National Debt Redemption

Significance of the Collection


The National Debt Redemption Movement took place at the beginning of 20th century, when imperialist powers competed for colonial management. The National Debt Redemption Movement collection offers a detailed account of the clash between the invasion of an imperialist power and the peaceful resistance of a colonized nation. In 1997, 90 years after the Movement began, it was revived in the form of the “Gold Collection Movement” during the financial crisis. Korea’s Gold Collection Movement garners attention whenever South America, the United States, or Europe undergoes a foreign exchange crisis. As such, the National Debt Redemption Movement collection provide data that can be re-interpreted retroactively when discussing solutions to the debt crisis the world economy currently faces.


The National Debt Redemption Movement originated in Daegu in February 1907, subsequently spreading across the country. Around 318 gun-districts appear to have participated in the movement across the country, with three Redemption Centers located in Gangwon-Province, 15 in Gyeongsang-Province, five in Gyeonggi-Province, 11 in Chungcheong-Province, 17 in Jeolla-Province, eight in Hwanghae-Province, nine in Hamgyeong-Province, and 15 in Pyeongan-Province, counting only those listed in newspapers. There were an estimated 400,000 participants, or 20%~25% of all households, when calculated as participation per household. the National Debt Redemption Movement collection including the prospectus and opening statement, books recording the donation amounts and lists of participants by region, and press reports is a testament to the domestic and overseas expansion of this movement over a short period.


While those who initially led the National Debt Redemption Movement were the intellectuals and businessmen of the time, as the news spread, people began taking the initiative by donating through comitias (the commoners’ autonomous bodies) or the local community. Moreover, while there were still traces of the feudal caste system in society, this movement was indeed pan-national. This can be seen in the opening statement and prospectus of the National Debt Redemption Movement, which claimed that “there is no gender, age, or birth in patriotism.” the National Debt Redemption Movement collection reports that commoners, merchants, peasants, and women, who can be considered the subjugated class at the time of 1907, actively participated in the National Debt Redemption Movement. These records are an in-depth depiction of the process in which social classes emerge, as differences in social rank were overcome in Korea’s transition to modernity in a manner vastly different from that of the West.


The National Debt Redemption Movement proposes a new model for financial order as a solution to the problems of debt and foreign loans that trouble the 21st century world economy. In the sense that the people repaid the foreign debt owed to Japan, the National Debt Redemption Movement is a movement in which the debtor fulfills his or her obligations. Through this, the National Debt Redemption Movement also presents the responsibility of creditors who lend odious debt through “incitement and enticement.” Because the National Debt Redemption Movement presents the responsibility of both the creditor and the debtor, it overcomes the limitation of the responsibility theory, which holds the debtor solely responsible. This theory was presented in the 1997 East Asian Foreign Exchange Crisis, as well as in various subsequent financial crises. Considering that the world agrees that the recent Greek financial crisis cannot be fundamentally resolved unless responsibilities are attributed to both the creditor and debtor, the critical approach proposed by the National Debt Redemption Movement can still be considered viable, in the modern sense. Therefore, the National Debt Redemption Movement records form an important historical account in the discussion on establishing a new international financial order in the 21st century, and must be subject to continuous retrospection and re-interpretation.