[Reminiscences]Chapter 20 3. The Salt Incident > News

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북녘 | [Reminiscences]Chapter 20 3. The Salt Incident

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작성자 편집국 작성일20-09-09 16:59 댓글0건




[Reminiscences]Chapter 20 3. The Salt Incident





3. The Salt Incident 

 In June 1949 the great leader Comrade Kim Il Sung presided over a small meeting of the Cabinet of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The topic of discussion was the cancellation of salt rationing\and the free marketing of this condiment.

Recounting his experiences in the anti-Japanese armed struggle in his concluding speech at that meeting, he said that nothing was more serious than a shortage of salt\and that the anti-Japanese guerrillas had done their best never to run short of salt, even though they might go without food. He said that since salt production had increased sharply\and it had become possible to store reserves of it, unrestricted salt sales should be introduced.

Having adopted this measure, he told officials about the trouble he\and his men had experienced because of a salt shortage during the Arduous March. This had come to be called the salt incident. The following is a\selection of his accounts of the incident.

The salt incident I am going to talk about took place in the spring of 1939–the last days of the Arduous March. I still clearly remember the incident. One cannot live without eating salt. If you do not get enough salt, your hands\and feet swell\and you become so lethargic, you can’t even move. Even grass-eating animals have to eat salt to live. Many fallen antlers are found in the vicinity of brine puddles in the mountains, as deer use these puddles as salt-licks.

Guerrillas experienced shortages in four essential consumer goods–food, footwear, matches\and salt. If asked what was the most unbearable of the difficulties felt rom the shortage of these essentials, the majority of the veterans of the anti-Japanese revolution would say that it was the lack of salt.

Salt was scarce in North\and West Jiandao,\and to make matters worse, the authorities strictly controlled its sale. This made the seasoning a rare commodity there. Salt was an item sold under a government monopoly in Manchuria.


The enemy strictly controlled salt-dealing so as to prevent it rom leaking through civilian channels into the hands of the People’s Revolutionary Army.

Peddlers smuggled salt rom Korea\and sold it secretly, making the rounds at residential quarters, but they didn’t help people much. Many households in the backwoods of Jiandao boiled down wood ashes\and drank the water as a salt substitute. In my days in eastern Manchuria I saw a family eating a grain of rock salt for a meal. When I was in Wangqing, I once went to Choe Chun Guk’s company\and asked Ko Hyon Suk what her greatest difficulty was in her work as a cook. She replied it was the shortage of salt. She had lived next door to O Paek Ryong before joining the guerrilla army to take revenge on the enemy who had killed her large family during their “punitive” atrocities. In the guerrilla army she was appointed a cook. Whenever I went to her company\and had a meal, she was always very sorry not to be able to prepare good dishes for me.

When she served food not seasoned with salt, she was ashamed to face me, but stood by the kitchen range with her face flushed. She said that her family had had to get along with only a grain of rock salt for a meal as well. A grain of Chinese rock salt was the size of a kidney bean.

During our second expedition to northern Manchuria we were so short of salt that in some companies the men marched with a small emergency salt pouch attached to their belts. The pouch was as small as a seal case, about the size of a finger. The contents of the pouch was consumed only when salt was unavailable anywhere else. This might sound like a fairy tale to those who have not experienced this kind of shortage. Nevertheless, quite a few guerrillas lost their lives because they went to the enemy-held area to get salt,\and many members of underground\organizations were killed in the course of obtaining it. The main channel for getting salt was through underground\organizations. When we gave them money, they set people in motion to buy it for us. Some of it was also bought\and sent to us by people on their own initiative.

The enemy was well aware through which channels we acquired salt\and how hard up we were for it. That was why they cooked up a vicious scheme to annihilate the People’s Revolutionary Army by means of salt. They calculated that they could capture\or kill all the guerrillas without firing a single shot if they hatched a workable plot by means of salt.

They learned through experience that they could not defeat our army through military\or political confrontation, so they resorted to “surrender hunting”, the policy of internment villages\and scorched-earth operations. They had also\organized the “Minsaengdan” in\order to destroy our revolutionary ranks rom within through the wider international stratagem of driving a wedge between the peoples of Korea\and China.

The Japanese attempted to prevent the news of our activities rom spreading by even spreading the rumour of “the death of Kim Il Sung”, boasting that Kim Il Sung had been killed at their hands\and that with his death the independence struggle had now come to an end. In this way they tried to dampen the soaring anti-Japanese spirit of the Korean nation. Quite a few publications in Korea\and Manchuria in those days carried plausible-sounding lies in the form of news flashes that I had been killed in such-and-such a way in such-and-such a battle. The Kyongsong Ilbo reported in November 1937 that the Manchukuo “punitive” force had succeeded in killing me after a fierce five-hour battle\and that Kim Il Sung, who had succeeded his father in leading the anti-Japanese, anti-Manchukuo movement, had ended his stormy life at the age of 36 after being driven into a tight corner by the “punitive” force.

Tiexin, a magazine published by the puppet Manchukuo army, also carried an article about my death under the title, Detailed News of the Punitive Operation against Bandits Led by Kim Il Sung. According to the article, I had been surprised by the Manchukuo army in the vicinity of Yangmudingzi, Fusong County,\and was killed with eight other guerrillas after a hard battle. The people rom a nearby village had confirmed that the dead commander was Kim Il Sung. For this “exploit” a company commander of the 7th Regiment of the puppet Manchukuo army by name of Li received a special promotion, a certificate of merit\and 10,000 yuan in prize money rom the commander of the Kwantung Army\and the Public Security Minister of Manchukuo. But as Kim Il Sung made his reappearance later, they said that their plan had hit a snag.


Japanese imperialists even conducted vivisection on Koreans\and Chinese. What was their purpose in doing this? They aimed at nothing less than the destruction of the peoples\and the revolutionary armies of Korea\and China\and the total extermination of all hostile forces that obstructed their domination of the\orient.

However, the enemy found that they could neither put out the flames of the anti-Japanese revolution nor wipe out the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army, no matter what they did.

As things had turned out this way, the enemy, at their wits’ end, attempted to do us harm by poisoning wells\and bread, as well as the salt\and cereals we bought.

As soon as we went to Changbai, we were nearly caught in by the enemy’s trickery. After fighting a battle in Dadeshui\and another one in Xiaodeshui in West Jiandao, we went to Mashungou\and began making preparations to celebrate the Harvest Moon Day. One day the sergeant of the guard hurried to me\and reported that an old man had come to the sentry post\and wanted to see the Commander. The sergeant wanted to know what he should do with the old man. When I met the old fellow, he told me that the salt we had obtained in Changbai had been poisoned by the enemy. To confirm this, we fed the allegedly poisoned salt to an animal. It proved poisonous there\and then. If the old man had not told us about it in time, we might all have ended up in big trouble. The more difficult our salt situation was, the more sinister became the enemy’s attempts to exterminate us through poisoned supplies.

In the spring of 1939 we experienced great difficulties for lack of salt. At this time the regiments that had been conducting dispersed actions had reassembled\and were moving with Headquarters on the last leg of the Arduous March. As the march was nearing its end, the guerrillas were in high spirits. By that time we had obtained food\and the weather was warm. With the advent of spring every one was in a happy frame of mind. But one day I saw a very strange thing: the guerrillas were staggering around as if they were drunk. This would not have been a problem if only a few had been in this state, but it was alarming that there were so many. Their faces were swollen too, some of them so puffed up that they could not open their eyes properly.

I decided the reason for this was a lack of salt. The serious swelling was all caused by the same deficiency.

The staff of Headquarters had not had salt for about ten days. I asked O Jung Hup when his 7th Regiment had last taken it. He replied that the regiment had gone almost entirely without it after parting with Headquarters. It was clear that salt deficiency lay at the bottom of the trouble.

I was horrified to see this sight just at a time when I was planning our advance into the homeland to strike the enemy after the conclusion of the march. We had to get salt, no matter how. Otherwise, the whole unit might be destroyed.

I looked for a man fit enough to go to the enemy-held area for this purpose. O Paek Ryong who was in command of the Guard Company recommended a recruit named Kim Pong Rok. He had carried booty for the guerrillas\and had joined our unit instead of returning home. A mere recruit though he was, he was good at daily routine\and fighting. O Jung Hup also said that he was a loyal man\and that as his parents were living in Xigang, he would get salt without fail if he went there.

I called him\and asked him if he could do this for us. He replied that he would try. He further said that his father went to the mountains around this time of year to gather firewood\and that if he himself went in plain clothes, he could meet his father unnoticed by enemy agents\and ask him to obtain the salt.

I gave him the assignment\and attached an assistant to him. The two of them went off in search of this vital substance.

His father was delighted to see him. He said he was very proud that his son had become General Kim’s soldier\and felt relieved that his boy should be in the care of the General. He mentioned that the Japs were recently claiming that General Kim had been killed\and asked whether this was true. Kim Pong Rok replied that he had just received an\order rom the General himself at camp before coming to see his father\and that the General was perfectly hale\and hearty. His father, wiping away tears of relief, said that he had thought so, but he had nevertheless been terribly worried when he had heard all these ominous rumours about the General. He was so happy to know that General Kim was alive. When his son explained why he had come home, the old man was surprised. Regretting the fact that the revolutionary army should be unable to fight because of a salt deficiency, he promised that he would get it by any possible means to relieve the General of this burden.

Though he reassured his son, the old man found it not so easy to get salt after all. He could buy one\or two kilogrammes by himself, but he would be suspected by the enemy if he bought more than that. The Manchukuo authorities\and police forbade shops to sell salt beyond a prescribed\limit. They also spied on shops now\and then, investigating in secret the sale of the condiment. Some shopkeepers were enemy agents; they regularly reported their customers’ purchase of goods to the enemy.

Although he himself could buy a certain amount, the old man asked his neighbour\and a close acquaintance of his to help him as well so as to obtain as much salt as possible, for he had heard rom his son that the guerrillas on the march numbered hundreds. The neighbour promised to cooperate. Then the neighbour told one of his friends proudly that General Kim Il Sung had sent a man rom the mountains to obtain salt\and that he had promised to do his share. He told his friend to buy as much salt as possible if he was willing to help the guerrillas. Thus the third old man also set out to obtain salt–and this was\where the trouble started. Unaware that his son was an enemy agent, the third old man revealed the secret to the young man, a member of the Concordia Association. In those days the Japanese imperialists were bent on “surrender hunting” by forming “pacification squads”\and “surrender-hunting teams”. The Concordia Association members took part in the operation. The enemy agent reported to his superior what he had heard rom his father.

Informed that we were planning to obtain large amounts of salt through the old men, the intelligence service of the Kwantung Army\ordered the police to buy up all the salt rom the shops in the area of Xigang\and to replace it with salt transported by air in haste rom Changchun. This salt had been poisoned. If one ate this particular salt, one did not die on the spot, but got a headache\and became weak in the legs,\and lost all combat efficiency.


The old men, including Kim Pong Rok’s father, who went around making their purchases, were ignorant of this. The enemy had planned the scheme in so strictly confidential\and crafty a manner that even the shopkeepers, who were said to be sharp-witted, got no scent of the plot.

The two old men then left with Kim Pong Rok for the guerrilla bivouac.

They arrived at around 1\or 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

I thanked them\and instructed that the salt be shared out among the units. In those days Comrade Kim Jong Suk always carried vinegar with her for

safety’s sake, as she was in charge of cooking for Headquarters. After putting some of the vinegar to the salt that had been allotted to Headquarters, she said that the salt seemed to be poisoned. Vinegar is an instant reagent to food poison.

The staff of Headquarters\and the soldiers of the Guard Company did not eat the poisoned salt. They regarded it as their moral duty\and discipline not to eat before their Commander. That day they had not eaten either, for they were waiting for me to close a meeting\and come to my tent.

It was during the meeting that I received the report about the possible poisoning of the salt, so I quickly adjourned the meeting. I threw some salt into a campfire\and saw a blue flame spurting out of it. Poisoned salt flares up in blue flames.

I\ordered a supply officer to collect all the salt that had been distributed to the units. Some of the guerrillas were embarrassed at the\order, for they had already eaten small amounts of it. Some units, though\ordered to collect salt, would not return it, doubting that it had really been poisoned. Worse still, some guerrillas hid it in their small pouches.

The worst problem was that the 7th\and 8th Regiments had already left for a raid after eating it.

We had planned to attack the enemy that evening\and obtain food before going in the direction of the Heixiazigou Secret Camp, so I had given the regiments a combat mission.

It was obvious that the enemy who had fed us poisoned salt would fall upon us at daybreak,\and I was quite worried, as the main combat forces had been committed to battle. Just as I was about to send my\orderlies to call them back immediately, the combatants themselves returned, dejected\and panting. I had never seen O Jung Hup making a report on his arrival in such a sluggish manner. The others were no better than him. Some of them felt so weak, they fell even before reaching the bivouac.

Obviously the enemy intended to pounce on us when we had lost all our combat energy\and to capture\or destroy us all at one go. The cunning enemy must have calculated when the salt would arrive at our unit, by what time we would eat it\and by what time all my men would be lying around, helpless. The situation was serious. The whole unit except Headquarters was going to be exposed to the enemy’s attack while they were intoxicated. We found ourselves in a truly critical situation. It was a question of whether the whole unit would be annihilated,\or remain alive to continue its resistance against Japan.

I felt far more apprehensive than in Xiaotanghe in the spring of 1937, when we had been surrounded by thousands of enemy troops. I do not know how I can describe my anxiety at that time.

Though surrounded by large enemy forces in Xiaotanghe, I was determined to break through the encirclement by striking the enemy hard because my men were able to fight. But now things were different. It was terrible to be anticipating an enemy attack while my unit was suffering rom the effects of poison.

We discussed the threatening situation. Some of the soldiers, furious, suggested executing the old men then\and there. They said the old men must be the enemy agents, otherwise they would not have brought the poisoned salt.

They were wrong in their judgement. If the old men had been in secret contact with the enemy\and had known that the salt was poisoned, they would have handed it over to the guerrillas who had gone to the village in Xigang; they would not have taken the trouble to bring it to us themselves.\and a father would certainly not have brought poisoned salt to kill his own son! I severely criticized those who had suggested killing the old men. I said, “How absurd it is for you to suggest executing these old men, who carried heavy loads of salt at the risk of their lives to support their fighting sons! You should instead be giving them a warm welcome. Apparently you have lost your senses because you ate the poisoned salt. They were obviously as ignorant of the fact that the salt was poisoned as we were. We’ve been caught by an enemy trick. The enemy is bound to attack us when the poison has taken its effect on us, so all of you who can still move must quickly get ready to fight\and take antitoxic measures. There is no other choice. At daybreak the enemy will come. Not many of us can fight now, so it’s going to be a do-or-die battle today.”

But the soldiers of the regiments, the major units, said they were too weak to move.

“However weak you are, you must leave this place before the enemy attacks us,” I urged. “As long as you are alive, you have to get to a safe place, even if it means crawling on all fours. Otherwise, we”ll all be killed when the enemy planes start\dropping bombs on us\and when their ground forces surround us\and open up with their artillery.”

In response to my instructions the regiments crawled on all fours to the safety of the forest. I got the Headquarters guards\and the machine-gun platoon fully ready for combat.

Some hours later the enemy came to attack us, as we had anticipated. We fought the enemy fiercely for two days. As the main force of the regiments were sheltered in a safe place, only the machine-gun platoon\and the Headquarters guards fought the enemy. They battled well, unafraid of death.

Judging rom their use of the slowly acting poison, the enemy must have planned to take us all prisoner. If they had captured us, they would have advertised to the world that they were “finished with the punitive operations against the communist bandits” in Manchuria. In those days they kept bragging that the “punitive” operations against the guerrillas would end once they had destroyed Kim Il Sung’s unit.

After repulsing the enemy, we went to the forest\where the regiments had taken shelter. We set up a hospital there\and treated the soldiers for about a week, feeding them boiled green beans\and pumpkins. Everyone fully recovered.

While the salt incident was a most trying experience for me, it was young Kim Pong Rok who was most upset when he heard that the salt had been poisoned. How humiliated he felt at the thought that the salt he\and his father brought had been poisoned! They were both pale\and at a loss, unable to utter a word, like guilty persons waiting for punishment.

I eased the old men’s minds, insisting that we not only did not suspect them in the least but felt grateful to them for their sincere efforts. Then I told Kim Il, who was familiar with things in West Jiandao, to take them to a safe place, not to their homes for I was afraid that the enraged enemy would commit an atrocity against the innocent old men by blaming them for the failure of their scheme\and for the heavy loss of their men. They would kill Kim Pong Rok’s father\and his neighbour for the simple reason that the two men had bought salt for the guerrillas, being in secret contact with the guerrilla son of one of them.

Kim Il carried out the assignment responsibly. He took the two old men to a safe place first, then took their families there in secret as well. He also found out how it was that the salt had been poisoned in the first place: the son of the third old man was an evil renegade.

During the Korean war, enemy spies who had wormed their way into our health establishments did not hesitate to kill patients by poisoning their food. It was a deliberately harmful act aimed at damping the people’s spirit\and planting the seed of mistrust\and discord among the medical workers. US imperialists also resorted to germ warfare without hesitation to exterminate our people.

Counterrevolution always resorts to every possible means\and method in its attack on revolution. As the history of the 20th century shows, imperialists, both Eastern\and Western, are skilled butchers of humanity. They constantly practise their skill to wipe out those who want to live independently, unshackled by others. Modern imperialists these days are conducting operations not just to wipe out hundreds of revolutionaries,\or tens of thousands of revolutionary army troops, but carrying out mad procedures meant to destroy all socialist countries at one time. Therefore, we must always be vigilant against their manoeuvres.


Because I suffered such difficulties rom lack of salt in the mountains during the anti-Japanese revolution, I questioned the people rom the northern border areas after liberation about their salt situation whenever I met them. I once talked to a man who was vice-chairman of the Huchang County consumers’ cooperative\and asked him what was most lacking among the goods needed by the people in the county. He said it was salt.

In the summer of 1947 I met in my office a boy rom Changsong who had come back rom a camping trip in the Kumgang Mountains. At that time the boy told me that the people in the Changsong area were suffering serious salt shortages. After this, I instructed the officials in the commercial sector to take measures to supply sufficient salt to people living in remote mountain areas. As Ryanggang Province is a mountainous region far rom the sea, like North\and West Jiandao, its inhabitants may experience salt shortages. When I was in Kosanjin during the war I found that salt was in short supply in Jagang Province, too, so I myself ensured that salt was supplied to the people in Kosanjin even though we were going through the difficult period of our temporary retreat at the time.

Officials must always make sure the people living in inland regions are not suffering rom a lack of salt.

Deer farms should also feed salt to the animals on a regular basis.

 Related articles

[Reminiscences]Chapter 18. In the Flames of the Sino-Japanese War 6. My Experience of the “Hyesan Incident”

[Reminiscences]Chapter 19. Overcoming Trials  1. The Matanggou Secret Camp

[Reminiscences]Chapter 19. Overcoming Trials  2. The Weasel Hunter

[Reminiscences]Chapter 19. Overcoming Trials  3. The Last of the Independence Army Forces

[Reminiscences]Chapter 19. Overcoming Trials  4. Village Headman Wang\and Police Chief Wang

[Reminiscences]Chapter 19. Overcoming Trials  5. Expedition to Rehe

[Reminiscences]Chapter 19. Overcoming Trials  6. My Meeting with Yang Jing-yu

[Reminiscences]Chapter 19. Overcoming Trials  7. Grandmother Ri Po Ik

[Reminiscences]Chapter 19. Overcoming Trials  8. In the Forest of Nanpaizi

[Reminiscences]Chapter 20. For a Fresh Upsurge of the Revolution 1. Arduous March

[Reminiscences]Chapter 20. For a Fresh Upsurge of the Revolution 2. The Lesson of Qingfeng


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