“It is not that we can regain independence right away with our street demonstrations, shouting ‘Manse!’ (“Long live Korea!”), but I will take part in the demonstration to awaken the spirit of independence in the hearts of our brethren.” -Part of a speech given by Son Byeong-hui, a Korean independence activist, to leaders of the Cheondogyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way) right before the March 1 Declaration of Independence on March 1, 1919.

The Korean Provisional Government, the Birthplace of the Korean Independence Movement

The Korean Provisional Government was established by Korean independence movement activists in Shanghai, China in 1919. Korean nationalism activists, who were carrying out independence activities in Shanghai, joined forces with members of the Sinhan Cheongnyeondang (New Korea Youth Association) who had fled to Shanghai after the March 1st Independence Movement. They organized the Provisional Legislative Assembly and launched the Korean Provisional Government as a democratic republic form of government, with Rhee Syngman designated as Prime Minister, on April 11, 1919.
The Sinhan Cheongnyeondang, which served as the predecessor of the Korean Provisional Government, strived to establish an integrated organization encompassing Koreans in foreign countries while conducting diplomatic activities and the war of independence against Japan. As a part of such efforts, it dispatched Kim Gyu-sik to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 to obtain a more advantageous diplomatic position with the world powers concerning the country’s independence. Such activities were continued by the Korean Provisional Government which, in its early days, applied itself to diplomacy through clandestine organizations such as the Yeontongbu (Secret Liaison Office) and the Gyotongguk (Transportation Office). However, its activities were somewhat limited as it was not formally recognized as an “official” government under international law.
Realistically speaking, Japan exercised sovereignty over Korea having annexed the country by force. The provisional government’s diplomatic efforts were chiefly directed at the United States in the early days, and then at China towards end of the Pacific War. Among the diplomatic efforts of that time were those made toward the Paris Peace Conference (1919-1920) by the delegation dispatched to Paris and those made toward European countries and the Soviet Union.
The provisional government directed its diplomacy chiefly toward the United States in the early days for the following reasons: first, the United States had played a leading role in handling the post-World War One situation; second, those who had studied in, or maintained close relationships with, the United States, such as Rhee Syngman, Ro Baek-rin, Kim Gyu-sik, and An Chang-ho, occupied important positions in the Korean Provisional Government; and third, the Korean Provisional Government was located in Shanghai, an international city, which is suitable location for connecting to Europe and the United States.
Thus, the provisional government’s diplomacy concerning the Paris Peace Conference was directly chiefly toward the government of the United States. Even during the 1921 Washington Conference, which lasted for three months, the Korean delegation engaged in negotiations toward Washington. However, all such efforts were in vain. At that time, imperialism prevailed in the field of international politics. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's policy of national self-determination applied only to the colonies of U.S. allies such as Germany, Austria, and Turkey. Still, politicians in Washington began to take the need for humanitarian consideration of Korean independence seriously due to the continuous efforts of the provisional government. Seo Jae-pil (Philip Jaisohn), for one, went a long way to awakening American politicians’ sympathy regarding the situation of Korea. Thus, while the provisional government was making diplomatic overtures to the world powers, Korean military organizations concentrated on waging a war of independence against Japan in Manchuria and the Maritime Province of Siberia.
@Source: The Encyclopedia of Korean Culture published by the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS)
1919.01.18 파리평화회의의 대한민국 신한청년대표단, 1919 상해 대한민국임시정부 직원일동 기념사진 1919.01.18 파리평화회의의 대한민국 신한청년대표단, 1919 상해 대한민국임시정부 직원일동 기념사진2 (From left) The delegation dispatched by the Korean Provisional Government to the Paris Peace Conference; Members of the Korean Provisional Government (1919) @Source: The Independence Hall of Korea

The Path Leading to Our Own Independent Country

In its strenuous efforts to conduct the independence movement, the Korean Provisional Government encountered many difficulties, such as the cold shoulder turned toward Korea by world powers hoping for a return to international stability under the Versailles Peace Treaty, the barrier to communication between Koreans scattered around the world, including Shanghai, Manchuria, the Maritime Province of Siberia, Hawaii, etc., and the obstruction or non-cooperation of world powers like China, the Soviet Union, and the United States. Although the provisional government advocated a constitutional democratic republic, it was losing ordinary Koreans’ support due to its clumsy handling of affairs. As such, its leaders had to find a way to regain people’s support in its struggle for the country’s independence. As such, a session of the National Assembly was held in 1923 to listen to public opinions; the Constitution was amended twice (1925 and1927); and the United National Front Movement (1927) was formed.

The Constitution was amended five times as follows:
The 1st amendment (of the provisional Constitution) in 1919
The 2nd amendment (of the provisional Constitution) in 1925
The 3rd amendment (of the provisional summarized Constitution) in 1927
The 4th amendment (of the provisional summarized Constitution) in 1940
The 5th amendment (of the provisional Charter of the Constitution) in 1944

The type of government that the leaders continued to have in mind was the parliamentary system. Deviations from the mainstream included a compromise through the adoption of the presidential system in the first amendment of the Constitution, and a Swiss type of government with a Council of State in the third amendment. The leaders of the provisional government in Shanghai thought that the parliamentary system was fit for the country, but adopted a compromise between the parliamentary and presidential systems, while its counterpart in Hanseong (present-day Seoul) adopted the presidential system. Under the compromise, Rhee Syngman was inaugurated as the first President of the Korean Provisional Government, but this gave rise to political confusion due to the President’s monopoly of power. Thereafter, the provisional government adopted the parliamentary system headed by the Gungmuryeong (Cabinet President) through the second amendment of the Constitution in 1925. By that time, the provisional government was losing its authority, and the second amendment did not last long. Two years later, the Executive Branch of the government was subordinated to the Legislative Assembly through the third amendment of the Constitution.
Under the system adopted through the third amendment, the Juseok (Premier of State) served as the head of the Executive Branch, but he was merely the chairperson of the Cabinet Meeting. Rather, it was a collective leadership system led by members of the Cabinet. The Executive Branch of the government had to obtain the approval of the Legislative Assembly even in trivial matters like the relocation of an office, and was subject to supervision by standing committees of the Assembly.
One more noteworthy point in the third amendment of 1927 was that, upon the formation of a grand, national party, the supreme power of the provisional government was to revert to the United National Front Party. This idea arose under the influence of either the Soviet Union or the Republic of China (ROC), where the county was ruled by only one party (e.g. the Communist Party of the Soviet Union or the Nationalist Party of the ROC). It was for this reason that the United National Front Movement was started by members of the Provisional government. However, the movement collapsed following the breakup between the Nationalist Party and the Communist Party of China. The goal of forming grand, national party was accomplished domestically with the emergence of the Singanhoe (New Trunk Association), but it failed outside the country and resulted in a reshuffle of the independence movement camp.
After the amendment of the Constitution in 1927, certain political parties including the Joseon Revolutionary Party (headed by Ji Cheong-cheon), the Korea Independence Party (Jo So-ang), the Korea Nationalist Party (Kim Gu), and the Joseon National Revolutionary Party (Kim Gyu-sik and Kim Won-bong) were noticeably active. However, they were soon integrated with each other into two parties, namely, the Korea Independence Party (headed by Kim Gu) and the Joseon National Revolutionary Party (Kim Gyu-sik and Kim Won-bong), which claimed to stand for rightist socialism. The Korea Independence Party became the basis of support from ordinary Koreans for the provisional government. The members of the provisional government were having difficulties amid the subdued atmosphere even after the third amendment to the Constitution, but they began to recover their vitality following the heroic acts of Lee Bong-chang, who threw a bomb at the Japanese emperor in Tokyo in 1932, and Yun Bong-gil, who threw a bomb at a group of Japanese generals in Shanghai in 1932. Both independence activists belonged to the Patriots Corps associated with the provisional government. Thus, the provisional government was able to start carrying out two important objectives together, diplomacy and the struggle for independence, while simultaneously entering a more difficult period following the Japanese imperialists’ harsh crackdown on independence activists.
Due to the Japanese crackdown in China, the Korean Provisional Government, which was established in Shanghai in 1919, was compelled to leave Shanghai and move from one place to another in China [Hangzhou (1932), Zhenjiang (1935), Changsha (1937), Guangdon (1938), Liuzhou (1938), Qijiang (1939), Chongqing (1940)] following the second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).
@Source: The Encyclopedia of Korean Culture published by the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS)
홍구공원 폭탄투척 의거후 피체되어 압송되는 윤봉길의사,홍구공원 폭탄투척 의거후 피체되어 압송되는 윤봉길의사 홍구공원 폭탄투척 의거후 피체되어 압송되는 윤봉길의사,홍구공원 폭탄투척 의거후 피체되어 압송되는 윤봉길의사2 (From left) Yun Bong-gil right after throwing a bomb at a group of Japanese generals; Bomb fragments left at the site of the bomb attack @Source: The Independence Hall of Korea

Korean Independence Comes Closer

Through the 4th amendment of the Constitution in 1940, the provisional government returned to the parliamentary system headed by the Juseok (Premier of State), who served as the head of state in Korea’s relationships with other countries. Thus, a feature of the presidential system had been added to the parliamentary system. The Juseok was elected by the Assembly and his rights were expanded. With the abolition of the standing committees of the Assembly, the Executive Branch of the provisional government could conduct its activities more independently. As it happened, the Pacific War broke out in 1941. In 1942, the United Assembly was launched with the participation of all the independence movement factions in Chongqing. The provisional government re-amended the Constitution for a fifth time in 1944, concretizing the ideology of the Principles and Politics for the Establishment of Korea announced in 1941. The new form of provisional government adopted a Vice-Juseok and a dual structure of the Executive Branch, i.e. the State Council, which served as the policy-making body, and the ministries below it.
In this wat, the Korean Provisional Government announced the Principles and Politics for the Establishment of Korea in 1941 and amended the Constitution in 1940 and 1944 in a bid to lay the foundations for ruling the country once it regained its independence. The foregoing facts show that the Korean Provisional Government made an attempt to integrate the various independence movement factions into one as the ideological government of all Koreans, that it continued to be the only body to carry out the independence movement until the country’s liberation in August 1945, and that it existed as a real and authentic body that displayed Koreans’ commitment to independence rather than as mere wishful thinking in the eyes of the world. However, despite the desperate efforts made by Koreans, the post-liberation state of affairs turned out quite differently from the wishes of Koreans and the Korean Provisional Government due to the imperialistic and arbitrary judgements of world powers such as the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain among others.
@Source: The Encyclopedia of Korean Culture published by the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS)
1945 중앙청에서 내려지는 일장기,1945.12 임시정부 환영식(서울운동장),1945.11 대한민국임시정부 요인 환국기념 1945 중앙청에서 내려지는 일장기,1945.12 임시정부 환영식(서울운동장),1945.11 대한민국임시정부 요인 환국기념2 1945 중앙청에서 내려지는 일장기,1945.12 임시정부 환영식(서울운동장),1945.11 대한민국임시정부 요인 환국기념3 (From left) The Japanese Flag being lowered at the flagpole of the Capitol Building; Kim Gu giving a speech at a ceremony welcoming the Korean Provisional Government; Leaders of the Korean Provisional Government posing for a photo taken to commemorate their return home from years of exile @Source: The Independence Hall of Korea