Continuing with my ongoing exploration of the old newspaper archives from 1945 Korea that I checked out at the National Library of Korea in September 2023, I am taking a closer look at the very first edition of a Japanese language newspaper that was published after being taken over by a group of Korean independence activists. Around November 1st, 1945, Korean employees overthrew their Japanese bosses at Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo), the colonial era newspaper that had served as the main propaganda newspaper for the whole of colonial Korea from 1909 to 1945. The Korean independence activists subsequently continued the publication of this newspaper in Japanese with an avowed Korean nationalist editorial stance until December 11th, 1945. As the Korean employees of Keijo Nippo explained in their message to the readers, this was a temporary measure, undertaken while Korean typefaces were being prepared for eventual use.
The articles on the front page of the very first edition published by the Korean activists capture the optimistic zeitgeist that pervaded Korea at the time. Syngman Rhee returned to Korea in October 1945, and lived at Donamjang House, where he had a three-hour discussion with communist party leader Park Heon-Young. As this Wilson Center Working Paper shows, Syngman Rhee was initially open to meeting communists:
When Rhee returned to Korea in October 1945 he continued this pragmatism towards communists, at least initially. Only a few days after he arrived in Seoul, he wrote a letter to his wife, Francesca, and supporters expressing surprise that he had been chosen by Korean leftists to head the nascent Korea People’s Republic (KPR). He wrote that in response he had told them that “it is a high honor to be a communist leader, while Moscow condemns me as anti-communist.” While Rhee was hesitant to actually accept the position offered to him by the KPR he was careful not to alienate any potential supporters, be they communist or not. Rhee understood that communist supporters might prove valuable both in attempts to remove the Soviet Union from the peninsula and also to see off political rivals.
The newspaper also covers the activities of the People’s Republic of Korea, which was a short-lived provisional government, proclaimed on September 6, 1945, that was made up of Committees for the Preparation of Korean Independence (조선건국준비위원회) that were clandestinely formed during Imperial Japanese colonial rule. We see that, by early November, the People’s Republic of Korea had established a nationwide presence with branches in all twelve provinces of Korea. On December 12, 1945, the U.S. military shut down the People’s Republic of Korea, which subsequently splintered into various People’s Committees, some of which later evolved into the modern North Korean state in the North. But in the South, the U.S. military cracked down on these People’s Committees in the name of anti-communism, and even went so far as to kill thousands during the Jeju Uprising of 1948.
There is also an anti-trusteeship resolution on the front page. The Allied countries had this idea of placing Korea under a joint trusteeship of the Soviet Union, the U.S., and China for a period before granting full independence, but Koreans largely opposed it, fearing a return to another form of colonial rule. This anti-trusteeship resolution is particularly militant, threatening resistance to the Allied Nations if a trusteeship is implemented. However, the inability to reach a consensus on the issue of trusteeship would later lead to the permanent division of Korea. This excellent video from the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History covers this fight over trusteeship very well.
Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) November 2, 1945
Political Parties Suddenly Gain Momentum, Pushing for United Front
On the 2nd, Dr. Syngman Rhee Will Make a Significant Statement
As various political parties are taking significant steps toward the creation of a new nation, aiming for the formation of a unified political party, they have established the Independence Promotion Central Council. They have appointed the great leader Dr. Syngman Rhee as the chairman and have been working on concrete plans. Chairman Dr. Syngman Rhee will make an important joint announcement with representatives from various political parties at the Cheondoist Church in Gyeongun-dong, Seoul, at 2 PM on Friday, November 2nd. The details of this announcement are not yet clear, but there are rumors of the return of the head of the provisional government in Chongqing, Mr. Kim Ku. Dr. Rhee’s statement is attracting considerable attention, and it is expected to significantly energize the political scene and strengthen the momentum for the formation of a united front.
In Response to the Emergency Situation, More Than Fifty Organizations Convene
Independence Promotion Central Council Centered Around Dr. Rhee
On October 23rd, representatives from over fifty organizations in Seoul gathered at the Chōsen Hotel, centering around Dr. Syngman Rhee. The Independence Promotion Central Council is scheduled to hold a meeting at the Cheondoist Church in Gyeongun-dong on the afternoon of the 2nd. Each organization is to select one representative to attend with a letter of authorization by 1 PM on the same day. Previously, only representatives of the organizations were allowed due to space constraints, but this time, not only the entry of journalists is welcome, but also some observers.
First, National Unity
Important Meeting Between Dr. Rhee and Mr. Park Heon-Young
Dr. Syngman Rhee had a significant meeting with Mr. Park Heon-Young, the leader of the Korean Communist Party, for about three hours at Donamjang House on the afternoon of the 31st. They completely agreed on unifying the entire nation, excluding pro-Japanese factions and sweeping away the remnants of Japanese imperialism, under the principles of progressive democracy.
Formation of the People’s Committee Gyeonggi Provincial Branch
While taking a cautious approach to the delicate domestic and international situation, and putting all of its effort into its regional organizations, the Central People’s Committee of the People’s Republic of Korea has completed the formation of branches in twelve provinces, with keen public attention on Gyeonggi Province. A founding meeting is set to be held at the Jeongno Youth Hall at 11 AM on November 10th. With this, the regional network of the People’s Republic is expected to be completed. The solidarity preparatory contact office for the organization is temporarily located in the Mundang Building in Anguk-dong, Seoul, the headquarters of the Seoul Municipal People’s Committee.
Opposition to Trusteeship
Korean People Rise in Unison
Opposition Committee Publishes a Resolution
In response to the news of Korea’s potential trusteeship, the Korean people have collectively risen in opposition. The Korea Trusteeship Opposition Committee, comprising various political parties and organizations, has passed the following resolutions and will send them to the United Nations and its president:
- On behalf of the thirty million Korean people, demand the United Nations and the international conference to completely revoke the resolution on the trusteeship of Korea.
- Recognize Korea as a fully independent nation with a history of five thousand years, rapidly establish a democratic nation, and seek cooperation with the Allied Nations and the United Nations for equal international diplomacy.
- Urge all countries of the world to maintain unity, eternal freedom, and peace under the Monroe Doctrine.
- Express the utmost respect and gratitude to the United States, Britain, China, and the Soviet Union of the United Nations for liberating Korea.
- If the above points 1 and 2 are not acknowledged, the thirty million Koreans will resist the Allied Nations and the United Nations to the end of the world, until the last person, for the complete liberation and establishment of an independent state.
This resolution, signed by representatives of various political parties and organizations within Korea, will be proclaimed to the heads of the Allied Nations (United States, United Kingdom, China, and the Soviet Union) and the United Nations.