When I was back in Fusong after leaving Hwasong Uisuk School, there were fewer independence champions who visited my home than before.
The house was quiet\and lonely,\whereas it had been alive with people day\and night before.
One strong impression I got in Fusong concerned Ri Kwan Rin. After the death of my father, she came to stay with us. I am told that O Tong Jin said to her, as he sent her to our home, “You are greatly indebted to Mr. Kim. In view of this, go to Fusong\and help Song Ju’s mother.” Ri Kwan Rin kept my mother company while working for the South Manchurian Women’s Education Federation.
She was a bold woman with an optimistic disposition. She was attractive, bold\and of firm character\and had both literary\and military accomplishments. The like of her was rarely found in Korea in those days.
When, dressed in man’s uniform, she rode about on horseback, people she passed would look at her with curiosity as if she camerom another world, because in those days women used to go about with their faces veiled in accordance with feudal custom.
But back in Fusong I found her looking less lively than before. She was surprised to learn that I had left Hwasong Uisuk School. She wondered why I had given up the officer-training
school which young people were anxious to attend.
When I told her why I had left the school\and how, she said that I had made a courageous decision,\and she gave her support to me in my determination to leave for Jilin. Nevertheless, she could not hide her sadness.
The fact that I had rejected\and broken away ideologicallyrom a school that was under nationalist influence seemed to make quite an impact on her. On seeing the change in my life, the sensitive Ri Kwan Rin seemed to have felt more keenly the demise of the Independence Army\and nationalism. Mother said that she had changed greatly\and had recently become more taciturn\and subdued.
At first I simply attributed this to the mental agony that was usual for unmarried women of her age. She was then 28 years old. In those days early marriage prevailed, so the ladies 14\or 15 years old married wearing their hair done up. In those days if a girl was said to be 28 years old, people would shake their heads\and say that she was too old to marry. It was very likely that old maidens like Ri Kwan Rin would suffer mental agony over the question of marriage.
She often looked moody, so one day I asked her why she was looking so thin\and gloomy.
Heaving a sigh, she said, “The years pass, but things are no better. That’s why I am gloomy. When your father was alive I could easily walk 25, even 50, miles a day. Whatever I do since your father’s death, I don’t feel elated; even the pistol I carry is likely to rust. The trouble is that I can find no mental support anywhere. The Independence Army no longer seems effective. Its situation is utterly wretched. The old leaders only put on airs\and do not report for work. I can’t understand what they are thinking about. Strong fighting men enjoy a family life\and the unmarried men chase women. One agile man with fighting spirit married a few days ago\and left the Independence Army to go to Jiandao.
They all copy one another\and flee. It is inevitable that when men reach a certain age they get married. However, if they throw away their rifles to get married, who will fight for national independence? I don’t know why they behave so shamelessly.”
Then I understood her mental agony\and indignation. She, without marrying, was making strenuous efforts for the independence movement,\whereas able-bodied men were fleeing for safety, throwing away their rifles. This had aroused her resentment.
When educated girls acted like modern women following the trend of civilization, Ri Kwan Rin, carrying a pistol, fought bravely against the Japanese soldiers\and police, crossing\and recrossing the River Amnok.
I think that the instances of a woman, dressed in man’s uniform\and carrying a pistol, becoming a professional soldier\and fighting the foreign enemy, are few in the history of Korea. Because I feel this to be important, I have covered her story under a separate title in this book. It was hard to imagine that in Korea,\where the old practices of treating women as inferior to men still remained\and were, in fact, prevalent, a woman carrying a pistol went to the battlefield.
Our women’s resistance to a foreign enemy has differed historically in its style\and method, but what has always been true is that their resistance in most cases has assumed a passive form based on the feudal Confucian view on chastity.
Whenever a foreign enemy invaded the country\and murdered\and harassed our people, the women would conceal themselves deep in the mountains\or in temples so as to avoid violation. Those women who failed to hide would resist by killing themselves. During the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592 the number of women martyrs officially registered is said to have been over 30 times greater than the number of male patriots. Thus it is clear how much Korean women valued their honour.
When Choe Ik Hyon died for his country by fasting on Tsushima Island, his wife is said to have killed herself after mourning for two years to share the fate of her husband.
From a moral point of view her act should be regarded as the act of someone loyal to her country\and faithful to her husband.
But a problem arises. If all choose to die, who will defend the country against the enemy?
With the progress of civilization in our country a change took place in the way of thinking of our women\and in their view of life. Rejecting the passive form of resistance to the enemy such as escape\and suicide, our women, together with the men, demonstrated in the face of the bayonets of the Japanese troops\and police\and threw bombs into the enemy’s government offices\and other public buildings.
However, it was perhaps only Ri Kwan Rin who took part in the armed resistance as a woman soldier of the Independence Army. This she did for over ten years in a foreign country.
She was beautiful, so\wherever she went it was a problem for her to get rid of the men who chased her. In the light of her looks, scholarly attainments\and family background she was fully qualified to teach at a school, find a good match\and live well as others did, but she devoted herself entirely to the independence movement.
Her father was a landed farmer belonging to the middle class who had a ten-roomed house, though it was straw -thatched,\and several hectares of land\and forest in Sakju. When Ri Kwan Rin was 12 years old she lost her mother\and two years later her father took a 16-year-old girl as his wife.
Ri Kwan Rin could not call a woman only two years older than herself her mother. On top of that, her father, who believed strongly in feudal custom, gave no thought to sending her to school; when she was 15 years old he began looking for a suitable match for her.
She had always begged her father to send her to school, envying those who did attend, but as her father refused, she left home at the age of 15.
While her father was awayrom home she went to the River Amnok. There she placed some of her clothes\and shoes beside an ice hole before setting out for Uiju. There she entered Yangsil School through the good offices of a distant relative of hers. She attended the school for about six months before, with the approach of autumn, sending her father a letter asking him to send her school fees.
Her father had been spending his time in tears, thinking that his daughter had drowned in the river. On receiving a letterrom his daughter he was so glad that he went immediately to Uiju. He told his daughter that he would now allow her to study\and that if she had anything to ask of him she should write to him at any time.
From then on she studied hard without any worries about her school fees. As she had a fine school record, the school authorities recommended her for the art course at Pyongyang Girls’ High School.
She attended the school for a year\or two\and in that time came to know the world; she was admitted to the Korean National Association with my father vouching for her.rom then on she became a fully- fledged member of the revolutionary\organization\and took part in underground activities. It was around this time that she learned about the idea of “Aim High!”rom my father. She secretly worked to absorb comradesrom among the pupils of Pyongyang Girls’ High School, Sungsil Middle School, Sungi Girls’ School\and Kwangsong High School.
One day she came to Mangyongdae on an excursion. At our home, she had a talk with my father\and helped my mother in her work.
At that time it was difficult to get to Mangyongdae, but in spring many pupilsrom Sungsil Middle School, Kwangsong High School\and other schools came there with their lunch boxes to enjoy the fine scenery.
When the March First Popular Uprising broke out in Pyongyang, she fought bravely at the head of the demonstrators. When the demonstration broke up she took a short rest at her hostel before returning to encourage her schoolmates. When there was a sweeping roundup of the prime movers of the demonstration after its reversal, she joined the independence movement full-time, returning to her home town. It was her decision that she would not return to school until the nation had been savedrom ruin. Initially she managed the general affairs of the Kwangje Youth League that had been formed by O Tong Jin.
She shot two Japanese policemen to death in the homeland\and threw their bodies into an ice hole in the River Amnok before going over to Manchuria.
When she had returned to the homeland to raise funds after joining the Independence Army, she had been stopped\and examined by the police. She had had a pistol in the bundle on her head, so the situation was critical.
A policeman urged her to undo the bundle. Pretending to unfasten it, she whipped out the pistol\and, pointing it at the policeman, took him to the forest\where she disposed of him.
As she frequented the homeland to raise funds, many things happened to her on her journeys. Once she received the taskrom O Tong Jin of touring South Phyongan Province to raise funds. During her return to headquarters in the company of a manrom the\organization at home, she stayed overnight at Sandaowan; there they were threatened by the members of another armed bandrom the neighbourhood. At the time they were carrying several hundred won with them. The bandits demanded money, firing blank shots with the pistols they produced. Frightened by their threats, the man accompanying her meekly produced the money he kept, but she did not offer them a penny\and instead drove them away.
There were many women soldiers among the guerrilla troops when we waged the anti-Japanese armed struggle, but up to the time of Ri Kwan Rin there had been no such women in Korea. She was bold\and plucky although she had been a schoolgirl learning embroidery\and sewing in her high school days. Once such newspapers as Tong-A Ilbo\and Joson Ilbo published sensational articles about her.
Ri Kwan Rin was upright\and faithful to her principles.
After the March First Popular Uprising the work to merge the\organizations of the independence movement went ahead vigorously in south Manchuria. But the amalgamation did not progress smoothly because each\organization put its own men forward, thus displaying a self- centred attitude,\and ignored peoplerom other\organizations. The merger negotiations always ended without success because of pointless wrangles\and conflicts.
My father decided to draw the veterans of the independence movement into the merger work to tide over the difficulties. The first person he marked out for this was Ryang Ki Thak. It would not be easy to remove himrom under the enemy’s surveillance\and escort himrom Seoul to south Manchuria. After some serious thought my father chose Ri Kwan Rin as the right person\and sent her to Seoul, giving her a letter to Ryang Ki Thak.
Ryang Ki Thak had great influence among the nationalists. Born into the family of a scholar of Chinese classics in Pyongyang, he had worked hard to cultivate the anti-Japanese sentiment for independence among the people through his patriotic activities as a journalist\and educator. He was famous for the Korean-English Dictionary he compiled, the first of its kind in Korea,\and for his leadership of the campaign for the repayment of the national loan to Japan. He was thrown into prison for several years because of the “case of the 105 people”\and had a hand in the Sinmin Association, in the Shanghai Provisional Government (as member of the state council)\and in the formation of the Koryo Revolutionary Party (as chairman). He, together with O Tong Jin, formed the\organization of Jongui-bu. Because of his record he was respected by the independence champions irrespective of their party affiliation.
When she got to Seoul Ri Kwan Rin was arrested by detectives\and thrown into the detention room at the Jongno police station. She was put to terrible torture every day. They tortured her by pouring chilli powder up her nose, pricking her flesh around her fingernails with a bamboo needle\and hanging herrom the ceiling with her arms tied behind her back. Some days they stamped on a wooden board placed across her face after making her lie on her back on the floor. They kicked, beat\and trampled on her while asking her, “Did you comerom China\or Russia? Why did you come?” After spraying paraffin over some ash paste on her legs, they threatened to burn her to death.
But she did not yield; she shouted at them, “I am a jobless wanderer. I came to Seoul to find a job as a seamstress\or a nurse for a rich family. Why do you detain\and harass me, an innocent woman, like this?” She insisted on her innocence\and, after a month, she was released.
She was in so bad a condition that she could hardly move, but she brought Ryang Ki Thak to Xingjing. On her arrival in Xingjing she was confined to bed because of the aftereffects of the torture. Her colleagues nursed her but her condition did not improve, so they found an old doctor to treat her. Taking her pulse, he made the absurd diagnosis that she had conceived. It must have been a silly joke the old doctor played on her, a noted beauty, out of caprice.
Dismayed at this, she asked him what he meant. He said that it meant she was pregnant. No sooner had he uttered this than she shouted at him, throwing a wooden pillow at him, “You scoundrel, why do you mock me, a young unmarried woman who is fighting arms in hand for national independence? What do you want to gain by slandering me? Say it again.” Frightened at this, the doctor fled without even putting on his shoes.
She was so brave that my father frequently entrusted her with important tasks. She did whatever my father asked of her. If she was told to go to Pyongyang\or to Seoul, she went. If she was asked to go on an urgent errand, she went. If she was requested to enlighten some women, she would do so.
When my father conducted political work in the homeland, she often went with him to ensure his personal safety\and help him in his work. She went to Uiju, Sakju, Chosan, Kanggye, Pyoktong, Hoeryong\and other northern border areas, the Jiandao area, Sunan, Kangdong, Unryul, Jaeryong, Haeju\and other areas in west Korea\and Kyongsang Province. She covered thousands of miles on her travels.
Ri Kwan Rin was the only girl in our country to cross\and recross Mt. Paektu in those days.
She led a soldier’s life that was so hard for a woman, roaming the dew-sprinkled fields of a foreign country in the golden years of her youth which she should have spent in the warmest happiness.
My heart ached at the sight of her agony over the declining independence movement, the agony of a woman who, carrying two pistols with her, was active throughout the length\and breadth of the stormy world with a single-hearted patriotic spirit.
When I began my preparations for my journey to Jilin, she said that she, too, wanted to go there to do something. However, she was unable to fulfil her desire.
When I was attending school in Jilin I met her on two\or three occasions at Son Jong Do’s house. When she asked me to tell her about the situation, I spent a long time telling her about the prospects for our revolution. She said that she liked what we were doing. Nevertheless, she could not break awayrom Jongui-bu. She belonged to the Left faction of the nationalists who accepted communism but failed to put their ideas into practice.
I was sorry to see Ri Kwan Rin agonizing over the decline of the nationalist movement. In the nationalist camp there were many patriotic-minded people such as Ri Kwan Rin who were devoted to the independence movement with no concern for their personal lives. But, having no proper leader, Ri Kwan Rin, a plucky woman who was faithful to her principles, did not know what to do. As the Down -with-Imperialism\union had only just been formed she could not join our movement.
When I saw Ri Kwan Rin who was agonizing with no mental support to rely on, although my father had believed in her\and brought her up with affection, I lamented over the lack of a genuine leading force for our national liberation movement which was capable of uniting\and leading all the patriotic forces of Korea.
Her mental agony made me think that our new generation should work harder for the revolution. I made up my mind to open up as early as possible a new path for enlisting the support of all, including the patriots like Ri Kwan Rin who were groping about without a proper leader\and usher in a new era of revolution in which all the people who desired national independence could advance, riding the same current.
With this determination I speeded up my preparations for my trip to Jilin.
I sought her for half a century since seeing her in Jilin.
When we formed active guerrilla units in east Manchuria there were many women in their 20s in the ranks. I was reminded of Ri Kwan Rin, the heroine of the Independence Army, whenever I saw the courageous women soldiers who marked a new chapter in the history of national liberation, displaying the same stamina\and fighting spirit as the male soldiers. Not knowing her\whereabouts, I was anxious to know\where she was\and what she was doing. Although I made enquiries through many channels, I heard nothing of her\whereabouts\and what she was doing.
After national liberation I searched Sakju, her birthplace, for her but failed to find her.
It was in the early 1970s that I discovered\where she was. After making many enquiries, our comradesrom the Party History Institute discovered that she was living in China with her son\and daughter.
From among the people who fought alongside Ri Kwan Rin, Kong Yong, Pak Jin Yong\and other people who had embraced communism under the influence of the DIU opened up a new path with us. They all died heroic deaths worthy of revolutionaries.
But Ri Kwan Rin had to abandon the struggle halfway due to the lack of a proper leader for her to follow.
When O Tong Jin was alive, however, she took great pains\and walked long distances to implement the line of the proletarian revolution laid down at the Kuandian Meeting. In the summer of 1927 when I left for Jilin Ri Kwan Rin\and Jang Chol Ho, along with other members of the Independence Army, were engaged in enlightening the people in Naidaoshan,\where they lived in straw-thatched huts\and grew potatoes. It seemed that O Tong Jin had made Naidaoshan the base for the activities of the Independence Army.
But after O Tong Jin was arrested, these activities were abandoned. Among the Leftist forces of the nationalist movement O Tong Jin was the person most inclined towards communism. After the arrest of such a central figure no one came forward to risk his life to implement the line of the Kuandian Meeting. Some people within Jongui-bu sympathized with communism, but they were powerless.
After the birth of Kukmin- bu with the amalgamation of the three\organizations the highest levels of the nationalists rapidly became reactionary\and it became difficult even to utter the word communism. The leaders of Kukmin-bu did not scruple to commit treachery by informing the Japanese police of peoplerom the Left wing of the nationalist movement who sympathized with communism,\or even assassinating them.
Ri Kwan Rin had to roam about in search of a refuge, subjected to persistent pursuit\and threats by the terrorists of Kukmin-bu. Finally she married a Chinese man\and settled down. She was unfortunate in marriage, too, because she could not marry a man who she wanted to marry.
Thus the “flower of the Independence Army”\and the “red flower among the green,” she who caught the attention of the public, “appearing like a lodestar in the desolate land of Manchuria,”\and struck terror into the enemy, withered away.
Figuratively speaking, she was an independence champion who set sail on a lengthy voyage in a wooden boat called nationalism.
It was too frail a boat to sail the vast expanse of the rough sea of the anti-Japanese resistance movement for independence, a voyage beset with manifold trials\and hardships. Such a boat could not reach the destination of national liberation.
Many people set sail on the boat, but most of them gave up without reaching their destination. After that they looked out for an opening to earn a living\or to lead an easy life pretending to be patriots. Somerom the upper levels who allegedly “represented” the nation became petty bourgeoisie producing ointments,\and others became monks\and escaped to the mountains.
Those who settled down to a family life\or simply earned their living without turning traitor were not so bad. Some independence champions who sailed on the nationalist voyage with Ri Kwan Rin betrayed their country\and nation\and became the stooges of the Japanese imperialists.
It was several years before Ri Kwan Rin returned to the homeland having spent more than half a century in a foreign country since our last meeting.
I was told that she became more anxious to return to the homeland after learning that I was Song Ju, the son of Mr. Kim Hyong Jik to whom she had been attached in her Independence Army days. If Song Ju was leading the country, Mr. Kim Hyong Jik’s idea of building a society\where all are equal must have been made the reality, she thought. So she wanted to witness that reality. She wanted to have her body buried in the homeland in which she was born\and grew up, the homeland which she used to picture in tears whenever she looked up at the stars in the sky, lying on her back in the vast fields of Manchuria swept by the cold wind.
But, unknown to others, she suffered a mental agony for many years before deciding to return to the homeland. She had a son, a daughter\and many grandsons\and granddaughters. It was not an easy matter for an old woman in her twilight years to decide to return to her homeland alone, leaving her dear family in the distant foreign country which it would be difficult for her to visit again once she had left it.
However, Ri Kwan Rin made up her mind to return to the homeland even if it meant leaving her family for ever. It was a courageous decision no woman can make except a plucky woman like Ri Kwan Rin. If she had not devoted the prime of her life to the country, she could not have made such a courageous decision.
Only those who have devoted themselves body\and soul to the country, weeping, laughing\and bleeding, can truly realize how dear their homeland is to them.
When I met Ri Kwan Rin after her return to the homeland alone with her grey hair flying, leaving her family in a foreign land, I admired her burning patriotic spirit\and her noble view of life.
Ri Kwan Rin, who was in her 20s when she partedrom me in Fusong, appeared before me as an 80-year-old grey -haired woman. Of her rosy face which had attracted everyone there was no sign.
When grey-haired Ri Kwan Rin, who had not told us of her\whereabouts although we had taken such pains to find her, appeared before me, I was seized with sadness about the cruel world which had kept us apart for more than half a century.
We provided her with a house in a scenic spot in the heart of Pyongyang\and with a cook\and a doctor in consideration of her old age. The house was near the girls’ high school she had attended in her girlhood. Kim Jong Il, secretary for\organizational affairs, chose a house in this spot in consideration of her feelings. Secretary
Kim Jong Il went to her house\and saw to it that the furniture was arranged to her liking\and the lighting\and heating equipment was properly installed.
Though infirm with age, she made a kitchen garden in front of her house\and planted some maize there. She wanted to prepare foodrom maize with her own hands\and treat me to it since I had very much enjoyed corn on the cob in my childhood. Even after half a century’s time she still remembered my likes\and dislikes. When she was living in Fusong, in summer she used to buy\and cook corn on the cob as a treat for my brothers.
In consideration of the service she had rendered to the homeland\and nation in her youth, after her death we held a grand funeral for her\and buried her remains in the Patriotic Martyrs Cemetery.
Wherever they may live in the world, those who truly love their country\and nation will visit their homeland\where they were born\and\where their forefathers’ graves lie. Even those with different views when parting will some day meet again\and share their feelings with each other.