I soon became accustomed to life at Hwasong Uisuk School. After attending classes for about two weeks I found that the subjects taught there were not too difficult.
The biggest headache for the students was mathematics. One day during class several students were called on to solve a long problem of four arithmetical equations, but they could not do so. They marvelled at me when I solved it without difficulty. It was little wonder that they had failed; they had been awayrom regular education for several years, serving in the Independence Army.
From then on I found mathematics harassing. Whenever we had mathematics homework, I was bothered by bearded young students who were loath to use their own brains.
As a reward for my labour, so to speak, they related their various experiences to me. Many of them were instructive.
They strove to help me in many ways in military drill, which was physically very tough.
In the course of this we became intimate friends\and came to relate frankly our inmost thoughts\and stories that we kept locked away in our hearts. They thought that I, a young first year student, might hold them, who were older than me, up, but I did not lag behind them in class\or at drill\and mixed well with my classmates, being liberal in everyday affairs. So we were close in spite of the difference in age.
Such being the situation, my situation was good.
Some time later, however, I gradually became dissatisfied with the education provided at Hwasong Uisuk School. Although the school had been set up by my father’s friends\and was mainly run by those who had known him, I found there the remnants of outmoded ideas\and methods handed down by the preceding generation.
Although the bourgeois nationalist movement had a history of several decades, the education at the school did not cover a theory to encapsulate, critically analyse\and generalize it. The bourgeois nationalists led the nationalist movement for decades, but they prepared no proper treatises\or textbooks which might serve as a guide to the movement\and provide lessons. The leaders of the Independence Army\and patriotic figures who visited the school only spoke vaguely about winning independence as they banged their lectern. They said nothing about methods of aligning revolutionary forces, of mobilizing the masses\and of achieving the unity\and cohesion of the ranks of the independence movement,\or about proper tactics\and a proper strategy for the armed struggle. The Korean history they taught mainly described the history of dynasties,\and their world revolutionary history, the history of the bourgeois revolution.
What was taught at Hwasong Uisuk School was only nationalist ideas\and outmoded military training reminiscent of old Korea.
The teachers, imbued with nationalist ideas, talked a great deal about opposing Japan\and about national independence, but the struggle methods they advanced were outmoded. The school authorities often invited menrom the Independence Army who had battle experience to the school\and asked them to speak about their distinguished military service. In their stories about deeds of arms they advocated the method of individual attack applied by An Jung Gun, Jang In Hwan, Kang U Gyu, Ri Jae Myong, Ra Sok Ju\and other patriots.
The students complained, “The school is an officer-training school producing cadres for the Independence Army only in name. How can we drive out the Japanese when we drill only with wooden rifles\and have no cartridges for target practice?”
Once one student asked the drill instructor when they would be able to handle the new type of rifle. Embarrassed at this the instructor prevaricated, “The cadres of the Independence Army are conducting vigorous activities to raise funds to buy weaponsrom the United States, France\and other countries. So, the problem will be solved before long.” They were looking towards distant Western countries for a few rifles. Such was the situation.
Whenever I ran with sand bags attached to my trouser legs at military drill, I wondered whether we could defeat the Japanese by acting like that.
Previously a Tonghak Army tens of thousands of men strong led by Jon Pong Jun had been routed by a Japanese army of one thousand men on Ugumchi Hill. The Japanese army had been armed with a new type of weapon. If the Tonghak Army which was a hundred times stronger had beaten the Japanese, they could have attacked Kongju\and advanced up to Seoul\and the situation would have developed in their favour, but they were poorly armed, their military power was weak\and so they suffered an ignominious defeat.
The arms\and equipment of the Righteous Volunteers Army were no better than those of the Tonghak Army. The Volunteers Army, too, had a small number of new rifles but most of its men used swords, spears\or flintlocks. I think that is why historians qualify the struggle of the Volunteers Army as a struggle fought between flintlocks\and Model 38 rifles. It is not difficult to imagine what perseverance it would have required to overpower the Model 38 rifle which could fire ten rounds per minute with a flintlock which required priming each time it was fired,\or what a hard fight it would be.
The Japanese troops at first fled, scared at a flintlock’s report, its powers being a secret that only the volunteers knew. But after they learned the flintlock’s powers they were no longer afraid\and made little of it. So, what was the result of the battle? The volunteers who camerom intellectuals’ families\and respected the nobility’s ethics\and Buddhist precepts are said to have fought wearing broad-brimmed hats\and cumbersome gowns.
Those volunteers were mowed down by the cannons\and machine guns of the Japanese troops.
The power of the Japanese army was much stronger than in those days. So, I wondered whether we, by running with sandbags, could defeat the troops of an imperialist country which produced tanks, artilleries, warships, planes\and other modern weapons, as well as heavy equipment, on assembly line.
What disappointed me most was the ideological backwardness of the school.
The school authorities followed only the road of nationalism\and guarded against other ideological trends, so the students naturally followed that course.
Some young students at the school still believed in dynastic rule\or harboured illusions about US-style democracy.
These trends found fullest expression in seminars on world revolutionary history. The students called on by the teacher enlarged on capitalist developments, repeating what they had been taught in the lesson.
I was dissatisfied with their dogmatic approach to lessons. At the school, politics lessons did not deal with the independence of Korea, the Korean people\and other questions about the reality. The textbooks contained mechanical explanations which accorded with the teaching programme,\and the students were requested only to repeat what they had learned.
I asked what type of society should be built in Korea after she won her independence, turning to the student who had just joined the debate, for I considered it right to hold debates on practical problems, problems concerning the future of Korea.
The student replied without hesitation that Korea should take the capitalist road. He said: “Our nation lost its country to the Japanese because our feudal rulers idled their time away reciting poems while other countries advanced along the road of capitalism. We should build a capitalist society\and thus avoid a repeat of the past.”
Some students held that the feudal dynasty should be restored. No student asserted that a democratic society should be built\or
that a society\where the masters were the working people should be established. At that time the national liberation movement was switching overrom the nationalist movement to the communist movement, but they did not seem to take into account the prevailing trends.
Some students said, as they sat with their arms folded, that the country to be built should be discussed after the country became independent,\and that a controversy over capitalism\or the restoration of the dynasty before independence was pointless.
As I listened to them, my feeling that the nationalist education provided at Hwasong Uisuk School lagged behind the times grew stronger.
The thought that the arguments over the restoration of the feudal dynasty\and the adoption of capitalism were anachronistic, made me feel frustrated.
I could not endure any more. So, standing up, I said, “Our country cannot carry out a bourgeois revolution like the European countries, nor should we restore the old feudal ruling machinery.
“Capitalist\and feudal societies are ones\where people with money lead a luxurious life by exploiting the working people. After Korea becomes independent we should not build such an unfair society. It is wrong to consider only the development of a technological civilization without taking the malady of capitalism into account. It would be absurd to restore the feudal dynasty. Who can support the dynastic rule which sold the country to foreign forces? What have the kings done? They bled the people white\and beheaded\or banished loyal subjects who spoke the truth. What more did they do?
“After making Korea independent, we should build a society freerom exploitation\and oppression, a society\where the workers, peasants\and other working people lead a bountiful life in their homeland....”
Many students expressed their sympathy with my argument. Who can oppose a proposal to build a rich\and powerful country which is freerom exploitation\and oppression\and in which everyone is equal?
After school Choe Chang Gol, too, expressed his support for me, grasping my hands firmly\and saying that I had made a good speech. He remarked with great satisfaction that I had advocated communist ideas superbly without mentioning communism even once.
The\limitations of Hwasong Uisuk School were the epitome of the\limitations of the nationalist movement itself. I could see the whole picture of the nationalist movement through Hwasong Uisuk School.
In this period troopsrom the Independence Army became powerless\and were engaged only in a struggle for influence. They rarely launched military actions as they had done in the homeland\and in the areas along the River Amnok in the first half of the 1920s\and, lying low in the areas under their control, engaged only in collecting war funds.
Peoplerom the Shanghai Provisional Government which professed to be the “national government representative of the Korean nation” were divided into factions called the “self-government group,” the “independence group”\and the like\and became engaged in a fierce struggle for power. That was why the head of the provisional government was frequently replaced. There was even a time when two government reshuffles took place in a year.
The leading figures of the provisional government continued to press the mean “petition,” to the extent of impairing the nation’s dignity, instead of drawing a due lessonrom the fact that at the Paris Peace Conference the “petition for the independence of Korea” had not even been included on the agenda of the conference due to the wicked obstructive manoeuvres of the delegatesrom the United States\and other entente powers.
When the “US congressmen’s Eastern inspection mission” went to Seoul via Shanghai, they even urged the pro-US flunkeyists to present a gift of insam, silverware\and other valuable goods to the US congressmen.
But the provisional government found it difficult to support itself due to a shortage of funds in the mid-1920s until finally it had to maintain its miserable existence with the help of Jiang Jie-shi’s Chongqing government.
Frightened by the revolutionary advance of the working masses, many of the nationalist leaders comingrom the propertied classes, characterized by political vacillation, turned their coats\and surrendered to the enemy. They degraded themselves, becoming the stooges of the Japanese imperialists, national reformists instead of “patriots,”\and stood in the way of the national liberation movement.
In the name of the “civil government” the Japanese imperialists decided that if the Korean people wanted national independence they should cooperate politically with Japanese rule instead of opposing it, strive to acquire the right to self-government under Japanese colonial rule, develop their culture\and the economy\and improve their nation.
Their decision was accepted by the nationalist leadersrom the propertied class. They advocated the “development” of education\and industry, the “self-cultivation” of individuals, “class cooperation,” “unity”\and “national autonomy” under the cover of “national reform”\and the “cultivation of strength.”
So, the wind of reform swept Hwasong Uisuk School. The front room of Kim Si U’s house was always alive with young people who had come to discuss politics with me. In those days I read books on Marxism-Leninism that I found in Kim Si U’s study, so our conversations generally drifted to politics.
In Fusong I read The Biography of Lenin, The Fundamentals of Socialism\and a few other books, but in Huadian I read even more books. Previously I had confined myself to grasping the content of the books I read, but after going to Hwasong Uisuk School I came to consider the principles of revolution contained in the classics in connection with the situation in Korea. I wanted to know many things related to the Korean revolution.
How to overthrow Japanese imperialism\and win back the country? Who is the enemy\and who an ally in the struggle for national liberation? What course to take to build socialism\and communism after winning national independence?... I wished to find answers to all these questions.
When I picked up a book to get an answer to these questions, I delved into it at length until I found an appropriate passage. In particular I read the passage dealing with the question of colonies twenty times. So, when friends came to see me, I had many topics to discuss.
We talked a great deal about the new trends of thought\and about the Soviet\union. When the students listened to these stories, they pictured a new world freerom exploitation\and oppression,\and were reluctant to leave. They were more interested in these stories than in the argument about the restoration of the Ri dynasty, capitalism\or national reform. The students, who were passing their time frivolously, gradually began to aspire after something new.
But at school they could not speak freely about Lenin\or about the October Revolution. The school authorities prohibited such talk.
The expectations I entertained of Hwasong Uisuk School gradually began to crumble.