Life of forgotten Korean independence fighter against Japan unveiled in France

SAINT-BRIEUC, France, Oct. 30 (Yonhap) -- A forgotten Korean independence fighter contributed to Korea's struggle against Japanese colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula after immigrating to France about 100 years ago, his kin said Tuesday.

The achievements of Hong Jae-ha (1898-1960), who came to France via Russia and the North Sea and helped the Korean independence movement against the 1910-45 rule, have remained shrouded in the history.

It was confirmed that his second son, Jean Jacques Hong Fuan, has lived in the town of Saint-Brieuc in the northwestern French region of Brittany.

With the help of a South Korean couple living in Paris, Jean Jacques has sorted out rare documents, including letters between his father and figures at the French branch of the Korean provisional government in China, which were handed down from his sister in 2006.

According to the documents, Hong was born in 1898 in Seoul's Jongno Ward and fled to the Murmansk region of northwestern Russia in 1913 via Manchuria, now northeastern China, after his anti-Japanese activities put him in immediate danger.

Around 1919, Hong, alongside 34 other Koreans, arrived in France via Edinburgh, Scotland, after many twists and turns. The Koreans' arrival in the European country was arranged by Hwang Ki-hwan, chief secretary of the Korea provisional government's French branch.

Among the articles left by Hong are documents on his participation in World War I under the Russian army and letters he exchanged with Hwang Ki-hwan.

Hong also served as the second head of a Korean people's body, the Korean People's Council, in France.

Hong and other Korean settlers earned money by helping the reconstruction of a war-torn area in France and funded the French branch led by Kim Kyu-shik and held a ceremony in 1920 to which Korean people from across Europe were invited to mark the first anniversary of the 1919 civil uprising against Japan's colonial regime.

Jean Jacques said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency that his father became an American businessman's butler in the 1920s before getting marrying a French woman and using his earnings to support the Korean independence movement.

The records also showed that Hong wrote, "I came to France to get revenge for my country's deprivation and to contribute to equality for mankind," for the purpose of his stay in an official document of South Korea's first legation in France, established in 1945 after Korea's liberation from Japanese rule.

Even after Korea's liberation, however, Hong was unable to return home and was beset with grief over the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War, his son said.

During the war, he was busy sending relief goods to the South and died of cancer in 1960. The former independence fighter, who never gave up South Korean citizenship, was interred at a cemetery in the outskirts of Paris.

Ahead of the 60th anniversary of his death, he has yet to be recognized by the government for his efforts toward Korean independence.

His son plans to commit experts to assessing documents and records on his father to gauge the extent of his contribution to independence. After the life of his father is reevaluated, he is willing to donate the documents and records to South Korea.

"I am afraid the reevaluation of my father is too late as almost 60 years have passed since my father died. But I wish he could be buried in his homeland to which he had badly wanted to return," Jean Jacques said.

Lee Jang-kyu, who is taking a doctoral course on the Korean independence movement at Paris 7 university, said Hong was an important figure who served as the second head of France's first Korean residents' body and took part in Korea's independence movement while working closely with the French branch of the provisional government.

"It carries a lot of meaning that the track of his life has been confirmed, albeit belatedly," Lee said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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