|Visitors look at a portrait of Yu Gwan-sun at Seodaemun Prison History Hall in Seoul, Tuesday. Yonhap|
By Kang Seung-woo
Yu Gwan-sun, a symbolic figure of the 1919 March 1 Independence Movement against Japan's colonial rule of Korea, will be awarded an additional order of merit for national foundation, which is more prestigious than the current medal she received posthumously, according to the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, Tuesday.
The government decided to bestow the Republic of Korea Medal ― the highest out of the five ranks of national decorations ― on Yu, during a Cabinet meeting presided over by President Moon Jae-in, on the occasion of the resistance's 100th anniversary.
Previously, Yu had a third-grade Independence Medal given posthumously in 1962.
"Yu is a symbol of the March 1 Independence Movement. At the age of 16, she organized an independence protest and devoted herself to the nation's independence," Moon said during the meeting held at the Kim Koo Museum and Library in Hyochang-dong, western Seoul. Kim Koo was the first head of Korea's provisional government set up in Shanghai in 1919.
"The single fact that the people recognize Yu as a symbolic figure of the independence movement is enough to award her the first-grade order of merit. I hope the promotion will serve as momentum to further honor the 100th anniversary of the March 1 movement."
A teenage schoolgirl, Yu participated in the 1919 independence protest in Seoul and continued her fight by organizing another massive protest one month later in her hometown of Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province.
Japanese military police arrested her and she died in prison on Sept. 28, 1920, of severe injuries sustained from torture.
In the lead-up to the centennial of the March 1 movement, there was growing public sentiment that Yu's medal status should be raised, considering her symbolic meaning and contribution to the nation's independence movement.
According to a poll by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism released Tuesday, which asked what is the first word or image when people think of the March 1 movement, Yu was the runaway leader with 43.9 percent, followed by the "manse" movement with 14 percent. Manse means "long live" (an independent Korea).
In that respect, bipartisan lawmakers submitted a bill to elevate Yu's status with the Order of Merit and scores of petitions calling for the government to give her better recognition have been posted on the presidential office's website.
According to the ministry, 31 people including Kim Koo and other independence fighters such as Ahn Jung-geun have been awarded the most prestigious Republic of Korea Medal, while 93 have received the second-ranked Presidential Medal.
However, the Awards and Decorations Act stipulates a man of merit cannot win another decoration for the same accomplishment, which had prevented the government from honoring Yu.
Considering the restriction, the government decided to bestow a new medal by recognizing her contributions to the country other than the independence movement, such as posthumously improving the country's reputation and inspiring the people's patriotic spirit.
Also on Tuesday, the government said it would grant special pardons to 4,378 people, mostly those involved in political protests and convicted of crimes for the sake of their livelihoods, on the occasion of the March 1 Movement's centennial.
It will be the Moon administration's second special amnesty since its inauguration in May 2017 following the first in December the same year.
The beneficiaries will include people convicted of staging violent rallies regarding the construction of a naval base on Jeju Island, Ssangyong Motor's restructuring plan, the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) and a controversial "comfort women" deal between Korea and Japan in 2015.
However, convicted progressive politicians were excluded to prevent any charges of political favoritism.