Ahn Junggeun – A Heroic Man’s Song

Ahn Junggeun Pic

Ahn Junggeun (安重根, 안중근, 1879-1910) was a Korean independence activist and a pan-Asianist. He was of the Sunheung Ahn Clan (順興安氏, 순흥안씨); his childhood name (兒名, 아명) was Chil’eung (七膺, 칠응), meaning “seven chests,” because he had seven spots on his chest and stomach when he was born; and his baptismal name (本名, 본명 or 洗禮名, 세례명) was Thomas, or Doma (多默, 도마). At the age of 16 in 1895, following his father, he was baptized into the Catholic Church. In 1906, in response to the Japanese Protectorate Treaty of 1905 (乙巳條約, 을사조약), he established schools and participated in the independence education movement. In 1907, however, he decided that Korea could not regain independence through lawful and peaceful means and joined an irregular army in the Maritime Province of Siberia, Russia. In 1909, he and 11 fellow Korean independence activists formed a group, to which he asseverated and gave an oath by cutting off a finger joint (同義斷指會, 동의단지회). On October 26, 1909, he went to Harbin, China and assassinated Ito Hirobumi (伊藤 博文, 이등박문/이토 히로부리, 1841-1909), the first Resident-General of Korea. He was quickly apprehended on the spot, and later tried and executed on March 26, 1910. Although the Korean Catholic hierarchy wishing to not antagonize the Japanese colonial administration denounced his actions, Ahn Junggeun maintained his Catholic faith throughout his life and from jail urged his son to join the priesthood, who unfortunately passed away at a premature age. He also wrote a number of works in Classical Chinese. During his imprisonment, he composed calligraphy and an essay called Peace in East Asia (東洋平和論, 동양평화론). He also wrote the poem below on the very night before he assassinated Ito Hirobumi.

丈夫歌 장부가

A Heroic Man’s Song

丈夫處世兮 其志大矣
장부처세혜 기지대의
時造英雄兮 英雄造時
시조영웅혜 영웅조시

A man has been placed on this earth; his volition is great.
The times create the hero; the hero creates the times.

Mature • man • to be placed • world • particle • third person demonstrative • will • great • particle
Times • to create • glorious • hero • particle • glorious • hero • to create • times

雄視天下兮 何日成業
웅시천하혜 하일성업
東風漸寒兮 壯士義烈
동풍점한혜 장사의렬

Gazing down below the heavens, on what day will the work be achieved?
The easterly wind grows cold; the strong man’s cause becomes fiery.

Courageously • to gaze • heaven • below • particle • what • day • to achieve • work
East • wind • gradually • cold • particle • splendid • man • cause • fiery

憤慨一去兮 必成目的
분개일거혜 필성목적
鼠竊伊藤兮 豈肯比命
서절이등혜 기긍비명

The indignation once gone, must achieve its objective.
To the ratlike thief Ito Hirobumi, how can you joyfully compare yourself to life?

Anger • anger • once • to depart • particle • certainly • to achieve • objective • goal
Rat • thief • [name] • [name]  • particle • how • joyously • to compare • life

豈度至此兮 事勢固然
기도지차혜 사세고연
同胞同胞兮 速成大業
동포동포혜 속성대업

How can you now arrive here? The situation of affairs is like so.
O, dear countrymen, dear countrymen! The grand undertaking will soon be achieved!

How • hereupon • to arrive • here • particle • affairs • situation • indeed • so
Same • siblings • same siblings • particle • quickly • to achieve • grand • work

萬歲萬歲兮 大韓獨立
만세만세혜 대한독립
萬歲萬歲兮 大韓同胞
만세만세혜 대한동포

Long live, long live, Korean independence!
Long live, long live, Korean countrymen!

ten-thousand • years • ten-thousand • years • particle • great • Korea • alone • to stand
ten-thousand • years • ten-thousand • years • particle • great • Korea • same • siblings

Notes:

  • An alternate name for this poem is the “Song of Harbin” (哈爾濱歌, 합이빈가).
9 comments
  1. A Reader said:

    非豪傑之士不能。

    If this man were not a hero, he could not have such written such lines.

    This poem reminds me of the immortal lines:

    風蕭蕭兮,易水寒,
    壯士一去兮,不復還。

    Thank you for sharing this on your blog. What an inspiration for traditionally minded Oriental Catholics of all countries!

    • 歸源 said:

      Thank you. I was unaware of the poem you cited. It does bare some similarity.

      Now that you mention it, an alternate name for this poem is “The Song of Harbin” (哈爾濱歌, 합이빈가).

  2. Interesting he wrote in the Chu Ci (楚辭) form with lines ending in xi (兮). I haven’t seen this before in Korean poetry though perhaps there are other examples?

    Although the assassination of Ito Hirobumi by a Korean was quite justified under the circumstances, I think Koreans fail to appreciate just how important a figure he had been in Meiji Japan and interesting to note, for example, that he had actually opposed Korea’s complete annexation to Japan.

    It’s also quite extreme that Koreans use the day of Ito’s assassination to commemorate An Junggeun rather than the date of An’s birth or death. I can’t think of many other examples where the day of a killing is actively celebrated.. especially one which had absolutely no positive historical consequence for Koreans!

    • 歸源 said:

      As far as I can tell, ancient style poetry (古體詩, 고체시) overall is not as common as recent style poetry (近體詩, 근체시) in Classical Chinese poetry written by Korean authors. I’m not too familiar with the former. I do know the Essential Teachings of the Holy Religion (聖敎要旨, 성교요지) by Yi Byeok (李檗, 이벽, 1754-1785) was written in the form similar to poems found in the Classic of Poetry (詩經, 시경).

      As for the historical analysis of the assassination, I am not a historian but that seems like a post hoc analysis. Ito Hirobumi was widely disdained by Korean independence activists and the Chinese Nationalists and Communists. Thus, the news of his death was widely celebrated by all these groups.

      • Sure, at the time it was completely understandable to have been a brave deed of Ahn and must have offered great satisfaction to those opposed to Japanese domination. But I mean that it’s celebrated by many still today!

        It would be interesting to know of other ancient style poetry written by Koreans.

      • 歸源 said:

        Still it’s a post hoc analysis. I am not wholly justifying his actions — or others in this series of posts.

        I am sure there are plenty, but not as many as recent style. I did a quick search for 兮 on http://db.itkc.or.kr/, and found about 8000 entries under “Korean Literary Collection,” which is the section that just has the original text.

  3. Wang Yuzhe (王玉哲) said:

    It’s interesting to see a Chinese poetry by Ahn who is also a famous character in our Chinese history textbook. I admire the hero Ahn and his deep love for their country. This is my first time to read a classical Chinese poetry by a Korean. Its style is very similar to Liu Bang, the first emperor of Han Dynasty. I don’t know how many Koreans now can read and write Chinese texts. The Chinese poem produced by Koreans are good materials to know the history of Korea, and the ever cultural communication shared by Koreans and Chinese. Thank you Kuiwon for your collection of the Chinese poem written by Korean authors.

    • 歸源 said:

      Thank you for your comments. Not too many Koreans can read Classical Chinese. Luckily, the new and upcoming generation is taking more of an interest in learning Mandarin.

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