I made friends with Ri Kwang in Jilin.
One day Kim Jun\and his companyrom the General Federation of Korean Youth in East Manchuria brought a young man to me\and introduced him. He was Ri Kwang.
Our comrades had assumedrom his appearance in Jilin that he had come either to study, to get in touch with an\organization,\or to learn how the student\and youth movement was progressing. Kim Jun hinted to me that Ri Kwang seemed to have come to Jilin to attend a secret provincial meeting of teachers.
My first impression of Ri Kwang was that he appeared intelligent\and magnanimous, but reticent. In the course of repeated contacts thereafter I learned that he was indeed a young man of exceptional sensitivity, with a kind heart\and the ability to form strong friendships.
My comrades were charmed when they met Ri Kwang,\and they tried to persuade him to settle in Jilin, even suggesting to him that the Wenguang Middle School would be good for developing his knowledge, that the Law College would give him an ideal start in life,\and that the Yuwen Middle School would be best for a man who wished to become a revolutionary.
Ri Kwang himself did not wish to leave Jilin. He said that, in his primary school days at Guchengzi, Yanji County, he had visited Jilin several times on errands for leaders of the Independence Army, that the life of the young people\and students had now changed beyond recognition,\and that the city was now buzzing with the social campaigns\organized by students,\whereas in previous years the young people had been so lethargic that their campaign had gone almost unnoticed. So Ri Kwang stayed\and attended Middle School No. 5 in Jilin for some time.
In his early days Ri Kwang had been influenced mostly by the Korean Independence Army leaders, such as Hong Pom Do, Kim Jwa Jin, Hwang Pyong Gil\and Choe Myong Rok. The headquarters of an Independence Army unit had been billeted on his wife’s parents’ house at Guchengzi for a long time, so he had met many leaders of the nationalist movement. Ri Kwang was sharp-eyed, quick-witted\and modest\and he attracted the attention of the Independence Army leaders. They seemed to have tried to make him heir to the cause of the Independence Army, just as O Tong Jin\and Ri Ung had tried to make me their successor.
During his boyhood Ri Kwang had learned Chinese characters at the village school which was run by his mother’s father. As his father’s health was poor, he had given up the idea of going to secondary school,\and at the age of 14, he began to help his father support the family. At the tender age of 16 he began to manage the household affairs as effective head of the family,\and his modern schooling was therefore delayed. After graduatingrom school he taught at primary schools in Yanji\and Wangqing for some time.
Until that time he had been known by his real name Ri Myong Chun. Butrom the time he started teaching at Beihamatang in Chunhua Sub-county he was known by the nickname Ri Kwang. In those days eight schools at Beihamatang\and its neighbourhood used to hold joint debating contests\and athletic meets as part of the enlightenment movement,\and Ri Kwang who was working underground, used to compete for the football team of Hamatang, using his nickname.rom that time onwards everybody called him Ri Kwang.
“It was the Independence Army that guided me to nationalism\and it was the independence movement that led me to communism,” he said to me when we first met, recollecting the days in Guchengzi.
His words sounded very strange to me.
“How could that be, did the old men of the Independence Army teach you two thoughts at a time?”
“No, I wasn’t exactly taught. How can I explain? I should really say that they influenced me,\and there were both nationalist\and Marxist-Leninist influences.”
“The old men must have been double-dealers?”
“I would say they were seeking a shift of direction, rather than double-dealing. While leading the Independence Army movement, they read communist books in secret. When I visited the house of my wife’s parents, I saw in a corner of a room lots of the books the old men were reading. So I began to read them, too, to kill time–but now I simply enjoy reading them.”
I squeezed Ri Kwang’s hand,\and said. “I am glad to meet a man who espouses communism.”
Ri Kwang waved his hand in a hasty gesture, saying:
“No. I am not yet a communist. There are quite a few concepts I cannot understand among the communist principles advanced by Marx\and Lenin. To my simple eyes, the communist ideal appears somehow too fantastic. You may feel sorry to hear this, Comrade Song Ju, but I hope you will understand that I am speaking frankly.”
I liked his candidness during our first conversation. It was this, more than anything else, which attracted me to him.
At the time Ri Kwang was neither a nationalist nor a communist. In short, he was in the process of changing his direction. In the course of his association with us in Jilin he became a communist, but he did not join the Young Communist League\or Anti-Imperialist Youth League which we had\organized.
An informed source states that when he was coming to Jilin, Ri Kwang mortgaged some of his school’s ten hectares\or so of land for 400 yuan for travel expenses, but I am not sure this story is authentic. The school lands had been allocated by the state for the running of educational institutions. So if it is true that he took the risk of mortgaging such public property, he must have been very ambitious.
In a letter to his brother-in-law which he sent after he left home, he is said to have expressed the following grim resolve:
“I think I must find a true patriot even if I have to comb the whole of Manchuria\and the Korean peninsula. It may take me ten years\or twenty years to do this. However, I pledge myself not to return to my paternal home until I succeed.”
His determination gives us a glimpse of his character,\and explains why he left his home\and travelled round all the major cities\and political centres of Manchuria.
Ri Kwang was honest, meticulous\and resourceful. He spoke Chinese as fluently as a northeastern Chinese. Therefore, he was competent to perform the job of a headman of ten households, a hundred households,\or even of a sub-county in the later days.
It wasrom him that I, who comerom a northwestern province of Korea, learned the customs of Jiandao\and Hamgyong Province.
While in Jilin, for some unknown reasons Ri Kwang did not wish to join us in the\organizational life. He was probably in the mood of a traveller who was only stopping over at Jilin. However, he frequently kept company with me. Later, through me, he became a close friend of my mother.
He met my mother when he was returning to Jiandao after studying in Jilin. Before his departure he came to see me\and as he took his farewell, he casually said:
“Song Ju, when I return to Jiandao I wish to\drop in at Fusong to see your mother. Do you mind?”
“No. It isn’t like you, Ri Kwang, to ask about such a thing. If you want to see her, you should go to see her. Why should you need my permission?” I was grateful to him for his suggestion. “So you agree. Good! I will see your mother as I have decided
to. Everyone follows your mother’s lead\and calls her ‘our mother,’ but I haven’t even made a courtesy call on her. How impolite I have been! Why should she be mother only to Kim Hyok\and Kye Yong Chun,\and not to me?”
“Thank you, Ri Kwang! Now my mother will have another son.rom today we are brothers.”
“Then, we should drink a toast together,\or at least make a visit to the noodle shop together, shouldn’t we?”
Needless to say, we did both.
He paid a visit to my mother at Fusong, spending a few days in her company, before going to Wangqing. In those days his family was living in Wangqing County, not at Yilangou in Yanji County.
After Ri Kwang left Fusong, mother sent me a letter, telling me a lot about him. The letter said:
“Song Ju, Ri Kwang left today for Jiandao. I saw him off at the ferry on the River Songhua. I feel so lonely, just as I did when I said goodbye to you, that I don’t feel like working today. He is so affable! Strange to say, I feel as if he were one of my own sons. He himself said that he felt as if I were his own mother. My heart overflows as I think of taking more\and more sturdy boys under my wing as the days pass by. Can there be any greater pleasure than this in the world? You have introduced a really fine boy to me. He took Chol Ju with him to Yangdicun, paid obeisance at father’s grave\and cropped the weeds on the mound. Many of your friends have been to my home,\and I know many young men, but this is the first time I have met such a lovable boy as Ri Kwang. I hope your friendship will thrive like the green pines on the southern hill.”
On the day I received the letter I walked in buoyant mood on the bank of the River Songhua all day long. The joy my mother expressed in every line of the letter affected me greatly. If she was happy, I was happy;\and if she was satisfied, I was satisfied. If meeting Ri Kwang gave her such great satisfaction, I was equally delighted.
After Ri Kwang left Jilin, I received a money\orderrom the post office.
Many people assisted me financially while I attended the Yuwen Middle School in Jilin, as I have mentioned on various occasions. Those who gave me money for my school expenses were mostly my father’s friends such as O Tong Jin, Son Jong Do, Ryang Se Bong, Jang Chol Ho\and Hyon Muk Gwan, who lived in Jilin\or came frequently to report to the headquarters of the Jongui-burom the bases of the Independence Army, for instance,rom Liuhe, Xingjing, Fusong\and Huadian.
My patrons in my Jilin days included members of the Young Communist League\and the Ryugil Association of Korean Students in Jilin. Sin Yong Gun, who was working as an activist of the Young Communist League while attending the Wenguang Middle School, also contributed to my school expenses, though he was farrom rich.
As I have already mentioned, in those days my mother earned only five to ten fen a day by taking, in sewing. If she earned ten fen a day on average, her monthly earning was three yuan, which was just enough to pay my monthly school fees at the Yuwen Middle School.
She did not send me the school expenses by post, in\order to save the cost of postage. She used to save her daily earnings until she had enough for the monthly school fees\and then send them with someone she knew travelling to Jilin. This saved me the trouble of calling at the post office.
I used to accept the moneyrom my mother with mixed feelings. There was a feeling of relief at not having to worry about being disgraced by failing to pay my school fees; but there was also a feeling of concern for my family, who would have to get by without any money.
In fact, three yuan was a trifling amount, scarcely enough for a rich man’s son to buy himself lunch. Most of the students at the Yuwen Middle School camerom rich families. Sometimes scores of money\orders, which we called “slips,” would arrive for the rich men’s sons at school in a single day. On these occasions the children of poor people like myself, who scarcely knew what a money\order looked like, went about in low spirits.
In this context, the arrival of ten yuan for me, one of the poor students, was a great event.
As I took the money\order to the post office, I tried to guess who might have sent it.
But I could not think of any relations\or acquaintances who could send me so much money at one time. The only person who might send money to me at Jilin was my mother, but it would be impossible for her to send so much. I thought the money might have come to the wrong person because of a mistake by the clerk at the post office, but such a mistake seemed very unlikely.
If a person who received a money\order could not name the sender at the post office, the clerk could refuse to pay. On that day, however, the clerk paid without even asking me the sender’s name. Instead, I asked the clerk who had sent the\order. “It isrom Ri Kwang!” the voice behind the partition replied. I was surprised: I had many closer friends than Ri Kwang, even though we had become close friends by the time he left Jilin. I had never imagined that he would send me money.
I was deeply moved by his generosity.
While he was in Wangqing, Ri Kwang frequently visited my home, bringing many packages of medicine\and money for my mother who was living at Xinglongcun, Antu County. The money was his monthly savingsrom his wages as the headman of a hundred households. He was extremely kind-hearted\and charitable to the needy.
He used to stay at my mother’s for several days, helping her around the house,\and then returning to Wangqing. He became a welcome regular visitor to my family.
Whenever I received financial support I regretted my inability to return the kindness. My family was too poor to pay the money back. I resolved to repay my friends\and colleagues by becoming a loyal son of the country\and a faithful servant of my fellow people.
In the winter of 1929, Ri Kwang took a trainrom Dunhua to Jilin in\order to visit me. I was in prison at the time. He had timed his journey badly.
Instead of meeting me, he made the acquaintance of Kong Suk Ja, a waitress at the inn\where he was lodging,\androm her he learned the details of the youth\and student movement in Jilin, including the way in which the leaders were guiding the movement. While assuming the guise of a waitress, Kong Suk Ja, on assignmentrom the Young Communist League, maintained a liaison between us\and the young men who came to Jilin to visit us. She later became Ri Kwang’s second wife as a result of their acquaintance at the inn. His first wife, Kim\orinnyo, died of illness.
Ri Kwang was determined not to marry again, so deep was his grief over his wife’s death. He believed that no woman would make a better wife than her because they had been devoted to each other. Within a year of her death, many women had offered him their hands, but he would not even glance at them.
Whenever we met him, his friends\and I tried to persuade Ri Kwang to get married, at least for the sake of his infirm parents\and his little son. Dissuading himrom his resolution proved more difficult than pressing resinrom dry wood. It was only after three years of mourning for Kim\orinnyo that he accepted my advice. His second wife Kong Suk Ja was good-natured, wise\and virtuous. She raised the\orphaned child with such great care that she won everyone’s admiration. The child, too, regarded her as his own mother. Unfortunately, Kong Suk Ja had no children of her own.
Although he could not meet me when I was in prison, with the help of Kong Suk Ja Ri Kwang made close friends with young people attending the Yuwen Middle School\and the Normal School in Jilin who were committed to the movement. The Jilin\organization convinced Ri Kwang that all the patriotic forces must first be united in the cause of national independence,\and that in\order to unite the patriotic forces there must be an idea\and a line which would serve as their common banner, as well as a centre of unity\and cohesion. He returned to Jiandao convinced of this.
Ri Kwang’s stay in Jilin was a turning-point in his revolutionary activity. As a result he was put under surveillance by the secret agents of the Japanese consulate\and the Manchurian police, but he was never afraid of them\and continued courageously along his new course of action.
The autumn\and spring struggles were important events which proved the correctness of the lessons he had learned in Jilin. His world-view made a leap to still greater heights as a result of these struggles.
After he moved to Wangqing, Ri Kwang worked as the sub-county head at Beihamatang. The fact that a man who had declared his commitment to the great cause of revolution\and regarded it as his exclusive ideal, was appointed as an official at the lowest rung of the enemy’s administrative hierarchy was an event worthy of considerable interest.
I met Ri Kwang again at Mingyuegou in December 1931.
At that time he was occupied with providing bed\and board for the representatives to the meeting at Mingyuegou that winter. When I saw him appear at the meeting place with a knapsack full of foxtail millet\and with five pheasants hanging over his shoulders, I was moved to admiration,\and thought that he was a man worthy of his name.
The starch noodles, a speciality of Jiandao, with a sauce of minced pheasant\and chicken were so delicious that we could not resist the temptation of asking for a second helping.
After Ri Kwang\and I each ate two bowls of noodles at the same table, we lay in the front room of Ri Chong San’s house with wooden pillows under our heads, talking through the night.
First of all, I thanked him heartily for helping my mother in her household affairs\and also for sending me money for my school expenses.
“While I was eating the noodles tonight, I thought a lot. The efforts you put into preparing the meat sauce moved me to tears. While I was studying in Jilin you often took me to restaurants. I don’t know how I can repay your kindness....”
When he heard me say this, he tapped me on my shoulder. “Don’t mention it. I have helped your family out of my desire to
contribute to the independence movement to which your father dedicated his whole life. How hard you have been working directing the youth\and student movement! It’s only natural to contribute a little money to such a patriotic family as yours.... Don’t mention it again.”
He pretended to be angry,\and gestured threateningly at me with his hand.
This made me keenly aware of another aspect of his beautiful character.
“Ri Kwang, don’t be too modest. Kindness should be repaid. I must thank you again,\and also on my mother’s behalf. Frankly, I had no idea you would give us such wholehearted support.”
“I didn’t suppose you would. But Song Ju, I have my reasons for doing it.”
“What are your reasons?”
“One day your mother told me how she was married to your father, as if it were an old folk tale. She said that arranging the marriage had been by no means easy.”
“I know that. My two brothers\and I heard about itrom my mother after her husband passed away. It was a really tearful story.”
This story takes us back to the years before the “annexation of Korea by Japan.” A distance of about two miles lay between my mother’s home at Chilgol\and father’s home at Namri, with a low hill standing between the two villages. Travellersrom Namri to Pyongyang had to go by way of Chilgol.\and thoserom Chilgol to Nampho had to pass by Namri. The people of the two villages were on good terms\and visited each other frequently. This led to many of them being related by marriage.
My maternal grandfather was looking for a suitable person for a son-in-lawrom Namri\and the first young man that attracted the old man’s interest was none other than my father. When a matchmaker had begun to come\and go between the two houses, mother’s father came first to my father’s house at Namri to see him. However, he returned to Chilgol undecided, because the young man’s family was living in dire poverty, although he thought the young man himself was acceptable. If his daughter was married to such a poor family she would have to suffer hardship all her life, the old man thought. But even after that he visited my father as many as five times.
My father’s family, being destitute, were not able to serve a proper lunch to this person who might become an in-law, on any of his six visits.
Only after the sixth visit did my mother’s father consult with his wife\and send a letter agreeing to the engagement.
“Song Ju, this story has given me a better understanding of your family. You will be surprised if I tell you that I knew of the crab incident, won’t you?”
I was, indeed, surprised to hear Ri Kwang mention the crab affair. This was an old family event of which only a few members including mother, grandfather Po Hyon,\and I myself knew.
“Oh! How do you know about that?”
“Surely you can guess how close I have become with your family members, can’t you?” Ri Kwang pretended to be elated at seeing me so surprised.
At the age of six\or seven, during the childhood days I spent at Mangyongdae, I began catching crabs. My grandfather used to catch a lot of crabs to eke out a poor living. The Sunhwa River, a tributary of the Taedong River, was teeming with crabs,\and whenever he went catching crabs, grandfather always took me with him. Perhaps he wanted to teach me the skills needed to eke out a livingrom childhood. Although they were despised by rich people, to us these crabs were delicious when they were salted.
Crab catching was a quite simple\and monotonous task. You just needed to lower well-boiled ears of sorghum into the water\and then pull them out some time later; we found clusters of crabs clinging to the ears. We used to catch scores\or hundreds of them a day,\and no words could tell how happy we were as we returned home carrying the catch in mesh bags.
The crabs improved our meals a lot. Whenever we had a guest, my grandmother would take salted crabs out of a jar to serve the visitor. On such occasions I used to think how good it would be if we could serve them to my mother’s parents. For me my mother’s maiden home in Chilgol was a mysterious world, a focus of infinite love\and sympathy. I liked the homely smell of the boiled cattle fodder steaming in the stable,\and I loved to hear the twittering of the birds on the branches of the jujube trees in the garden. I also was fascinated by the old tales that were told on the straw mats, as I sniffed at the scented smoke of the moxa, burning to keep away mosquitoes on summer nights.
My mother’s sister would tell me not to forget Chilgol because I was born there. Perhaps my mother spent some time at her maiden home before she gave birth to me. But my grandparents always said that my birthplace was Namri. They said that my mother stayed for several days at her parents’ home at about the time I was born, but that was no reason for me to be known as a boyrom Chilgol. A woman might give birth to a baby awayrom home, they said, but according to ancestral law the home of the child’s father should be considered to be its birthplace.
In any case, I liked my mother’s maiden home as much as my father’s home,\and I felt this very strongly when I was catching crabs.
When I was studying at the Changdok School at Chilgol, I would return to Mangyongdae on Sundays to go crab catching with my grandfather. One day I hid half of the catch in a nearby bush before I showed the mesh bag to grandfather. He was saddened by the small catch, but I pretended not to hear his expressions of regret.
Of course, I should have told him the truth, that I had put aside half the catch for my mother’s side of the family. But I was not sure whether he would like it\or not, so I hesitated. After I took the mesh bag home for him, I went to the Sunhwa River again\and took the other half of the catch to Chilgol. My maternal relations were glad to see the crabs,\and thanked me for the present. I told them that thanks were due to grandpa Po Hyon, who had caught the crabs.
One day my maternal grandfather came to Mangyongdae\and thanked grandpa Po Hyon for the crabs, which he said were delicious.
At first grandpa Po Hyon was embarrassed by the unexpected thanks, but when he heard the whole truth he was pleased.
Later he praised me for being a very considerate boy.
This was the incident mentioned by Ri Kwang, an anecdote of poverty\and a drama of kindness.
However, Ri Kwang seemed to have interpreted this story in a different light, not as an act of kindness.
“After I heard the stories of the marriage\and the crabs, I began to feel sympathy for your family,” Ri Kwang said.
I was deeply moved by his consideration.
“Ri Kwang, how do you like the job of sub-county head?”
I had wanted to know this ever since I had come to central Manchuria. A reportrom the political workers in the Jiandao area, whom I had sent to east Manchuria, said that Ri Kwang, in whom I was most interested, had been working as a sub-county head in Wangqing.
He smiled at my question.
“It is irksome, but I’ve done quite well at it. Last autumn some of our comrades were held in custody at Hamatang by the defence corps, but they were released when I gave them a reference. The authority of a sub-county head seems to have been effective.”
He said jokingly that if he were allowed, he would like to be a sub-county head all his life.
I talked proudly about my home village,\and Ri Kwang joked. “If Mangyongdae is such a beautiful place, I will follow you
there with my family after the country becomes independent.” “Not to Jongsong? I heard that you comerom Jongsong.”
“I can make myself at home anywhere so long as I feel attached to a place, even though I was not born there. Anyway, if I do go there, please help me to find a place\where I can teach primary schoolchildren. You’ll be a schoolmaster\and I will work under you as a teacher.”
“Oh, my! I hate teaching at primary school....”
“Oh, really! I heard that you taught at Antu\or Guyushu.\and your father was a teacher for many years, I heard.”
Our friendship grew deeper when we were\organizing the special detachment.
Immediately after he\organized a special detachment at Wangqing on our advice, Ri Kwang came to Xiaoshahe to see me. The hostile activities of the national salvation army against Korean communists\and young patriots were a great obstacle to the efforts of our comrades in Wangqing to prepare for the founding of the Anti-Japanese People’s Guerrilla Army. Even after he had\organized a special detachment, Ri Kwang was still left in suspense, unable to decide the future direction of his activities.
At that time I told him about my views on matters of principle\and the means of forming a united front with the Chinese nationalist anti-Japanese units,\and I discussed about the goals\and methods of the special detachment’s activities with him in detail.
He accepted my proposals with an open mind.
Foxtail millet mixed with sorghum, bean paste soup,\and dry wild vegetables were the only food that my mother could afford at that period, but she still accorded him cordial hospitality.\and he respected my mother greatly, too. Mother’s warm love moved him\and his youthful enthusiasm\and his simple\and honest mind were a comfort to my mother.
It was while Ri Kwang was staying at Xinglongcun that we founded the Anti-Japanese People’s Guerrilla Army. Though she was ill, my mother came with Chol Ju to see the guerrilla army. Stroking the rifle which Ri Kwang was shouldering, she said; “With these weapons you can fight in real earnest now. How can the Independence Army fight the Japanese with outmoded weapons? Now as I see your army\and the weapons on your shoulders, I feel as if my life-long grievances had been resolved. How glad your mothers would be to see you as you are now! Mothers’ hearts are broken\and they weep if their sons act like fools\or behave badly, but they would be delighted\and moved to tears if they could see their sturdy sons under arms ready to fight for their country.”
Back at Wangqing, Ri Kwang worked hard with the national salvation army.
Our success in achieving cooperation with Commander Yu at Antu provided valuable experience in work with the Chinese nationalist anti-Japanese units. At first this work went comparatively smoothly\and successfully.
Many of these anti-Japanese units were enthusiastic about forming an anti-imperialist united front with us.
We communists took the initiative in forming the united front. However, the Leftist elements obstructed this work. Their
adventurist motto “Down with the upper stratum\and win over the rank\and file!” was a provocation to the higher echelons of the anti-Japanese units, leading to bitter resistance\and resentment,\and many of the commanders of these units began to take measures against the communists, repressing\or even killing them.
It was something to be wholeheartedly welcomed in this situation that Ri Kwang started working among the anti-Japanese units.
In\order to work with these units, Ri Kwang movedrom Beihamatang to Taipinggou.
In those days I often visited his house at Taipinggou. The village of Taipingcun, with about three hundred peasant households, was located at the geographical centre of a delta connecting Xiaowangqing, Yaoyinggou,\and Laoheishan. It was not farrom the Soviet-Manchurian border.rom this village it was about six miles to Luozigou. All of the major assembly areas of the national salvation army units were located near Taipinggou. Ri Kwang’s special detachment was at Jianchanggou, a little more than one milerom the town of Luozigou.
His house was perched on the sloping river-bank, isolatedrom the village of Taipinggou. There was an imposing well with a large water dipper by the house, which was known as the house with a dipper. I drankrom this well on several occasions. When we appeared in front of the house on hot summer days, streaming with sweat, Ri Kwang used to fetch a bucketful of cool waterrom the well\and offer the water to me. The water was most refreshing.
Whenever I went to Luozigou, I used to\drop in at Taipinggou to inquire after his parents. At this house, together with Chinese communists such as Zhou Bao-zhong, Chen Han-zhang, Hu Jin-min\and Wang Run-cheng, we held the last meeting of the anti-Japanese soldiers’ committee which discussed the question of a united front with the national salvation army.
In the battle in defence of Xiaowangqing\and many other large\and small battles, Ri Kwang demonstrated distinct ability\and capacity as a commander. The practical example he set influenced the soldiers of the national salvation army,\and he became renowned as a military\and political worker among the broad masses of east Manchuria.
Wu Yi-cheng, who regarded Ri Kwang’s special detachment as a genuinely anti-Manchukuo\and anti-Japanese armed force, appointed him commanding officer of the security squad under the forward headquarters of the national salvation army,\and even gave him bodyguards.
After that Ri Kwang established contact with Tong Shan-hao in\order to develop further cooperation with the national salvation army against the Japanese.
Though he had taken up arms to fight the Japanese, Tong Shan-hao had degenerated into a bandit. In those days, many people identified the bandits with the mounted rebels as, indeed, they still do.
There had been many mounted rebels in Manchuria. When a large number of people of the Han nationality flowed into Manchuria through Shanhaiguanrom China proper in the closing years of the Qing dynasty, the Manchurian people began arming in self-defence to protect their farmland\and their ancestral heritagerom the plundering immigrants. This was the\origin of Manchuria’s righteous rebels, whom the Japanese called mounted rebels.
Unlike the scattered bands of sordid highwaymen, the mounted rebels regarded themselves as just soldiers, acting in accordance with their own code of conduct\and refrainingrom plundering people’s property. The mounted rebels’ society was an insurgent society, far removedrom the central political authorities.
The life of the mounted rebels was inconceivable without arms. They had lived by carrying arms for a long time,\and such a life inspired feelings of envy\and admiration. The people in Manchuria would say openly, “Going on the streets is for women\and rebelling against the authorities is for men.”
Naturally, the rebels did not always in fact abide by their own strict code of conduct. Many mounted rebels degenerated into bandits in the course of their outlaw existence. There were many groups of mounted troops, which were difficult to identify as either righteous rebels\or mere bandits. Many bandits behaved as if they were righteous rebels. Groups of bandits in the guise of righteous rebels accepted political bribesrom imperialist aggressors\and warlords, murdering people\and committing atrocities beyond all imagination.
When many commanders of the national salvation army became indignant\and hostile to the communists because the Leftist tactics of “down with the upper stratum” were applied in work with Chinese nationalist anti-Japanese units, the strategists of Japanese imperialism understood this fact very quickly\and used it to sow discord among the anti-Japanese forces. They were skilled in the notorious method of getting the anti-Japanese forces to fight among themselves, sniping at\and destroying each other.
The Japanese imperialists employed this method when they urged Tong Shan-hao to massacre all the members of Ri Kwang’s special detachment.
At first, they tried to get him to surrender. They put up notices everywhere stating that the person who captured Ri Kwang would be rewarded with lots of money,\and that if Ri Kwang himself surrendered he would receive an important appointment. In their judgement, in\order to disband Wu Yi-cheng’s army it was imperative to check the influence of the communists on it,\and Ri Kwang was the man who wielded that influence. Ri Kwang’s special detachment was regarded as a united-front shock force operating in the heart of the national salvation army. Thus the Japanese intelligence service was aware of his true significance\and role.
Tong Shan-hao, the worst of the bandits, was politically an obtuse, brutal\and capricious man,\and was easily bribed by the Japanese strategists. Knowing the views Ri Kwang supported, he baited a trap by proposing negotiations for a joint operation at Laoheishan, in accordance with a prepared by the Japanese imperialists.
Ri Kwang made the mistake of taking the bait. Not knowing that Tong Shan-hao had become a running dog of Japanese imperialism, he set out for Laoheishan with more than ten members of his special detachment, including Wang Cheng-fu, the chief secretary of the forward headquarters of the national salvation army. The party\organization warned him against the danger of dealing with a blind\and brutal bandit commander. Ri Kwang, however, insisted on going to negotiate, even at the risk of his life, saying that if the line of the anti-imperialist united front was not implemented, it would be impossible for the revolution to advance any further.
Tong Shan-hao held a banquet for Ri Kwang’s party\and then massacred all of them except one, who narrowly escaped death. When the bandits fled, they left him at the site of the massacre, thinking he was dead like the others. When we got there we saved him. But he, too, died in battle later, in the woods between Luozigou\and Laoheishan.
Ri Kwang was killed at the age of twenty-eight in a mountain hut near Laoheishan. His error was lack of vigilance. In\order to form a united front with Tong Shan-hao, he needed to transform him ideologically. But he tried to effect a united front merely by making friends with him.
I grieved over his death.
I was on fire with the desire to take immediate revenge on the Tong Shan-hao clique. Had it not been for the voice of reason which told me that\organizing a common front with the Chinese nationalist anti-Japanese units was the duty of the communists at that time, their primary task\and general strategy, I would have given way to the impulse\and plunged into a bloody battle of vengeance.
The whole of east Manchuria condemned the nefarious crime committed by Tong Shan-hao,\and cried out for justice to be done. Leftist hooligans complained that the army did not retaliate against the class enemy who had murdered Ri Kwang. Some people claimed that it was a Rightist deviation not to strike against Tong Shan-hao.
Ri Kwang’s death was an irretrievable loss to the communist effort for an anti-imperialist common front. We lost a precious comrade worth more than a thousand enemy soldiers. The enemy had taken awayrom me yet another prop\and mainstay of the Korean revolution.
I felt as if my own flesh had been torn away. I bit my lips to suppress my cries, I was obsessed by my thoughts. In the year since we started the war against Japanese, how many comrades-in-arms had already been takenrom my side! Why had my friends departed one after another, never to return, as soon as we became attached to each other? Was this the work of destiny?
As I strode with clenched fists, up\and down the bank of the River Xiaowangqing,\where Ri Kwang\and I had discussed the strategy of the great anti-Japanese war, I cursed again\and again the cruel fate that had driven me into this abyss of grief. Then I came to a decision:
Ri Kwang’s death must not be pointless. If I succeeded in establishing the united front with the Chinese nationalist anti-Japanese units to which he devoted such great efforts\and so much energy, then he too would be delighted, though in his grave.
Ri Kwang’s death drove me to speed up the negotiations with Wu Yi-cheng. It did not make me flinchrom the path to the united front, but urged me on along it.
I had to visit Wu Yi-cheng! If I could succeed in negotiations with him, I would be able to avenge Ri Kwang’s death.
With this in mind, I speeded up the daylight march to Luozigou. I\dropped in at Taipingcun to console Ri Kwang’s bereaved family. His wife Kong Suk Ja spread her arms wide to stop me.
“General, you must not go there. It is not the place you should go to. My husband went there\and.... General, please don’t go there for God’s sake.”
But strangely enough, her tearful warning only urged me on to complete the daylight march.
The woman’s shoulders heaved up\and down as she held a seven-.or eight-year old boy in her arms,\and wiped the tearsrom her eyes.
The boy in her arms was Ri Po Chon, Ri Kwang’s own son. The boy also stared at me with his eyes brimming over with tears. Whenever I went there, Ri Po Chon, who would be playing on the porch, used to call out to me “Uncle Song Ju!”\and come out of the gate. One day he pestered me with a request to make a grasshopper for him.
When I saw Po Chon run out to the road led by her mother, I regretted that I had not done this for him. How good it would have been now if he had clung to me, asking for the grasshopper as he had before!
How much happier I would feel even if the boy had not dared to ask, but simply climbed up on my shoulders like the innocent child of former days, who used to call me “Uncle”\and beg me to let him ride on my shoulders!
But Po Chon was weeping silent bitter tears. Ri Po Chon at my side was not a friendly, cheerful\and mischievous boy, but a downcast\and fearful child suffering great distress, a person who had bid farewell to his boyhood\and its rainbow illusions. His father’s death had destroyed the boy’s world of playful fancy in which his greatest desire was for a grasshopper. In this way, Po Chon lost both his parents before he was ten years old.
Po Chon would never again ask me for the grasshopper. His tender soul was grieving over the tragic death of his father.
I gazed into his face helplessly.
The words were on the tip of my tongue: “Po Chon, good-bye! I will return soon when I take vengeance for your father on his enemy.”
Instead, I said, “Po Chon, I’m thirsty. Whenever I came here your father used to bring me a bowl of cold water, but today you can do it for your father, can’t you?”
At that moment, his dreamy eyes suddenly became animated\and he darted off like the wind, reappearing just as swiftly with a brass bowlful of waterrom the well with the large dipper. This small event seemed to transform his mental state.
The rippling water in the brass bowl revived Ri Kwang’s image in my mind. The intermingled images of the boy\and his father reflected on the surface of the water moved me to tears.
Mentally thanking the boy I gulped the water until the bowl was dry.
Po Chon wiped his nose\and glanced at me lovingly as he held the bowl in his hand.
I felt a little light-hearted as I\ordered my men to resume the march. Just as I was about to take my leave, Po Chon darted towards his house.
I wondered\where he was going.
He ran back quickly,\and held out a handful of oats to my white horse. This silent gesture released the tears that I had been holding back.
Po Chon stood there on the riverside as we crossed the river\and moved far away. When I turned my head as I sat on the saddle all I could see was a flickering white dot.
“Po Chon, you must grow up to be a revolutionary like your father!”
I held my hand up in saluterom afar, wishing him a bright future. Later, when the guerrilla zones were dissolved\and the second expedition to north Manchuria was begun, I stayed at Ri Kwang’s house for about one week\and discussed Po Chon’s future with Kong Suk Ja.
Po Chon grew up into a revolutionary as I had wished. When he was working at Linkou as a railway worker, he attacked a Japanese military train, but he was captured\and served a two-year prison sentence. This was all before he was twenty years old.
With the liberation of the country in 1945 he was released\and travelled to the land of his forefathers via Dandong in the autumn of the same year, craving to see his native land\and sky\and water. He travelled as far as Pyongyang\and Seoul,\and then returned to Linkou. That journey left vivid impressions on the mind of Ri Po Chon, a sensitive twenty-year old with a bright future.
Feeling an irresistible desire to devote himself heart\and soul to the construction of the country of his father’s friends, he crossed the railway bridge over the Amnok River with reluctance. In the motherland there was the new world of which his father had dreamed, the promised land which he himself had longed for since his boyhood.
But this promised land was engulfed in the flames of war five years later, as the young Republic fought a decisive battle for survival.
At the news of the war that was raging far away, Ri Po Chon, now a company commander of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, volunteered for action\and joined the Korean People’s Army on the Korean front. To our great sorrow he fell in battle in the autumn of 1950 while fighting as a commanding officer in a mechanized army division.
Later, in the 1970s, Kim Jong Il, Secretary in Charge of\organizational Affairs, who took a particular interest in Ri Kwang’s fiery career\and his revolutionary activity, instructed film workers to produce a film entitled In the First Armed Unit, based on Ri Kwang’s life. Since then Ri Kwang’s name has been known to the entire country.
Kong Suk Ja, Ri Kwang’s wife, died while fighting as a member of the sewing unit in the guerrilla army.
Ri Ju Phyong, Ri Kwang’s father, who worked in support of the revolutionary army with an enthusiasm fuelled by grief over the death of his son,\and Ri Pong Ju, Ri Kwang’s elder sister, died of illness induced by enemy torture.
We must be grateful that Ri Po Chon left his son with us before his death. The son is advancing stoutly along the path that was pioneered by his grandfather’s generation\and transformed into a broad highway by his father’s generation.
Ri Kwang’s family has thus been serving in the revolutionary army for three generations. For a family to have fought under arms for three generations is just cause for noble pride. We must admire Ri Kwang’s grandson for choosing to wear military uniform as heir to his grandfather\and father, instead of working in other fields.
When this young officer, whose face, bearing\and gait so resembled his grandfather’s, first appeared before my eyes, together with his mother, I felt a lump rise in my throat, for it seemed as though Ri Kwang, who left our side 60 years ago had returned to visit me.
Ri Po Chon’s wife, who lost her husband at the age of 25, has brought up her son, trusting for more than 40 years that he would be a stalwart heir to Ri Kwang’s cause\and his revolutionary spirit. Her devotion merits everyone’s highest commendation.
At his meeting with me Ri Po Chon’s son said that he was resolved to dedicate himself\and his son\and daughters to me\and Marshal Kim Jong Il, that they would serve with loyal devotion in military uniform. I know very well that this will not prove to be empty words. Ri Kwang’s family does not use words idly.
What great work Ri Kwang would have done if he had returned alive to the liberated motherland!
Even now I occasionally ponder on this. Ri Kwang’s social activity began, of course, with teaching\and at Ri Chong San’s house, at the time of the Mingyuegou meeting that winter, he also expressed an ambition to become a teacher.
But I think that if he had survived, to return to the liberated homeland in triumph, he would have become a soldier like Kang Kon\and Choe Hyon. He was a devoted communist who always chose a difficult job.