk/The Korea Times)

By the Korea Times Los Angeles staff

It has been 69 years since the Japanese occupation of Korea came to an end.

Although activists who spent years fighting for the independence movement have passed, their legacies still live on with their descendants.

Kim Mi-kyung, 85, is the daughter of Kim Cheol, who died in Shanghai while working in the independence movement alongside fellow activist Kim Gu.

“My ears still ring with his promise that we would go back to our homeland on a Korean ship upon liberation,” Kim said. “But I’m regrettable that he never got to see the liberation of Korea after enduring heavy torture and dedicating his life to the movement.”

In 1886, Kim Cheol was born to a landowner in Hampyeong, South Jeolla Province. After attending law school at Kyungsung University, he graduated from Japan’s Meiji Law School in 1915, his daughter said.

Denying requests to cooperate with Japanese imperialists after burning Korean slave ownership papers and giving land back to farmers, Kim Cheol exiled to Shanghai in 1917 and began fighting for independence there.

Kim Cheol played a significant role in the provisional Korean government set up in Shanghai as one of the assemblyman on its provisional assembly alongside other notable independence fighters like Dosan Ahn Chang-ho and Kim Gu.

In 1932, sick from acute pneumonia acquired from Japanese torture and heavy work, he died in a Shanghai hospital aged 48.

Kim Mi-kyung was 6 years old when her father died.

“I was young, but even then I could feel how hard my father worked to free Korea from Japan,” she said.

An Order of Merit for National Foundation in the independence movement was issued posthumously to Kim Cheol by the Korean government in 1962. His wife and fellow activist, Choi Hye-soon, was given the same honor in 2010.

Kim Mi-kyung, the oldest of three daughters, finally moved to Korea when she was 9 and saw Korean independence when she was 18. She became the first-ever female graduate of Koryo University after attending its political science and law program.

She said she has a gift given to her by Kim Gu, who presented her with a scroll reading, “You will become a big figure.”

She moved to America in 1986, but she said she visits Korea yearly since 1999, when a memorial in her father’s name was installed in his hometown of Hampyeong.

“I can go to our homeland whenever I’d like to now, but I’m regretful that my father, who suffered through torture and gave his life to see this moment, closed his eyes before he could see Korean independence,” she said. “As difficult it was to get our country back, I feel that the mentality of my father and the other independence fighters will be passed on if their descendants could feel a love for their country.”