Dosan Ahn Chang Ho: Character, Leadership and Sacrifice

“That we lack great men is ascribable to our lack of persons who are determined to become great men and make an effort to that end.  Why are the people who lament for the lack of great men not making an effort to become great themselves?” (1)
–Ahn Chang Ho

Note:  Our forms are named for someone significant in Korean History.  Dosan is honored in our high purple belt form.

Ahn Chang Ho was an educator, patriot, political philosopher and leader during a period of devastating national oppression.  He devoted his entire life to improving education for Koreans and to the struggle for independence from Japanese colonialism.  He contributed tirelessly to the betterment of his people through example, without regard to considerable self sacrifice.  His message that change must begin first with the individual and then spread outward to encompass the nation, still resounds today.  In all areas of life, he modeled the highest aspects of character which resulted in his legacy as a hero and a truly great man.

The son of a farmer, Ahn Chang Ho was born on November 9, 1878.  He was educated in the traditional manner at a local village school, studied Confucianism and then attended an American run missionary school.  As a young adult, he joined the Independence Association.  He started and taught at the Chomjun Hakkyo (School of Gradual Progress), which was one of the first co-educational schools in the nation. (2)  In 1902, Ahn Chang Ho and his wife Lee Hye-ryeon were among the earliest Korean couples to emigrate to the United States.  His pen name “Dosan” meaning “island mountain” came from his first view of the Hawaiian mountains. (3) The couple settled in San Francisco, California.

While in America, Dosan continued to advocate for better education, including Koreans at home and abroad. He sought to improve the working and living conditions of Koreans in the United States. He organized and enhanced the Korean labor in the citrus groves so farmers preferred hiring Korean workers. (4)  Dosan founded the San Francisco Social Club in order to promote harmonious relations between Korean merchants in the city.  Always maintaining an active role in the fight for Korean independence, he was a founding member of the Kungminhoe or Korean National Association.  This organization served to inspire Korean immigrants to fight against the Japanese injustices.

Leaving behind his wife and children, Dosan returned to his homeland in 1906, at the end of the Russian-Japanese War.  Japan’s victory had left them a controlling interest in Korea which they immediately began to exploit.  He organized the Shinmin-Hoe, an underground independence movement that championed nationalism in education and business.  Dosan founded the Tae-Song School, believing that change for the country had to begin with the improvement of individuals.  Unfortunately the school was closed by the Japanese after only two years.  Dosan toured the country, encouraging resistance and arguing it would be better for Japan to cease their infringements on Korea’s sovereignty.

I don’t want to see Japan perish. Rather I want to see Japan become a good nation.  Infringing upon Korea, your neighbor, will never be profitable to you.  Japan will profit by having 30 million Koreans as her friendly neighbors and not by annexing 30 million spiteful people into her nation.  Therefore, to assert Korean independence is tantamount to desiring peace in East Asia and the well being of Japan.”  (5) Dosan

In 1910, he returned to exile, traveling to China, Manchuria, Europe and back to the United States garnering support for Korean Independence.  In Los Angeles, he created the Young Korean Academy to generate future leaders.  He helped to establish the Korean provisional government which declared it’s independence from Japan in March, 1919.  In addition, Dosan worked to alleviate the suffering of Korean refugees.  He returned to Korea to continue the contest for independence.  He was arrested by the Japanese in 1932 and served almost four years in prison.  Dosan was released but arrested again. He was asked by the Japanese police if he would give up fight for Korean independence.  Dosan responded:

No, I cannot.  When I eat, I eat for Korean independence.  When I sleep, I sleep for Korean independence.  This will not change as long as I live.  As all the Korean people want their independence, Korean independence will become a reality; as world opinion favors Korean independence, it will become a reality; and as Heaven orders Korean independence, Korea will surely become independent.” (6)

Unfortunately due to failing health, Dosan would not live to see the end of Japanese authority in his nation.  He died in Korea in March, 1938.  He was survived, in the United States, by his wife and five children.

(1)Ahn Pyong Uk, “Dosan the Man and his Thought”
(2)”Ahn Chang Ho”
(3)Arthur Leslie Gardner, “The Korean Nationalist Movement and An Ch’ang-Ho, Advocate of Gradualism” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Hawaii, December 1979.
(4)See 2.
(6)See 1.


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