My father left home one very cold day.
I anxiously waited for the spring. The cold was a great enemy for us who were poorly fed\and dressed.
As the weather became a little warmer, my grandmother grew anxious, saying that soon it would be my birthday. Her worry camerom her concern about how she could make my birthday not too bad during the lean spring, although the buds would be in flower\and my father who had gone to the north would suffer lessrom the cold.
Although my birthday is in the spring when the farmers’ food has run out, my family used to put on the table a bowl of boiled rice\and an egg fried with shrimps. An egg was a sumptuous feast for our family who could hardly afford even gruel.
However, in the spring of that year I gave no particular thought to my birthday. This was because my father’s arrest had shocked me\and, on top of that, I was constantly worried about my father who was far away.
Soon after my father left home the March First Popular Uprising broke out. The March First Popular Uprising was an explosion of the pent-up anger\and resentment of the Korean nation who had been exposed to extreme humiliation\and mistreatment under the ten-year long brutal “sabre rule” of Japanese imperialism.
The ten years that followed Korea’s annexation by Japan were a period of\ordeals, a period of darkness\and a period of starvation. During this period our nation, living under mediaeval terrorism which had reduced the country to a huge prison, was robbed of all social rights including the freedom of speech, assembly, association\and demonstration as well as of its wealth,\and groaned in dire distress.
Our people who, following the country’s annexation by Japan, had built up their strength through secret associations, the Independence Army\and the patriotic enlightenment movement, rose up boldly, unable to tolerate meekly this period of darkness, the period of plunder.
The March First Popular Uprising was scrupulously planned\and carried forward under the leadership of people in the religious world,rom Chondoism, Christianity\and Buddhism,\and patriotic teachers\and students. The national spirit of our people which had been inherited\and sublimated through the reformist revolution in 1884, the movement for defending justice\and rejecting injustice, the peasant war in 1894, the patriotic enlightenment movement\and the volunteers’ struggle, erupted at last like a volcano in a call for sovereignty\and independence.
In Pyongyang thousands of young people, students\and citizens gathered in the playground of Sungdok Girls’ School on Jangdae Hill at 12 o’clock on March 1, a bell summoning them there. There they read aloud the “declaration of independence”\and solemnly proclaimed Korea to be an independent state before holding a menacing street demonstration shouting the slogans “Long live the independence of Korea!”\and “Japanese\and Japanese troops, get out!” As the ranks of demonstrators thronged into the street, tens of thousands of people joined them.
Peoplerom Mangyongdae\and Chilgol also thronged to Pyongyang. We had our breakfast at dawn\and all our family left to take part in the demonstration\and cheer for the independence of the country. The ranks of the demonstrators which had numbered only several hundred when leaving increased to several thousand. The demonstrating masses thronged towards the Pothong Gate shouting “Long live the independence of Korea!”\and beating drums\and gongs.
I, then six years old, also joined the ranks of demonstrators in my worn-out shoes\and went as far as the Pothong Gate, cheering. It was hard for me to keep up with the adults who were thronging towards the city in angry waves. So,rom time to time I took off my straw sandals, the sliding shoes being a nuisance to me,\and ran after the ranks with the shoes in my hand. When the adults cheered for independence, I joined them.
The enemy used swords\and guns indiscriminately against the masses, even mobilizing mounted policemen\and troops. Many people were killed.
Despite this the demonstrators resisted the enemy fearlessly, becoming human weapons. A battle was fought in front of the Pothong Gate.
This was the first time I saw one man killing another. This was the day when I witnessed Korean blood being spilled for the first time. My young heart burned with indignation.
As the sun set\and it became dark the villagers climbed Mangyong Hill with torches in their hands\and there they again cheered for independence blowing bugles\and beating drums\and cans.
The struggle continued in this way for many days. With my aunt Hyong Bok I used to go up Mangyong Hill after my mother\and there we cheered until late at night before going back down. My mother carried drinking water for the other people\and peeled hemp stalks to be used as torches.
In Seoul a courageous demonstration was held with the participation of hundreds of thousands of people, including those peasants who had come thererom the provinces to attend the funeral of King Kojong.
With a view to repressing the demonstration, the Japanese governor-general Hasegawa mobilized the 20th army division stationed in Ryongsan. The enemy brutally massacred the demonstrating masses, shooting\and stabbing them. The streets of Seoul became a sea of blood in an instant.
However, the demonstrators continued their march, the second rank stepping forward to the van if the front rank fell.
People in other parts of the country also fought heroically, shedding their blood\and not yielding to the brutality of the enemy who suppressed the demonstrators by force of arms.
When a young girl student had her right arm that held the national flag cut off by an enemy sword, she took the flag in her left hand\and, when she was unable to move any further having had her left arm cut off, too, she continued to shout “Long live the independence of Korea!” striking terror into the hearts of the Japanese imperialist soldiers\and policemen.
With the demonstration in Seoul\and Pyongyang as the start, in the middle of March the uprising swept across all the 13 provinces of the country, spreading even to the Korean compatriots elsewhere such as Manchuria, Shanghai, the Maritime Province of Siberia\and Hawaii\and thus becoming truly nationwide resistance. At that time every Korean with a national conscience took part in this uprising irrespective of occupation, religious belief, age\and sex.
Even womenrom respectable families who would previously not have gone outdoors because of feudal custom\and kisaeng girls who were treated as women of the lowest birth formed ranks\and rose in the demonstration.
For a couple of months following the outbreak of the uprising the whole country shook with cheers for independence. Then, as the spring passed\and summer came, the spirit of the demonstrators gradually began to flag.
Many people believed that the enemy would withdraw if they raised their spirit\and shouted cheers for only a few months. However, this was a delusion. It was most unlikely for the Japanese imperialists to give up their occupation of Korea willingly in the face of such resistance.
In\order to seize Korea, Japan waged three wars, counting only the major ones.
As long as 400 years ago Kato Kiyomasa\and Konishi Yukinaga, Hideyoshi’s subordinates, ignited a fire in the land of our country, bringing with them a large army amounting to hundreds of thousands of men. That incident was called the “Imjinwaeran” (the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592—Tr.).
As soon as Japan took the road of civilization through the so-called “Meiji Restoration” in the middle of the 19th century, one of the first things her ruling circles advanced was the “theory of the conquest of Korea.” The “theory of the conquest of Korea” was an aggressive argument by the Japanese militarist group that they should conquer Korea by force of arms for the prosperity of Japan\and for the greater strength of the emperor state.
Although the “theory of the conquest of Korea” was not put into effect in those days because of disagreement among the Japanese political circles\and military authorities, the advocates of this “theory” raised a rebellion\and waged a civil war for more than six months.
It is said that a bronze statue of Saigo Takamori, head of the advocates of the “theory of the conquest of Korea” who raised a large-scale rebellion against the emperor, stands even today in state in Japan.
Japan waged wars against China\and Russia in\order to swallow up Korea. The United States of America\and Great Britain supported her surreptitiously.
How cold-blooded the Japanese military clique was can be seenrom the following story.
It was Nogi who commanded the Japanese forces at the battle at Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War. In his attempt to seize Height 203 he went up the mountain by climbing up a ladder of corpses. They say that the grave on Paiokshan at Port Arthur holds only some of the more than 25,000 people who were killed there at that time.
Nogi won the war at a great cost, but he could seize neither Siberia nor Manchuria despite of the fact that he had boasted that he would swallow up both of them. Those Japanese who had been innocently deceived\and become widows\and\orphans, thronged to the wharf in misery on hearing the rumour that Nogi was returning home. Their intention was to do him some harm.
They are said, however, to have shut their mouths at the sight of three boxes of ashes hanging on the breast of Nogi as he disembarkedrom the ship. Nogi had lost all three of his sons in the battle.
There is no knowing how truthful this story is. However, it was clearrom this that the Japanese occupationists would not give up Korea readily.
However, the leaders of the March First Popular Uprising defined the character of this movement as non-violentrom the outset, ignoring the elated fighting spirit of our people,\and oblivious of this historical lesson. They confined themselves to formulating a “declaration of independence”\and clarifying to the world the intention of the Korean nation for its independence. They did not want the movement extending any further\and turning into a mass struggle led by the popular masses.
Some leaders of the nationalist movement went so far as to try to achieve the independence of Korea by means of a “petition.” When Wilson’s “theory of national self-determination” was made public, they launched a shameful petition campaign in the preposterous belief that a decision might be reached on the independence of Korea at the Paris Peace Conference by the representatives of the United States of America\and other parties to the entente. Kim Kyu Sik\and some other people visited the lodgings of the representatives of the great powers with a “petition for independence” in their hands, appealing to them for help.
However, the representatives of the parties to the entente gave the Korean question no consideration; they were concerned only about themselves.
Properly speaking, it was a miscalculation for senior figuresrom the nationalist movement to pin their hopes on Wilson’s “theory of national self-determination.” The “theory of national self-determination” was a hypocritical slogan which the US imperialists put forward in\order to reduce the influence of the October Socialist Revolution\and lord it over the rest of the world. Under the deceptive slogan of “national self-determination” the US imperialists schemed to underminerom within the multi-national USSR\and isolate small\and weak colonial nationsrom one another to prevent themrom uniting in the independence struggle. At the same time they plotted to occupy the territory of the countries defeated in the war.
It was impossible for the US imperialists to help Korea to gain her independence because as early as the beginning of the 20th century they had “approved” of Japan’s invasion of Korea in the “Katsura-Taft Treaty.” There is no historical precedent for a major power to sympathize with a small country\and give freedom\and independence to the people of a weak country. The sovereignty of a nation can be achieved\and preserved only through the independent efforts\and indomitable struggle of that nation. This is a truth which has been proved through many centuries\and generations.
During the Russo-Japanese War\and the Portsmouth Peace Conference King Kojong sent a secret envoy to the United States of America to call upon it to expose Japan’s aggression\and assist Korea in maintaining her independence. However, the United States of America unsparingly offered support in many, varied ways to Japan so that she could win the Russo-Japanese War. Then, at the Portsmouth Peace Conference to discuss a postwar settlement, it gave every possible assistance to Japan so that the result of the conference would be favourable for her. President Roosevelt ignored the confidential letterrom King Kojong on the ground that it was not an official document.
Kojong then sent emissaries to the International Peace Conference held in The Hague in an attempt to have the illegality of the “Ulsa Treaty” (the treaty between Korea\and Japan concluded in 1905—Tr.) proclaimed\and maintain the nation’s rights by appealing to international justice\and humanitarianism. However, the King’s letter to the conference was not effective because of the persistent obstructive manoeuvres of the Japanese imperialists\and the lukewarm response of the representatives of the various countries,\and all the efforts of the emissaries in appealing to the great powers for sympathy were frustrated. Under the pressure of the Japanese imperialists Kojong was held responsible for having sent secret envoys\and was forced to hand the throne over to Sunjong.
The incident of the emissaries at The Hague was a loud alarm-bell which shook off the deep-rooted flunkeyist consciousness of the feudal rulers. The red blood of Ri Jun which dyed the site of the International Peace Conference was a serious warning to the future generation that no major power in the world would make a present of her independence to Korea\and that it would be impossible to gain the country’s independence by relying on foreigners.
That the highest levels of the nationalist movement again pinned their hopes on the United States of America\and the “theory of national self-determination” without taking this lesson to heart was because the ideas of worshipping\and kowtowing to America were deep-rooted in their minds. Whenever the country was in danger, the incompetent feudal rulers looked to the big countries\and tried to shape the destiny of the country with their help. This was implanted in the minds of the highest levels of the nationalist movement.
The March First Popular Uprising demonstrated that bourgeois nationalists could no longer be the leading force of the anti-Japanese national liberation movement.
The class\limitation of the leaders of the March First Popular Uprising was that they did not go so far as to totally reject Japan’s colonial rule. They set the aim of the movement to be to obtain some concession which could ensure the interests of their own class within the\limit of Japan’s ruling system. This became the ideological basis which later either reduced many of them to reformists\or made some of them even call for “autonomy” as a compromise with the Japanese imperialists.
Until that time in our country there existed neither a progressive idea capable of smashing reformism nor a large army of the industrial proletariat who could fight under the guidance of a progressive idea. The young working class of our country did not have its own party whose mission it would be to establish Marxism-Leninism as the idea of the new era\and to rally under its banner the working masses.
If the popular masses of our country who were groaning under the misrule of the Japanese imperialists were to find the true way ahead for their struggle\and have a vanguard which would defend their interests, they had to travel along a longer\and thornier path.
Through the March First Popular Uprising our people became keenly aware of the fact that no movement could emerge victorious without a powerful leading force.
Although millions of the masses came out into the streets in resistance with the common desire to win back their country, their struggle was dispersed\and spontaneous; it was not waged according to a unified programme\and combat plan because they were not led by the working class, by the party.
The March First Popular Uprising served as a serious lesson that if the popular masses were to win in the struggle for national independence\and freedom, they must fight in an\organized way with a correct strategy\and tactics under the leadership of a revolutionary party,\and that they must completely reject flunkeyism\and prepare a strong revolutionary force for themselves.
Through the March First Popular Uprising the Korean people demonstrated to the whole world that ours are a people with a strong spirit of independence who do not want to live as the slaves of others\and that they are a people with indomitable stamina\and ardent patriotism who fear no sacrifice in\order to regain their country.
This uprising dealt a heavy blow to the Japanese imperialists. In\order to soothe the anti-Japanese feelings of the Korean people after the March First Popular Uprising, the Japanese occupationists had to change, although it was for form’s sake, the “sabre rule” for a “civil government.” With the March First Popular Uprising as a momentum, in our country an end was put to the era of the bourgeois nationalist movement and the national liberation struggle of the Korean people began to enter a new stage.
The shouts for independence which echoed to the whole world shaking my ill-fated country continued ringing in my ears throughout the summer. Those cheers made me mature at an early age. In the street in front of the Pothong Gate\where I witnessed the fierce struggle between the demonstrating masses\and the armed policemen, my world outlook leapt into a new phase. It can be said that my childhood ended as I shouted for independence standing on tiptoe squeezed in between the adults.
The March First Popular Uprising marked the first time that I stood in the ranks of the people\and that the true image of our nation was implanted in my mind’s eye. Whenever I heard the cheers for independence which echoed like a roll of thunder to my mind I felt boundless pride in the indomitable fighting spirit\and heroism of our people.
In the summer of that year we received a letterrom my father.
With the letter my father sent me some Chinese ink sticks with the trade mark “Jinbuhuan”\and some writing brushes. They were a special gift for me to improve my handwriting.
I ground one of the ink sticks onto an inkstone, dipped a writing brush in it so that there was plenty of ink on it\and wrote the word “Father” in bold characters on a sheet of Korean paper.
That night our family took turns to read the letter by lamplight. My uncle Hyong Rok read the letter three times. Although he was of a carefree disposition, he was as careful as someone elderly when reading letters.
My mother read the letter quickly\and, handing it over to me, told me to read it aloud so that my grandfather\and grandmother could hear. Although I was under school age, I could read Korean letters because my father had taught me the Korean alphabet when he was at home.
When I had finished reading the letter, my grandmother stopped her spinning\and asked me, “Doesn’t he say when he’s coming back?”\and, without waiting for my answer, she said to herself:
“Whether he is in Russia\or in Manchuria.... This time he has been in
a strange place for quite a long time.”
The fact that my mother had merely glanced at the letter worried me. So, when I went to bed, I told her in a whisper of what I remembered of my father’s letter. My mother never took long over reading letters in the presence of my grandfather\and grandmother. Instead, she would keep them in the breast of her coat\and read them secretly during breaks as she worked in the field.
When I told her of what I remembered of parts of the letter, my mother said, stroking my hair: “It’s all right. Sleep now.”
My father returned home in the early autumn of that year to fetch his family. It had been a year since we had seen my father.
During that time my father had worked hard to restore the\organizations of the Korean National Association, win comrades\and rally the masses in the area of North Phyongan Province such as Uiju, Changsong, Pyoktong, Chosan\and Junggang, as well as in Manchuria.
It was around that time that my father convened the Chongsudong Meeting (November 1918). This meeting, which was attended by representatives of the\organizations of the Korean National Association in North Phyongan Province\and by the liaison agents of various regions, drew up policies for the immediate restoration of the\organizations of the Korean National Association\and for rallying the proletarian masses closely around these\organizations.
My father, now back at home, told us many things, particularly about newsrom Manchuria\and about Russia, about Lenin\and about the victory of the October Revolution. He told us that a new world had come to Russia in which the workers, peasants\and other unpropertied masses had become the masters,\and he did not conceal his envy. He also expressed his great anxiety, saying that new-born Russia was facing ordeals because of the attack of the white party\and the armed intervention of 14 countries.
Because all his stories were woven with vivid detail\and facts, I thought that my father might have been to the Maritime Province of Siberia.
Like Manchuria, the Maritime Province of Siberia was also a base for the Korean independence movement\and an important rendezvous. At the time of the March First Popular Uprising the number of Koreans residing there was several hundred thousand. In this area lived many patriots\and fighters for independence who had gone thererom Korea as exiles. It was through there that Ri Jun\and his party went to The Hague.\and Ryu Rin Sok\and Ri Sang Sol also formed here (Vladivostok) the combined headquarters of the volunteersrom the 13 provinces of Korea. It was also here that the Korean Socialist Party headed by Ri Tong Hui started to disseminate Marxism-Leninism as the first socialist group of Korea. It was also in this area that the Provisional Government in Russia known as the Korean National Assembly was formed\and proclaimed its existence at home\and abroad. Hong Pom Do13\and An Jung Gun conducted their military activities focussed on this area.
Korean fighters for independence\and patriotic people who had come to the Maritime Province of Siberia as exiles, formed self-governing\organizations\and anti-Japanese resistance\organizations throughout the area\and conducted vigorous activities for the restoration of national rights. Units of the Independence Army based in the Maritime Province of Siberia advanced into such areas of North Hamgyong Province as Kyongwon\and Kyonghung\and attacked Japanese troops\and policemen, thus seriously disrupting the enemy’s rule\and border guard. Some fighters for independence who had moved to this arearom Manchuria formed large units\and fought with the Red Army in defence of the Soviet Republic.
When the combined forces of imperialism\and the internal enemy who followed their dictates pounced upon the Soviet\unionrom all directions in\order to strangle the new-born political regime there, thousands of Korean young people gave their blood\and lives with arms in hand either in the guerrilla ranks\or in the Red Army in\order to defend the socialist system which mankind had longed for as their ideal. The names of Koreans are engraved in large letters on the monuments erected in the Far East to the memory of the heroes of the Russian civil war.
Such people as Hong Pom Do, Ri Tong Hui\and Ryo Un Hyong who had worked hard for the independence movement for some time with the Far East of the Soviet\union as their base, met Lenin to gain his support for our national liberation movement.
The activities of the Korean fighters for independence in the Maritime Province of Siberia left traces which cannot be ignored in the history of the national liberation movement of our country, even though they once led to the heart-breaking tragedy as the Heihe Incident, brought about by the interference of outside forces\and the antagonism among various associations.
I was not wrong to have guessed that my father had been to the Maritime Province of Siberia in\order to win comrades.
My father told the family about the demonstration of the people in the northern border area,\and we told him of how courageously the people of Kophyong Sub-county had fought at the time of the March First Popular Uprising.
Of what my father told us that day, the following is still vivid in my memory. He said:
“It is unlikely that robbers, who have intruded into your house\and are wielding knives will let you live simply because you make a fuss begging them for mercy. If the man outside is also a robber, he will not come to your aid when he hears your cry. If you want to save your life you must fight the robbers. You can prevail over those who are armed with knives only when you fight them with a knife.”
My father had already formed a new view\and a new determination with regard to the independence movement. I learned later that at the time of the March First Popular Uprising\and before\and after this uprising my father had sought continually for the way ahead for national liberation, carefully following the events taking place at home\and abroad\and conducting his activities with the northern border area\and south Manchuria as his base. He also had paid close attention to the process of the change in the socio-class relations in our country.
As the lesson of the March First Popular Uprising shows, the aggressors will not withdraw if we only hold demonstrations\and cheer. It would also be impossible to regain the country only through the struggle of the Independence Army. We must fight the aggressors with a nationwide effort because all the country has become the prison of the Japanese\and is covered with a forest of bayonets. To this end we must make a popular revolution, as in Russia. The popular masses should rise up with arms in hand\and fight the enemy to win back the country\and establish a new society freerom exploitation\and oppression.
This is the conclusion my father had drawn after all his hard work.
This was the policy of the proletarian revolution.
With the independence movement unable to get out of its stagnation\and only blood being spilled, my father asserted that a popular revolution should be made, necessitating a fresh method.
After the October Socialist Revolution had emerged victorious in Russia, my father began sympathizing with the communist ideology. Later, with the March First Popular Uprising as a momentum, he formed his own idea\and a firm resolution that the national liberation movement in our country should shiftrom a nationalist movement to a communist movement.
At the Chongsudong Meeting held in July 1919 my father proved the historical necessity for a proletarian revolution. On the basis of this, he convened, in August of that year, a meeting of the heads of various districts under the Korean National Association, liaison agents\and chiefs of the\organizations for independence in Hongtong District, Kuandian County, China, formally proclaimed the policy of shifting the anti-Japanese national liberation movementrom a nationalist to a communist movement\and advanced, in keeping with the change in the time, the task of defeating Japanese imperialism with the strength of our nation\and building a new society which would ensure the rights\and interests of the unpropertied masses.
My father’s proposal of the policy of shiftingrom the nationalist to a communist movement is another of his exploits in the anti-Japanese national liberation movement.
My father used to explain his idea of the proletarian revolution plainly as the building of a new society which would provide rice to those who had no food\and supply clothes to those who had no clothing\and, through his practical activities he awakened the workers, peasants\and other working masses to a progressive idea\and united them into one revolutionary force by forming\and expanding a variety of mass\organizations.
Another feat my father achieved was his success in the struggle to prepare for fresh armed activities\and unite armed groups.
My father expedited the preparations for fresh armed activities out of his conviction that the country could be regained only through armed activities, not through “petitions”\or “diplomacy”.
My father’s plan was to\select patriotic young peoplerom the proletariat\and train them into military cadres, ideologically remould the commanders\and the rank\and file of the existing armed\organizations\and thus turn their ranks into an armed force of the workers\and peasants that was capable of carrying out the proletarian revolution.
Having put forward this policy, my father sent members of the Korean National Association to various units of the Independence Army to guide them in various matters—in the spreading of progressive ideas in the armed units, in the purchasing of weapons\and in the training of military cadres\and the increasing of the combat efficiency of the army.
At the same time he worked hard to achieve the unity of the armed units. What distressed my father most in those days was the lack of unity in the ranks of the independence movement.
At that time there were many units of the Independence Army\and\organizations engaged in the independence movement in Jiandao\and the Maritime Province of Siberia. The so-called Association of Koreans, the Korean Independence Association, the Thaeguk Association, the War-fund Raising Association\and suchlike would spring up overnight. There were more than 20 such\organizations engaged in the independence movement in south Manchuria alone. If these\organizations had united with one another\and worked hand in hand with one another they would have been able to display great strength. However, the factionalists became engaged in a scramble for powerrom the start, rejecting other\organizations\and regarding them jealously.
If this situation was not put to rights, there was a fear that the ranks of the independence movement would be disrupted\and the movement forsaken by the people\or destroyed piecemeal by the enemy;\and it would be impossible to promote the great cause of shifting the direction of the movement which my father had resolved to undertake.
Under these circumstances, when my father heard that the conflict between the Korean Independence Youth Association\and the Kwangje Youth League was becoming aggravated, he hastened to Kuandian\and, while staying there for several days, persuaded the leaders of the two\organizations to merge. Thanks to my father’s efforts, the armed\organizations in the area along the River Amnok, such as the Corps for the Promotion of Industry\and the War-fund Raising Corps, merged to form the National Corps.
It can be said that my father’s intention in preparing for fresh armed activities was to build up the strength of the armed\organizations with people of worker\and peasant\origin to make a fresh start in the armed activities geared to the communist movement\and ensure that the various armed\organizations worked in concert by merging them.
My father was concerned with implementing the policy of shifting the direction of the movement until the evening of his life\and, in the course of this, he sufferedrom a persistent illness.
After the policy of shifting the direction of the movement to the communist movement was proclaimed at the Kuandian Meeting the process of ideological disintegration was accelerated among the nationalists.
With my father bedridden, some of those who shared his idea\and purpose were arrested, some became turncoats\and others were scattered. So there remained only a few people who would work for the communist movement.
Conservativesrom among the nationalists were building a wall against the new. However, many progressive people chose the new road\and later joined the communist revolution with us.
My father’s idea about the communist movement served as great food for my growth.