Min Kabwan, a Forgotten Korean

[Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)]

Few people in Korea or Japan know of Min Kabwan (1897-1968). Although her autobiography, “One Hundred Years of Resentment,” was made into a movie in 1963, Min Kabwan has been completely forgotten in the 54 years since her death.

The Life of Min Kabwan

In 1907, when Japan’s annexation of Korea was underway after two Japan-Korea agreements since the end of the 19th century, at the age of 9, she became the fiancé of Yee Eun, the last crown prince of the Joseon Dynasty, but the crown prince was taken to Japan immediately after their engagement. With the ongoing colonization by Japan, Kabwan was forced to break off the engagement at the age of 21, a little more than 10 years after the engagement. Six months later, her grandmother died in deep sorrow, and six months after that, her father died shortly after taking a medicine prepared by a doctor named An.

At the age of 22, Kabwan’s life became increasingly unsafe, and she took her younger brother Chonen and went into exile in Shanghai, where many Koreans were living in exile at the time. During her 26 years in Shanghai, she changed her residence several times to escape Japanese officials. She was forced to live like a fugitive, unable to leave the house freely. Her fiancée, Yee Eun, went to Japan when he was 10 years old and spent most of his life there. In the year of Kabwan’s exile, he married Nashimoto-miya Masako, who was also a candidate for the position of queen of the Emperor Showa.

It is difficult for people today to understand, but there was a society in the first half of the 20th century in which getting engaged carried the same weight as marriage. During her exile in Shanghai, several men approached her, and some people around her, including spies dispatched by the governor-general, advised her to get married. In particular, a Chinese female revolutionary, who had also remained celibate throughout her life, tried to persuade Kabwan, but she remained celibate for the rest of her life. The deep melancholy and loneliness that overflows between the lines of this book are poignant and appealing even to people today.

In May 1946, Kabwan returned to South Korea after debating whether or not to stay in Shanghai, but the latter half of her life was not smooth: in 1950, when she had found enough money to start a social welfare project, it was cut short by the outbreak of the Korean War. It is heartbreaking to think of her huddled with her younger brother and her family downstairs in a Western-style house called Sadong-gung in Jongno, shivering at the sound of artillery shells.

In the early morning of June 26, 1950, she and her younger brother’s family risked their lives to cross the Han River and head for Cheongju, her father’s hometown. After the war, she and her family settled in Busan, the southernmost part of the Korean Peninsula, at the behest of Chonen, who believed that the North would invade again.

Personal History Forces Review of Contemporary History

What does Kabwan’s life, which could be said to have been tossed about by the modern Japanese and Korean history, tell us? As we have passed the centennial of Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910, Kabwan’s “One Hundred Years of Resentment” is more than just a record of one Korean woman’s life. It is also a book that will compel us to rethink history, the state of the nation, and the lives of those who are at its mercy.

Kabwan was continuously tossed about by major events in the modern history, including the annexation of Korea (1910), the Sino-Japanese War (1937-45), and the Korean War (1950-1953). In tracing her life, we are forced to reflect on the history of Korea and Japan. It is important to note that the significance of these events differs greatly between Japan and Korea.

For example, the year 1910 was a loss of national rights for Korea, but an expansion of its territory for Japan; the liberation of Korea on August 15, 1945 (Kwangbok) was a defeat and the end of the war for Japan; was the end of the war for Korea. Or the war that ravaged the entire Korean Peninsula from 1950-1953, brought a special procurement boom to Japan.

What makes her autobiography “One Hundred Years of Resentment” more than a personal history of a woman is that her life was not only continuously tossed about, but also greatly disrupted by these major events in modern history. Each fragment of contemporary history that comes to light through the record of her life seems to force us to rethink the history of Japan and South Korea.

[Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)]

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