While Pak So Sim was my teacher\and introduced The Capital to me, Shang Yue was my teacher\and introduced Mother by Gorky\and the Dream at the Red Mansion to me. Shang Yue taught philology\and literature at Yuwen Middle School.
Shortly after his appointment to the school, we heard that a new teacher of philology\and literature, a graduate of the English faculty at Beijing University, had arrived at the school,\and we all looked forward to his lecture.
However, we were somewhat anxious about the new teacher. We wondered if he had been appointed by the Office of Education as its agent. There were several undesirable elements bribed by the warlord authorities among the teachers at Yuwen Middle School,\and they had been appointed by the Office of Education. It was not long since Zhang Xue-liang, on the\orders of Jiang Jie-shi, had hoisted the flag of the Kuomintang in Manchuria. The intelligence machinery of Jiang Jie- shi was already stretching its tentaclesrom Shenyang to Jilin. The agents of the Kuomintang had not yet got their hands on Yuwen Middle School, but the progressive teachers\and students at the school were placed under constant surveillance by the warlords\and their agents. This being the situation, the appointment of a new teacher could not but make us feel nervous as we awaited his lesson.
The teacher dispelled the students’ suspicion\and won their popularity after only one lesson. He explained the long story of the 120-part Dream at the Red Mansion in an hour. He was so proficient in explaining the essentials, weaving the plot with important details of life, that we were able to digest instantly all the messages carried in the novel\and the process of the decline of a noble family in which the patriarchal tradition held sway.
As he left the classroom after the lecture, the students exclaimed joyfully that the new teacher at Yuwen Middle School was a talented man.
He had spoken a great deal about the content of the novel, but only a little about its author. So the next day I stopped him as he strolled around the playground\and asked him to tell me about Cao Xue-qin, the writer of the novel. He said that he had omitted a biography of the writer because of a lack of time,\and that it was natural for me to ask about him. He went into the details of the writer’s life\and his family background.
After his explanation I asked him some questions about the corelations between the class\origin of a writer\and the class character of his works.
He gave me clear answers to those questions, too. Saying that he was giving me his own opinion, he explained that while it was true that the class\origin of a writer might influence the character of his works, the dominating factor defining the character was not the author’s class\origin but his outlook on the world. He took Cao Xue -qin as an example. He said: Cao was born to a noble family that received the favour of the Emperor Kangxi\and grew up in comfortable circumstances but, because he had a progressive outlook on the world, he was able to give an artistic deion of feudal China in her disintegration\and of the inevitability of her collapse.
He went on to tell me:
“You were right to come to see me today, Song Ju. If a student has a question, something he wants made clear, he should immediately receive helprom his teacher. That is the attitude a student in pursuit of science should adopt. Ask me many questions at any place\and at any time. I am fond of students who ask me many questions.”
I was pleased that he told me to ask many questions. I had been known as a pupil who asked many questionsrom my days at primary school. Even at Yuwen Middle School I bothered the teachers with many questions. He said that he had the Dream at the Red Mansion\and a short biography of Cao,\and told me I could read them at any time if I wanted to. So I was lucky enough to be the first visitor to his boarding house.
My grandfather would always say that it was not advisable for a pupil to visit his teacher’s house. Not only thoserom the older generation who had grown up by learning Tongmongsonsub (the first textbook for a boy—Tr.) at village schools, but also many other elders who claimed that they had become civilized thanks to modern eduction were of the same opinion as my grandfather. My grandfather’s opinion was this: If pupils peep into their teacher’s private life frequently, they lose their awe of him; the teacher must give his pupils the firm belief that their teacher neither eats nor urinates; only then can he maintain his authority at school; so a teacher should set up a screen\and live behind it.
Grandfather had this opinion at the time when my father was attending the village school. There was a teacher named Kim Ji Song at Sunhwa Village School which my father was attending. He was helplessly fond of drinking. He would often send my father, who was the class monitor, on errands to buy wine for him. At first my father obeyed him meekly, but after seeing the drunken teacher fall flat on his face in a ditch on his way home, father changed his mind.
One day the teacher gave him a large bottle\and sent him on the same errand. But outside the school gate he threw the bottle at a rock\and smashed it to pieces. He told the teacher that, chased by a tiger, he had tripped over a stone\and broken the bottle. In blank dismay the teacher said, “Oh! Has a tigerrom Mt. Paektu come as far as Mang-yongdae? How shameful it is for me that you must lie to me! It was wrong of me to send you boys for wine.” Thus he stopped drinking. Even though his teacher had stopped drinking, the image of the teacher flat on his face in the ditch smelling of wine was engraved on my father’s memory. My grandfather’s opinion of a teacher’s code of conduct was based on this anecdote.
But before my teacher Shang Yue could set up a screen, I had plunged into his private life.
There were hundreds of books in his bookcase. It was the richest\and most impressive of all the bookcases I had ever seen. His room was a library. The bookcase contained many English novels\and biographies. I was fascinated by his books. If I were to digest all the knowledge in these books, wouldn’t that be better than a university education? It is fortunate for me that this teacher has come to Yuwen Middle School, I thought.
After a cursory inspection of the books I asked:
“Excuse me, sir. How many years did it take you to fill this bookcase?”
He came up to the bookcase\and, looking into my face, said with a smile:
“Almost 10 years.”
“How many years do you think it would take me to read all these books?”
“If you are diligent, three years,\and if not, 100 years.”
“Sir, will you open this bookcase to me if I promise to read all these books in three years?”
“Why not? But there is one condition.”
“If you will lend the books to me, I will accept any condition.” “The condition is that you become a writer in the future,\and that’s all. I have always wanted to train a few writersrom among young people who will work for the proletarian revolution. You will be one of them, won’t you?”
“I am extremely grateful for that. Frankly, I feel a particular attachment to literature\and I admire writers. After the liberation of the country I might take up literature; however, sir, we are the sons of a ruined nation. My father fought to liberate the country, braving difficulties all his life, before passing away. I am determined to devote myself to the struggle for national independence in accordance with my father’s will,\and that is my highest ideal\and ambition. I am set on fighting to liberate my nation.”
The teacher, leaning against the bookcase, nodded continually, a serious look on his face. Then he came to me\and placed his hand on my shoulder, saying, “That’s wonderful, Song Ju! If the struggle for independence is your ideal, I will open this bookcase to you on that condition.”
That day I returned home with the Dream at the Red Mansion. The next books I borrowed were the novels by Jiang Guang -ci, On the River Amnok\and A Boy Wanderer. I found these two novels very interesting. The first novel, On the River Amnok, in which Ri Maeng Han\and Un Go, a Korean young man\and girl, were the principal characters made a special, unforgettable impression on me. Later I borrowedrom him Gorky’s Mother.
In this way we got on exceptionally well through books\and literature. He would lend me any book I wanted to read. If I asked for books he didn’t have in his bookcase, he would go to the trouble of obtaining them for merom other sources. In return for his helping me with my reading, I had to tell him about my impressions of each book I had read. We swopped our opinions on The Enemy by Gorky\and Blessing by Lu Xun.
Thus we frequently exchanged our views on literature. The topic of our conversations always focussed on the mission of literature. We talked a great deal about how literature should reflect the reality\and promote social progress.
The teacher said that literature was a light that gave men intellect. He said that while machines promoted the development of production, literature perfected the qualities of the men who operated machines.
He would talk about Lu Xun\and his works with particular fervour. He was a literary friend of Lu Xun\and a member of the literary circle that was led by him. The short story The Axe-head he wrote during his circle activities was highly thought of by Lu Xun. The novel depicted the people in the Luoshan area who were fighting against feudal customs. According to Shang Xiao-yuan, Shang Yue’s daughter, Lu Xun also expressed his dissatisfaction with the story, saying that it lacked literary sharpness.
By overcoming the immaturity revealed in his early works, in the 1930s he produced a work with perfect ideological\and artistic qualities, A Plot, which was favourably spoken of by readers. This novel was carried serially in a magazine published in Yunnan Province. In the 1980s the People’s Literature Publishing House of China published this novel in paperback.
In addition to The Axe-head\and A Plot he produced the novels, Spear\and The Dog Problem\and published them. While working as a teacher he never abandoned his creative endeavours as a writer. So it was only natural that he tried to lead me into literary pursuits in those days.
I even borrowedrom him the\selected Works of Chen Du-xiu. Chen was one of the founders of the Communist Party of China; he had been at the helm of the Chinese party. At first, he was reluctant to lend the books to me because he was afraid that I might be corrupted by Chen’s Rightist capitulationist line. He added that Chen had been the Dean of School of Letters at Beijing University before he had gone to the university\and that many teachers\and students were proud that Chen had been one of them at the university.
“To be frank, I once worshipped Chen. I became fascinated by him while reading the magazine New Youth he published\and his early treatises. But now my opinion of Chen has changed.”
According to him, the great popularity Chen had enjoyed at the time of the May 4 Movement\and in the early days of the Communist Party had fallen because he had adopted the line of Rightist opportunism.
Chen’s opportunist error was particularly evident in his attitude towards the peasant question. As early as 1926 Stalin had pointed out that the peasantry was the main force of the anti-imperialist front in China\and the most reliable ally of the Chinese working class. Nevertheless, Chen ignored the peasantry. Out of his fear of a conflict between the peasants\and the landed proprietors, he opposed the peasants’ interference in the administration\and their active self-defence. In short, he tried to restrain the peasants’ struggle. Chen’s mistake was that, on the pretext of opposing imperialism, he was against the revolution in the rural communities because he feared that the bourgeoisie might break awayrom the revolutionary front. His capitulationist line resulted instead in encouraging the bourgeoisie to betray the revolution. This was Shang Yue’s view of Chen Du-xiu.
As he rightly pointed out, the works of Chen contained capitulationist elements which could do great harm to the revolution. After reading the\selected Works of Chen Du-xiu I had a long conversation with him on our views on the peasant question. This talk centred on the following points: What similarities\and differences are there concerning the peasant question in the Korean revolution\and the Chinese revolution; what are the points we should refer to in Lenin’s strategy on the peasant question;\and what should be done to enable the peasantry to play their role as the main force of the revolution?
I said that it must be right to regard the peasantry as the great force of a country since agriculture was the major foundation of a country.
He affirmed my view\and went on to say that neglecting the peasantry meant neglecting farming\and the land, so the revolution, however noble its ideal, would inevitably fail if the peasantry was neglected. He added that Chen was mistaken because he had forgotten this principle.
This conversation convinced me that the teacher was a communist. He discovered that I had been working for the Young Communist League. He had marvellous sensibility\and judgement. He joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1926. He had been arrested by the reactionary warlords of the Kuomintang while guiding the peasant movement in his home town\and experienced many hardships for over a year in military prison in Zhejiang Province. Later he was released on bail with the help of a Korean army surgeon\and came to Manchuria under an assumed name of Xie Zhong-wu. He had got employment at Yuwen Middle School in Jilin through the good offices of a man named Chu Tu-nan.
After exchanging our views on the peasant question, we frequently discussed political questions. The young people\and students in Jilin in those days used to discuss politics widely. Since China was then in the throes of a great revolution\and Korea was at the height of a mass movement, we had a host of questions to discuss. It was around this time that there were vehement arguments among Korean young people about which was right, Ri Jun’s method\or An Jung Gun’s method. Many young people\and students were definitely in favour of An Jung Gun’s fighting method.
I asked the teacher about his view on An Jung Gun’s method. He commented that what he had done was certainly patriotic at the time but his method was unsure. His opinion coincided with mine. I thought that the struggle against imperialist Japan’s aggression could not succeed by using the terrorist method of killing a few stooges of the warlords,\and that it would achieve its aim only by educating\and awakening the popular masses to political consciousness\and encouraging all the people to join the struggle.
We also swapped opinions on the history of imperialist Japan’s aggression in Korea, her colonial policy in Korea, her scheme to invade Manchuria\and the warlords’ support for it,\and the necessity for solidarity\and cooperation between the peoples of Korea\and China in the anti-imperialist, anti-aggression struggle.
In those days the students of Yuwen Middle School frequently discussed the attitude of the League of Nations towards disarmament. There were many students who harboured illusions about the League of Nations. So I wrote an article exposing the league’s trickery in dealing with the question of disarmament. Many students spoke in support of my article. My teacher, Shang Yue, read it\and commented that my opinion was correct.
In his days in Jilin he lost contact with his Communist Party\organization but he gave several lectures on the works of such progressive writers as Gorky\and Lu Xun for the purpose of enlightenment. Once at the request of the members of the secret reading circle he gave a one-week special course in the school library on the subject of “Let us oppose imperialism.” The students’ reaction to his lectures was very good. I let him know this to encourage him. He was loved by his students for his progressive ideas, high sense of responsibility in education\and profound\and wide knowledge of the cultures\and history of all ages\and countries.
The reactionary teachers who were bribed by the warlord authorities were unhappy with him\and tried to sully his reputation as a teacher. The students who were loved\and supported by him were also subject to their jealousy\and slander. A certain Fang tried to force the headmaster, Li Guang-han, to expel the Korean students,\and Ma, the physical- training teacher, schemed to stir up opinion against me, saying that the Korean students were hostile to the Chinese teachers. Shang Yue always shielded merom their attack.
The English teacher, too, was hostile to the students who aspired to the new trend of thought. He was steeped in flunkeyism. He was so contemptuous of\oriental people that he said it was uncivilized of the Chinese people to smack their lips while eating; Westerners did not, he said. He, a Chinese, behaved like a Westerner.
His frequent show of contempt for\oriental backwardness was seriously offensive to us. So when we were on kitchen duty we prepared noodles\and invited the teachers to dinner. As they ate their hot noodles, the hall was loud with sucking sounds. The English teacher, too, was sucking his noodles down. The students roared with laughter at him. Sensing that he was being made fun of he flushed\and left. After that he never again spoke ill of\oriental people. As he worshipped the West so much, the students were not interested in his lessons.
The reactionary teachers’ pressure on Shang Yue grew towards the beginning of 1929.
On one occasion he said that it was desirable to encourage as many people as possible, rather than only sportsmen, to take part in physical training. He said that it was undesirable that only basketball players should use the court in the school playground. Some rowdy players who were unhappy with his remark tried to attack him after school when he was returning to his boarding houserom school. I saw to it that the members of the Young Communist League\and the Anti -Imperialist Youth League prevented themrom such misconduct\and scolded them severely.
The literature teacher, as he looked at the fleeing attackers, sighed, saying, “Ma has trained some wonderful stooges.”
I said to him with a laugh, “Don’t be afraid, sir. This, too, is a sort of class struggle. We should prepare for a possible clash that may be worse than this one.” To this he replied, “You are right. We are fighting now with the warlords.”
While trying to reinstate the students who had been expelled without due cause by the Office of Education, he was dismissed\and left Yuwen Middle School. When I returned to school after guiding the mass\organizations in the Changchun\and Kalun areas in their work, Kwon Thae Sok hurried up to me\and gave me a letter the teacher had left for me. The letter said: I have been defeated in the fight with the warlords\and am leaving you, but we will defeat them in the future.\wherever I go I will send you, Song Ju, my wholehearted blessing on your ideal to live your whole life as a true son of your motherland\and your people. Those were the last words of encouragementrom him to me.
I have not seen him since. I discovered that he was still alive when I receivedrom him in 1955 his essay, The Historical Relationship between Marshal Kim Il Sung\and I in His Boyhood\and in 1980 his book The Outline of Chinese History. Reading them, I recalled the days at Yuwen Middle School when we would discuss the situations in Korea\and Manchuria, the aggressive policy of the Japanese imperialists\and the joint struggle of the Korean\and Chinese peoples,\and I sent my heartfelt gratitude to my old teacher.
Whenever Chinese leaders have visited our country I have inquired after him. To my regret, I have not met him again. I must say that I have not fulfilled my obligation as one of his pupils. The border between countries is something strange. He passed away in 1982 while a professor at Chinese People’s University in Beijing.
His eldest daughter Shang Jia- lan, a researcher at the Dynamics Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, visited our country in 1989\and his third daughter Shang Xiao-yuan came to our country to see me in 1990. The latter is teaching at Chinese People’s University. I could not suppress my joy when I saw his image in his daughters’ faces after 60 years of separation. Can a difference in nationalities change people’s feelings? Friendship knows no barrier of skin colour, language\and religion. If Yuwen Middle School had been nearby, I would have picked a handful of the lilac petals that blossomed in the school garden\and given them to his daughters, saying, “This is the flower your father loved. Your father\and I met frequently by a lilac bush.”
Leaving Jilin, he devoted himself to party work, education, culture\and writing in Harbin, Shanghai, Beijing, Hankou, Chongqing, Ningxia\and Yanan. He once worked as the chief secretary of the provincial party committee of Manchuria, I was told.
He never forgot me throughout his life\and always maintained friendly feelings for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a close neighbour of China.
He was buried in the Martyrs’ Cemetery in Babaoshan in Beijing.
A man who has a mentor he can recollect throughout his life is truly a happy man. In this sense, I am a happy man. Whenever I miss this man who left a lasting impression on me in my youthful days, I take a stroll in my heart in the garden of Yuwen Middle School.