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Monument in China to Killer of First Japanese PM Goes Ahead


A joint South Korean-Chinese monument to Ahn Jung Geun, who is revered as a freedom fighter in South Korea but condemned as a criminal in Japan, is proceeding on schedule, the South Korean president said yesterday. Ahn shot and killed Hirobumi Ito, Japan’s first Prime Minister, as he paid a visit to a colonial territory in China in 1909.

South Koreans today revere Ahn for his effort to fight the Japanese colonialists. Not long ago South Korean president Park Geun-hye, the nationalist-leaning daughter of a general who seized power in a coup and ruled South Korea for 18 years, pitched the monument idea on a visit to China. “He is a historical figure respected by the peoples of South Korea and China,” she said at the time. The Chinese said they’d look into it. The Japanese, on the other hand, were not pleased.

It now appears that the monument will become reality. Plans for construction of the stone statue are “making good progress thanks to cooperation on both sides,” President Park said at a meeting in Seoul yesterday with the Chinese Foreign Minister, who “expressed satisfaction” with the plan.

Japan issued a strong protest, calling Ahn a “criminal” and “terrorist.” The Chinese foreign ministry retorted: “Ahn Jung-geun is a very famous anti-Japanese fighter in history. He is respected by the Chinese people as well….Japan should reflect on what kind of figure Hirobumi Ito was during Japan’s era of imperialism and militarism and what Japan did to neighbouring nations at the time.”

The Ahn statue, one could say, is China and South Korea’s response to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, a monument to Japanese historical figures, some of whom are convicted war criminals who committed atrocities against the Chinese and Koreans. Every time Japanese politicians visit the shrine China and South Korea issue damning condemnations, blasting Japan for honoring its war heroes and nationalistic past. Competing visions of history continue to entangle these countries in insoluble arguments as ever more planes and ships stare one another down in disputed waters.

[Photo of An Jung-geun courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

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