The Korea IT Time’s interview with Jung Yeon-tae, Head of the executive committee of the Headquarters of the Pan-national Movement to Erect Statues of Independence Fighter Ahn Jung-geun.
On November 11, a statue of patriotic martyr Ahn Jung-geun was erected at the National Assembly Memorial Hall that represents the will of the people. Ahn Jung-geun is a highly respected leader of the independence movement in Korea, who assassinated Hirobumi Ito, the first resident governor of then Japanese-run Korea.
This year marks the 105th anniversary of the death of Ahn Jung-geun and the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule. Hence the erection of his statue at the National Assembly Memorial Hall is expected to draw renewed attention to Ahn’s spirit of independence and his book “Oriental Peace Theory.”
Q: You’ve been heading up the executive committee of the Headquarters of the Pan-national Movement to Erect Statues of Independence Fighter Ahn Jung-geun. Do you have any personal ties with Ahn Jung-geun
A: I started off for personal reasons. I didn’t have an ambitious goal in mind from the beginning. As is often the case with history, accidental or trivial events determine our next steps. This is true of how I started to get involved in this.
There is a funny story. When a train is fast approaching the platform at a subway station, someone falls onto the subway tracks. People are just at a loss at the horrible sight, feeling completely helpless. A gentleman jumps onto the tracks and pull the poor person off the tracks. When people ask the gentleman where such courage came from, he answers: “Actually, someone behind me pushed me.”
The story sounds funny, but it explains how I embarked on this job. I didn’t think about erecting a statue of Ahn Jung-geun at the beginning. An accidental encounter has led me to where I am now.
When I was living in the US, one of my acquaintances, who is a sculptor, came to me one day and told me that he wanted to erect a state of independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun. He said the problem was that it would cost about 300 million won to secure a site for a statue. Though many people sympathized with the sculptor’s proposal to honor Ahn’s spirit of independence by erecting a statue, few came forward to fund the project. So he asked me to lead fundraising for that
Q: Why the sculptor asked you to do the job He could have asked someone else to do the job.
A: Generally, I am favorable towards people who come to me with a cap in hand because I know the concerns and inner conflicts those people in trouble have. It’s not easy for anyone to ask a favor of others. It may sound self-flattering but it is really hard for me to pour cold water on my acquaintances’ belief that Jung Yeon-tae is the go-to guy.
In some way, I feel grateful that people have faith in me and come to me when they are in trouble. Historically speaking, a great achievement cannot be made single-handedly. A great number of contributors have always been behind every single great achievement. I know that many highly successful people attributed their success to their special ties with many people, so I do like helping people without any quid pro quo.
Q: Still, erecting a state of Ahn Jung-geun isn’t an easy task that well-meaning people can readily take up, is it
A: You’re right. I actually slept on it for a week or so after the sculptor came to me. In the meantime, I wanted to know more about Ahn Jung-geun and started to dig into his legacy. My studies on Ahn boiled down to one question: What on earth had caused such a young man, 29-year-old, to sacrifice himself for the nation Ahn was born into a wealthy family.
No one would dispute that Ahn was the progenitor of Korea’s independence movement. Ahn Jung-geun’s activities had inspired so many independence fighters such as Ryu Gwan-sun and Yun Bong-gil. The more I studied about Ahn Jung-geun, the more I was mesmerized by him. I realized that Koreans today can enjoy this level of freedom and prosperity politically and economically thanks to great people like Ahn Jung-geun. I was deeply moved.
Q: You are doing this job because you are fascinated by Ahn Jung-geun’s mettle and patriotism.
A: Yes, you’re right. I wanted to take the lead in erecting a state of this great mind rather than playing a supporting role. Such an accidental encounter made an inevitable change in my life. Therefore, I decided to lead efforts to erect a statue of Ahn and was determined to make it happen.
Q: Many think that having a statue of Ahn Jung-geun erected at the National Assembly Memorial Hall is very significant in that the National Assembly Memorial Hall represents the will of the people. But I heard it wasn’t easy.
A: There were two big problems: money and site selection. The sculptor initially wanted to erect a statue of Ahn at Korea Military Academy (KMA), located in Gongneung-dong, Nowon-gu, a northeast district of Seoul. Since the KMA is a place where officer cadets are being educated, it wasn’t a bad choice. But in terms of accessibility, Gongneung-dong wasn’t the best option. I believed that heavily trafficked areas like the National Assembly or Gwanghwamun Square would be a better choice.
Tapping into my connections with people, I met with Jeong Eui-hwa, Chairman of the National Assembly, and the Secretary-General of the National Assembly and won them over.
The Headquarters of the Pan-national Movement to Erect Statues of Independence Fighter Ahn Jung-geun was set up. With Jung Gap-yun, Vice Chairman of the National Assembly, taking the helm of the headquarters, I started to take care of housekeeping at the headquarters.
Above all, Ahn Ung-mo, head of the Association for the Commemoration of Patriotic Martyr Ahn Jung-geun, has been a great help. Earlier last year, as chairman of the Innovation Forum for Nation, I visited the the Ahn Jung-geun Memorial Hall, located in Namsan Park in central Seoul, along with members of the Innovation Forum for Nation.
I explained to chairman Ahn Ung-mo why we were pushing for the erection of a statue of Ahn at the National Assembly Memorial Hall and asked for his support. He held my hands tightly and said: “It’s welcome news. I’d like to thank you. You have my full support.” Chairman Ahn Ung-mo held my hands so tightly. He had a strong grip for an old man over 80 years old. He provided data on Ahn Jung-geun and spared no efforts in helping me carrying out this project. Thus, our plan proceeded smoothly.
Once again, I’d like to stress that it was possible thanks to a great amount of support from so many people. I have forged ties with so many people and thus they united in supporting this project. Personally, it is a heart-throbbing experience and historically it was such a rewarding achievement.
Q: You’ve mainly talked about the site selection process. But I heard that approximately 400 million won was spent on the erection of the statue, with 100 million won from your own pocket.
A: In fact, the bigger problem was lying with how to fund the project. The cost of making a statue was 300 million won and another 100 million was needed for other expenses. At first, we thought that erecting a statue through donations from the public would be meaningful. However, there was a limit to achieving our fundraising goal of 400 million won by collecting small donations. I wanted to lead by example, so I borrowed money and donated 100 million won.
Like-minded people I know started to send us checks worth 1 million won to tens of millions won. People from various walks of life, including former ministers, vice ministers, bank presidents, artists, writers and general citizens, all chipped in. Thus, I’d like to express my deepest gratitude for their support on this occasion.