Kim Changsuk (金昌淑, 김창숙, 1879-1962) was a Confucian scholar, Korean independence activist, a politician, and the founder of the Sungkyunkwan University (成均館大學, 성균관대학). He was of the Euiseong Kim Clan (義城金氏, 의성김씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Munjwa (文佐, 문좌); and his pen names (號, 호) were Shimsan (心山, 심산) and Byeok’ong (躄翁, 벽옹) (“crippled old man”).
He was born in Seongju (星州, 성주) in North Gyeongsang Province (慶尙北道, 경상북도), and started learning Confucian classics from a young age. In 1905, when the Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty was signed, Kim Changsuk protested and petitioned the the government to punish the signers of the treaty. He also took part in various patriotic organizations (including one dedicated to curbing smoking) and established a modern style school. But in 1910, with the Japan-Korea Treaty annexing Korea, Kim Changsuk went into despair and alcoholism, spending his days on drinking and debauchery. A few years after, however, at the advice of his mother, he sobered up and devoted himself to further studying Confucianism. In reaction to the March 1 Movement of 1919, Kim Changsuk assembled over hundred Confucian scholars across the peninsula and drafted a letter in support of Korean independence. He fled Korea and emigrated to Shanghai, where he had the letter delivered to the delegates of Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Kim Changsuk’s letter, written in Classical Chinese and known simply as the Paris Letter (巴里長書, 파리장서), was an diplomatic embarrassment to Japan, whose delegates had been trying to convince other major world powers that they came to Korea with the support of Koreans. He also published many other works in support of the Korean independence movement and participated in the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in China. But in 1924, his work for Korean independence was interrupted, when Kim Changsuk was apprehended while at the British Concession of Shanghai by the Japanese. He was soon sent back to Korea to Daegu (大邱, 대구) Prison, and there prison guards tortured him until he became crippled from the waist down. (Hence, the one of his pen names, “crippled old man.”) Kim Changsuk was released in 1934, and continued participating in independence activities albeit more passively.
With the liberation of Korea on August 15, 1945, Kim Changsuk, having been again arrested earlier that year for independence activities, welcomed the news of from his prison cell. He was elected to a position in the Democratic Assembly (民主議院, 민주의원) formed by the US Army Military Government in Korea, but did not participate much in its activities. Instead, Kim Changsuk focused on regrouping the remaining Confucian scholars and seeing that Korea be united. In 1946, he became the head of committee for the Korean National Confucians’ Association and re-established Sungkyunkwan, the former national Confucian academy, as a modern University. He also heavily criticized the South Korean government for keeping the Korean peninsula divided. In particular, Kim Changsuk sharply denounced President Rhee Syngman (李承晩, 이승만, 1875-1965) for his dictatorial policies. For his criticism of President Rhee, Kim Changsuk was not only imprisoned for 40 days in Busan (釜山, 부산) but also later attacked by a mob of President Rhee’s supporters. After the Korean War ended in 1953, he reorganized Confucian village schools (鄕校, 향교) under one umbrella organization and attempted to modernize Confucianism as the head of Sungkyunkwan University. Kim Changsuk passed away in 1962, and received a civil funeral ceremony (社會葬, 사회장). He was posthumously awarded with the Order of Merit for National Foundation (建國勳章, 건국훈장) later that year.
Like most educated Koreans of the early modern era, Kim Changsuk was well versed in Classical Chinese. Below is just one of his poems expressing desire for Korean independence, which he composed while imprisoned in Daegu. This past August 15 marked the 70th anniversary of liberation of Korea from Japanese colonial rule.
From the Daegu Police Station Prison
籌謀光復十年間 수모광복십년간 平平平仄仄平平(韻)
性命身家摠不關 성명신가총불관 仄仄平平仄仄平(韻)
磊落平生如白日 뢰락평생여백일 仄仄平平平仄仄
何須刑訊故多端 하수형신고다단 平平平仄仄平平(韻)
I have set out and planned for independence for tens of years.
My vitality, body, and family all are not of concern.
Sincerely and earnestly, all my life has been pure like the white sun:
What need is there for interrogation under torture, willfully for numerous dead ends?
To set out • to plan • glory • return • ten • years • space
Nature • fate • body • house • generally • not • to concern
Open • sincere • all • life • like • white • sun
How • must • punishment • interrogation • intent • many • ends
- Heptasyllabic truncated verse (七言絶句, 칠언절구). Riming character (韻, 운) is 刪(산). The poem complies with the rules of recent style poetry (近體詩, 근체시).
- 磊落(뇌락) – Alliterating bionome (雙聲連綿詞, 쌍성 연면사), meaning “to be open-hearted and sincere.”
- Korean translation available here (한국어 번역).