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Yeo Un-hyeong

A long-time activist who tried to unite the rightists and leftists but was made target of bitter criticism by both groups and was assassinated.


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YEO UN-HYEONG (1885-1947). Born in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi Province, he founded private schools in 1907 and 1908. Following the annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910, his schools were closed. Yeo converted to Christianity and entered the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pyongyang. In 1914, however, he went to China to fight for Korea's liberation. In 1918, after attending a college in Nanjing for a brief period, he organized the New Korean Youth Party in China.

When the Korean Provisional Government in exile was established in Shanghai, Yeo became a member of its legislative assembly. In 1919, he attended the meeting of the Korean Youth Independence Association in Tokyo that drafted the Declaration of Independence. It is not clear whether he joined the Korean Communist Party, established in China in 1919, but he did attend the Conference of Oppressed Peoples of the Far East held in Moscow in 1921. Returning to Korea sometime in late 1920s, he was imprisoned for three years by the Japanese.

In 1933, when he was released from prison, he became president of the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper until the Japanese closed it down in 1936. In 1944, he organized a secret society named the Alliance for Restoration of the Korean Nation, but he was again imprisoned. Released from prison in August 1945, he organized the Committee for the Preparation of National Reconstruction, and in September he helped establish the Korean People's Republic, becoming its vice chairman. When the United States Military Government in Korea outlawed the Korean People's Republic, he established the Korean People's Party (Joseon Inmindang) in November 1945, and in February 1946 his party joined the left-wing Korean National Democratic Front (Joseon Minjujuui Minjok Jeonseon, or Minjeon), supporting the implementation of the Allies' Moscow Agreement.

Yeo collaborated with radical communists of the Korean Communist Party for a while, but in September 1946, he severed his ties with them, and joined the moderate right-wing nationalists in forming the Coalition Committee for Cooperation between the Rightists and the Leftists for the purpose of establishing "a democratic transitional government" of Korea in cooperation with the Allies under the Moscow Agreement. Meanwhile, he helped unify three other moderate leftist parties, forming a new party named Socialist Labor Party (Sahoe Nodongdang), which was renamed as the Working People's Party (Geunro Inmindang) in May 1947. For unknown reasons, Yeo left the Coalition Committee for Co-operation between the Rightists and Leftists in December 1946, but did not withdraw his support for its aims. Yeo's opposition to the rightists and the radical leftists made him the target of bitter criticism and attack by both groups. In the end, having endeavored in vain to unite the middle groups for the solution of the Korean question, he was assassinated on 19 July 1947 by a right-wing nationalist youth.

All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of the publisher. (Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Korea, by Andrew C. Nahm and James E. Hoare, published by RLPG Books, appears by permission of the author and publisher).

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