Buddhist Monks Play Role in National Debt Redemption Movement


This year marks the 111th anniversary of the National Debt Redemption Movement, which started from Daegu and spread throughout Korea. A researcher from The Association for Korean Modern and Contemporary History presented a surprise discovery about the voluntary participation from about 20 percent of the Buddhist monk population at that time. This is a revelation because at that time, Buddhist monks were considered the lowest social class and treated poorly within society.

In order to mobilize the monks, the Buddhism Research Society hosted a meeting and sent a letter to the temples to encourage monks to participate in the movement, which resulted in about 150 monks signing up to join the movement. This first meeting sparked a flood of support as the record shows that a total of 1,277 monks from 50 temples volunteered to join the movement from Gyeongi-do to Pyeonanbuk-do. In Chucheong-do, 80% of monks in the area joined, which brought the total to about 20% of the Korean monk population getting involved in the movement despite their social struggles.


This is the first time to verify that a large population of Buddhist monks participated voluntarily on a national issue.

Lee Seung-yoon, a curator of Seodaemun Prison History Hall, said, “They (Buddhist monks) were in very low social class and not treated well by people. However, the political climate during that time emphasized that all citizens should do their part to save their country. I think it led Buddhist monks to join it as well.”

“So far, our research was focused on the scale of the movement, the total amount of collection and number of participation. However, this research looked into how a religious group contributed to the National Debt Redemption Movement. We can now explore how local assets attribute to how we view the movement on a national scale,” said Um Chang-ok, a professor of College of Economics & Business Administration of Kyungpook National University.

20 million Korean quit smoking, donated personal items and raised funds in order to pay off a 13 million won national debt owed to Japan. The National Debt Redemption Movement was a testament to how people from all social and economic classes could put aside their differences in order to save a Korea at that time.


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