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Xinhua Insight: Memorial for Korean who fought Japanese colonization

A memorial opened on Sunday in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, to commemorate a Korean patriot who killed a top Japanese official over a century ago.

Ahn Jung Geun shot dead Hirobumi Ito, who had served as the prime minister of Japan four times before becoming resident-general of Korea in 1905, at Harbin railway station on Oct. 26, 1909. He was arrested at the scene of shooting and secretly executed in March 1910 by Japanese forces.

Covering an area of more than 100 square meters, the memorial hall consists of exhibition rooms telling the story of Ahn's life, and shows the exact spot where the shooting took place.

Ahn, born in 1879, devoted himself to the education of the Korean people and later joined armed resistance in northeast China and Russia.

After Japan forced the Korean Empire to sign a protectorate treaty in 1905, Ito became the de facto ruler of Korea.

"People have cherished the memory of Ahn for the past century. Today we erect a memorial to him and call on peace loving people around the world to unite, resist invasions and oppose war," said Sun Yao, vice governor of Heilongjiang at the opening ceremony.

The Republic of Korean (ROK) President Park Geun-hye asked for China's help in setting up a commemorative stone at Harbin train station in honor of Ahn during her visit to China last year, according to reports from Yonhap News Agency.

Harbin put an exhibition of Ahn's life on regular display at a local museum in 2006. The exhibition has now moved to the memorial hall. Some of the items on display were collected from Hong Kong and overseas. Most of the things left behind by Ahn are in the hands of the Japanese, according to staff at the hall.

Harbin railway station was built in 1899. It will serve an estimated 10 million passengers during the Spring Festival, which begins on Jan. 31 this year.

The memorial hall offers free admission to the general public.

History Unforgotten

"We seldom build a memorial for a foreigner. Today we do not intend to raise discord, but hope all countries can face up to history and jointly seek peace," said Xu Hedong, deputy director of the Harbin cultural and press department who was in charge of construction.

Visitors from China, the ROK and other countries came to the memorial hall to pay tribute to the Korean hero.

Hee Sun Jung, general manager of ROK's Asiana Airlines' regional field office in Harbin, took his 12-year-old son to see the exhibition and asked him to remember Japan's history of invasion.

"Thank China for marking the exact spot of the incident," said Jung, who had come to the railway station to pay homage to Ahn before the memorial was erected.

Social scientists consider such memorials an acceptance of history and important aspects of the struggle for peace in the future.

"Ahn Jung Geun was not a terrorist but one who confronted colonists bravely," said Da Zhigang, director of the institute of northeast Asian studies of Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences. "I believe the purpose this memorial hall is not to cut off communication but to remind people of the real history and call for peace," Da added.

Charles K. Armstrong, professor of history at Columbia University, said it is fair to surmise that Japan has not reflected as deeply on its past actions as it might.

"It is not unreasonable for China and Korea to ask the Japanese government to sincerely and unambiguously condemn the invasions of Korea and China and the many terrible acts committed by Japanese soldiers in WWII. Such a clean break from the past could help Japan greatly improve its relations with its neighbors," Armstrong told Xinhua in an email interview.

Seong-hyon Lee, chief correspondent of the Korea Times, said the move would certainly have a positive impact on Sino-ROK relations.

According to him, Ahn is a very well known figure in the ROK, widely respected as a patriot as he stood against Japanese imperialism.

Impact on Multilateral Relations

"The memorial hall symbolizes joint efforts of China and the ROK against Japan's expansionism," said Huang Dahui, professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.

Huang added that the memorial is of considerable current significance and far reaching historical significance.

"After more than a century, Japan is still doing harm to its neighbors," said Huang, who called for Sino-ROK cooperation to address the issue.

Both China and the ROK have protested against Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine last month.

Hong Lei, a spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said last Wednesday that Abe had denied the spirit of the Kono and Murayama statements by doing so.

The Kono Statement, issued by Japan's former chief Cabinet secretary Yohei Kono in 1993, acknowledged that the Japanese military and authorities forced Asian women into sex slavery during WWII, and pledged not to repeat historical mistakes.

The Murayama Danwa, issued by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in 1995, is regarded as a broader apology for Japan's war crimes.

The Yasukuni Shrine is broadly seen as a symbol of Japanese militarism, with 14 convicted Japanese class-A WWII criminals enshrined there.

Abe's attempts to amend Japan's post-war pacifist constitution and strengthen its military might, show no remorse for Japan's past and pose a threat to peace and stability. Vigilance and a joint international effort are needed to to prevent a Japanese militarist resurgence.

In response to an ROK plan to apply to register records on Japan's wartime sex slaves with UNESCO, Hong said last Thursday that China will work with the ROK and urge Japan to understand and reflect on history.

"China is willing to work with other victim countries, including the ROK, to maintain historical justice," Hong said.

[Source: Xinhua, Harbin, 19Jan14]

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