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[Reminiscences]Chapter 16 6. Events to Which I Could Not Remain Indifferent

  

   

 

 

6. Events to Which I Could Not Remain Indifferent 

 

 Towards the end of May 1937, on our return to Changbai rom the expedition to Fusong, we began making preparations near Xinxingcun for the advance into the homeland. One day, in company with my\orderly, I left for Jichengcun, a village not far rom Xinxingcun. We had established contact with the village upon our arrival in the Mt. Paektu area in the previous winter.


In Changbai, we had done a great deal of work among the masses: we met the people who brought aid goods to the secret camp, called people to liaison points\or rendezvous as the situation required,\and even visited inhabited areas to mix with the people. In the course of this, we were able to study the mood of the public\and discover enemy movements. We were also able to enlighten the masses.


I visited many villages in Changbai then. On my first trip to Jichengcun, I stayed there for three days. It was a small community about 10 peasant households,\and I became familiar with all the villagers. Here we conducted political work among the people\and met our operatives rom the homeland.


A Japanese spy, Tanaka, who had wormed his way into the village disguised as a hunter, was tracked down\and executed at that time. The spy had been trained by special secret services before he was sent to Changbai. He was sly\and foxy. Born\and grown up in Korea, he spoke our language as fluently as a Korean. He was very familiar with our custom\and manners, so that the people of Shijiudaogou\and Ershidaogou had no reason to think of him as a Japanese, even though they saw him travelling around Changbai with a hunting gun on his shoulder for months. It was the underground\organization in Jichengcun that revealed his identity.

While at the village, I stayed at the house of an old man surnamed Jang. The old man’s house had spacious rooms\and the family was better off than the other people. During my stay in the house, old men of the village came to visit with me almost every day. Arriving with long tobacco pipes tucked in the back of their waists, they sat\and talked about the old days\and about current events, commenting on Governor-General Minami\and on Manchukuo. Though not very informed, they were pretty good at analysing current events. It seemed to me that the people, who had been robbed of their national sovereignty, were developing their political consciousness more quickly than any other things.


One evening a young peasant of about 30 with closely-cropped hair came with the old-timers to the house of old man Jang. In contrast to his sturdy build, which reminded me of a wrestler, the young man was very simple\and nice.


Usually people his age boast of their knowledge of the world. In a crowded room such as this the voice of a lively thirty-year-old is normally the loudest. They look down upon the opinions of youngsters in their teens\and twenties, saying that they smell of the suckling pig. They denounce instructions given by elders in their fifties\or sixties as smelling of feudalism.


But this young man stayed huddled up behind the old men, listening to me\and saying nothing. While the old men were answering my questions about the village situation, the young man did not utter a word. The old men asked me various questions: “How many soldiers are fighting under your command, General Kim? Is it true that the guerrillas have machine-guns?

 

How long do you think it will take to defeat Japan? What is your father doing, General?” But the young man only smiled,\and if my glance happened to meet his, he flinched behind someone else\or ducked his head.


I noticed that now\and then he looked as if he were going to ask something, but held back, looking embarrassed. I wondered if he was perhaps a mute. His awkward manner was somehow infectious\and I felt myself becoming awkward as well.


While asking the old men about their living conditions, I directed a few questions to the young man as well, but he still said nothing.


The old men in the room kept looking at him disapprovingly. “General, he is a hired farmhand,” an old man said on his

behalf, “a lonely bachelor. His name is Kim Wol Yong\and he comes rom a southern province, but the poor fellow does not know\where he was born\or who his parents are. He says he is about thirty, but he does not know his own exact age.”


The young man, never having known independence, apparently lost his freedom of self-expression as well. What inhuman treatment he must have suffered in the past to have become such a poor wretch, unable even to answer a simple question!


I went up to him\and took his hand in mine: it was as stiff as a metal hook. What a life of hard toil he must have had to have ended up with a hand in this state! His back was bent like a bow,\and his clothes were unspeakable. He had probably hidden himself behind the old men because he was in such rags. Nevertheless, he had come to visit the commander of the guerrilla army,\and although shy of answering questions, I thought he must have his own view of things\and his own way of dealing with them, a frame of mind which should not be totally ignored. I was thankful for it.

 

To my question as to when he had started working as a hired farmhand, he simply answered, “From childhood.” He spoke like a man rom Jolla Province. There were many people rom Jolla Province in West Jiandao\and other parts of Northeast China. The Japanese imperialists had forced tens of thousands of Korean peasants to emigrate to Northeast China as “group pioneers” in accordance with their notorious policy of moving Korean peasants to Manchuria, a policy aimed at plundering Manchuria of its land en masse.


When the visitors were gone, I asked my host why the young man was not yet married.


“Since he has worked for hire rom childhood, moving rom place to place, he is still a lonely bachelor, although he is over thirty. He is a true man, but he has no life partner. Nobody wants to give him his daughter. It is a great pity to see him living a life of hardship all alone. Even the boy over there is married\and treated as a man....”


I looked out through the window at the boy the old man was pointing at. Through a pane as small as the page of a notebook, a pane pasted with paper strips in the centre of the door, I saw a 10\or 11-year-old boy playing shuttlecock with his feet. I was surprised to hear that the boy, who was as short as a pencil stub, was already married. I could not help clicking my tongue in disapproval, even though it was an age of early marriages, forced marriages\and paid marriages.


To cite later instances, even in my own unit there were a few “little bridegrooms” who had been married when they were not much older than that boy.


Kim Hong Su, a guerrilla rom Changbai, became a “little bridegroom” at the age of about 10. He was a very short fellow, as his nickname indicated.


I felt indignation\and sorrow at the extraordinary contrast between the 30-year-old bachelor\and the 10-year-old “little bridegroom”.


Their lot was similar in that both of them were the victims of the times, but I felt more sympathetic with the bachelor who was unable to make a home at the age of 30. Though a victim of early marriage, the “little bridegroom” did have a wife\and was leading a normal, conjugal life.


Thinking of Kim Wol Yong, I could not sleep that night. A man’s lifetime had been wasted in misery. This thought would not leave my mind,\and it irritated me. His existence was somehow symbolic of the sufferings of my country, which also was treading a thorny path. His precarious life corresponded to the sad history of a ruined Korea.


That night I was gripped with the desire to find a spouse for him. If I were unable to help a man to build his home, how could I win back my lost country? This was the thought that ran through my mind.


Of course, there were many other bachelors in my unit who had gone beyond the marriageable age, but that was because they had taken up arms for a long, drawn-out struggle for which the day of victory could not be foretold. Guerrilla warfare is the most arduous\and self-sacrificing of all forms of struggle. It is an extremely mobile form of warfare covering a wide area of action under extremely unfavourable living conditions. For an\ordinary man to build up a home while fighting such a war is pretty well impossible to imagine\or put into practice. Women who took up arms left their children in the care of their parents-in-law\or gave them away as foster-children. While some husbands\and wives did fight together in the guerrilla army, their marriages were in name only. We were living an abnormal life imposed by foreign forces.


The Japanese imperialists pushed the Koreans (except for a handful of pro-Japanese elements\and traitors to the nation) off the track of normal life. The loss of national sovereignty crushed the life of the nation,\and such fundamentals as freedom, the right to a decent life, basic living conditions\and traditional customs were all obliterated. The Japanese imperialists quite simply did not want Koreans to eat well, live well\or live like human beings. They wanted to make them into dogs, pigs, horses\or cattle; they were making the people “stupid”. They did not care a damn what happened to the Koreans—whether children went to school\or not, whether the streets swarmed with beggars\and vagrants, whether young people were unable to marry because of poverty,\or whether husbands\and wives suffered hardships in mountains, unable to make a home.


All these miseries, however, were matters of the greatest concern for us. While circumstances did not permit us guerrillas to make a home, there was no reason for bachelors like Kim Wol Yong not to marry. Should the ruin of our country also ruin their chances for a married life?


In my teens when I was involved in the youth\and student movements\and working underground, I helped some young people with their marriage affairs.


I have mentioned one such instance in the second volume of this memoir—the case of Son Jin Sil11, the eldest daughter of the Rev. Son Jong Do.


I had a hand in her marriage by sheer accident, but the incident was the subject of gossip for some time in the community of Korean compatriots in Jilin. When I went home during my school holiday, my mother repeated the old saying, as my schoolmates in Jilin had done: “A matchmaker deserves three cups of wine when successful,\and three slaps across his face when not.”


I bore my mother’s warning in mind.


Up to then, some of my comrades had looked upon love affairs and marriages as somewhat commonplace, the result of petit bourgeois sentimentalism. They had banished rom their minds all thoughts they considered to be irrelevant to the revolution, to study\and to labour. Their attitude was: What is a love affair to a ruined nation? How can love make anyone happy when the country has no sovereignty over its own affairs? Of course, people with such an attitude went too far to some extent, but the attitude was firmly entrenched in the minds of my schoolmates, for they had seen certain nationalists\and communists of the previous generation getting into trouble\or\dropping away rom the revolutionary ranks because of love affairs\and family problems. The fact that quite a few of their schoolmates neglected schoolwork\or became too engrossed in family affairs added to this conviction.


For all this, however, love could not be left to die because the country had perished. Even within the bounds of a conquered country life has to go on\and love has to blossom. A young man\and woman get married, love each other, make a home, have children,\and go on living\and complaining that childless couples are lucky.... That’s life.


I often witnessed love affairs tormenting\or delighting DIU members, either dividing them\or knitting them together in bonds of alliance. Kim Hyok fell in love with Sung So Ok in the course of the revolutionary struggle; Ryu Pong Hwa loved Ri Je U so ardently that she joined him in committing herself to the revolutionary cause. While engaged in the work of the Young Communist League, Sin Yong Gun married An Sin Yong, a member of the Anti-Imperialist Youth League. Choe Hyo Il\and his wife stole a dozen weapons rom a Japanese weapons dealer\and came to us in Guyushu to help us in the preparations for the armed struggle. Cha Kwang Su dreamed of having a girl friend like Jemma, a character in Gadfly.

 

Love did not interfere with the revolution; it encouraged the revolution\and gave it an impetus. In my recollections on expedition to southern Manchuria, I mentioned Choe Chang Gol as a man with a family. He always thought of the family he had left behind in Liuhe\and derived strength rom the thought. Sung So Ok’s youthful charm was the source of poetry\and music for Kim Hyok, a man of ardour. Jon Kyong Suk left home, went to Dalian\and stayed there for nine years to look after Kim Ri Gap, who was serving a prison term there. She became a weaver in the Dalian Textile Mill solely for the purpose of taking care of him. Love changed the daughter of a devout Christian\and turned her into an exemplary woman who is widely known now.


Through these events my comrades gradually changed their views on love, marriage\and family. They realized that a man with a family was perfectly able to work for the revolution, that a family\and the revolution were not separate but closely related to each other,\and that one’s family was the\original source of one’s patriotism\and revolutionary spirit.


When I was in Wujiazi I helped Pyon Tal Hwan to arrange his marriage. In those days he was very busy working as the head of the Peasant\union of Wujiazi. Because he had to work on his farm\and deal with the affairs of the\organization at the same time, he was always under the pressure of work. Both he\and his father were widowers, so they were leading a lonely life. He belonged to the generation of Ri Kwan Rin in terms of age. Whenever I saw this man of my father’s generation washing rice, picking out small stones rom the rice with a hand as large as the lid of a cooking pot, squatting like a tree stump,\or moving in\and out of the kitchen carrying a water jug, I felt sorry for him. Nowadays, a lot of youngsters are happy-go-lucky, not caring a straw about marriage until the age of thirty\or so. Even when their neighbours commiserate with them\and advise them to find a wife, they usually shrug it off as not a very pressing matter. By contrast, girls in those days regarded a 30-year-old bachelor as middle-aged\and refused to regard him as a possible match.


Pyon Tal Hwan was uncommonly handsome\and good-natured. If he had wished to marry he could have married any girl he wanted. The trouble was, he never even dreamed of remarrying. In these circumstances, his father should at least have prodded his son to find a wife, but he was totally helpless, so I volunteered to find a kind-hearted woman for him,\and did so. I ventured to involve myself in this important affair of another man purely out of sympathy for him.


His second marriage encouraged Pyon Tal Hwan to put greater enthusiasm into his work for the peasant\union. His father Pyon Tae U\and other public-spirited persons of Wujiazi were full of praise for us, saying that the young men rom Jilin were not only good revolutionaries but also kind-hearted people. By helping Pyon Tal Hwan to find a solution to his home problem, we benefitted in many ways. Marriage was not something that had nothing to do with the revolution.


That was why I was never indifferent to other people’s love affairs\or friendships.

One day when we were fighting in the Wangqing guerrilla zone, I left Xiaowangqing in command of O Paek Ryong’s company on a march towards Gayahe. As we were climbing a pass, a girl came walking in our direction, her head lowered. Seeing us, she stopped, a faint smile on her face. As the marching column approached her, she trotted by, eyes downcast. For a country girl she was pretty\and neat in appearance.


The company marched on. But the rearmost man looked back for a moment,\and then marched again, head bowed in deep thought. Approximately 100 metres further down the road, the man again glanced back towards\where the girl had disappeared.

 

His eyes were clouded with faint gloom\and longing.


I called him out rom the ranks\and asked in a whisper what he was thinking about so deeply. Was he related to the girl in some way?


His face brightened suddenly\and a smile formed at the corners of his mouth. He was a simple\and straightforward man.

“She is my fiancee. I have not seen her since I joined the army. I can’t bear seeing her disappearing like the wind, even without raising her head. Had she raised her head at least, she could have seen me in uniform.”


The man again looked back. I thought I must help him.


“Go back\and see her quickly. Show her how you look in uniform\and chat with her for a while. Then she will be very happy. I will give you enough time to talk to your hearts’ content. We will take a break down at the village until you come back.”

The man’s eyes grew moist. He thanked me\and darted away after the girl. As I promised, I\ordered the company to break at the next village. The man returned in about 30 minutes\and began to report what he had done. I told him that he need not report such a thing, but he would not listen to me.


“Seeing me in uniform, she said that I was a different man. She said she would work hard to be worthy of the fiancee of a guerrilla. So I said, ‘As you see, I am dedicated to the revolution until Korea wins independence. You are going to be the wife of a revolutionary soldier. If you want to live like the wife of a revolutionary soldier, you must enter the\organization\and work for the revolution.’ ”


Since that moment the man distinguished himself in many battles,\and the girl worked hard as a member of a local revolutionary\organization. Certainly, love is one of the mainsprings of enthusiasm, the driving force of creative work,\and an element in making life beautiful.

 

Before leaving the village of Jichengcun, I said to old man Jang:


“Old man, I have something difficult to ask of you. The thought of Kim Wol Yong kept me awake last night. What about you village elders helping him to find a good wife\and making arrangements for his wedding?”

Old man Jang was much embarrassed at my request.


“General, I am sorry to have worried you over such a thing. We will do our best to help him find a wife\and get him married. So please don’t worry.”


The old men of the village kept their promise.


The ARF\organization informed me that Kim Wol Yong had married a good woman\and made a home. Old man Kim of Sigu, Shibadaogou, had married his daughter to him.


Apparently the news of my concern over the marriage of the bachelor at the village of Jichengcun had spread beyond the bounds of Ershidaogou to Shibadaogou. Hearing the news, old man Kim said he would give his daughter to the man who was held dear by me,\and came to Jichengcun\and discussed the matter with old man Jang. Thus the wedding was arranged more smoothly than had been expected. Old man Kim was unusually broad-minded.


Although he was only a poor peasant tilling mountain fields for his livelihood, old man Kim suggested that he make all the arrangements for the wedding ceremony for both sides. But the guardians of the bridegroom objected to the idea doggedly, so that it was agreed upon to hold the ceremony at old man Jang’s house in Jichengcun.


I told Kim Hae San, the logistics officer, to choose the best fabrics\and foodstuffs rom the captured goods\and send them on to Jichengcun.


Kim Hae San seemed to accept my instructions reluctantly. He said yes, but kept standing around in my room instead of dismissing himself.


“General, must we send the goods for the wedding ceremony?” He asked beyond all my expectation.

“Yes. Why? Don’t you like the idea?”


“A bowlful of rice has been all that we could afford for the wedding parties of our comrades-in-arms. It’s this thought that holds me back rom sending the goods. Think of how many of our fallen comrades had to be satisfied with merely a bowlful of rice at their wedding party, the most jubilant moment of their life!”


I understood his feelings. It was natural for him to feel unhappy about sending a wedding present to a total stranger when we had offered so little to our own comrades.


“The thought of it pains me, too. But Comrade Hae San, there is no reason why the people should follow our footsteps in offering a bowl of rice as a makeshift for a wedding party, is there? For that matter, I have been told that many people do, in fact, have to celebrate in this meagre way. Don’t you feel indignant at this state of affairs? True, it would be impossible to deliver all the Koreans rom their poverty with our secret store of booty, but why should we not arrange a splendid wedding party for one man, Kim Wol Yong—we, Korea’s young men who have taken up arms to revitalize our nation?”


Kim Hae San made a bundle of the wedding presents\and, in the company of one of his men, went to the village with it. When he left the secret camp with the gifts—a quilt cover, rice\and tinned goods—I gave him all the money rom my purse. rom his beaming face on his return rom the village, I could see that he had been well treated by the villagers\and that the wedding ceremony had been a great success. He told me that on receiving the wedding present, the bridegroom had cried himself blind,\and that the villagers were very warm-hearted. He did not report anything else; instead, he said significantly:


“General, let us prepare wedding presents for all the young people in West Jiandao.”

Later, the man who had accompanied him told me that Kim Hae San burst into tears when clinking cups with the bridegroom. I did not ask why. No doubt it was a burst of national sorrow, often felt by Koreans everywhere on such occasions.


Hearing Kim Hae San’s account of the event, I wanted to take time\and pay a visit to the newlywed couple. I was eager to see how they were living\and wish them happiness. That was why I intended to visit them with my\orderlies, leaving the unit in the secret camp,\and taking time out rom the pressure of making preparations for the advance into the homeland.


Man’s heart is strange, indeed. I met Kim Wol Yong only once\and exchanged only a few words with him. I never understood myself why a man, who was too shy to express himself freely\and extremely simple-mannered should attract my interest.

He had no particular charm, either, except perhaps a kind of unstained innocence. Nevertheless, I felt an irresistible impulse to see him again.


Old man Jang showed me to Kim Wol Yong’s house that day. The house was a restructured shed, which had belonged to somebody else. To my regret, Kim had gone to the mountain to gather firewood. His newly married wife, a daughter of old man Kim of Sigu, met me with hospitality. She was not a beauty, but looked good-natured, like the eldest daughter-in-law of a large family. She was a lively woman,\and I thought she would no doubt soon assimilate her husband to herself.


“We are grateful to you for your decision to be Wol Yong’s life companion. I hope you will convey my greetings to your father,” I said. The woman made a deep bow to me.

 

“It is we who should thank you.... I will help my husband\and build up a good home.”


“My best wishes to you. I hope you become the mother of many children\and live long.”

While I was talking to the woman, my comrades chopped a heap of firewood in front of the house.

Having met Kim Wol Yong’s wife, I felt much relieved. I left the village, convinced that the couple would live in perfect harmony all their lives. The day’s visit had a lingering effect on me, being still with me even as we climbed the ridge of Konjang Hill to attack Pochonbo.


The news of the hired farmhand’s success in marriage through our agency\and the wedding present we had made spread far\and wide in West Jiandao. Since then, the people placed much greater confidence in the People’s Revolutionary Army. The quantity\and variety of aid goods sent to our secret camp increased with every passing day.


An old man who was living outside the wall gate of Shisandaogou sent to us the barnyard millet which he had stored for his son’s wedding party. To my surprise, the prospective bridegroom\and his elder brother brought the millet to us,\and no matter how flatly we declined to accept the gift, the young men would not listen to us. They insisted, saying that if they returned home with the millet, they would be thrown out by their father. We could not decline any further.


There is no knowing how the young man, Kim Kwang Un by name, arranged the wedding party. I think he must have had a lot of trouble obtaining the necessary cereal for the celebrations. Even now I still regret that I could give him nothing as we parted rom him at the Fuhoushui plateau.


I have never met Kim Wol Yong again since I left West Jiandao.

 

I have never met Son Jin Sil either since I left Jilin. I got wind that she had gone to the United States to study, but I have no idea what her family life after marriage was like. I wished her happiness in my mind.


I have never forgotten Son Jin Sil, Pyon Tal Hwan\and Kim Wol Yong. Perhaps a man is destined to retain as much affection for his relatives, friends, comrades\and pupils as he loved them in the past.


Son Jin Sil died in the United States. Having received her death notice, I sent a telegram of condolence to Mr. Son Won Thae. How much it would have been better if I had met her in her lifetime\and talked to her\and inquired after her.

Kim Wol Yong was a healthy man, so he must have enjoyed a long life.



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