“The gunshot at Pochonbo precipitated the reunion between my motherland and her loyal sons and daughters who had loved her the most”Kim Il Sung, With the Century Vol. 6
Whatever your views on the official narrative, the struggle against the Japanese imperialist occupation during the first half of the 20th century is an important part of the DPRK’s origin story.
August 15th is the only major holiday to be celebrated both in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea. The date marks the end of the decades-long occupation of the Korean Peninsula by the Japanese in 1945. Soon after the official surrender from Tokyo, Soviet Red Army troops entered Pyongyang on the 24th of August. In the DPRK, August 15th, often stylised as ‘8.15’ is known as ‘조국해방의 날’ or ‘Liberation Day’.
Portrait of the President and General in the Rev. History Museum
250-mile Journey for National Liberation
According to the official narrative, a young Kim Il Sung, living in Mangyongdae near Pyongyang, heard news that his father, Kim Hyong Jik, had been once again arrested for anti-Japanese activities in early January 1925. On January 22, he left his home town to travel the 250 mile journey to the northern border with China.
Upon reaching the Amnok (Yalu) river, he crossed into China, vowing he would not return until the liberation of the country.
This story has been deeply woven into the official revolutionary history timeline and is commemorated at the Arch of Triumph in Kaeson-guyok, Pyongyang. The dates on the Arch, 1925 & 1945 represent the year Kim Il Sung left Korea and subsequently returned respectively.
Diorama of the battle of Height 1211 (Rev. History Museum)
Between 1925 and 1945, a series of anti-Japanese groups were active in northern Korea and Manchuria. In 1926, the Down-with-Imperialism Union was founded in Jilin to fight against Tokyo’s occupation of Korea.
In 1931, Kim Il Sung joined the Communist Party of China and worked alongside various groups fighting the Japanese in Manchuria. Later that year, the Mukden Incident, which saw a weak dynamite charge attempt to blow up a railway line. The attack failed, however, it had been staged by the Japanese as a pretext to invade Manchuria properly.
In 1937, Kim Il Sung was given control over his own division, known colloquially as ‘Kim Il Sung’s Division’. It was this group which attacked the town of Pochonbo on the Korean side of the Amnok river in June of the same year. This battle would later form an important part of the revolutionary narrative which would continue to grow long after the defeat of the Japanese.
Kim Il Sung later served as part of a unit belonging to the USSR’s Red Army – he served in this until until the end of the occupation in 1945. The Japanese surrendered to the allied powers on the 115th of August 1945 and the Red Army entered Pyongyang on the 25th. This would come to mark the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea.
Mansudae Grand Monument section dedicated to anti-Japanese Revolutionary Fighters
The soon-to-be President Kim Il Sung arrived into the port city of Wonsan on the East Coast on the 19th of September, a month after Liberation day. In December, he took the position of Chairman of the northern branch of the Korean Communist Party. In 1948, after elections for the first Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Il Sung would be designated Premier on August 15th 1948, 3 years to the day after Liberation. He would eventually rise to lead the country in 1949 after merging his Korean Communist Party with the New People’s Party of Korea to create the Worker’s Party of North Korea and later the Worker’s Party of Korea (having merged with its southern counterpart).
Commemorating National Liberation
The story of the founding of the country, and the subsequent history of the country, is catalogued and retold to visitors at the Revolutionary History Museum on Mansu Hill behind the Mansudae Grand Monument.
The date is celebrated as a public holiday in the DPRK, on significant Jubilee years, military parades are often held in Kim Il Sung Square. On top of this, Mass Dance and other celebratory activities may occur.
Soldiers in a military parade (Nick Bonner/NK Archive)