KIM IL SUNG
With the Century
THE ANTI-JAPANESE REVOLUTION
The gunshots sounded by the heroic anti-Japanese fighters in the homeland in the dark years when the country’s destiny was at stake stirred up the suppressed nation’s spirit and heralded the victory of the revolution against Japanese imperialism.
Kim Il Sung
After delivering a crushing blow at the enemy, who had been rampaging on large-scale winter “punitive” expeditions in Taoquanii and Limingshui, I made the decision to march north again across the Changbai mountains in command of the main force.
My entire unit was surprised when I
announced my plan for an expedition to Fusong: Why this sudden march northward
at a time when everyone was eagerly waiting for
orders to advance into the homeland to destroy the enemy? Why should they move
north, leaving behind West Jiandao and
At that time the spirits of both our
soldiers and our people were soaring, for we were defeating the enemy in one
battle after another. Despite the enemy’s frantic “punitive” attacks and their
political, economic and military blockades, the ranks of our guerrilla army
were swelling daily with fresh volunteers, and the army’s combat power was
increasing considerably as it armed itself with better weapons and equipment
The area around Mt. Paektu and on the River Amnok was completely under our
influence, and the initiative of the war was securely in our hands. Our
underground organizations were stretching a ramified network throughout
The final objective of our operations was to advance to the homeland. In order to give a strong impetus to the anti-Japanese national united-front movement there and to speed up the struggle to found a new type of party, it was imperative to extend the fighting to our native land. Our most cherished dream was to whip the enemy on our own soil, and this was also the burning desire of every one of our compatriots.
Just how eager the people back home were for our advance can be seen in the following episodes.
In Diyangxi there was a village called Nande or Nahade. Ryu Ho, headman of the village and a special member of the Association for the Restoration of the Fatherland, was an enthusiastic supporter of the guerrilla army. Once he and his villagers brought aid supplies to our secret camp. His company included three peasants from Kapsan.
These peasants arrived at our secret camp with full loads of foxtail millet, scorched-oat flour and hempen shoes on their backs. They had crossed the Amnok, slipping through a tight police cordon. We were surprised at the large amount of supplies they had carried on their backs. We were even more amazed at the fact that they had not touched a single morsel of the food they had brought us, even though they had been roaming about with empty stomachs for some days, as they had lost their way in the primeval forest of Mt. Paektu.
We were also no less moved by the effort they had put into making the hempen shoes for us: there were at least 200 pairs. The footwear was made with the utmost care and looked neat and durable: the soles were woven from a combination of hemp and strips of elm bark, reinforced with a side webbing of twisted hemp fibre.
As Kim San Ho thanked the three peasants for their efforts, they were embarrassed. The eldest, a man with a long beard like a Taoist in an old tale, took Kim San Ho by the hand and said:
“Please forgive us poor people who cannot
afford to offer anything but these hempen shoes to you, our great soldiers of
The peasants from Kapsan were not the only
people who were impatiently anticipating the advance of the Korean People’s
Revolutionary Army into the homeland. Old Ri Pyong Won, from
Day by day, minute by minute, we could feel their craving for our arrival and their admiration for us. Having received a pair of hempen shoes, every one of our comrades had a strong impulse to march into the homeland then and there. I myself felt the same way.
Nevertheless, I ordered my men to march north, in the opposite direction from the homeland. To comrades who were in doubt about my order, I explained, “Don’t think we are retreating northward. By marching north, we are, in effect, heading south, towards home. We have to go in this direction. This brief march to Fusong is a preparation for eventual advance to the homeland—you must understand that.”
Our major objective when planning the expedition to Fusong was to throw the enemy into confusion by using elusive hit-and-run tactics—attacking suddenly, then disappearing into nowhere. We intended to scatter the “punitive” forces as far as possible from Changbai, where they were being massed, divert the enemy’s attention elsewhere, and thus create a safe environment for building the network of underground organizations, which were thriving in that area, and also create favourable conditions for large-force operations to advance into the homeland.
In spite of the failure of their
large-scale “punitive” operations in the winter of 1936, the enemy did not
abandon their attempt to isolate and stifle the revolutionary army. They
continued to concentrate large forces in our theatre of operations, such as
their occupation army in
Scattering the enemy’s “punitive” forces
massed in Changbai and protecting the revolutionary organizations in the Amnok
area would also benefit our advance on the homeland. If the Korean People’s
Revolutionary Army was to operate on a large scale in the homeland, it was
necessary to prevent the enemy from concentrating their forces in
As had been indicated at the “Tumen conference”1, the enemy was massing its forces in West Jiandao mainly to prevent our advance on to our home soil at any cost, although it also intended to stifle the People’s Revolutionary Army by driving it into a dead end in the Changbai valley.
The enemy knew that it was only a matter of
time before large forces of the KPRA would be advancing on Korean soil. More
than anything else, the Japanese imperialists were afraid of this advance. The
military and political operations of these large forces in
enemy was well aware of the misfortune a few rifle shots on our own territory
would bring upon them. In the winter of the year in which the KPRA main force
had established its base in the Paektu mountains, the enemy dragged out the
people to break the ice on the Amnok noisily every night to prevent individuals
or groups of soldiers from the People’s Revolutionary Army from infiltrating
their homeland. How the enemy must have dreaded our attack to have devised such
a childish defensive measure! I mentioned in my previous volume that the
Japanese emperor dispatched his aide-de-camp on a three-week inspection tour
along the border between
The planned advance into the homeland required a number of breakthroughs in the enemy’s border defence, claimed to be an impenetrable “copper and iron wall”. Preliminary to making these breakthroughs, it was imperative to scatter as much as possible the enemy’s “punitive” forces, which were swarming about in the fields and mountains of Changbai. To accomplish this, we ourselves had first to pretend to leave the Changbai area. If we moved away from there, the enemy would follow us, which meant that their border defence would be weakened.
On our expedition to Fusong we intended to
meet Choe Hyon’s unit and the comrades of the 2nd Division of the 1 st Corps
operating in the area adjoining Fusong, Linjiang and
Another objective of the expedition was to give the recruits adequate political, military and moral training to meet the requirements of the prevailing situation and in keeping with the mission of the KPRA.
Since the establishment of a new type of
The numerical growth of my unit made it necessary to improve its quality as a combat unit.
Bettering the qualifications of the men and commanding officers was essential to increasing the unit’s combat efficiency. Improving their ideological level and military know-how was crucial if the unit was to be made unconquerable. Our hundreds of recruits had neither combat experience nor any knowledge of guerrilla tactics, although they were all highly class-conscious and full of enthusiasm for the revolution. Their political and cultural levels were also low. They were simple mountain people who had led a hand-to-mouth existence, doing slash-and-bum farming or toiling as day labourers until they joined the service. They knew little about military affairs, although they were very good at hoeing, digging and cutting hay. Some did not even know the Korean alphabet, let alone the rudiments of social progress.
Hardened though they were through labour and hardship, they were still barely able to endure the tough life of the guerrilla army. Some of them vacillated, or complained about the lack of sleep and gruelling marches. Some even delegated the burden of mending their shoes and clothing to their veteran comrades instead of doing these things themselves. It would be impossible to undertake the advance on the homeland with these recruits before they had been given necessary training. These were green men with no knowledge of drill movements, night marches or direction-finding, helpless onlookers who would ask the veterans to fix their broken-down weapons and remain useless.
The veterans had been told to devote all their spare time to training their new comrades by passing on scraps of common knowledge to them, but this alone was not enough to prepare such a large number of recruits to meet the requirements of guerrilla warfare. The best way was to give them intensive military and political training over a period of time in a dense forest which the enemy was least likely to penetrate. Without full-scale training it would be impossible to turn them into crack troops. Unfortunately, there was no suitable training ground in Changbai. Both the flat lands and deep mountains of this region were being “combed” by the enemy. That was why we chose the Fusong area, with its numerous secret outposts, as our recruit training ground.
The expedition to Fusong was, in short, an offensive, a way for us to maintain the initiative even when large enemy forces were tenaciously attacking us. It was an adroit tactical measure to strengthen the revolutionary army and create favourable conditions for its advance to the homeland. The expedition was to follow up our successes in the six months since our appearance in the Paektu mountains.
We launched the expedition one day in March 1937. The expedition consisted of not only the main combat force, but also the supporting forces, such as the sewing unit, the kitchen staff and members of the weapons repair shop.
Wei Zheng-min, Jon Kwang and Cao Ya-fan also came with our unit.
On the first day of the trek, we were to
That winter there had been an unusually heavy snowfall on the Changbai mountains, and in some valleys the snowbanks were as deep as the height of several men. In such places we had to forge ahead by ploughing our way through the snow, inch by inch.
Younger people who wish to get a real
picture of the heavy snow on the Changbai mountains, should listen to the
experiences of the veterans of the expedition. On our way back to
By early March the snow disappears from the
It was impossible to pitch a tent in a howling snowstorm. Even if one did manage to put it up, the tent would collapse in the gale. Whenever we were in this kind of a situation, we dug holes in the snow large enough for a squad to sit on deer skins or on tree bark and sleep while leaning against their packs. We covered the openings to the holes with sheets to keep the wind out. During this expedition we came to understand how Eskimos manage to survive the Arctic cold in igloos.
At that time we wore wadded Korean socks reaching our knees and the hempen shoes sent to us from the Kapsan people. Without such clothing it would have been impossible to travel in the Paektu mountains in winter. When bivouacking, we used to lie around the campfire, still wearing these shoes.
On the second day of our expedition we
climbed over the
We suffered from cold, hunger, lack of sleep and many other hardships. Fighting numerous battles, we spilt a great deal of blood and lost many comrades. It was an unusually harsh trial which even the seasoned soldiers were able to endure only with clenched teeth, so I hardly need to describe what it must have been like for those who had joined the army only a few months before.
I saw to it that every veteran helped one fresh recruit. I also took care of three or four weaklings. All the veterans became kind brothers to their new comrades. While on the march, they carried rifles or packs for their charges. During breaks they built fires for the younger ones, and when camping they prepared sleeping places for them and mended their clothes, shoes and caps.
Once a soldier, fresh from Zhujiadong, slumped down by the camp-fire and began to snore as soon as the order was given to take a break. He did not think of mending his shoes, which had been worn down to such an extent that his big red toes poked out through the holes. While veterans were still wearing the hempen shoes they had put on at Changbai before departure, he had already worn out the rubber-soled canvas shoes he had kept in reserve.
I replaced his worn-out shoes with my own reserve shoes and mended them with a thick needle. I kept them in my pack and later gave the pair to another recruit. I used to mend such shoes in secret, lest the owners feel embarrassed. Once I was caught red-handed by their owner. In tears, he snatched the thread, needle and shoes from me.
That day I said to the new recruits:
“At home you don’t need to do needlework because you wear straw shoes made by your fathers and clothes made or mended by your mothers. Now that you are guerrillas, however, you should learn how to mend your own clothes and shoes, learn how to manage your own affairs. Today, I’m going to teach you how to mend shoes,”
I could see that they were sorry to have caused such unnecessary trouble for their commander.
Because shoes and clothing wore down most quickly when one marched on ice-crusted snow, I taught them how to walk on this kind of terrain.
The expedition was plagued by hunger. Many
a difficulty stood in our way, but the worst was the food shortage. Since the
march had turned out to be much slower than we had expected, the scanty rations
we had brought with us from Changbai ran out soon after we crossed the
How could we obtain food in the snow, which denied us even frozen grass roots? The best way would have been to capture enemy supplies, but we had no idea where the enemy was at that time.
The starving experience on the march was so distressing that years later I was to describe the event to one of my comrades as “a virtual hunger expedition”. Sometimes we had to plod for miles and miles all day without eating even as much as a grain of maize, merely licking snow and gulping water to suppress the clamour of our empty stomachs. How could I ever forget the bitter suffering? Once, while passing through a forest near Donggang when the expedition was almost over, we found a Chinese house. For two days we had not taken in anything but water, so the sight of the house awakened in our minds a ray of hope, for people growing opium in remote mountains used to keep some food in reserve.
I explained to the master of the house that my unit had had nothing to eat for days, and asked him to sell us some grain if he had any. But he flatly declined, saying that all his grain had been carried away by mountain rebels. A heap of maize bran below the millstones suggested that he had a large stock of husked maize or maize flour, but he was deaf to my entreaties. Though humiliated, I decided to soothe our empty stomachs with the bran.
Unlike foxtail millet bran or barnyard millet bran, maize bran is difficult to swallow, even when scorched. Even ground with millstones and gulped with water, it left us hungry soon.
After much thought, I called my orderly, Paek Hak Rim, and gave him instructions:
“Go over several passes from here and you will find Wu Yi-cheng’s unit. The commander is not there now, but some of his men are still fighting there. Tell them I am here and ask for some grain. If they have any, they will give us some for the sake of our old friendship.”
The orderly went off, but returned with empty hands. Their commanding officer himself came with a sackful of maize bran and apologized to me:
“Commander Kim, how could I refuse to comply with your unusual request? I wish I could help you, but I came with this because our food ran out and we are also going hungry. So please don’t think ill of me.”
Looking around the Chinese house that day,
my men had found a coffin filled with husked maize in the front yard.
Manchurian people had a custom of getting their coffins ready during their
lifetime and keeping them in front of their houses. These coffins were
considered inviolable. The custom gave rise to many anecdotes during the years
of the revolution in
I understood why the maize was hidden in the coffin. But the trick had enraged my comrades. The recruits were the angriest of all. A volunteer from Zhujiadong came running to me and said:
“General, the people living in that house are evil. Offering food even to stray animals is human nature and hospitality, but these people are too cruel. Let’s teach them a lesson and confiscate the grain.”
“No, we can’t do that. We must not touch their food. Better we should go hungry,” I answered.
The man withdrew, clicking his tongue in frustration.
We gave no sign that we had seen the maize in the coffin, but did our best to allay our hunger with the bran, hoping patiently to educate the inhabitants of the house.
They did not admit that they had any maize even when we were saying good-bye to them.
The man who had suggested confiscation came to me and said, “You see? Education has no effect on such people.”
“It does, you know,” I told him. “They’ve begun to understand that we are good soldiers, even though they did not give us any food.”
This incident taught new comrades that there were different types of people among the masses, and that stereotyped education, therefore, did not work. Moving people’s hearts was the key to success, and the army, even in the most difficult situations, should not touch people’s property, and it should never try to obtain sympathy or assistance by force.
Had we been unable to repress our anger and treated them severely, or had we taken away the maize as punishment for lying, the recruits might have violated the motto, ‘The revolutionary army cannot live divorced from the people.” They might have degenerated into bandits, or people like the bureaucrats who shout at people for no reason and expect special favours from them.
Following the River Manjiang, we noticed two labourers following our marching column, while keeping their distance. They were lumbermen from the Duantoushan lumbermill. Their appearance and behaviour were so suspicious that we stopped and asked them why they were shadowing us. They confessed that they had been told by the enemy to find out where we were going. They had been promised a reward according to the value of the information they collected about our whereabouts, and if they returned with no information, they would be labelled traitors “in secret contact with bandits” and severely punished.
From these men I learned that there was a large number of labourers and forest policemen at the Duantoushan lumbermill. I decided to attack the mill to obtain food, even if we had to fight a hard battle.
I committed the 7th and 8th Regiments to the battle. They assaulted the lumbermill and searched the storehouse, but in vain; there was not even one sack of grain there. The owner of the lumbermill kept no food supplies in the storehouse for fear of raids by the guerrilla army, and brought in daily rations from elsewhere. Seven hundred to 800 enemy troops unexpectedly came from the lumbermen’s village in counterattack. They were “punitive” troops who, informed of the movement of our main force towards Fusong, had come as reinforcements.
The 7th and 8th Regiments captured about 20 head of cattle at the mill and withdrew to the main body.
The containment party under the command of O Jung Hup contained the enemy. O Jung Hup formed a do-or-die party by selecting men from each platoon and fought more than 10 close combats to keep back the pursuing enemy. At daybreak they found the enemy only 50 metres away.
While the containment party held on, I ordered the main body to occupy the two hills in the east and sent my orderly to tell O Jung Hup to lure the enemy into a trap by withdrawing his containment party into a field between two hills. Most of the enemy who entered the field in pursuit of our men were wiped out and only a few survivors managed to run away.
Before the main body started fighting, several men had butchered the cattle behind an elevation. As soon as the animals were killed, the meat was roasted, and the smell of roasting beef was so tantalizing, we could barely endure it. We put the remaining cuts of beef in our packs. We resumed our march, eating some of the meat raw, but in a few days the remaining beef had run out.
As the enemy’s pursuit grew fiercer, Jon Kwang left for the secret camp at Dongmanjiang, where he gave my men only a few mal of wheat to send to us.
My men denounced him angrily, saying, “Is this all the heart he has, a man in charge of political affairs? He is not worth his own weight.”
Some of the other men criticized him as well, declaring that he had neither courage nor human sympathy. They were still suspicious of Jon Kwang, wondering why he had confused the operation as a whole by abandoning the raid on Wanlianghe, a mission which was to be carried out as a secondary effort in the battle of Fusong. Since he had always shirked his duty in difficult and dangerous situations, while at the same time putting on airs of importance, the men and officers of my unit did not think much of him. Their feelings proved to be correct: Jon Kwang later became a turncoat and did serious harm to the revolution.
We continued our march towards Fusong down along the River Manjiang. The wheat Jon Kwang had sent us soon ran out. Again we had to suffer hunger.
Later we succeeded in throwing the pursuing enemy off our trail and camped for some time at a place called Toudaoling. It was impossible to continue our march unless we obtained food. At this very moment Kang Thae Ok and some other recruits from Manjiang volunteered to go in search of food. They had joined the army, prompted by the exciting dramas. The Sea of Blood and The Fate of a Self-Defence Corps Man staged at Manjiang the previous year.
When they heard that we were near Manjiang, they came to see me with Kim Thaek Hwan and said:
“General, we’ll go and get some food. Should the guerrilla army starve at a mere hailing distance of Manjiang? We don’t have too much cereal, but there are plenty of potatoes, which were collected to help the guerrilla army before. We know where they are.”
Hearing this, I felt greatly relieved.
Thus about 10 men were sent to Manjiang to procure food. But the results fell short of our expectations. They said that the potatoes, which had been stored for the army, had been ravaged by wild boars. They returned with what remained of the potatoes. Nonetheless, it was still a great help to us, who had nothing to eat at all.
As bad luck would have it, we ran into deep trouble because of an accidental blunder. On their way back the foraging party, unable to endure their hunger, built a fire and baked some potatoes not far away from the camp of the main body. This proved to be a grave mistake.
By building the fire at dawn near the camp, they exposed not only their own position but also the location of the whole unit to the enemy. When discovered by the enemy, they ran straight to the main body, not even giving a signal to the guard post. So the unit, which had been sleeping, was caught unprepared.
Lack of discipline sometimes resulted in such blunders.
I had always emphasized to the recruits: “Indiscipline is taboo for a guerrilla army. Keeping discipline may be hard and difficult, but you must never see it as a burden, because discipline is the lifeblood of the army. Don’t sleep with your shoes off when camping. Don’t leave behind traces of yourself wherever you go. Don’t build a fire at a place which has not been designated as safe by your superiors. When you are being pursued, lure the enemy away from the secret camp or from your own camping site. Do not eat any kind of grass if you are not sure it is harmless....”
Because of the mistake made by the foraging party, however, we lost priceless comrades-in-arms in the engagement that followed.
I did not criticize them for their mistake, for criticism would not bring our dead comrades back to life. Their death itself was more than enough to replace my criticism. Loss of their comrades was a much more bitter thing to the recruits than mere criticism or punishment.
My orderly, Choe Kum San, was one of the fallen in that battle. The enemy who had discovered the fire and followed the foraging party by stealth surrounded our camp and opened fire. Choe Kum San lost his life by becoming my shield as he fought the enemy, who was closing in on Headquarters. Seeing that I was bringing up the rear of the withdrawing force, he and Ri Pong Rok came running to me, sending fierce fire in the direction of the enemy while shielding me with their bodies. Had they not protected me in this manner, I might well have been killed.
Although fatally wounded, Choe Kum San did not cease firing until the last round of his ammunition was gone. His uniform was drenched with blood.
Ri Pong Rok raised him in his arms from the snow and carried him on his back. Bringing up the rear, I protected Ri Pong Rok with my Mauser. Whenever Ri became exhausted I carried Choe on my back.
Choe had stopped breathing when I lifted him down from Ri’s back after breaking through the encirclement.
Choe was not particularly handsome, nor was he a boy of impressive character, but he was loved by all of Headquarters as a younger brother.
He was full of dreams and fancies. To travel far and wide by train was one of his wishes. He used to say that he would become a locomotive engineer when the country was independent.
“To have died so young! He wasn’t even twenty!” somebody exclaimed behind me, looking at the boy lying by the campfire. The whole unit was in tears.
Before burying the boy, I opened his pack and found a pair of the hempen shoes he had received from the Kapsan people and an envelope of scorched rice flour.
The cherished desire of this boy, born into
the family of vagrants in a foreign land and growing up drinking foreign water,
was to walk on the soil of his native land someday. On the march from Nanhutou
in northern Manchuria to
Choe Kum San had served as an orderly at Headquarters for a long time, sleeping with me under the same blanket. He was one of my favourites, my young comrade-in-arms. Probably that was why I mourned more bitterly over his death than over the loss of other comrades.
The earth’s crust at Toudaoling was frozen so hard that it even defied an axe and a bayonet. We had to bury Choe Kum San in the snow. We marked off the spot in order to bury him properly later.
On our way back to
I changed him into a new uniform, which I had brought with me from the secret camp at Donggang, and then gave him his final burial in a sunny spot. I had several shrubs of azalea planted in front of his grave. I wanted him, even in his grave, to be able to smell the fragrance of his native land in their blossoms. Though the shrubs had grown in foreign soil, their scent would be no different. He had liked azaleas best.
“Good-bye, Kum San! We are going to
During the expedition to Fusong in the spring of 1937, we lost many stalwart comrades.
As the song expresses it, “Bright traces of blood on the crags of Changbai still gleam.” We spilt a great deal of blood wherever we went in those days. Every inch of our advance was made at the cost of our own blood.
I am sorry I am unable to make a more vivid
description of the brilliant exploits and devoted efforts made by my
comrades-in-arms. However, I am putting all my heart into this writing to make
up for my dull brush. I write this memoir as an epitaph to my beloved
comrades-in-arms, who fell in battle on the rugged hills and in the deep
valleys of Fusong. Their wish was that we should fight to the last moment to
After a great deal of heavy fighting near Manjiang, we led the unit to the secret camp at Yangmudingzi without leaving any trace of our passing.
Yangmudingzi was located half way up a hillside on the route from Xinancha to Laoling. The place is said to have been so named because it is full of willow trees. On both sides of the trail to Laoling there were secret camps, called East and West Yangmudingzi Secret Camps. We arrived at the west camp, where Staff Officer Yu was quartered with his unit. On the other side of a hill to the south, not far from the east camp, was the Gaolibuzi Secret Camp. These three camps, located in the shape of a triangle, with Laoling in the centre, made up the Yangmudingzi Secret Camp as a whole.
In 1940, after many years of use, Yangmudingzi was abandoned as a result of an assault made upon it by a large “punitive” force, led by Rim Su San in March of that year. In this final battle, many people were killed and the camp was burnt down.
I shall never forget Yangmudingzi. Here, Ri Tong Baek, my comrade-in-arms and reliable advisor, was killed, as was Ri Tal Gyong, commander of the Guard Company, who had been seriously wounded and carried to the camp on a stretcher. It was here we published The Tasks of Korean Communists in the newspaper Sogwang, and here that I so often met Wei Zheng-min and other cadres from the corps to discuss matters relating to our joint operations.
At Yangmudingzi I worked out the operational plans for the advance into the homeland in the summer of 1937 and set in motion the preparations for it.
Of crucial importance in these preparations was to obtain supplies.
I formed a small unit, led by O Jung Hup, and sent them to Changbai, where Kim Ju Hyon was waiting for them. The small unit included women soldiers from the sewing unit, comrades suffering from frostbite and other infirm people. I thought it would be easier for them to obtain supplies in Changbai than to march along snow-covered trails, barely able to get as much as a daily ration of a bowl of maize gruel.
In addition to this small unit, I also sent
out political operatives to work both in
The rest of us in the expeditionary force
left Yangmudingzi for the secret camp of the 4th Division in the
The comrades of the 4th Division gave us enough maize for two days’ rations. When leaving the camp, some of my men coaxed the youngest man. Pi, to give them a barrel of liquor.
Seeing the barrel they were carrying, I ordered them not to touch the liquor. I did not like soldiers drinking or smoking, for these habits were often dangerous to military action. At one time during a march, I don’t remember exactly in which year, I had found two men missing when checking my men at a rest period. The entire unit began to search for the missing comrades. It was found later that the two men had slipped away from the marching column to drink liquor at an inn. Needless to say, they were severely criticized.
Some cunning men could not tear their eyes from the liquor barrel and began to coax the company commander, Ri Tong Hak, to let them have a little, saying that warming up with a cup of liquor would be fine in such cold weather.
Ri Tong Hak could not silence the obstinate fellows who were begging and hanging around him. He drew some liquor from the barrel and offered a cup to each of the men.
“Let’s have just one sip without the knowledge of the Comrade Commander. One sip won’t matter,” they said.
Every one of the Guard Company drank. Other companies drank as well. This reckless act of distributing alcohol equally among the soldiers led directly to the danger we were forced to face in the battle of Xiaotanghe.
I think this day’s blunder was the costliest
one Ri Tong Hak ever made in his life. The glow of the brandy quickly dulled
the wits of the utterly exhausted men. Even the guard acted carelessly that
day, going against regulations. A man from the 8th Regiment was standing guard
at the edge of the camp that morning as hundreds of puppet
The challenged enemy soldier was sly enough to answer, “We are the 4th Division. Aren’t you Commander Kim’s unit?” The fooled guard made a hasty judgement and affirmed that he belonged to Commander Kim’s unit. He even asked, “Where are you corning from?” Meanwhile, the “punitive” force was encircling the camp like a slowly-tightening noose.
The enemy soldier asked the guard to send one of our men as a representative to his (the enemy’s) unit to confirm that this was truly Commander Kim’s unit. According to the regulations a guard of the KPRA was not allowed to send any representative to meet anyone from a neighbouring unit. But the guard took the enemy soldier for a KPRA soldier and arbitrarily sent the representative. Having occupied the ridge, the enemy arrested the representative, disarmed him and then began attacking. In consequence, we were in an unfavourable position for some time.
In this situation it was very difficult to change the tide of battle. The enemy was already climbing the back slope of the ridge where Headquarters was located. I ordered the whole unit to occupy the height.
It was at this moment that the brandy Ri Tong Hak had offered to the men began to take its toll: I found many of the men lingering at the foot of the slope, unable to climb quickly, even after the orders were given. These were the ones who had drunk thoughtlessly, even though they were not used to drinking. Among them was Kang Wi Ryong, a machine-gunner of the Guard Company. I barked at him repeatedly to occupy the height quickly, but it had no effect. Later he confessed that he had been unable to walk because his legs were wobbly and he was feeling dizzy because of the brandy. As the machine-gunner was in such a state, it was a bad situation indeed.
The enemy had come so near that a close combat took place on the height. Ri Tong Hak’s pack was torn to shreds by enemy bullets, and one man lost an ear in the fiery exchange. On top of that, the 2nd Company of the 7th Regiment under the command of Kim Thaek Hwan was still surrounded by the enemy.
Nevertheless, even in this confusion the machine-gunners of the Guard Company fought efficiently that day. Changing their positions now and then, they poured heavy fire upon the enemy. Meanwhile the 8th Regiment broke through the enemy’s encirclement. Kim Thaek Hwan’s company, too, got out of the confusion, although it lost one squad.
The battle lasted from morning to evening. We killed or wounded hundreds of enemy soldiers and captured a lot of booty. But even though we won the battle, we all felt bitter, for we, too, had suffered no small losses.
Kim San Ho got multiple wounds while running about in all directions to save his men. At his last moment he had ordered Kim Hak Ryul, an expert in the bayonet charge, to lead the charge. Kim Hak Ryul had joined the army with Han Thae Ryong at Xinchangdong. In addition to his great physical strength, he was upright and courageous. Whenever attacking a walled town, he led the charge, and after the battle he was always the first to haul out heavy loads of supplies on his shoulders from the enemy’s storehouse. Once he had carried away two ricesacks at one time, each weighing 100 kg, to the astonishment of his comrades. He had also led the advance by ploughing a path through the snow.
Receiving his orders, Kim Hak Ryul plunged into the enemy ranks and launched hand-to-hand combat. He finished off a dozen enemy soldiers with his bayonet, getting eight wounds in the process. He was, indeed, indestructible. When he became unable to wield his bayonet, he destroyed the enemy with hand grenades. With his last grenade he plunged into a group of the enemy. As the roar of the explosion shook the height, his comrades-in-arms clenched their teeth in bitter grief.
The greatest loss we suffered in the battle was the death of Kim San Ho, the political commissar of the 8th Regiment. He had shared good and bad times with me for many years since our days in Wujiazi. He became our shining example of the rapid advance a man could make through the revolution. “From a hired farmhand to a regimental political commissar” became a catchword for the strong impetus the revolution could give to the development of an ordinary man, and for the rapid progress simple young workers and peasants could make in the whiri-wind of revolution in terms of political consciousness, military techniques and cultural and moral refinement.
In mourning over Kim San Ho’s death, I abstained from that day’s evening meal.
The men made a campfire and invited me, but I refused. As I thought of Kim San Ho who was lying frozen in the snow, the mere sight of a fire made me feel guilty.
Qian Yong-lin, the 8th Regimental commander, also went without the evening meal. Kim San Ho was a Korean and Qian was a Chinese, but the difference in their nationality had never interfered with their revolutionary comradeship. Qian had always respected Kirn’s opinions, and Kim had always been a devoted assistant to Qian.
Seeing the regimental commander mourning so bitterly over Kirn’s death, all his men renounced food. The men who had been rescued from encirclement with the help of Kim San Ho and Kim Hak Ryul were unable to eat, being too grieved over the death of those who had saved them and the loss of other fallen comrades.
In the meantime, the enemy showed no sign
of withdrawing, even though the battle was over. Obviously they were determined
to surround us completely and drive us into the
We feigned a withdrawal through the forest, then returned to the same battlefield by stealth and camped there for the night. We meant to confuse the enemy with this tactic.
But the enemy continued to bring in
reinforcements in preparation for a decisive battle. Probably that spring they
were determined to make up for the defeats they had suffered in the large
winter “punitive” opera-dons at any cost. More and more enemy troops were
swarming into Xiaotanghe. It looked as if all the Japanese forces in
At the sight of the sea of fire, my men stiffened with apprehension and seemed to make a grim resolve to meet their end on the heights of Xiaotanghe.
“Comrade Commander, it seems there is no escape. What about preparing to fight the enemy to the death?” said Sun Zhang-xiang, the commander of the 7th Regiment, in a sombre tone. The faces of the other commanding officers revealed the same unflinching determination.
To my ears. Sun Zhang-xiang’s words sounded meaningless. Frankly, pitching a small force of scarcely 500 men against an enemy force of thousands showed a rashness that was little short of madness.
Of course we should not hesitate to lay down our lives in battle if it contributed to the immediate victory of the revolution. But because it was we who had initiated the revolution, we should make sure we survived to carry it through to victory.
“Comrades, surviving is more difficult than dying,” I told them. “We must live and carry on with the revolution. We are faced with the great task of advancing to the homeland. This is a sacred and honourable task which has been entrusted to us by history. How can we choose death when we are anticipating this great event? We must all survive and make our way back to our native land, where the arrival of the People’s Revolutionary Army is longed for by our compatriots. Let us use our heads to work our way out of this crisis.”
“Comrade Commander, it’s too hopeless racking our brains. How can we escape from this trap?” said Sun Zhang-xiang, who was still pessimistic about the situation.
The whole unit watched me, waiting for my orders. Never before had I felt so keenly the importance and difficulty of a commander’s position as I did at that moment.
Looking down across the valley, which was ablaze with campfires, I thought of various tactics for breaking through the encirclement. The question was, how to do it without attracting the enemy’s attention, and in which direction to move so as to get far enough away from the enemy. Since the “punitive” troops concentrated in the Xiaotanghe valley were an estimated several thousand in number, the enemy’s rear would now be empty. They might consider that if we succeeded in breaking their encirclement, we would move deeper into the mountains. So it would be best to slip away near the highroad, where the enemy force was probably relatively weak. Once we got to the highroad we could move quickly. I decided upon this idea and gave my orders at once:
“Comrades, your determination to fight to
the death is commendable, but none of you should die. We have a way to survive.
We must leave the
At the mention of the highroad, the commanding officers lifted questioning eyebrows. Secrecy in movement was an iron rule of guerrilla warfare, and they were surprised at my orders to move to a populated area, to march along the highroad at a time when a large enemy force was all around us.
Sun Zhang-xiang approached me and uneasily asked me if it was not risky to do this. His uneasiness was not unfounded. My decision seemed to involve a somewhat rash adventure, for the enemy might possibly be guarding the highroad, or keeping some of his forces towards the rear.
From the early years of the armed struggle against the Japanese I had been opposed to military adventurism. We had always fought only when we had the chance of winning. We had avoided any engagement we considered unlikely to be successful. We had risked ourselves only when it was unavoidable. But the risks we had taken were, without exception, those which envisaged success and made the maximum use of our force.
A risk can be taken with success only by a man who has courage, an iron will and the confidence that there is a way out even if the sky falls down.
The decision I made on the heights of Xiaotanghe to break through the encirclement, move to the inhabited area and march along the highroad was a risk, but one I was certain would succeed. I was confident of success because the risk was accompanied by our unbreakable offensive spirit, which was quite capable of changing adversity into a victory by switching from defensive to offensive. I also had faith in our ability to calculate scientifically just when to take full advantage of the enemy’s weakness.
‘A battle is, after all, a duel between two opposing forms of wisdom, confidence, will and courage.
The enemy had massed thousands of troops in the area of Xiaotanghe with an aim to surround us and destroy us by simple numerical superiority. The employment of massive manpower was a stereotypical tactic the enemy had used before against the revolutionary army, an outmoded device that had been exposed to the public more than hundreds of times. The enemy was depending on numbers, and that was all. It was precisely through this method that the enemy rendered itself vulnerable.
By spreading its sea of campfires over a dozen miles of Xiaotanghe, the enemy had exposed his strength and the tactics he was employing to destroy the People’s Revolutionary Army—a mistake as great as if he had allowed his plan of operation to be stolen by us. The enemy had already lost the initiative.
I was convinced that we would have no trouble slipping away to a safety zone. I put my hand on Sun Zhang-xiang’s shoulder with a smile, and then addressed the commanding officers:
“The enemy has massed thousands of troops here. This means that he has scraped together all his military and police forces, even the Self-Defence Corps, from not only the area surrounding Xiaotanghe but from Fusong and its vicinity as well. This implies that the villages and highways in this area are now all devoid of enemy forces. He is concentrating so hard on this forest, he won’t even imagine that we might escape along the highway. The highway is the gap in the enemy’s ranks, We must move quickly to the Donggang Secret Camp through this gap.” I spoke with perfect calm and confidence.
The commanding officers looked relieved and ordered departure with assurance. The 8th Regiment led the procession down to the valley, followed by the Guard Company and the 7th Regiment. The marching column glided noiselessly towards the highway, avoiding the enemy’s campfires. I was struck by the realization of the serious effect of a commander’s attitude, speech and actions on his men, especially in a complex situation or a crisis. They could well affect the life and death of the army. If the commander is calm, so will his men be; if the commander is confused, his men will be even more so.
As I had predicted, the highway was completely deserted. On the edges of villages we passed there were heaps of cinders left over from campfires. We moved as swiftly as an express train through the villages towards Donggang.
We passed through the enemy area in complete safety, with no need to shoot except once: when I found that the column of the 8th Regiment was marching in two separate groups, with more than 500 metres of space between them. The men had begun to relax, many of them walking, half asleep. I told the commanding officer at the rear of the column to fire a shot. At the sound of the gunshot the marching speed doubled. Now there were no more sleepwalkers.
We used this tactic of the highway march again later in the homeland, when we were passing Pegae Hill to the Musan area. We called it the tactic of marching hundreds of miles at one go.
Later, while reading the magazine Tiexin,
I discovered the enemy had brought in a company of reporters from
According to the article “Punitive Actions
Against Bandits in Dong-biandao,” carried in Tiexin, the journalist
corps consisted of newsmen from
The Japanese observers present at the scene
were Washizaki, an important man in the investigation department of the
military administration within the
To show off the fighting on the small
hilltop “T” during the Fatherland Liberation War (1950-53), Syngman Rhee
invited a large number of foreign reporters. The report of this battle reminded
me of the expedition to Fusong. Syngman Rhee’s rash act and the bragging of
Hitler, Tojyo, Mussolini and Syngman Rhee had the same habit of underestimating others and overestimating themselves.
The “punitive” commander told the company of reporters that his units encountered Kim Il Sung’s communist army in the mountains, that Kim Il Sung was on this side of thirty, trained at Moscow Communist University (Japanese newspapers in those days all blared loudly that I had finished Moscow Communist University) and that his army of 500 men and women was the strongest force in Dongbiandao. He bragged, however, that they were now caught like “rats in a trap”. He spoke German fluently and talked to the Nazi reporter without the help of an interpreter. Hearing that we were like “rats in a trap”, the reporters gave a cheer.
But discovering that we had slipped out of
the enemy’s encirclement, the “punitive” commander changed his tune somewhat
and told the reporters that the communist army had only 300 troops and had
escaped. Awkwardly, he produced a “prisoner of war” and told them to gather
their news from him. According to their news coverage, the soldier, who was
alleged to be a “POW”, had recently “come over” to the revolutionary army after
serving in the
The sea of campfires spread by the enemy in the wide forest of Xiaotanghe not only gave us a chance to hit upon the idea of the highway-march tactic, it also convinced us that the objective of the expedition had been achieved, that is, the objective of luring the enemy forces assembled in the border area towards Fusong.
The enemy was filled with consternation
when informed that the People’s Revolutionary Army had broken through the
circle of thousands of enemy troops and had vanished into thin air. They were
at a loss as to how to go about finding us again. Rumours flew about among
them—that even the devil was puzzled about the guerrillas’’ tactics, that in
the Korean guerrilla army there was a Taoist much wiser than Zhu-ge Liang, and
that the KPRA would attack
Our march from Toudaoling to Donggang was yet another indescribable hunger march.
On arrival in a forest near Donggang after marching hundreds of miles at one go, we began a search to obtain food supplies with an intention to stay there for about a month. It was no simple job to prepare one month’s victuals for hundreds of men.
Fortunately, we found a much better
solution to the food problem than we had expected. The men who had been on
long-distance surveillance duty at night happened to find a maize field near
the sentry post. The maize, planted the previous year, had remained unharvested
throughout the winter. There used to be such maize fields around
The men, who had gone without food for days except for bran and water, returned from the sentry duty with a few packs full of maize ears for their comrades in the camp. They had picked it without getting permission from the owner of the field. The owner was nowhere to be seen, they said, nor did they know where the owner was living, nor did they have time to inquire about his whereabouts because they had been relieved immediately from sentry duty.
I gave them a stem rebuke and sent them off to find the owner. They returned in a few hours with a grey-haired old Chinese peasant.
On behalf of the army I apologized and offered him 30 yuan.
The old man said in surprise, “Commander, please don’t apologize to this insignificant old man for taking a few packs of maize. We begrudge it to the local bandits, but not to you, the revolutionary army. It’s ridiculous for me to take money from you for such a trifle. What would the villagers say if they knew I accepted your money? I will not take it, nor will I take back the maize.”
I told the old man that he should take the maize because it had been picked from his field, and that he should also accept the money in compensation for his loss.
He finally yielded and went back with the money and maize. I got my men to escort him to his home. On the way he asked them who their commander was.
The men said, frankly, that he was General Kim Il Sung.
Then, the old man said that he felt as if he had committed a criminal act, taking our money, and that he would never forgive himself. For the rest of the way he was lost in deep thought. When he got home, he gathered all his family and relatives together, harvested the crop, and then brought it to me on a sleigh.
“Commander Kim, today I was deeply moved by your generous gesture. I am overwhelmed by the fact that you should show respect towards a man like me. Please do accept the sleighful of maize as a token of my gratitude for your kindness.”
This time I was obliged to accept the old man’s offer. The maize helped us to overcome the food crisis.
He even told us where we could obtain more food. About five miles down the River Man, he said, there were insam (ginseng) fields, and we should approach the owners. He explained that the owners had planted beans and maize in the fields instead of insam, and that they would not be reaping the crops, but would sell them as they stood. He added that if we wanted, he would go and bargain for us.
I sent the old man to the place, together with my orderly. The orderly returned to the unit with the answer that a deal had been struck.
We selected several sturdy men from the Guard Company and the 7th Regiment and sent them to the fields.
While the foraging party was away, we ate maize. A few days later, the foraging party came back with defatted bean cakes on their backs. This had been kept by the owners of the insam fields. We ate them raw or steamed or baked.
According to the foraging party, the owners had expressed deep sympathy for the fact that the revolutionary army was suffering food shortages. They added that the insam fields had been planted with beans and maize and that the crops had not been reaped. The amount, they calculated, would be more than enough for one month’s food for us. But when our men asked them to sell the crops, the owners said, “Why should we take money for helping General Kim Il Sung’s army? We can manage without these crops, so please harvest them all and take them away.”
In the end the foraging party from the 7th Regiment managed to persuade the owners to sell the crops.
After supper all my men hurried to the fields and picked the maize and beans. The maize ears were stored whole, and the beans were threshed. They did the threshing with sticks, or by trampling, since we had no flail. Both the maize and beans amounted to dozens of som2.
I met the owners and thanked them.
The kind-hearted owners also brought us salt, more than enough for one month, and urged us to fight well.
With the food problem resolved, I led the unit to the Donggang Secret Camp. This was the site we had intended to use for military and political training at our departure from Changbai.
The previous spring or summer I had heard
from old man Ho Rak Yo that in the
But as the waves of the Sino-Japanese and Rus so-Japanese Wars reached the foothills of the Paektu mountains, Japanese soldiers appeared even at Gaolibuzi to plunder the villagers. The enraged young villagers fought back with bows and arrows, spears and slingshots. When Gaolibuzi became a training ground for the army of Hong Pom Do3 most of the young villagers joined up and took part in the training.
A massive “punitive” attack in the year of Kyongsin (1920) devastated the place. The village was burnt down, the fort was demolished, and the majority of the inhabitants were killed. The small number of people who had narrowly escaped death lived in hiding in the forest for a while, then scattered away to different places. This was why Gaolibuzi was now completely deserted.
Drawing on this piece of information, I searched for and found Gaolibuzi on the map.
Within a range of 25 miles from
Listening to old man Ho’s account in the
On arrival at the site of Gaolibuzi, we found two empty huts that had been built and abandoned by insam growers. In the Fusong area there were many people who grew insam in forests. Some of them spent the winter in their villages near urban communities, and worked in mountains only in the summer season.
The huts were located at the foot of two
mountains, both called
We repaired the vacant huts and then proceeded to give political and military education to the men. The training ground was prepared on a clearing in the forest of the east Guosong mountain.
Realizing that we had settled in the secret camp with food supplies for at least one month, many of the men looked forward to a long period of rest. This was a natural reaction, for they had been exhausted to the limit by the long forced march and heavy fighting.
Unfortunately, we could not afford to relax.
Even before the men had settled down, we convened a meeting of company political instructors and higher officers and reviewed the expedition to Fusong. At the meeting, many officers spoke highly of the laudable deeds by the men in defence of their commanders, and of the officers’ loving care of their men during the expedition. They emphasized the need to further encourage such deeds in the future.
This meeting was followed by the Xigang meeting, which was to become a historic turning point in the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle.
The Xigang meeting was held at West Yangmudingzi Secret Camp and lasted three days. It was attended by cadres from the 2nd and 4th Divisions and other corps-class cadres such as Wei Zheng-min and Jon Kwang. The discussion at this meeting centred on the policy of advance on the homeland. After I had spoken about the policy it was unanimously approved by the meeting. We then came to a decision on the mission, direction of activity and area of operations for each unit.
The meeting was followed by military and political training at the Donggang Secret Camp, the entire course of which was directed towards political and military preparations for the advance into the homeland.
Our political training programme concentrated mainly on the line taken by the Korean revolution, its strategy and tactics, and the situation at home and abroad. The lecture on the Ten-Point Programme of the ARF greatly promoted the understanding of our own independent line of the Korean revolution. Through this lecture the recruits were able to deepen the knowledge they had gained at the Paektusan Secret Camp.
At that time, too, we rejected the dogmatic method of studying, encouraging instead debates and study through questions and answers, combined with practice.
I myself lectured to the Headquarters
personnel, military and political cadres, and the Guard Company. My lectures
dealt with the line of our revolution, the rudiments of social progress, world-famous
revolutionaries, heroes, great men, and typical fascists. Lectures on the
international situation were focussed on the war between
A contemporary magazine carried a photograph of Hitler inspecting a local army unit. Showing the photograph to the men, I warned them of the dangers that Hitler represented.
Our lecture also dealt with martyr Fang Zhi-min, an outstanding figure of the Chinese peasant movement. The story of his heroic career made a strong impression on the audience.
Of the men evaluated as exemplary in the training at Donggang, I still remember Ma Tong Hui. He was both enthusiastic and very good at debating. Thanks to the training he received at Donggang, he grew into an excellent political worker.
At Gaolibuzi, once an old fort belonging to our ancestors, our youngsters, who only yesterday had been slash-and-bum peasants and day labourers, developed into reliable fighters capable of forming the front for the main attack that was to liberate their homeland.
In later years a story was to spread among
the people that we had trained a large number of soldiers in one of the deep
Paektu mountains. In some places the story was exaggerated to mythical
proportions, stating that we had trained tens of thousands of flying giants in
a deep cave in
Early in May 1937, when the training at Donggang was just about finished, we published Sogwang, the organ of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army. The title of the newspaper was a powerful symbol for the burning desire of our people to witness the new dawn of a liberated country, and the determination of the Korean communists to hasten the arrival of that dawn.
As soon as the inaugural number of the newspaper had been published, we left the Donggang Secret Camp and headed for our homeland.
large part of my life was spent on battlefields. Fifteen years of anti-Japanese
war and three years of great war against the
By some miracle, or by good fortune, I have never had an accident. During the war of resistance against the Japanese, the guerrilla army greatly emphasized that commanders should set personal examples. Commanding officers always bore the brunt of all work, and they took pride in doing so. They led attacking formations and brought up the rear in retreat, protecting their comrades-in-arms. That was the militant spirit and moral trait of commanders and political workers of the People’s Revolutionary Army. I also did my best to live up to these standards. Sometimes I plunged into the barrage of enemy fire to rescue my men from danger, and sometimes I ventured to risk my life without hesitation, in spite of my comrades’ attempts to dissuade me. More than once I seized a machine-gun on the firing line and got involved in a fierce engagement with the enemy. Strangely, however, nothing ever happened to me.
In the course of the struggle against ultra-democracy in the army, the guerrilla army Headquarters established the principle that company commanders and higher-grade officers should refrain from leading a charge. It is true that they refrained from risking their lives since then in normal battle situations, but could they renounce their communist readiness to risk their own lives in the midst of crises?
During the Korean war, the Americans wasted great quantities of explosives in their attempts to kill me. For instance, when spies like Pak Hon Yong and Ri Sung Yop, who were in the leadership of our Party, sent a radio message to their boss that I was going somewhere at some hour at a certain date, the Americans never failed to send their fighters and bombers to carry out saturation bombing upon me. While at times bombs dropped close to the Supreme Headquarters, they failed to touch me.
When I was engaged in underground work,
travelling in civilian clothes around
Shang Yue, Zhang Wei-hua, Chen Han-zhang, and other Chinese people and communists also paid careful attention to my personal security. Whenever Chinese policemen appeared in my school. Mentor Shang Yue helped me to slip away over the wall, and when I was being pursued by Chinese warlords Chen Han-zhang provided me with bed, board and a hiding place. I have already spoken highly of Zhang Wei-hua as an exemplary internationalist for having sacrificed himself by drinking Adurol to save me. Whenever he met commanding officers of my unit, Zhou Bao-zhong exhorted them to take good care of me.
After the death of Wang De-tai, the 2nd Corps commander, and of Cao Guo-an, the 2nd Division commander of the 1st Corps, the matter of personal security of commanding officers also began to be seriously discussed in the anti-Japanese armed units in eastern Manchuria. To our regret, Wang De-tai fell while leading a charge with his Mauser in hand.
Wang was a Chinese who had grown up in a
Korean village in
The death of Wang De-tai, Cao Guo-an and other military and political cadres had a strong impact on the men and officers of the Anti-Japanese Allied Army, and triggered off a heated debate on the matter of security. In many units specialized guards were organized.
In this context, my comrades held a great many discussions on forming a unit exclusively for the protection of Headquarters. At first they talked about the matter among themselves, and having come to an agreement, they approached me with a proposal to form a guard unit.
I turned it down, for thus far our men and officers had managed to protect Headquarters quite reliably without a specialized guard unit.
In the spring of 1937, however, I was unable to object to the idea any longer. Since the establishment of our secret camp in the Paektu mountains, the enemy had planted many spies and subversive elements among and around us. These spies were armed with axes or daggers or poison, and even carried obscene pictures with them.
The enemy was in the habit of sending assassins to our secret camp and to our unit whenever the latter was out on an expedition. Some of them wormed their way into underground organizations, won confidence by feigned enthusiasm and were even recommended to join the guerrilla army. They were constantly on the lookout for a chance to undermine Headquarters.
As the enemy was resorting to every conceivable means to destroy our Headquarters, we had to take countermeasures. Officers of my unit again insisted on taking positive step to safeguard Headquarters. Even Wei Zheng-min joined in to say:
“Commander Kim, you don’t look out for your own safety. That’s where you are wrong. You must remember that the enemy is concentrating his attack on you. It’s with reason that he is offering more money for you than for any other comrade. We must hurry and organize a guard unit.”
I was obliged to accept his advice. Objecting to the idea that had been agreed upon by everyone would have amounted to narrow obstinacy.
In the spring of 1937 a Guard Unit was formally organized, reporting directly to Headquarters. The event was masterminded by Kim Phyong, the head of the organizational department of Headquarters. As I approved the formation of a company-size guard unit, he got down to the scheme with great enthusiasm. Overnight, he selected the personnel and made a list of the weapons needed for the unit.
I did not approve of the draft organization: the list of the guards included the elite men and women of every company—Kim Thaek Hwan who had distinguished himself in the battle of Xinancha, O Paek Ryong and Kang Hung Sok, renowned machine-gunners. Giant Kang Wi Ryong, and Kim Hwak Sil, famous as a woman general. Had they all been appointed to the Guard Company, the leadership in other companies would have crumbled.
Moreover, the weapons and equipment allotted to the Guard Company were exorbitant. The head of the organizational department had assigned several machine-guns to the Guard Company. In those days if those machine-guns were transferred to the Guard Company, the combat regiments would not have even one.
I expressed my disapproval:
“You haven’t selected personnel properly, nor have you calculated the weapons and equipment reasonably. What’s the use of a Guard Company if it is to weaken the combat power of other companies? If these basic combat units are neglected, the regiments will be weakened, and if the regiments are weak. Headquarters itself will be like a flame flickering in the wind.”
“Comrade Commander, this is not my own personal opinion, but the consensus of the military and political cadres, the masses. Please don’t turn it down.”
Kim Phyong tried to win my approval by stressing the word masses.
But I disapproved of his draft organization and dictated my own list to him, because that was the only way to prevent the officers from continuing to pester me. My list of the personnel for the Guard Company included mainly recruits, and even some boys from the Children’s Corps at Maanshan8 who had had not much experience in shooting.
As soon as it was announced, my list met with strong objections from the commanding officers. They delegated Ri Tong Baek to speak to me on their behalf, figuring that I would not ignore the old man’s advice. I was well aware that they used him as their representative whenever I refused to accept their proposals. “Tobacco Pipe” had always acquitted himself well. As usual he approached me and came straight to the point.
“General, please don’t be too austere. Do you really mean to leave the security of Headquarters to the care of these greenhorns? You’ll be lucky if they don’t end up being a burden on you. Headquarters could get into a lot of trouble acting as parents to these children. You had better give up this idea right away.”
“You have nothing to fear from a Guard Company made up of fresh soldiers,” I replied. “They will get used to fighting in no time. Remember how well they fought against the enemy’s ‘punitive’ attack last winter? How fast they got used to their new life in the guerrilla army? By the time the expedition is over, they all will be as strong as their veteran comrades. I am forming the Guard Company mainly with fresh men because I want to keep them close by my side and train them into crack soldiers. It will be great to see them all grow up into first-class fighters and become a reliable reserve force for Headquarters! No matter how inexperienced they might be in the life of the guerrilla army, they will become tough combat troops if we give them good training. Without able fighters, a victorious revolution would be inconceivable.”
“Tobacco Pipe” left me without saying anything further. He explained my ideas to the commanding officers, and seeing that the old man supported me, the officers made no further objection.
The Guard Company, the first of its kind in the history of the revolutionary armed forces in our country, was born of this polemic at the Huapichangzi Secret Camp.
The company had three platoons and a machine-gun section. Headquarters’ orderlies and cooks were also a part of the organizational life in the Guard Company. Ri Tong Hak was appointed the first commander. His reappointment as company commander after his demotion to rank and file for his mistake raised his morale to the sky. He had been demoted for the inefficient education of his men, who violated the rules of work among the people. The mistake had been committed by his men, but he had been held responsible as their commander.
He addressed the newly organized Guard Company with the rapidity of machine-gun fire:
“What is the basic mission of our company? To protect Headquarters. Our veteran revolutionary comrades have protected the General in good faith since the days in the guerrilla zone. Today they have turned over this duty to us. What are our circumstances? We are all fresh recruits, some of us barely more than boys. I am afraid that Headquarters might have to protect us, instead of being protected by us. I appeal to you: we must truly learn to protect Headquarters so as not to be protected by Headquarters ourselves!”
While his speech had made a strong impression on some of the guardsmen, others were not happy because they felt that they were being looked down upon.
Nevertheless, the company commander had not gone too far in his speech. His apprehension was not unfounded. It would be right to say that for some time in its early days we had to protect the Guard Company. The company had double duties, to protect Headquarters and to fight as a combat unit. The guardsmen grew more mature with each passing day.
The boys in company behaved like men in doing everything in order not to cause us any trouble. They hated it more than anything else to be treated as youngsters.
At one formal occasion the company commander happened to call the boys from the Children’s Corps “chicks”. The boys were crushed by the word. Kim Jong Dok, who looked and behaved more like a man than any of the boys from Maanshan, was too gloomy to eat his evening meal.
Seeing that he was sitting mutely without eating supper, I asked, “Why are you sitting like that, not eating? Have you had any quarrel?”
“No, sir. Our comrade company commander called us ‘chicks’....” he mumbled, flushing.
I burst out laughing at his innocent reply.
“Was his ‘chicks’ really so bad? He meant that you were cute.”
“That was not all he meant. Anyway, we are chicks, so how can we protect Headquarters? I’m really puzzled about my duty.”
The boy was glum, worrying over a possible failure to carry out the heavy duty to protect Headquarters.
It seemed to me he had, in fact, grown up. He was seventeen years old after all, and should not have been regarded as a child.
The mention of chicks reminds me of the sleeping hour, when the Guard Company youngsters used to nestle close to me like chicks, each trying to win a comfortable place under my wing. They were happiest when they could sleep by my side. In those days I had only one blanket. When they were all pressed close to my sides, I was very uncomfortable. But I saw it not as a burden, but as the greatest pleasure comparable to nothing.
When the sleeping hour came, I used to open my arms and call out to the young guardsmen: “Boys, come here!” They used to cheer and crowd around me, competing for the place next to me.
The closest places were usually occupied by the boys like Ri O Song, who was a little over 10 years old. Although I granted the privilege to the youngest boys, I changed the order now and then so that everyone might sleep by my side once in a while. When I confused the order by mistake and failed to treat them equally, they protested.
Once Kim Phyong happened to come to see me on some business at midnight and found the guardsmen wrangling over sleeping places.
“Comrade Commander, look at them,” he said irritably. “How could you expect kids like these to perform guard duty? Judging from their unruly behaviour in your presence, they will be good for nothing, let alone guardsmen. They need a good tongue-lashing to straighten them out.”
He looked sharply at the boys as he spoke. Having been dead against the appointment of the boys from the Children’s Corps to the Guard Company in the first place, Kim Phyong was now overly critical of them.
I thought he was right, but I said in defence of the boys, “What’s the use of scolding them? They are just vying for the best place to sleep, craving for the warmth and affection of their parents and brothers.”
A mass of people sleeping under one blanket was called a ttabari (a round-shaped head pad for a woman carrying a heavy load on her head). A dozen of us used to sleep in a circle, with our feet in the centre under the blanket. Sleeping in ttabari-shsipe, invented by the boys themselves, was very practical for guerrillas, who were always short of blankets or had to sleep in the open.
At one point immediately after liberation,
Ri O Song, who was working in the Hyesan area, came to me to report on his
work. In those days we were living at the foot of Haebang Hill, where the
At the sleeping hour, the veterans began to
spread quilts. Seeing this, Ri O Song
pushed aside the quilts, saying, “When we sleep with the General, we must sleep like a ttabari”
The comrades from northern
Ri O Song pulled me by the arm and asked,
“General, won’t you sleep like a ttabari tonight, as we used to do on
I did not readily agree. If we were to sleep as he proposed, I would have to draw all the veterans into a ttabari, and I did not think they would like such fun.
Seeing that I was hesitating, Ri O Song pulled me to the quilt all of a sudden and said, “Please lie down here, bending your legs a little. Comrade Kim Chaek, please lie down on the General’s right side, and Comrade Choe Hyon next to him. The General’s left side is my place.”
Even Kim Chaek was compelled into the ttabari by these preposterous orders.
Although I loved the Guard Company boys very much, I was not indulgent with them. When they made a mistake, I criticized them severely, and gave them many difficult tasks to harden them. Even in the dead of winter, when the temperature was -40°C, I would post them on guard duty in the howling snowstorm. Sometimes they were sent with their veteran comrades into heavy fighting. When they violated discipline, they were made to criticize themselves before different companies, or reflect on their own behaviour for hours, standing in a round space no more than a square metre in size. While meting out such punishments, I felt my own heart aching more than once.
It was fortunate that none of them thought ill of me or blamed me, no matter how severely I criticized them or how hard I trained them. Once Ri O Song lost his way on an errand, which delayed the errand. He did not follow the route I had assigned to him, but changed it as he pleased. I knew that he was wrong, but I did not criticize him. My unusual forgiveness made him very sad.
“Am I not worthy of the Comrade Commander’s criticism? Does he still consider me to be a snivelling child?” He was tormented by this thought, and finally came to me and asked why I did not punish him as I had punished other comrades when they made mistakes. He begged me to punish him.
Where there is true affection and trust, punishment can be regarded as a sign of confidence. The guardsmen accepted criticism and punishment without grumble. That was reward for the genuine love and confidence we bestowed upon them.
We made a special effort to help them with their studies so as to ensure their development. Both in everyday life and during intensive political and military training sessions at secret camps, I was their teacher. At Headquarters in those days there were Tong-A Ilbo, Manson Ilbo, Joson Ilbo and other Korean and foreign newspapers. Problems of Leninism, Outline of Socialism, State and Revolution and other publications helpful to the men in widening their mental horizons. The guardsmen were granted the privilege of reading all these materials. In return they were obliged to submit written or oral impressions of their readings. In the meantime, the Guard Company became a model in studying that the rest of the People’s Revolutionary Army was to follow. Love is reciprocated, and our loving care of the guardsmen was rewarded.
The guardsmen developed quickly both in ideology and in military practice. They did an excellent job of performing their duty to protect Headquarters. To be honest, they helped me out of many dangers.
Once we were surrounded by the enemy’s
“special force”, led by Rim Su San, in a secret camp in
On that morning we had eaten breakfast very early in order to leave the secret camp. Everyone had to eat breakfast quickly and hurry up for our departure, so there was no one to relieve the sentry. Ri Ul Sol was standing guard. I myself relieved him. While he was eating, I was on the alert. It was a foggy morning and I felt a bad omen.
In fact, I had the suspicion of a human presence near the guard post, having caught the snap of a dead twig. Judging it to be the enemy instantly, I threw myself down behind a fallen tree, shooting my Mauser at the sound. Almost simultaneously an enemy machine-gun opened fire from a distance of little more than 10 metres.
It was an instant that I dove behind the fallen tree and shot after detecting the enemy presence that morning. Almost at the same time Kang Wi Ryong and Ri Ul Sol, who had been eating, rushed out to the sentry post, fearing for my safety. Kang Wi Ryong pulled me from behind the fallen tree with all his strength. Meanwhile, Ri Ul Sol opened light machine-gun fire at the enemy. Frankly speaking, I wondered if that wasn’t our last moment. As Kang, whose nickname was Bear, was struggling to pull me back from the fallen tree I was grimly resolved to share death with my men.
But my loyal men saved me from death by exposing themselves to the barrage of enemy fire. As the enemy closed in to surround us, Ri Ul Sol stood up with his grenade in his hand and shouted at them, “Come on then, let’s die together!”
He looked so overwhelming, so threatening, that the enemy hesitated. Kang Wi Ryong lost no time in rescuing me completely from the barrage of enemy fire.
After our withdrawal from the secret camp. Rim Su San plundered the camp, taking everything. We lost precious documents, photographs, pamphlets and drugs.
When the “special force” was gone, I went back to the secret camp and looked round the sentry post. The top half of an entire thicket of bush clover had been slashed off, as if sliced with a razor. The enemy’s machine-gun fire had been very heavy. Seeing that, I said to the boys who had saved me, “Had it not been for you comrades, I would have gone to the next world.”
The news of the guardsmen’s performance in protecting me reached the Chinese commanding officers of the neighbouring units. They had always been envious of our clever orderlies and guardsmen. When they met me they used to ask me by way of a joke to make them a present of a good orderly or to give them any of my guardsmen who spoke a little Chinese. Yang Jing-yu, Wei Zheng-min, Zhou Bao-zhong and Cao Ya-fan were all covetous of the guardsmen or orderlies of our main force.
After the expedition to Fusong, Cao Ya-fan asked me to select a Korean orderly for him. I sent to him Kim Thaek Man, the best of my orderlies, telling him to take good care of Cao. During the struggle against the “Minsaengdan”9, Cao had wronged the Koreans extremely and interfered with my activity, but I did not reject him or refuse to comply with his request, which was made after much consideration. When the new division was organized, he was supposed to come to our main force as political commissar, but I did not agree with his appointment, because I could not guarantee security to his person. Many people in my unit had been wronged by Cao Ya-fan during the anti-”Min-saengdan” struggle, and they all hated him. Because of this, I myself became the political commissar of my unit.
True to my instructions, Kim Thaek Man took excellent care of Cao Ya-fan. Cao thanked me on many occasions for sending such a fine orderly to him, praising him as a clever, loyal young man.
Yang Jing-yu also repeatedly requested that I give him a good man. When he came to Nanpaizi to attend the meeting of military and political cadres from the 1st Corps and 2nd Corps, I turned over several of my orderlies to him. I also detached hundreds of men and commanding officers from my unit and formed an independent brigade for him.
Wei Zheng-min, too, wished to have men we
had trained. He was so keen on having Korean guardsmen that I sent Hwang Jong
Hae and Paek Hak Rim to him. Kim Chol Ho, Jon Mun
Whenever I heard that the comrades I had sent to the Chinese commanders were fighting in a self-sacrificing way in different units of the Anti-Japanese Allied Army for fulfilling internationalist duty, I felt highly satisfied.
The men of the Guard Company were all my “guardian angels”. Beside the men I mentioned above, there were innumerable other comrades-in-arms who protected me—for instance, Kim Un Sin, Choe Won Il, Kim Hak Song, Han Ik Su, Jon Mun Sop, Kim Hong Su, Choe In Dok, Choe Kum San, Jo Myong Son, Ji Pong Son, Kim Pong Sok, Ri Hak Song, Ri Tu Ik, O Jae Won…. As their names flash through my mind, thousands and tens of thousands of complex events from the past loom up in my memory.
Ri Tong Hak, the first Guard Company commander, was promoted to a regimental commander. He died heroically in a battle towards the end of 1938.
Ri Tal Gyong, who had become the Guard Company commander when Ri Tong Hak was promoted, had been a machine-gunner for the 4th Division. He was a crack shot, an excellent marksman whose name was known to everyone. He had been the political instructor of the Guard Company for some time, and succeeded to Ri Tong Hak when the latter moved up to the position of regimental commander. Sadly, he fell in battle less than a month after his appointment as the Guard Company commander.
Pak Su Man, who took over the post of Guard Company commander after Ri Tal Gyong, was a really courageous man. In order to divert enemy fire, which had been concentrated on me at the battle of Shuang-shanzi, he and his machine-gunner fought by moving from place to place, but Pak Su Man was fatally wounded.
The successive Guard Company commanders, ranging from the first commander Ri Tong Hak to the fourth commander O Paek Ryong, did not hesitate to undertake whatever arduous task I asked them to perform. They would have gone through fire and water to carry out my orders.
Among the comrades who laid down their own lives to protect me was a teenager named Ri Kwon Haeng. He followed me and respected me as he would have followed and respected his own brother.
One winter we were on a forced march, pursued by the enemy. It was unusually cold, but I did not feel my feet to be cold, although we were walking in the snow. I thought it strange, so I took off my shoes to find that soft pads of Carex meyeriana Kunth had been laid into them like insoles. An orderly whispered to me that it was the work of Ri Kwon Haeng.
Chinese regard insam, young deer
antlers and marten as the three treasures of Kwantung (
Had he not shielded me with his body in the
battle of Shiwudaogou,
The enemy’s fire was suddenly directed at me. At this critical moment, the boy stretched his arms open and covered me with his body. An enemy bullet crushed his leg-bone. How could I describe my grief as I held the bleeding boy in my arms and saw the wound? “You won’t die! You won’t die!” I encouraged him as I followed his stretcher.
“Comrade Commander, I won’t die. Don’t
worry about me.... Please take care of yourself until we see again.” He was
consoling me instead. Perhaps I looked very sad to him. Those were the last
words he spoke to me. I heard that he had written to me from the hospital in
the rear, but the letter did not reach me. All that I heard of him was that he
had been captured by the enemy while he was receiving treatment in the
hospital, and that he had refused to reveal the secret of the location of
Headquarters. He would not stain his revolutionary honour even though he was
brutally tortured to death at the
In the Guard Company was a comrade called “Rucksack”, so nicknamed because he always carried a rucksack on his back. Nobody knew why he toted around such a bulky object on his back.
The secret of the rucksack was revealed at a battle in Linjiang. The battle was a fierce one. On that particular day comrade “Rucksack” stuck close to me all day. Whenever bullets thudded into the parapet, I pulled him low and would not allow him to raise his head lest he be wounded. He would slip away from my grip and cling to my right side whenever the enemy was attacking from the right side, and close in on my left side whenever the enemy was attacking from the left side.
When the battle was over, a thick smell of burning wool hovered over the trench. I looked around and, to my surprise, saw a coil of smoke rising from two bullet holes in the pack of comrade “Rucksack”. Unaware of it, the boy was shouting at his comrades that somebody’s clothes were on fire. Some other men snatched his pack from him and opened it. From thick folds of silk wool, two hot bullets rolled out. It was only now that I realized why he had hung around me with the rucksack on his back. And after all, his silk wool had saved me from danger.
I asked the boy how he had hit upon the bright idea. He replied that Comrade Kim Jong Suk, while making my winter clothes lined with silk wool, had said that silk wool was bullet-proof. Hearing that, he had made up his mind to make a bullet-proof pack for me.
It would be difficult to describe in this short account all the distinguished services rendered by the guardsmen in the war against the Japanese imperialists. I must emphasize that the exploits they performed to protect the lifeline of the Korean revolution are worthy of the praise and respect of generations to come. Their noble, comradely and steadfast devotion to the revolutionary Headquarters is the source of the single-hearted loyalty and integrity that is now flowering in our society.
Drawing on my experiences in the years of the revolution against the Japanese, I formed a bodyguard company of teenage children, of revolutionary martyrs, the company to guard the security of Supreme Headquarters, during the Fatherland Liberation War.
Men of the Bodyguard Company went through many difficulties and dangers to protect me. One winter’s day, on my way back from a visit to a Chinese People’s Volunteers unit in Songchon for joint operations with them, I was caught in an air-raid. At that time the guardsmen compelled me to throw myself down into a furrow in a field. They then shielded me by covering me in a human shield of double, triple and quadruple layers. Similar actions took place on many occasions after that.
It was the peerlessly courageous Bodyguard
Company that remained with me in
A sudden change in the tide of war, which had gone from a sweeping advance to the south into the sudden retreat, dispirited the people in the capital city. They all turned to Supreme Headquarters for the Supreme Commander’s speech about the prospects of the war.
In my radio address I said that the retreat was temporary and appealed to the people to launch guerrilla actions in all parts of the country. I assured them that we would emerge victorious. I also told the Bodyguard Company to march, singing songs, through the streets of the city. The Bodyguards were dumbfounded at the unexpected orders. Their looks seemed to say, “Why a peaceful singing parade when the enemy’s guns are rumbling across the River Taedong?” The next moment, however, my orders to march had convinced them of victory, and they marched through the streets, singing The Song of National Defence.
As the voices of the bodyguard company rang suddenly and loudly across the streets of the capital, which had been depressed by the prospects of retreat, thousands of civilians ran out to (he streets to exclaim, “That’s the Bodyguard Company! Bodyguard Company!” “The Bodyguard Company is by our side. So the Supreme Commander will be near us.”
Only when all the institutions in
The guardsmen in the days of the anti-Japanese war are now well over 60 years old.
The third and fourth generations of the revolutionaries have now taken their place as guardsmen of the Party Central Committee and the Supreme Headquarters. Generations have been replaced by generations, but new guard companies and new bodyguards have been growing up continuously. Does one need to count their number? All the army and all the people are guardsmen and bodyguards who protect the Party and the revolution.
movement to build up the organizations for the Association for the Restoration
of the Fatherland, which started at the foot of
Each clause of the Ten-Point Programme of the ARF, the text of which was woven out of an ardent love for the country and its people, breathed fresh life into the soul of the nation and inspired the whole country with a burning desire for independence. All the patriotic compatriots—communists, nationalists, workers, peasants, intellectuals, students, craftsmen, religious believers and non-comprador capitalists— joined in a single front for liberation.
The brisk campaign to build the ARF
organizations was first launched in Changbai and other parts of West Jiandao
The ARF was able to build its organizations
The great task of rallying the
anti-Japanese patriotic forces was not new to the people living in
While building up the ARF, we also pursued the policy of creating models, and with them as parent bodies spreading out a network of organizations in all directions. Locations for such model units were chosen carefully: they were first organized in places with good foundations for building organizations—places that already had experience in social movements, a favourable ideological climate and a strong revolutionary spirit among the masses, and forces capable of giving leadership to the underground front. A membership of more than three formed a branch; more than three branches a chapter; and three or more chapters a district committee, several of which formed a county committee of the ARF.
We even infiltrated the army, police and government establishments of the enemy with subordinate organizations of the ARF. Those engaged in underground revolutionary work while serving in enemy establishments were called in those days special members of the ARF. Such special members operated even in the Jingan army units, which were under the strict surveillance of Japanese instructors.
Meanwhile, we strove to build the ARF in the KPRA areas of operation, and using them as stepping stones, to expand the organizational network into the neighbouring areas and deep into the homeland.
Immediately after the founding of the ARF we convened a meeting of the officers and men within the main force of the KPRA at the secret camp. At the meeting we took measures to admit all the men and officers of the KPRA into the ARF in response to their unanimous request that we do so. They said that as their Commander had been elected Chairman of the ARF, they should also become its members and make contributions to the united front movement. So we admitted all of them into the ARF and encouraged them to become propagandists and organizers for rallying the people behind the anti-Japanese national united front.
Filled with a sense of their historic mission, every one of them became a standard-bearer for the united front movement, working to rally people of all political parties and walks of life around the ARF.
Thanks to these standard-bearers we were
able to form our ARF organizations in nearly every village in
The main part in the construction of the
ARF organizations in those days was played by the political operatives selected
from the KPRA units. They included certain people who had worked on the
preparatory committee for the founding of the ARF. These people served as the
kindling for the united front movement that was to engulf
Those who had participated in the Donggang
meeting went on to take charge of the building of the ARF organizations in
The ARF network struck root in northern
This was followed by successive formations
of ARF organizations in Fangzheng, Tonghe, Boli, Tangyuan, Ningan, Mishan and
several other counties in northern
As I describe the building of the ARF
organizations in northern
The Korean communists in Sanyitun,
In this way the Korean people living in
The major target in the campaign to build the ARF organizations was, to all intents and purposes, the homeland and our 20 million compatriots. This was in line with the spirit of the Nanhutou meeting, which had laid a special stress on building both the party and the ARF organizations, and on developing an armed struggle in which the homeland was the main theatre and its people were the main force.
The political operatives from the KPRA
played a decisive role in expanding the network of the ARF deep into our native
land. Great contributions were also made by the hardcore revolutionaries in
The building of the ARF organizations in the homeland had to be conducted under very arduous and complicated circumstances, owing to the merciless oppression by the Japanese aggressors and the mistaken line put forward by the factionalists.
The Japanese imperialists feared the
expansion of the ARF organizations in the homeland more than anything else,
and they made desperate efforts to check the tide of the united front movement
rushing deep into
The factionalists placed great obstacles in the way of developing the anti-Japanese national united front movement. Engrossed in expanding the area of their own influence, they divided the anti-Japanese patriotic forces. While asserting dogmatically conventional theories inapplicable to the situation prevailing in our country, they gave a wide berth to the patriotic intellectuals and conscientious non-comprador capitalists, and regarded them with hostility. They contended that a revolution could be carried out only by a small number of special people with sound class backgrounds.
Our only way to enlist patriotic forces from all strata in the mass movement that was being confused by the Leftists, and to show a ray of light to communists groping in the dark, was to increase our influence on the revolution back home and expand the ARF organizations across the entire country.
To build the ARF organizations in the
homeland, we started first in the northern border areas on the River Amnok,
where political guidance by the KPRA could be provided most easily, and then
spread them further south deep into the homeland. Kapsan, Samsu and Phungsan
were selected as the main areas for this undertaking, for they were close to us
geographically. It was also a region in which campaigners and forerunners of
all kinds had gathered together from all parts of the country, and the people
who lived there had relatives, friends and acquaintances in
I myself directed the building of the ARF organizations in Kapsan and Phungsan, using Kwon Yong Byok, Ri Je Sun, Pak Tal and Pak In Jin as intermediaries. I have already mentioned that Pak Tal, after meeting me, reformed with his comrades the Kapsan Working Committee into the Korean National Liberation Union, an ARF organization in the homeland, and built up scores of its subordinate organizations.
The Changbai County Committee of the ARF and its subordinate organizations also did their bit in building the ARF organizations in the Kapsan area.
The Zhujingdong chapter of the ARP in
The Paegam-ri chapter in
The Korean National Liberation Union and
other organizations subordinate to the ARF in
The Changbai County Committee of the ARF
was also deeply involved in building the ARF organizations in the Samsu area,
across from Xiagangqu. The ARF chapter in Kwangsaeng-ri was formed under the
guidance of Choe Kyong Hwa, head of the youth department of the Wangjiadong
chapter in Shiqidaogou,
The ARF had its greatest growth in
Phungsan, which had long been well known for its strong anti-Japanese spirit.
In this area there were many slash-and-bum peasants from North and
Hundreds of patriotic Chondoists and Christians were also living in the Phungsan area.
Our strategic view of Phungsan was that
once the area was covered with the ARF network, we could expand the Paektusan
Base to the area of Kaema Plateau. This would provide us with a stepping stone
for building ARF organizations in the region to the east of
After the KPRA’s advance into the area
Pak In Jin, Ri Chang Son, Ri Kyong Un and other men related of the Chondoist faith, who spread the seeds of (he ARF in the soil of Phungsan, were patriots hailing from Phungsan; they lived in Changbai and yearned for political leadership from the KPRA. Ri Chang Son succeeded first in joining the army, and thanks to his introduction and good offices, Pak In Jin met me and discussed the matter of the united front; Ri Kyong Un joined our unit and was dispatched to the Kaema Plateau area as a political operative.
In Phungsan, Ri Kyong Un mixed with the
labourers working on the power station project and introduced them to both our
united front line, and the Ten-Point Programme of the ARF; in this way
he rallied comrades together and organized the Phungsan chapter of the ARF in
spring 1937. With Pak In Jin he later organized a paramilitary corps of
hard-core Chondoist Youth Party members. The chapter absorbed hundreds of
Chondoists in a short period of time. In
The building of the ARF organizations in the Kaema Plateau area was the most successful in Phungsan, largely because of the attentions paid to it by the political leadership of the KPRA. Many small units and teams from the KPRA went to Phungsan to help the revolutionary organizations there. On my way back from a meeting with homeland revolutionaries in the Sinhung area, I also dropped in at the Phungsan secret base and worked with the Chondoists.
The ARF also struck root in the Sinhung
area, where the coal-miners’ revolt in 1930 had aroused the sympathy and
support of people across the country. ARF member Ri Hyo Jun, who had been
dispatched from Taoquanii,
The creation of ARF organizations, begun along the River Amnok and in the Kaema Plateau area, gradually spread out to the urban and rural areas on the east coast. The political operatives of the KPRA displayed unexcelled organizing ability and drive in developing ARF work in this area. From the summer of 1937 on, they came to Rangnim, Pujon, Sinhung, Hongwon, Pukchong, Riwon, Tanchon and Hochon on many occasions, setting up ARF organizations in close cooperation with Ri Ju Yon, Ri Yong, Ju Tong Hwan and other revolutionaries in the homeland.
Ju Tong Hwan had been back and forth to
West Jiandao to establish contact with us and had been absorbed in Kwon Yong
Byok’s line of work in
In the homeland Ju Tong Hwan and Jo Jong Chol won over Kim Kyong Sik and others to organize a district committee of the ARF. Ten branches were formed under the committee in a short period of time. Later Ju returned to his native town and set up with his colleagues the Tanchon chapter of the ARF with branches in various places, including Tanchon county town. They organized friendship societies like the Northern Friendship Society and Southern Friendship Society, and recruited many people there.
After the eruption of the Sino-Japanese
War, the Xiagangqu committee of the ARF in
Around that time the political operatives
who had infiltrated into
The underground operatives from the ARF chapter in Taoquanii also formed an organization subordinate to the ARF in the Hongwon area. The name of that organization was the Hongwon Peasant Union. It had several ri chapters under its authority.
The ARF also struck root in other places—for example, Riwon, Pujon and Hamhung—and was built on a large scale in industrial centres, rural areas and fishermen’s villages in northern area on the east coast.
Of the provinces in the northern border
area, this region was swept up most strongly by the “
Under the direct influence and encouragement of the anti-Japanese armed struggle, the people there took an active part in the early anti-Japanese struggle for national salvation. The peasant union movement in this region attracted our attention for its persistence and stubbornness. In all respects the province was advantageous for raising the awareness of the masses and for organizing them in a relatively short space of time.
In order to spread out ARF organizations in
this region we dispatched a great number of able political operatives into the
area. We even sent small units to the northern towns and counties on the
border. The small KPRA units and teams built secret bases and centres for their
activities in many places in
Meanwhile, we brought to our bases the
anti-Japanese campaigners and the leaders of the mass organizations in the
province and gave them several days of eduction before sending them back to
their native areas to act as guides for the united front movement. Local people
from such places as the town of
Thanks to patriotic fighters and the
political operatives from the People’s Revolutionary Army, the flame of the ARF
flared up in
The campaign for building ARF organizations
in the province was conducted both most extensively and intensively in Yonsa
and Musan. That was because we were engaging in political and military
activities on the River Wukou, across from Yonsa and Musan, after leaving
Choe Won Bong and Yun Kyong Hwan were
underground operatives who greatly contributed to the building of ARF
organizations in the Yonsa area. Choe Won Bong was in charge of the ARF
organization in Yonsa, while Yun Kyong Hwan looked after party organization in
the area. Both of them had been trained by us in Changbai. Among the
anti-Japanese revolutionary veterans buried in the
Choe Won Bong was man of principle and deep thought, a strong revolutionary spirit. Kim Ju Hyon recognized these merits in the man before anybody else had done so, and valued them highly. When he came to Changbai from Donggang with his advance party. Kim introduced Choe Won Bong to Kwon Yong Byok and Ri Je Sun; Yinghuadong, in Shibadaogou, Changbai County, was renowned for its generous aid to the guerrillas and for producing many anti-Japanese revolutionary fighters. Choe Won Bong worked there as head of the chapter of the ARF and of the party sub-group. Kim Ju Hyon and Kim Se Ok oversaw his activities. With their support and guidance, Choe formed an organization of the ARF and the party sub-group, and founded a paramilitary corps. Whenever he came to Shibadaogou, Kim Ju Hyon stayed in the back room of Choe’s or Kirn’s house and helped the work of the underground revolutionary organizations.
Choe Won Bong persuaded all of the guerrillas’ families to join the ARF organization.
After the battle in the vicinity of Sanzhongdian in autumn 1936 I met Choe Won Bong at a secret camp. He was visiting us in the company of some other people who were bringing in aid goods. From the first moment I saw him, I realized that he was very intelligent and had a high sense of responsibility. He was not very big or tall, yet he was able to command people with a word, and they gathered and dispersed at his order. He sent us military information on several occasions.
Around May 1937 we dispatched him to the
Yonsa area to promote the building of the ARF organizations in the northern
Yun Kyong Hwan, a faithful assistant to
Choe Won Bong, worked at an ARF organization in Jiazaishui, in Badaogou,
The enemy tried their best to hunt down, to
the last man, those who carried goods for the guerrillas so as to find out the
line of our organization from them. Aware that he might be arrested at any
time, Yun moved with his family to eastern
Later we dispatched him to the Yonsa area and nominated him head of its party organization. I was told that once he had come carrying aid goods with the members of his organization to our unit, which was stationing in Zhidong, and discussed the matter of organizing a district committee capable of providing unified guidance to the ARF branches in the Yonsa area.
I had already given appropriate advice to
the comrades in Yonsa on this matter at the meeting held on
As far as I remember Yun Kyong Hwan visited my unit, carrying goods, before the arrest of Ri Tong Gol (alias Kim Jun). Ri Tong Gol had been punished for a mistake he had made in the secret camp in Qingfeng, and had been sent to do political work in the Yonsa and Musan areas. He directed the revolutionary movement in Yonsa in dose touch with Choe Won Bong.
As a successor to Ri Tong Gol we sent Kim Jong Suk, who had the experience of working in the homeland to Yonsa. An armed group accompanied her on the way to Yonsa. She convened a meeting of the revolutionaries in the Yonsa area and organized the Yonsa district committee of the ARF. I still remember that having got back to Headquarters from the meeting, she produced a sewing-machine, declaring it was a present from the Yonsa organization.
Choe Won Bong and other patriots of the ARF organization in Yonsa rendered much help to us at the battle in the Musan area.
Since the death of Ri Tong Gol, Choe Won Bong and Yun Kyong Hwan, the inside story of the organization activities in the Yonsa area remained a secret until the early 1970s, when the work of collecting materials related to the revolutionary history of our Party was conducted on a mass scale.
Once our effort to build the ARF
organizations had come to fruition in western
The region produced Kim Hyok, Cha Kwang Su,
Kang Pyong Son and many other communists of the new generation. From early days
on we had exerted our influence there through Kong Yong and Kang Pyong Son. Our
operatives also went to the Ryongchon area—widely known across the country for
the tenant dispute at Fuji Farm—and raised the consciousness of the masses
there. The tenant dispute demonstrated the fighting spirit and patriotic
enthusiasm of the people in this area in their struggle against
In early July 1937 the
ARF organizations took root in Huchang and
Ri Ju Yon, Hyon Jun Hyok and Choe Kyong Min
performed great exploits in the formation of the ARF organizations in
Ri Ju Yon came to
Hyon Jun Hyok, moving to
The Fatherland Liberation Corps, to which my cousin Kim Won Ju belonged, and the Ilsim Association for Liberation, formed in Kangso, were subordinate organizations of the ARF.
Choe Kyong Min, who had once sincerely helped my father in his revolutionary work in Fusong, and who had come to the homeland, conducted brisk activities for the united front in the Yangdok area. He even mixed with believers of Confucianism, educated them in order to awaken them and admitted them to the ARF.
A subordinate organization of the ARF was
also formed in Onchon,
The building of the ARF in
The centre for the ARF organizations in the central part on the east coast was formed by Chonnae, Yangyang, Kosong and Munchon, where many workers lived. The Anti-Japanese Labour Association of the Chonnaeri Cement Factory was well-known, both for its scope and for its efficient practical struggle. The Sokcho National Salvation Association in Yangyang and the Jangjin Anti-Japanese Association in Kosong were organizations affiliated to the ARF.
Materials related to the building of the
ARF organizations in southern
Recently a great deal of information has
been discovered on the building and activities of the ARF organizations in
The ARF, which pressed on for an all-people resistance with its more than 200,000 members, is a monument put up by the Korean communists during the struggle for the liberation of the Korean nation. Its organizations rendered truly great contributions in rallying and enlisting the broad sections of the patriotic population to the cause of national liberation under the banner of the restoration of the fatherland.
Their first and foremost contribution is
that they increased the revolutionary consciousness of the popular masses.
Through the united front movement our people had become firmly equipped with
the ideas that the liberation of
In the transformation of the people’s
ideological consciousness, it is worthy of special mention that they regarded
the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army, which was fighting bloody battles
against Japanese imperialism as the main force for liberating the country. They
also realized that by casting their lot with us, they supported our leadership
more faithfully. From the latter half of the 1930s on, the national liberation
struggle and communist movement in
The popular masses of Korea accepted the
slogans put forward on Mt. Paektu as an absolute truth and carried them out
unfailingly, no matter how great or small they were and regardless of their
importance. They even risked their lives to help those fighting on
The masses’ loyalty to the leadership of the Korean revolution was expressed by their material and moral support for the KPRA. People across the country enlisted their talent, money, labour and mental powers in our support.
The ARF organizations unfolded a vigorous
all-people campaign to assist the guerrillas. From the latter half of the 1930s
the Kapsan chapter of the ARF sent in an organized way to the KPRA the rice
which the Chondoist believers had formerly donated to the Chondoist centre.
When the people of
The members of the
The ARF members in
Jon Jo Hyop, a member of the Pukchong
organization of the ARF, had been imprisoned for being involved in the “pioneer
incident” in Sokhu,
While working to expand organizations, he
also worked as a water-carrier, hauling a large metal container of water on his
back and selling it to raise fund for the guerrillas. Originally the people of
Pukchong had been well-known for carrying around water to earn school fees for
children who studied in
Early one morning, while climbing up a hill with his water, he found a lady’s gold watch. It was the kind of high-quality watch that even a high-class person rarely possessed. Determined to find out the owner, he visited the houses along the road on the hill, finally discovering that it belonged to a shopkeeper’s daughter who had got it as an engagement gift. The shopkeeper rewarded him with an amount of money that was even greater than the price of the watch itself. He bought a large quantity of aid goods for the guerrillas with the money.
After this event he got on intimate terms
with the shopkeeper’s family. Under his influence, they began to sympathize
with the anti-Japanese guerrillas and spared no effort to help them. They would
procure by themselves the goods required by Jon Jo Hyop and send them to
Pukchong. Thus the family of a simple petty-bourgeois family in
The ARF organized and guided an unremitting country-wide mass struggle by the use of various methods—slowdowns, walk-outs, demonstrations, revolt and tenant disputes—against the plundering banditry of the Japanese imperialists, against their policy of “transforming Koreans into imperial subjects”, against their continental aggression and the execution of their policy of war.
Another achievement made by the Korean revolutionaries in building the ARF organizations was to further consolidate the organizational and ideological basis for building the party organizations. With the hard core trained in our ARF organizations, we formed party circles in every part of the country. These circles in the long run provided guidance for both the ARF organizations themselves and for the mass struggle. The party organizations, born out of the struggle and trained ceaselessly by it, became the cornerstone on which a powerful political party of the working masses could be built after liberation.
In addition, the building of the ARF
organizations gave the Korean revolutionaries a chance to gain a rich
experience in building mass organizations. Had it not been for this experience,
they could not have built in such a short period of time after liberation such
mass organizations as the Democratic Youth League, the Trade Unions, the
Women’s Union and the Children’s
In the struggle to build the ARF
organizations, the Korean communists created for the first time in the long
history of our nation a truly united front, one that was unfailingly patriotic,
revolutionary and powerful. The anti-Japanese national united front, with
The entire process of building the ARF organizations confirmed that our people preferred unification and harmony to division and confrontation, and that they had the willpower to fight by uniting under a single banner, regardless of the differences in party affiliation or religious belief.
Our people, living in the era of the Workers’ Party, have long achieved the single-hearted unity of society as a whole, the highest form of unity. What remains is the reunification of the country which has been divided into north and south.
The reunification of our country is the one inflexible belief running through my life. It is our stand on the national reunification that our nation, which boasts 5,000 years of history, can, and must, live as one unified country. What guarantee do we have when we say that the reunification of north and south is feasible? We have a powerful weapon, the great national unity, and the rich experience of a national united front, gained through the building of the ARF organizations.
There is no reason why our nation, which admirably realized the cause of the united front already half a century ago, cannot achieve the great national unity.
We must achieve the united front at any cost wherever we live, in the north, in the south or overseas. Only the united front is the way for the survival of our nation in this world, where the law of the jungle prevails, the eternal way for us to live and prosper and survive as one. This is what I want to tell our compatriots at home and abroad.
Kwon Yong Byok was a reticent man. A propagandist is assumed to be an orator, but this man spoke little even when he was the head of the propaganda section of his division; He always made his point succinctly; he never used superfluous words or reiterated what he had said. One could hardly judge his thoughts and feelings by his looks.
He hated lies and bombastic speeches more
than anything else, and he kept his word under any circumstance. He suited his
actions to his words, and this was his excellence and his personal charm, It
was this charm that won him our confidence and the heavy responsibility of
leading the Changbai County Party Committee at the time we were fighting on
The job of the man in charge of the
Changbai County Party Committee is highly important for several reasons. The
Changbai County Party Committee was one of the pivotal party organizations. It
was the first to be informed of and to implement any line or any pressing task
laid down at meetings of the Party Committee of the Korean People’s Revolutionary
Army in the Paektusan Secret Camp. Our tasks and decisions were conveyed to
The important position and role of the Changbai County Party Committee is explained by the fact that, staying in the secret camp on Mt. Paektu, we had to use West Jiandao as a stepping stone to develop the revolution in the homeland and Manchuria; also by the fact that the KPRA Party Committee had to guide Party-building and the anti-Japanese revolution as a whole through the HPWC, the EMPWC and the CCPC, since a party of a new type had not yet been founded after the dissolution of the Korean Communist Party.
Just as Xiaowangqing was the centre of the
anti-Japanese revolution in the first half of the 1930s, when we fought by
relying on the guerrilla base in eastern Manchuria, so the Paektusan Base,
which included West Jiandao, served as the centre of the anti-Japanese
revolution in the latter half of the decade. The Paektusan Secret Camp was the
core, surrounded as it was by a wide area of the homeland adjoining
A sharp confrontation with the enemy was
inevitable in our effort to develop the ARF organization in Changbai. The
That was why we set a high standard for the selection of the man to lead the Changbai County Party Committee. In order to be equal to the heavy responsibility, he needed guts, magnanimity, organizing ability, untiring energy and the ability to agitate for the revolutionary cause. Leadership of an underground front also called for accurate judgement, a meticulous work method, flexible tactics, and a wide mental horizon in particular.
In choosing a man with these qualifications, I immediately thought of Kwon Yong Byok. Kim Phyong also recommended him.
Kwon was neither my schoolmate nor my fellow townsman, nor had we shared bed and board, good and bad days in our struggle in the guerrilla zone. In the first half of the 1930s, when the guerrilla zones were thriving, I was in Wangqing, whereas Kwon was in Yanji. He had been on the expedition to Jiaohe, and only in October 1936 did he come to the Paektusan Secret Camp to join the main force.
He had participated in the anti-Japanese
movement early in his middle-school days. After he was blacklisted as a
rebellious student and expelled from school, he fully committed himself to the
revolution, as I had done. While I was in eastern
Hearing the news of his father’s death one
day, he left the place of his work and hurried home at dusk. He had scarcely
positioned himself in his mourning robe before his father’s coffin, when the
mounted gendarmes came for him, having guessed he would return. They dragged
him and his family out of the house and asked him whether he was Kwon Chang
The gendarmes, furious at their failure to capture Kwon Yong Byok, set fire to the house in which the coffin lay. They kept a watch on the house until it burnt down to the ground before they left.
Watching his father’s dead body burning, Kwon bit his tongue and lips, swallowing his grief and wrath. On returning to his work place, he was unable to drink the liquor his comrades offered to him. His lips and tongue were so badly hurt, he was unable to eat even porridge for days.
Kwon was known among the communists in
However, not all the people who heard of the atrocity at the funeral praised Kwon. Some people said they did not understand why Kwon had not resisted the enemy. “How could a son behave like that?” they demanded. “He should have prevented the insult to his father’s remains by whatever means.”
Those in favour of Kwon brushed aside the protest. “If an ordinary man resists the gendarmes, it is understandable, but Kwon could not expose his identity to the enemy. If he had resisted, he would have been shot then and there, or at best he would have been imprisoned. Then he would have been unable to fight for the revolution.”
I heard that when leaving home to take up the revolutionary cause, he had said to his wife:
“I am not a man to return home alive. Or even if I did, I can’t tell how long it will be until the revolution emerges victorious, perhaps ten or twenty years from now. So please don’t wait for me. Earn your own living. I won’t blame you if you cross my name from the list of living people in this world and marry another man. The only thing I ask of you is to bring up the boy properly and tell him to follow in my footsteps when he is grown up.”
His farewell greeting to his wife became yet another cause for disputes. Some people said it was a too cold-hearted, others protested that it was an insult to women in general. “Why didn’t he tell her to wait for him until his triumphant return home? If he really loved his wife he should have said so. Does he think that Korean women haven’t enough sense of honour and loyalty to wait for their husbands who were devoting themselves to the revolution until the country wins independence? It is shameless of him to look down upon women.”
If his words of farewell were interpreted straightforward, he might have been criticized more severely.
In my opinion, however, only a man determined to dedicate himself to the revolution without hesitation could say such things, and only a man who truly loved his wife could ask such a thing. None but a man ready to fight to the death to carry out the revolution is capable of such a grim and honest self-expression. I found true humanity in his words.
Many years after, that is, in the spring of
1935, I met Kwon Yong By ok for the first time at Yaoyinggou. At that time a
short military and political cadre training course was under way for selected
comrades from the guerrilla units and revolutionary organizations in eastern
Making his acquaintance at a time when many young patriots had been killed in the foreign land during the violent anti-“Minsaengdan” orgy, I felt as overjoyed as if I had met an old friend. We introduced ourselves to each other. I remember we had a very intimate talk, for a first interview.
He mentioned his farewell to his wife.
“You should have bid a fonder farewell to her to spare her distress,” I said.
“Her distress was inevitable, so why should I have tried to put it off?” Kwon said, shaking his head.
“Do you still think then that you won’t return to her alive?”
“I want to see my country independent and I also want to return home alive, but I don’t think I shall be so fortunate. I have no desire to stay in the background in the final battle with the enemy. I must always stand in the front ranks just to take my father’s revenge. How can a man, determined to fight to the death in the front ranks, think of survival? I don’t hope for such good luck.”
He spoke the truth.
As subsequent events proved, he was always in the thick of the most dangerous fighting, both in the underground and on the bloody battlefield. When the 2nd Regiment was on an expedition to Jiaohe, Kwon Yong Byok was the secretary of the party branch of the 2nd Company. More than once the regiment found itself in danger of total annihilation from enemy encirclement, but each time Kwon, along with O Jung Hup and other comrades, saved the day.
Kwon Yong Byok was also the first man to cross the Amnok, breaking through the tight line of border guards to deliver my message to Pak Tal, Another reason for placing him in charge of the Changbai County Party Committee was that he had had some experience of underground work in Jiandao in the early 1930s.
The greatest of his merits was his ability to work among the people. He was good at rallying people and gave them efficient leadership.
Kwon Yong By ok approached the old man quite differently. Knowing that the village elder refused to deal with ill-mannered people, Kwon greeted him politely on his first visit. He knelt down on the floor and bowed according to the Korean custom, then introduced himself, saying, “Venerable elder, I am a poor migrant labourer. I came here because I have heard that the people of this village are kind-hearted. I hope you will look after me and lead me.”
Pleased with the well-mannered, good-looking young man, the old man said, “You are a decorous young man. I don’t know whose offspring you are, but I can see from your manners that you are well-bred. The villagers are kind people, so let us live in harmony here.” The old man even treated him to lunch.
To win over the old man of Wengshenglazi was considered as difficult as occupying a height on a battlefield. Kwon occupied the height without difficulty by bowing to him once in the Korean manner. He was now able to give revolutionary education to the village with ease.
Pending his appointment as the head of the Changbai County Party Committee, we let him inspect the county to give him an opportunity to study the situation there.
After a month of field inspection, he came back to the secret camp.
In February 1937 we had a meeting with him and other underground workers at the Hengshan Secret Camp, where we organized the Changbai County Party Committee. At the meeting Kwon Yong Byok was officially appointed head of the county party committee. Ri Je Sun became his deputy. At the meeting it was also decided to expand subordinate district party committees and party sub-groups.
That day I pointed out to Kwon Yong Byok that he must widen the area of his work, extending the tasks of party building and the formation of ARF organizations deep into the homeland. I set out various other tasks, such as recommending volunteers to the revolutionary army, winning over people in the service of enemy establishments and admitting them to revolutionary organizations, collecting military information, and so on. I also specified the duties of the Changbai County Party Committee.
After the meeting I immediately sent Kwon
off to the enemy area along with his assistant Hwang
One day, while she was helping a peasant at
his house in the village, she was surprised to see that the cooking pot
in the kitchen was the same one that she had used at her house in the
“How come my cooking pot is in the kitchen of this house?” she wondered. “Did the peasant get it from the ‘punitive’ troops? Is he working with them?” This thought kept her awake for several nights.
Learning of her suspicion, the members of
the underground organization at the village concluded that he must be the
enemy’s running dog and suggested that the family be expelled from the village.
By contrast. Rim Su San, sent to the same
A man who sees himself as a special being reigning over the heads of the people is doomed to be rejected by the masses. He who floats like a drop of grease on the surface of water instead of mixing with the people will never win their sympathy or trust.
At the time Kwon Yong Byok and Hwang Nam-
Sun were being prepared for their work in Changbai, many underground workers
What I remember most vividly about the underground workers’ leave-taking at the time of their departure for Changbai is the farewell party at which they ate pieces of potato candy, a gift from the Diyangxi peasants on the occasion of the lunar New Year’s Day. As we were short of food, we were unable to treat them to a sumptuous feast, but the candy party made a strong impression on me, somehow.
Seeing off Kwon Yong Byok, I spoke to him as follows:
“I entrust Changbai to you. You must bring
Changbai and the whole area of
On the morning of Kwon’s departure we had
fought a battle, so he left us in an unsettled atmosphere. Going by way of the dashifu’s
house at Shiqidaogou and Ri Je Sun’s house at Ershidaogou, Kwon arrived in
safety at Tuqidian-li, Shiqidaogou, his base, as designated by Headquarters.
Shiqidaogou was located in the heart of
Kwon took up his residence in Tuqidian-li
in the guise of So Ung Jin’s maternal nephew, a nephew who had lost his job
after working as a day labourer at the railway construction site between Kilju
and Hyesan. So Ung Jin was an experienced underground worker who had been
engaged in revolutionary work as a member of an anti-Japanese organization in
Yanji after finishing middle school. He had moved to
From then, Kwon Yong Byok and Hwang
Kim Ju Hyon, who had been to Shiqidaogou at the head of a procurement party for military supplies, told me that the “newly-married couple” had been greatly praised by the villagers because they had thrown themselves wholeheartedly into both the pleasant and unpleasant work of the village as soon as they moved in.
Whenever he found anything in any family that needed a man’s hand while going from house to house for his underground work, he helped the family, by chopping firewood, cutting fodder and sweeping the yard. At homes where a wedding or funeral ceremony was in preparation, he helped by making cakes or butchering pigs.
People who saw him skinning, dismembering and gutting a pig said unanimously that he would humble a butcher’s pride. The villagers invited him whenever they had an ox or a pig to butcher.
The two operatives won people’s hearts with their manner and work enthusiasm. They declined other people’s offers of assistance, but they considered it natural to help others. Kwon believed that to be a burden to his neighbours meant a failure in his work as an underground operative. He therefore did his own farm work with the enthusiasm of a real farmer.
In the early days of Kwon’s activity in Wangjiadong, members of the ARF in that village gathered firewood for him to help him in his busy underground work. But he declined even this assistance.
“I am grateful to you, but you must not do that,” he told them. “If you bring firewood to an ordinary peasant, the enemy may begin to suspect us. So you must stop helping me even though you want to do so. Only in this way can you really help me.”
The ARF members devised an alternative. They did not bring the firewood straight to Kwon’s house, but left it by stealth on the edge of Kwon’s barley field on their way back from the mountain. Again he dissuaded them. He got his own firewood and carried manure to the fields by himself.
He went to bed late and got up early all through his work in Wangjiadong. He was said to sleep no more than three to four hours each night in other places of work as well.
Frequently one saw him travelling around
with a shabby bundle slung on his shoulder. People who did not know the secret
of his work concluded that he was in the habit of sleeping outside because he
was not happy with his wife. He had to make the rounds of the area under his
charge every month, walking a hundred miles from Qidaogou, Xia-gangqu, to
Ershiwudaogou, Shanggangqu. There were many villages in
Once when he came to the secret camp to report on his work, I noticed his bloodshot eyes. I advised him to take care of his health so as to be able to work many more years for the revolution. He answered that it was extremely interesting work to build up organizations.
Kwon Yong Byok and his comrades’ energetic
activities resulted in the formation of underground party organizations in
nearly all the major villages of
Kwon was now under heavier pressure of work than ever before. Many reliable operatives he had trained went to the homeland. The underground revolutionary organizations in Shiqidaogou became a veritable breeding ground for underground operatives.
Kwon also trained young people through the paramilitary corps. Its members did farm work during the day and acted as guards for underground revolutionary organizations at night, making preparations for participating in the armed struggle when necessary.
In consultation with the village heads, who belonged to his organization, Kwon ensured that the night patrols of the Self-Defence Corps were formed with the members of the paramilitary corps. The members of the paramilitary corps, in the guise of lawful night patrols, protected the underground revolutionary organizations instead of serving the enemy.
Under Kwon’s direct guidance many paramilitary corps members were trained to become fighters. Also under his direction Choe Kyong Hwa developed, then became the head of the youth department and the head of the special members in the Wangjiadong Chapter of the ARF, and took charge of the organizational affairs of the party branch in Wangjiadong. His son also grew into a fighter in the Children’s Corps. Knowing Choe’s cherished desire to fight in the army, Kwon recommended him to me.
Although he was always upright, conscientious and honest with his friends, Kwon Yong Byok was extremely skilful at deceiving the enemy. He did this by means of disguise and dissimulation at every critical moment, protecting himself, his comrades and his organizations against discovery. Planting hardcore members of his organizations in important posts within enemy establishments was one such form of disguise.
In order to provide safe working conditions for the village headmen belonging to the underground party organization and the ARF, as well as conditions for supporting the guerrilla army without losing the confidence of the enemy, Kwon sent letters signed by the KPRA supply officer to the village heads, which the heads then handed in to the police station. The letters demanded that they, the village heads, should prepare certain aid goods and bring them to certain places by certain dates. The letters also warned that if any of them told about the message to the police, they would not be safe.
The police took the village heads to be loyal and praised them for bringing in the letters. But the headman of Wangjiadong kept the letter to himself in accordance with one of Kwon’s schemes. This exception attracted the enemy’s attention. One day the chief of the Banjiegou police station summoned him and roared in a furious temper, “You are in secret communication with the ‘communist bandits’. We have evidence. Confess!”
The village headman replied with composure, “I am serving as a village head for you in spite of the danger of being shot by the revolutionary army. I am disappointed to hear you say that I am in secret communication with the ‘communist bandits’.”
“You are dishonest. If you were honest, you would have brought this kind of thing to me. Other village headmen have all brought them. Why do you feign ignorance?” The police chief took out letters signed by the supply officer from his desk drawer.
Only now did the village head produce a letter from his pocket. He said, “I have also received this letter of warning. Why should the revolutionary army make an exception with me in their demand for supplies? This is the letter. I did not hand it in for your own sake. When you are given a letter such as this, you have to take certain measures. What measures can you take? Even hundreds of well-trained ‘punitive’ troops have been defeated and have retreated. Can this small police station take any sort of effective action? This letter will only embarrass you. The best way to deal with the revolutionary army is to let well enough alone. We will deal with the matter ourselves, so I suggest that you feign ignorance.”
The police chief accepted his advice and from then on placed special confidence in him. Kwon’s scheme worked without a hitch.
From my own days in the underground, I knew what a struggle it was to disguise oneself, one’s comrades and organization in an enemy-held area. It was a task that demanded enormous intelligence and creativeness.
Kwon Yong Byok carried out this heavy task reliably.
In anticipation of our advance to the
homeland, we organized a reconnaissance of the town of
Fully aware of the importance of the operations for advance to the homeland, Kwon made up his mind to undertake the assignment himself, and plunged into preparations for departure.
He had to find some excuse for leaving home. In order to carry out the reconnaissance mission, he had to stay away for many days, and if he were to make a long journey without a plausible excuse, he might be suspected or even shadowed by the enemy. For a peasant to be absent from farm work in the busy season would be considered abnormal. Kwon hit upon a bright idea.
He dispatched a member of the organization to the post office in Changbai to send a telegram to him with the message that his father died. The telegram was delivered to Kwon on the same day. The postman had revealed the message at Wangjiadong, so that all the villagers and even the enemy learned of the “news”.
Old men came to Kwon with condolences and asked him sympathetically why he was not going to his father’s funeral. Kwon replied that he, a sharecropper, was apprehensive of leaving his crops unattended for many days in the busy season. The neighbours urged him to go, saying that nothing was more important than a father’s funeral, and that they would take care of his crops for him.
He left Wangjiadong, carried out the reconnaissance mission and reported the results to me. Nobody suspected him. He pleaded so earnestly with me to take him along to the battle of Pochonbo that I permitted his participation.
By the time he got back to Shiqidaogou from the battle, members of his organization had made all the arrangements for him to play the part of a mourner. Like a son who had just buried his father, he wore his mourning robes and met sympathizers from the village. One can imagine his feelings at having to tell a lie to the good-natured, innocent village elders.
Kwon Yong Byok carried on his underground work carefully and skilfully, toeing the basic line laid down by Headquarters, sending reports of the matters that needed reporting to his superiors, and dealing at his discretion with those problems which were within his jurisdiction. In those days, when modern means of communication, such as telephones and radio transmitters, were unavailable and when inconvenient means, such as notes, had to be used for communication with Headquarters, operatives often had to deal with problems by making their own decisions in the field rather than reporting to superiors for instructions. Kwon Yong Byok reported to Headquarters only on important problems relating to the political line, which needed our decisions. He settled most of the problems in the field through consultation with the members of his organization, then reported only the process and results to us. Because of the great distance between his workplace and our secret camp, and because of our occasional absences from the secret camp, it was impossible to report all problems to Headquarters or deal with them in accordance with its decisions.
As he knew the situation better than anyone else, Kwon never raised problems or did anything that might be a burden to Headquarters.
Only once did he ask for my advice on the
measures to be taken in connection with the construction of internment
villages. The enemy pressed on by force with the construction of internment
villages in West Jiandao for the purpose of “separating the people from the
bandits” just as it had done in eastern
I told Kwon that opposing the scheme of internment villages was a reckless act and advised him to persuade the people to enter the villages. In a way, the misfortune might be a blessing. Obviously in internment villages our activity would be greatly hampered, but I told him not to worry, for the enemy would not be able to stem the current of sympathy between the army and the people, nor would it be able to check the torrent of support for the guerrilla army. Just as it was impossible to dam up a river with a barbed wire fence or to stop a gale with merely a wall.
Back at his workplace, Kwon led the people in the construction of an internment village in Guandao. Even the most obstinate people followed his example and built the houses and the wall surrounding them with enthusiasm. Under Kwon’s direction the members of the underground organization feigned obedience to the enemy’s scheme. Ironically, the Guandao internment village was finally evaluated as the No. 1 “peaceful people’s village” by the county police authorities.
The members of the underground organization in Shiqidaogou occupied all the important offices in the Guandao internment village. So Ung Jin became the commander of the Self-Defence Corps, Song Thae Sun his deputy, Jon Nam Sun the village headman, and Kwon Yong Byok headmaster of the village school. It was the same situation in other such villages.
Kwon’s underground front extended beyond the bounds of Changbai deep into the homeland, including North and South Hamgyong Provinces and North Phyongan Province. Kwon distinguished himself not only in military action but also in the strained underground struggle to inculcate the idea of revolution in the popular masses.
In the summer of 1937 he sent a letter to me through a correspondent. The letter reads in part:
“Comrade Commander: To be candid, I was
annoyed at having to leave the unit, for I thought I was being relegated from
the first to the second line. How could I express my sadness at that time?
Although I had heard until my ears burnt that rallying the people behind the
ARF was the way to hasten the victory of the revolution against
When he said he felt the value of life while organizing people and inspiring them with the revolutionary idea, he spoke the truth. I can say that organizing and mobilizing people is an ongoing task the revolutionaries must not overlook even for a moment. Giving people constant ideological education and organizing them is the lifeline of our revolution, the key to its victory and its imperishability.
If a revolutionary shuns this work or slights it, he will go stale politically and cease to be a revolutionary.
Being well aware of this principle, Kwon put all his heart into the work of organizing people, and was arrested by the enemy while fighting heroically along that path. His greatest regret in prison was that the organizations, which he and his comrades had developed in the face of such hardship, were being destroyed en masse. He thought that the best thing he could do was to save every single man possible and safeguard the organization.
Kwon Yong Byok tried to save the bleeding revolutionary organizations as much as possible, even at the cost of his own life. He sent to Ri Je Sun a secret note written with his fingernail. The note said, “Shift all the responsibility on to me!”
Knowing Kwon’s intention and decision, Ri Je Sun sent a reply note without delay, which said, “We are one in mind and body!”
Kwon knew well what the note like a telegram message meant.
The two comrades were locked up in different prison cells, and no more slips were exchanged. But their hearts throbbed as one, and with singleminded determination to fight to the death, they started the operation to save the organization.
When the prisoners were being examined at the Hyesan police station, Kwon Yong Byok said in secret to Tojong Pak In Jin:
“Your visit to
Ri Je Sun whispered to Ri Ju Ik about a similar case.
Thanks to their self-sacrificing rescue operations, Pak In Jin, Ri Ju Ik and many other prisoners were released without being dragged on trial, or were sentenced to much lighter punishment than expected. They were able to outlive their prison terms and greet the liberation of their country. Such secrets as the vertical chain of leadership by which Kwon was in contact with organizations in Changbai and in the homeland, together with the content of his work with them, remained a mystery that the turncoats were never able to discover. Therefore these organizations and their members survived intact and continued to work in secret. In order to save the organizations and his comrades, however, Kwon Yong Byok resolutely chose death, along with Ri Je Sun, Ri Tong Gol, Ji Thae Hwan, Ma Tong Hui and other fighters.
While he was being transferred from the Hyesan police station to Hamming, on the train, Kwon continued to show his solicitude for his comrades. At that time he had seven won. Resolved to spend his last money on his comrades, he said to a police escort:
“Officer, buy me fruit and biscuits with this money. You have handcuffed us, so you have to do it for us on behalf of the Japanese authorities, even though you may be reluctant.”
The other comrades also produced thirty-odd won to add to his sum.
Strangely enough, the policeman complied with the request without any fuss.
Kwon distributed the fruit and biscuits equally among the comrades. The hundred-odd fighters ate them, exchanging silent glances and smiles. That was a spiritual closeness only communists could enjoy. The police escorts were surprised at the family atmosphere. “Communists are strange people. Are you continuing to share close friendship even while on your way to punishment? Is that communism?”
“Yes, we communists are like that. When Japanese imperialism is defeated, we will build a country where all the people are brothers.”
“But Mr. Kwon, the authorities will not give you the freedom to build such a country. You will have to mount the gallows some day.”
“I myself shall die, but my comrades-in-arms will carry on to build an ideal country.”
Kwon repeated this with emphasis in his statement at his public trial:
“I am not a criminal. We are Korean patriots and legitimate masters of this country. We have launched a great war against the Japanese to drive out the piratic Japanese imperialists from our country and bring a free and happy life to our nation. Who dares to put whom on trial? You are the real criminals, those who must be tried. You are criminals who have committed acts of robbery and murder, who have occupied our country, slaughtered our people and plundered our country of its wealth. The day will come when history, making a fair judgement, absolves us as defenders of our nation and buries you.”
Kwon Yong Byok died, shouting “Long live
the revolution!” on the gallows of Sodaemun Prison, Seoul, even as the Soviet
armed forces advanced westward, liberating lesser nations in East Europe, as
Tokyo was submerged in a sea of fire under American bombing, and as the Korean
People’s Revolutionary Army at Mt. Paektu and in the maritime provinces of
Siberia prepared for an all-out offensive against Japan to liberate the
country. His only son, who was 15 or 16 years old, was then driving a manure
cart in the streets of
In the summer of 1950, when the Fatherland
Liberation War broke out, I stayed in
Sodaemun Prison was the shameful site of
crimes and atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese imperialists in this land.
It was in this notorious prison that Kwon Yong Byok, Ri Je Sun, Ri Tong Gol,
Ji Thae Hwan and other fine sons and daughters of the Korean nation, who had
courageously resisted the Japanese imperialists, lost their precious lives. My
uncle Hyong Gwon died in Mapho Prison. When I was fighting in the mountains, I
thought of paying a visit to their graves in
“I leave behind me my only son. If I have a wish, it is that my son take up the cause where I left off.” This was Kwon’s last will and testament, made to his comrades-in-arms in Sodaemun Prison.
As I came out into the street after the inspection of the prison, his words echoed in my mind. Noble words such as these could be uttered only by revolutionaries like Kwon Yong Byok, who lived an exemplary life. Even now I still recollect these words now and then.
Towards the end of May 1937, on our return
to Changbai from 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 from Xinxingcun. We had established
contact with the village upon our arrival in the
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 me 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 from 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
While at the village, I stayed at the house
of an old man sumamed 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
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
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 from 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 from
When the visitors were gone, I asked my host why the young man was not yet married.
“Since he has worked for hire from childhood, moving from 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. 1 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 from 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
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 me 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
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 from 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 from 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
Love did not interfere with the revolution;
it encouraged the revolution and gave it an impetus. In my recollections on
expedition to southern
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 from 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 from
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 from 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 comers 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
Before leaving the
“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, Shibadao-gou, had married his daughter to him.
Apparently the news of my concern over the
marriage of the bachelor at the
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 from 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 from 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.
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 from 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,
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 from my purse. From his beaming face on his return from 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
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 newly wed 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 from 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
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 from him at the Fuhoushui plateau.
I have never met Kim Wol Yong again since I
I have never met Son Jin Sil either since I
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
Kim Wol Yong was a healthy man, so he must have enjoyed a long life.
the comrades-in-arms who shared their life with me on
She was a little more than 10 years older than I, so I could safely have addressed her as “sister” or “comrade”. Usually, however, I called her “Mother Chol Gu” rather than “comrade”. Even old man Tobacco Pipe, who was much older than she, used to call her “Mother Chol Gu, Mother Chol Gu”, and this provoked laughter among us.
Jang Chol Gu became a cook for Headquarters after we had destroyed the files of the “Minsaengdan” suspects at Maanshan in the spring of 1936.
While going through bunches of these files, which had been produced by Kim Hong Bom, I got to know her name of Jang Chol Gu. For some reason, her file was the only one to be written in red ink.
The information collected on her stated that her husband, a party worker in Yanji County, had been proved guilty of involvement in the “Minsaengdan” and had been executed two years before, and that among the “crimes” committed by Jang Chol Gu herself were those of starving guerrillas by burying army provisions deliberately while she was working as the head of the Women’s Association in Wangougou, Yanji County.
The red ink in which the document was written and the manly name of the middle-aged woman were enough to arrest my attention.
Her appearance was also very conspicuous. She was the shortest of all the women soldiers and had very sparse eyebrows, so sparse that she looked as if she had had none at all.
Love for her husband brought her into working for the revolution. She had so keen an affection for her husband that she even relished what her husband was doing. At his request she put up leaflets, conveyed secret notes, provided hideouts for revolutionaries, learned how to read and write, and attended secret meetings. In the course of this she herself became a revolutionary.
Unfortunately, however, her husband, whom she had believed in and followed with all her heart, was executed on a false charge of involvement in the “Minsaengdan”. She was also arrested and imprisoned, accused of a “Minsaengdan” member, while working in Wangougou. “Comrade Wang”, who had once eaten a delicious dish of hot barnyard millet and leaf-mustard kimchi with her husband at her home, beat her with a stick and yanked her about by the hair. But both the guerrillas and the revolutionary masses were against her execution at her public trial. Thus she escaped death, but could not get rid of the label as a “Minsaengdan” suspect.
Crossing out the label of “Minsaengdan” suspect which had been imposed upon her by hangmen who defiled the sacred revolution and massacred innocent people, I appointed Jang Chol Gu as a cook for our Headquarters.
Since she began to cook for us, our dishes increased greatly in their variety. She had a knack for brewing bean mash and kimchi quickly.
People nowadays would not believe it if I said soy sauce or bean mash had been brewed in only a day or two. If moderately roasted beans are soaked in hot water, the water turns red. By salting and boiling it down, you can get soy sauce. If boiled beans are put into a pot and kept in a hot place, they ferment. Salt them and boil them, and you can get ssokjang (a kind of bean mash). It tastes like bean mash soup spiced with pollack.
We treasured her bean mash and anise kimchi as if they were festive food.
She also used to press oil from roasted maize germ.
Once my orderly Paek Hak Rim was seriously ill and bedridden. Usually he had such an appetite, he could chew and swallow up bark, but now he did not even touch well-boiled maize porridge, saying he was sick of it. Jang Chol Gu gathered dry leaves of wild vegetables in the snow, retted them, rinsed them, boiled them, and then fried them in oil she had pressed from the maize germ. Thanks to the dish, Paek Hak Rim recovered his health and appetite.
Jang Chol Gu really was a “Mother” to the guerrillas. She used to scrape the scorched crust of cereals from the bottom of her cooking pot and slip it into the trouser pockets of young guerrillas when the unit was going to fight.
Even veterans like O Jung Hup and Ri Tong Hak, not to mention Choe Kum San, Paek Hak Rim and other young orderlies, used to confess without reserve to her that they were hungry.
Ri O Song, the youngest boy in my unit, was Jang Chol Gu’s pet, me “most favoured with pot scrapings”.
If the boy hung around at a considerable distance, she brought the scrapings to him in the folds of her skirts and slipped it into his pocket. The boy shared it equally with his mates.
Whenever I saw the scene, I pondered why women were always on more familiar and intimate terms with their children than men were. Probably, I thought, mothers usually feed their children, clothe them and take care of them. That is their duty, so to speak. The word “mother” therefore means the benevolent guardian of her children, one who feeds them and clothes them.
Jang Chol Gu, who performed the duty of the guardian in good faith, became a most intimate “Mother” to us all.
Till late at night, while the rest of us slept, she prepared the next day’s meals, sorting and trimming wild vegetables, milling grain, and winnowing it. If she had to pound grain in a mortar at midnight, she did it in the open, in the howling snowstorm.
She had to work over the fire most of her time, and her clothes wore out twice as fast as other people’s.
Once at a party held in the secret camp, she was asked to sing. All her comrades wanted to hear her and clapped their hands in anticipation, wondering how well the excellent cook could sing. To everyone’s surprise, she leaped on her feet and ran off into the bush.
Her behaviour puzzled all her comrades.
“Don’t blame her for not singing,” I said in her defence. “She was probably embarrassed to appear before a large audience because of her clothing. As you see, she wears patched-up clothes. Just imagine how she must have felt, knowing how she would look as she stood before you.”
All the gathering agreed with me. Later, she herself confessed that she had run away because she was ashamed of her ragged appearance.
Later, on my way back from battle in command of a small unit, I obtained a piece of good cloth for her. I had sent one of my men to buy it, telling him to choose the best one without minding the price. He had bought grey cotton serge suited for middle-aged women. To my relief, women comrades who had an eye for cloth felt it and said that it was good material.
I had not bought a set of clothes for my own mother when she was alive. Even the one mal of foxtail millet I gave her as I took leave of her on my expedition to southern Manchuria—she was ill, lying in a ramshackle, straw-thatched house in a field of reeds in Xiaoshahe—had been obtained by my comrades. About the only thing I had ever given her was a pair of rubber shoes, which I had bought when we were living in Badaogou. However, the money for these shoes was not my own earning, but money she had given me to buy sports shoes. She had never received a gift from me during her lifetime. She was buried in a solitary grave on the River Xiaoshahe without receiving a handful of dirt or a drop of tears from her mourning son even after death.
As I was carrying the cloth for Mother Jang Chol Gu, I had mixed feelings of relief for Jang and remorse of having done nothing for my own mother, either during her lifetime or after her death.
On my arrival at the secret camp from the battle, however, I found that Jang Chol Gu had been suddenly transferred to a hospital in the rear by Kim Ju Hyon’s orders. Nobody knew why she had been ordered to the out-of-the-way supporting camp from the cooking unit of Headquarters. The news of her departure saddened us all.
In those days, all the supporting units such as the cooking and sewing units, hospitals, and arsenals were supervised by the logistics officer. So it was natural and not much surprising that Kim Ju Hyon, a man in charge of logistics, had decided to order one of the persons under his supervision elsewhere.
The point in question was why the woman cook, who had been respected and loved by everyone and had been loyal in her duty, was reappointed to a hospital in the rear.
I asked Kim Jong Suk, who had been staying with her at the secret camp, why Jang Chol Gu had been removed. She did not know either.
“Perhaps the hospital wanted her, or there was some other unavoidable reason. She wept as she left here. She was so sad that I felt embarrassed for her.”
Explaining how Jang left for the hospital, Kim Jong Suk wiped her own tears in spite of herself, eloquent proof that Jang’s leave-taking was no doubt a painful shock to the other members of the cooking unit as well.
My own heart ached, as if I had seen the woman leaving only moments before. I thought bitterly that if she had to be sent to the hospital, she should at least have been sent after my return. Then I could have dressed her in new clothes.
I was really angered when I heard from Kim Ju Hyon why she had been sent away:
“Since the incident of the hatchet I thought that there should be only people with clean records by your side. Comrade Commander.”
That was Kim Ju Hyon’s own explanation. Admittedly, he had been shocked by the hatchet incident and decided to take better care of Headquarters, for he was exemplary in the care of security for Headquarters. That was why I held him in special confidence and great affection.
In the autumn of 1936, when the whole of
None of us were aware that the young man was a hired enemy spy.
As he had hidden the hatchet he had smuggled in the waistband of his trousers in the bushes near Headquarters, none of us had noticed anything suspicious.
One day, on my visit to the secret camp in Heixiazigou, I learned that the recruits of the replacement companies had been eating only dried vegetable porridge for several days on end.
Although they had joined the guerrilla army with a determination to endure hardships, the recruits had not yet become accustomed to difficult conditions in the few months since their enlistment. They might become weak-minded or waver unless they were given good education beforehand. So I gathered them together that night and said:
“Shivering as you are from the cold away from the comfortable homes of your parents, wives and children and allaying your hunger with dry vegetables, your resolution may waver. But you young men who have come out to win back the country must know how to endure these hardships in order to achieve the great cause. Although we are now going through hardships, we shall feel the pride of having fought when the country is liberated. We are going to build a people’s country that is good to live in on our beautiful land after the liberation, a people’s paradise where there are neither exploiters nor exploited people, where everyone has equal rights and leads an equitably happy life. We are going to build a country where the people are seen as number one, where factories and land belong to the people, and where the State provides the people with food and clothing, education and medical care. At that time visitors to our country will envy us.”
Among the recruits was the young man who had been given an espionage mission by the enemy. Listening to my words, he realized he had been deceived by the enemy into making an attempt on a good man’s life. He resolved to confess and live honestly, even though he might be punished severely.
The young man brought the hatchet and the poison before me and confessed. Because he had made an honest confession, I forgave him.
The incident awakened our commanding
officers to sharp vigilance. They each learned a lesson in his own way. Some of
them thought that they should safeguard Headquarters with greater care, others
felt that security checks on new recruits should be carried out more
effectively so as to deny undesirable people the chance to infiltrate the
revolutionary ranks. Others still believed that a mass campaign should be
Kim Ju Hyon thought of an even more elaborate scheme.
“I thought that in order to safeguard Headquarters we must watch both inside and outside. We cannot say with assurance that the enemy will always stay only outside our ranks, or that the external enemy will not get in touch with disguised reactionaries or waverers within our ranks, can we? This is why I thought that anyone with a chequered record should be removed from Headquarters.”
According to him, a person like Jang Chol Gu, a “Minsaengdan” suspect, was not entitled to work as a cook for Headquarters.
I could not repress a surge of indignation. How could he be so cruel to a simple and good-natured woman who had been working hard for the revolution with heartfelt loyalty? At the thought that Kim Ju Hyon, who was broad-minded and careful in dealing with most things, had made such an absurd mistake, I grew even angrier. I dressed him down, saying:
“I am grateful for your constant watch over our security, but I have to make a bitter reproach at you today. You yourself praised Mother Jang Chol Gu as an honest, diligent and kind-hearted woman. What banished your trust in her so easily? She has been a mother and sister to all of us. Who cooked three hot meals and three hot soups for us each day? It was Mother Chol Gu. If she were a bad woman, we would no longer be in this world. She has had a host of chances to harm us, but we are hale and hearty even though we have eaten hundreds of meals she has cooked. This fully testifies that she is a good woman beyond all suspicion, and that the charge laid against her in the past as a ‘Min-saengdan’ suspect was totally unfounded.”
Later he confessed that he had never sweated so hard under my reproach as he did that day.
In fact, I had never thought that Kim Ju Hyon would make such a blunder. He was a seasoned military and political worker with a long revolutionary record. We had always shared bed and board and discussed our work around the same table as one in mind and purpose. I could not understand why he who was aware of my policy and intention better than anyone else had dealt so cruelly, contrary to communist obligation and morality.
I criticized him further:
“It is already half a year since we destroyed the files of ‘Minsaengdan’ suspects. The wounds in the minds of these people have almost healed up. Why did you prod them open again? If she left the mountains Jang Chol Gu could marry again and live comfortably by her fireside, eating hot meals. But she is living a life of hardships with us in the mountains because she is determined to carry out the revolution and because she trusts us. For all this, you have dismissed her from Headquarters and, by so doing, you have made a mockery of our trust in her. Are we so stupid as to feign confidence in people in fair weather and kick them out without hesitation when we are in danger? Sham can have no place in our confidence.”
Kim Ju Hyon went to the hospital and brought Jang Chol Gu back with him that same day. The next day he got the sewing unit to make new clothes for her.
Jang Chol Gu kept herself aloof from Kim Ju Hyon, although she carried out his orders in a responsible manner every time. When she met him alone occasionally in the camp lane or in a messhall, she simply saluted, refraining from talking to him. When she needed a decision from him, she used to send another cook to him.
The few days she had spent in the hospital might be an instant in the endless flow of time, but the gloom that the short span of her stay had lodged in her mind was not dispelled for a long time.
The destructive effect that distrust has on human relations is enormous indeed. A faint distrust can cause lifelong grievances to people or destroy 10 years of friendship in an instant.
Jang’s return to the cooking unit at Headquarters animated the atmosphere of the secret camp again. The food acquired a new flavour. To tell the truth, she was not a talented cook, but even the uncrushed maize porridge tasted much better because she was cooking it with all her heart.
She worked harder than ever. No distance deterred her from going to get things to improve our appetite. One day, passing through Shijiudaogou, I ate Miricacalia firma at Ri Hun’s. The rice ball wrapped in the leaves of this herb, which I ate for the first time in my life, tasted better than lettuce wrappings. During my leisure talk back at the camp, I mentioned the herb-leaf wrappings. Hearing this, Jang went many miles to Shijiudaogou and returned with a large bundle of the herb on her head. Later we found the habitat of the herb around the Paektusan Secret Camp.
Jang Chol Gu used to sleep huddled up on
twigs and dry leaves on the moist ground near the kitchen. In the course of
this her right arm gradually became paralysed. On top of it, she soon caught a
fever. We sent her to Wudaoyangcha,
Jang Chol Gu recovered from her fever in a
few dozen days, but not from the paralysis of her right arm. Because of this
handicap she was unable to do kitchen work properly and handle her rifle as she
should. She was tormented by the thought that she had become a burden to the
unit, and came to -a conclusion that she had to leave the unit so as not to be
a handicap to her comrades. In the early 1940s, when disabled soldiers and old
and infirm people were being evacuated to the
At her leave-taking she gave her favourite
silver ring to Kim Jong Suk, promising that they would meet again when
But the promise remains unfulfilled, for she heard in a far-off
foreign land the news of the death of Kim Jong Suk. The silver ring she had
given to Kim Jong Suk is now on exhibit in the
Among Jang Chol Gu’s fellow cooks for our Headquarters was a Chinese comrade named Lian He-dong. He was an expert in Chinese cuisine. While Jang Chol Gu was a devoted cook, he was a first-rate one. He came to us in the winter of 1936.
For some time in the early days of his service in my unit he learned the cooking methods of the guerrilla army from Jang Chol Gu. Jang learned Chinese cuisine from him. In the course of this they became great friends.
He was very sad when Jang was
evacuated to the
Jang was also very sorry to take leave of him.
The story of how Lian He-dong came to join
us is dramatic. The hero of the drama was Ma Jin-dou, a Muslim, who relished
liquor and pork, both Islamic taboos, in
I had many impressive acquaintances in my days at Badaogou. Li Xian-zhang, a son of the head of the Badaogou police station, was on very good terms with me. He was also one of my schoolmates at Badaogou. His father used to get medical treatment from my father as one of the “regular customers”. He used to pay visits to my home on festive occasions and make my father presents by way of payment.
When I was operating in command of my unit
Ma was a man of special character, and his private life was also unusual. He was already married in middle school—to two women at the same time. His wives were sisters.
At first he fell in love with the elder sister and they were engaged. Her younger sister, who used to go on errands for her, fell for him and even became lovesick. Seeing this, the girls’ parents left their two daughters to his care. Thus Ma, who had plenty of money, became rich in wives as well.
After I left
However, fate played a monstrous trick on us: we found ourselves hostile to each other, fighting on opposite sides with guns levelled at each other.
In the first winter since our advance to
At first I did not know that Ma was the
commander of the puppet
I had been invited to Ma’s wedding ceremony
According to the woman, Ma was already the father of four children. The woman had given birth to two sons, and her elder sister to two daughters. She said’that her husband used to talk about Mr. Kim Song Ju, and asked me why I had been inveigled into joining “Kim Il Sung’s gang of communist bandits”. She was unaware that yesterday’s Kim Song Ju was none other than Kim Il Sung. I said:
“I am the man, Kim Il Sung, whom you refer
to as the ringleader of the communist bandits. We are not communist bandits but
a revolutionary fighting against Japanese imperialists, the common enemy of
the Korean and Chinese peoples. Remember me to your husband whea he comes home.
Out of our old friendship and as a classmate of his I want you to tell him that
he should keep away from us, instead of fighting battles which he has no chance
of winning. If it is impossible to avoid fighting, he should merely pretend to
be doing it when forced to take part in ‘punitive’ operations. We strike
stubbornly resisting puppet
The woman said that her husband knew well
that “Kim Il Sung’s gang of communist bandits” did not shoot at the puppet
The woman said: “I now clearly understand
why your army is lenient to the
I reiterated my advice that she dissuade her husband from leaving a stain on his name as a traitor, then released her and her cook and withdrew from Erdaogang.
The cook refused to return with her and asked to be admitted into our revolutionary army. The cook was none other than Lian He-dong. He said he was tired of being torn between the two sisters quarrelling for one husband.
“I have heard a lot about Mr. Kim Song Ju from Commander Ma.
Now that I know that Mr. Kim Song Ju is General Kim Il Sung, I don’t wish to leave you, General. Please let me fight in your unit,” he said.
I granted his request. Around that time Wei Zheng-min was receiving medical treatment at the Hengshan Secret Camp. I was glad that a cook who was capable of making Chinese food had come to us. Kim Ju Hyon and I had been embarrassed because we had had no cook to prepare palatable food for the Chinese patient.
I sent the cook to work for Wei Zheng-min for some time. Wei was delighted with him, saying that he was very talented, a cook worthy of a fashionable restaurant.
Since then, Lian He-dong worked by our side
as a member of the cooking unit until we returned to the homeland in September
1945 after the defeat of imperialist
In the first half of the 1940s we were at a training base in the Soviet-Manchuria border area. We occasionally formed an allied force with both Chinese and Soviet comrades and had joint exercises. On these occasions Lian He-dong “s cooking skill became so renowned that even Soviet commanders, to say nothing of Chinese commanders, frequented the field messhall of my unit.
One day after eating the Chinese food prepared by the cook, Zhou Bao-zhong asked us jokingly to give him our cook. Comrade An Kil, also joking, agreed.
The joke went from mouth to mouth until it reached the cook’s ears as truth. The cook came to me with a tear-stained face and asked me if it was true that he was going to be transferred to a Chinese unit.
“I don’t know to which unit you might have to go. I am in a difficult position because too many people want you. The Soviet comrades also want you. If they are really insistent on having you, you may have to go to the Soviet side,” I said.
He leaped up at these words, refusing to go anywhere, neither a Chinese unit nor a Soviet unit. He glowered at me stubbornly.
I realized after
Lian He-dong entreated me to take him to
“I cannot live away from you. General,” he
said. “There is no reason why I should live in
I was moved by what he said. His words
contained the essence of his view of life, an outlook that could be conceived
by only people who have shed tears, spilt blood and gone through hardships for
their comrades on the path of revolution. As he said, people live by the bonds
of friendship rather than within the boundaries of a country. It was friendship
and love that united the anti-Japanese fighters into a large family throughout
the forests of
Lian He-dong’s insistence on going with us was also an expression of his noble spirit of internationalism.
I on my part was also reluctant to part
with him, so I said, “If you really wish to come with us, do so. I have no wish
to bid farewell to you, I am not particular about one’s nationality. I am only
giving some prudent thought to the matter because I’m afraid the situation
might be awkward for you. As you know,
He decided to remain in
Instead of Lian He-dong, Jang Chol Gu came
back to us after the Korean war from a far-off comer in
the comrades from
I wanted to go very much, but circumstances would not allow it.
“Thank you, but I am about to leave for the provinces. I have to keep the appointment with the people, so let’s make it at a later date.”
Her old comrades-in-arms were all said to
have enjoyed the porridge cooked with firewood, just as they had done on
Whenever I pined for the days on
She lived in a house perched on the hill across from the gate to my house. She often came to see me, and I, too, visited her in my leisure hours.
Back in the homeland, she spent most of her
time telling the younger people the story of her old comrades-in-arms who had
She passed away in 1982.
Her death gave me a great shock. I grieved over her death as I had mourned over my own mother’s death. She had taken care of me as if I had been her brother, and she had loved me as my own mother loved me.
We accorded her a grand State funeral just as we had done for the death of the veterans who had rendered distinguished services in the building of the revolutionary armed forces.
Her bust was set up in the
All our people were delighted at the renaming of the Pyongyang University of Commerce after Jang Chol Gu. They were deeply moved by the fact that a university could be named after the ordinary member of a cooking unit. Such a title of honour, they said, could only be given under our socialist system, which does not discriminate between jobs, but holds in high esteem workers as unassuming heroes who work hard to provide their fellow people with a comfortable life, good food, good clothing and good housing.
When renaming the Pyongyang University of Commerce as Jang Chol Gu University , we hoped that the younger generation would be workers as loyal to their revolutionary duty as Jang Chol Gu had been.
Many people have already discussed and made full studies of the Battle of Pochonbo from the point of view of history. As one who organized and commanded this battle, I clearly recall my mental processes at the time, together with the events that took place. Scenes of battle from half a century ago still unfold clearly before my eyes.
The Battle of Pochonbo can be compared to the reunion of a mother and her children who have been separated by force. The gunshot at Pochonbo precipitated the reunion between my motherland and her loyal sons and daughters who had loved her most. In other words, this battle marked a decisive turning point in the liberation of my conquered nation.
Whenever I was asked on my return to the liberated homeland to recount some of the battles we had fought in our armed struggle against the Japanese, I used to describe the Battle of Pochonbo. In terms of results, we had fought innumerable battles much larger than this one. As a matter of fact the number of enemy soldiers and policemen we killed here was not very large. Nevertheless, I always give the first place to Pochonbo when discussing the major encounters in the anti-Japanese war, because I attach special importance to it.
This battle was of great interest to many people. Enemy losses were not worth mentioning, since they had been covered by newspapers immediately after the battle, but everyone was curious about the motive for this operation. For instance, what made us fight this battle, and why did we choose Pochonbo for our attack when there were dozens of towns and villages of the same size in the border area? In a broad sense, our attack on Pochonbo was designed to bring about the revival of the nation; in a narrow sense, it was to open up a decisive stage and make a leap forward in the revolutionary struggle against the Japanese.
The history of
the Korean nation had been streaked with blood and tears, brought about by the
Japanese imperialists. It was in reaction to this that our nation started its
resistance. Armed struggle not only expressed the will of the sons of
This road was fraught with difficulties. Some people went so far as to want us to obey only their party interests and strategy, incriminating the Korean people who were fighting under the slogan of the Korean revolution.
From the first days of our revolutionary struggle we focussed on the Korean revolution as the starting point of all our thinking. Physically we may have been in a foreign land, but spiritually we had never left our homeland and our fellow countrymen. Everything we did from the second half of the 1920s on was for our homeland and for its liberation. To fight under the banner of the Korean revolution was the legitimate right and duty of every Korean communist: we strongly asserted this.
The Nanhutou meeting dealt mainly with the task of extending the armed struggle into the homeland.
expressed the aspirations of the Korean communists to make the loud sound of
Our preparations in the first half of the
1930s could be viewed as the stage of gathering our strength. In this period
the armed force of the Korean communists grew to the extent of forming several
divisions, and we felt that if we advanced into the homeland now we would find
almost nothing impossible to deal with. Should we establish our base on Mt.
Paektu and from there launch armed units to other areas—for instance, one
division to Mt. Rangnim, a second to Kwanmo Peak, a third to Mt. Thaebaek and a
fourth to Mt. Jiri—to set up bases and strike the enemy one after another, then
the whole of the Korean peninsula would be brought to the boil and 23. million
Korean people would feel encouraged to turn out in an all-people resistance.
This would pave the way for achieving national liberation by our own efforts,
an event required by our national history and the
At Xigang in the spring of 1937 we summed
up the years of our armed struggle, set the immediate task of advancing into
the homeland by large force, and took some practical measures to carry it out.
We drew up detailed military operations for the revolutionary armed force to
move in three directions. According to the plan of operations, Choe Hyon’s unit
was to move from Fusong to the northern border area across the River Tuman, via
Antu and Helong; another unit was to advance to the Linjiang and Changbai
areas; and the main force, led by me, was to march to Hyesan and harass the
enemy from the rear while the two other units were diverting the enemy attack.
The main point of the operation was to attack the enemy on our own home ground.
The activities of the 2nd Division, which was to advance towards Linjiang and
Changbai, were, in effect, aimed at providing rear support for the actions of
the two units moving into the homeland. In those days no small number of our
people had a misapprehension about the strength of the Japanese army. Surprised
at the fact that the Japanese had swallowed up
There were clear indications that the
Japanese imperialists would spread their aggressive war over to the mainland of
Approximately five years of armed struggle
in North and
We had precisely one strategic intention in pushing for an advance into the homeland:
If we launched an attack with a large force
into our own home territory, the whole country would be caught up in
excitement and admiration for the feat. The people would be delighted at the
arrival of an army of their own countrymen capable of destroying the Japanese
imperialists and liberating
In those days my mental efforts were
directed at two goals: one was to shock the entire country by making an armed
attack on major strategic points in the homeland; the other was to form a
ramified network of underground organizations that would prepare the people for
anti-Japanese resistance. Consequently, when the decisive moment for national
liberation came, we would destroy the Japanese imperialists and achieve
independence by combining the armed struggle with an all-people uprising. These
were difficult tactics requiring much blood and sweat, but there was no other
alternative. All our activities in the areas of
My greatest concern on the eve of our advance was to find out the homeland situation in detail. Publications could not provide me with all the information I needed, so I talked with many operatives who had been to the homeland. Occasionally I called members of underground organizations in the homeland to learn the situation from them. Newspaper reports of new statistics and shocking events were not the only data I needed. Scenes in the marketplace and women’s complaints from inns and public houses were additional useful sources of important information ignored by Japanese-controlled news media.
The most valuable information we obtained was public opinion. Our major concern was about the people’s sufferings and their thinking.
A member of an armed detachment, while making his work report to me in April or May of 1937 on his return from the Manpho area, gave me an account of what he had witnessed in a mountain:
“I saw boys about ten years old, whose legs were as thin as chopsticks, gathering dead twigs in a pine grove. They said they had been beaten and were picking up firewood to pay the penalty for carelessly speaking Korean at school. They were all second-year boys from a primary school.”
The children said that the Japanese teacher had beaten their legs and backs with a wooden sword until they were covered with welts and then had made them sit on the play ground for hours their heads covered with buckets. On top of all this, they had been fined. In that particular class, a pupil who spoke Korean once was fined five jon; twice, ten jon; and if he spoke three times or more, he was expelled. Other schools or classes did not yet follow such regulations, only the class under the charge of the Japanese teacher. He was the only one to enforce the use of the Japanese language.
The penalty the Japanese imposed upon the
Korean pupils who spoke their mother tongue was in itself not very surprising.
What would they not do, the Japanese imperialists who had robbed the Koreans of
their whole country? I had heard that the Government-General in
All this was an inevitable development under Japanese rule. It was nothing new. Nevertheless, I could not repress a surge of indignation at the thought of it.
If a man is robbed of his language, he becomes a fool, and if a nation is deprived of its language, it ceases to be a nation. It is recognized worldwide that the most important characteristics of a nation are a common language and ties of blood.
A common language is the soul of a nation. Therefore, depriving the nation of its language by obliterating it is a brutal act which is as good as cutting away the tongues of all its members and depriving them of their souls. Its language and its soul are all that remains to the nation that has been deprived of its territory and state power.
Hence, the Japanese imperialists were attempting to turn the entire Korean nation into a living corpse. Their attempt to make the Korean people “imperial subjects” did not consist of feeding them rice or rating them “first-class citizens”, similar to the Japanese, but of making them slaves who were forced to bow in the direction of the Japanese imperial palace, visit a Japanese shrine and chant the pledge of an “imperial subject” each morning.
Taking away the Korean language was not a matter that concerned the suffering or death of only a few people. It concerned the destiny of a whole nation, for it was nothing short of genocide in that it resembled the act of lining up 23 million Korean compatriots and cutting off their heads at a single stroke.
It is common knowledge that the primary features of colonialists are barbarity, greed and shamelessness. Those who rob another nation of its sovereignty are savage, cunning and brazen, irrespective of their nationality or colour of skin. Nevertheless, I had never before encountered colonialists as barbarous and shameless as those who were depriving our nation of its spoken and written language and forcing our people to bow to their shrines.
Where was the destiny of the Korean nation headed? The facts I learned from the member of the armed detachment made my blood boil.
I said to myself: Let us advance on the
homeland as soon as possible to teach the Japanese a lesson. Let us show them
that the Korean people are alive, that they will not abandon their spoken and
written language, that they do not recognize the idea that “
Early in May 1937 I received more surprising news from the homeland: a detailed account of the arrest of Ri Jae Yu, an important figure in the Korean communist movement, carried in a special edition of Maeil Sinbo. It was a full four-page edition and it explained in excessive detail how the man who had been arrested six times and escaped each time had been arrested for the seventh time. The newspaper vociferated that Ri Jae Yu had been in the “last ditch of the destroyed Korean communist movement”, that he had been the “last bigwig in the 20-year-long communist movement”, and that his arrest had put an end to the Korean communist movement for good.
Bourgeois politics in general are characterized by intellectual trickery, and as an official mouthpiece on the pay-roll of the bourgeoisie, the press makes it a rule to hide the real intent of the ruling class behind the printed words of the newspaper. The special edition of the Maeil Sinbo was no exception. A cursory glance revealed that it was an evil masquerade masterminded by conniving anti-communist schemers huddled behind the backdrop of the Government-General.
Ri Jae Yu was a renowned communist from
Samsu. He had crossed to
Rumour had it that he had escaped each time he was arrested, thanks to his courage, quick wits and talent for disguise. The newspaper claimed that since it was now impossible for him to escape any longer, the final curtain had come down on the Korean communist movement.
The Japanese imperialists’ misleading propaganda and persistent repression of the communist movement were actually confusing a large number of people. In this respect the enemy had considerable success. As the communist party had been disorganized, due to large-scale roundups, and as it was reported that Ri Jae Yu’s arrest meant an end to the activities of a few remaining individual communists, the people’s disappointment and frustration were beyond expression. Even among those who had been studying the communist movement as a branch of knowledge, not a few felt somewhat lost and dispirited.
The enemy had chosen the right target, which was to disarm the Korean nation spiritually. They spared nothing to achieve this objective, alternating violence with words of honey.
The Japanese imperialists threatened the
Koreans, levelling guns at them and demanding, “Will you obey or die?” At the
same time they tried to appease them with honeyed words, such as: “Well, the
Japanese and Koreans are of the same descent, and
The most dreadful part of the tragic
situation the Korean nation found itself in was the crumbling of the national
spirit. Everything, from the Japanese imperialists’ dictatorial machinery to
records of pop songs, was concentrated on destroying
Unless we put an end to this tedious night
of slavery and humiliation, how could we call ourselves men of
This was the thought that pressed our commanders and men on during the preparations for advance. Passing through Tianshangshui and Xiaodeshui to the tableland of Diyangxi in the middle of May, we reinforced the unit and conducted propaganda to encourage the advance to the homeland. Meanwhile, I summoned Pak Tal and met him in order to learn in depth what the situation was in our native land.
Pak Tal gave me a surprising piece of
information. He said that a large force of the enemy’s border guards from the
direction of Hyesan and Kapsan had been moving northward towards the Musan
area, to which Choe Hyon’s unit had been marching. If the information was correct,
Choe Hyon could not avoid being encircled. Of course, we had anticipated such
situation, but it was a surprise that the enemy had reacted so quickly to the
movement of the revolutionary army. Choe Hyon, in command of his unit, had left
for his area of operations in April 1937 after the Xigang meeting. As he was
leaving, I had told him that he should guard against Ri To Son’s unit in Antu,
for this was the most stubborn of the “punitive” forces in
To begin with, Ri To Son had served a large landowner of Xiaosha-he, Shuang Bing-jun, acting as the commander of his private army. I had often heard that he suppressed the tenant farmers at the point of bayonets while living a dissolute life. Attacked by the guerrilla army several times, Ri To Son would often make surprise raids on villages, setting fire to them or beheading the villagers because, he said, the poor were all on the side of the communists. The inhabitants harboured a hatred for him that grew greater with each passing day.
Fully aware of the bestial temperament of Ri To Son as a top-level vassal, the Japanese imperialists had appointed him commander of the Antu “punitive” force under the Jiandao Garrison Headquarters. His unit was composed of scoundrels from the propertied class who hated the revolution. Ri To Son’s special feature was that he never took prisoners—never sent back alive those who had been caught in his web. He was a top marksman, recognized as such by both friend and foe.
Choe Hyon moved northward along steep mountain ranges, fighting battle after battle and luring the enemy deep into Fusong. Here he suddenly changed direction to march into the Antu area. But in Jinchang his unit was faced with a difficulty. The river the unit needed to cross was flooded, and while some of his men were improvising a bridge, the rest took a break. No sooner had the exhausted soldiers fallen asleep than Ri To Son’s unit swooped down on them and opened fire. Heavy fighting went on between the two sides, both taking cover behind slag-heaps dumped from a local goldmine.
In this battle Ju Su Dong fell. At first the enemy took the initiative and appeared to be winning. However, Choe Hyon, who took the command in Ju Su Dong’s place, immediately reversed the unfavourable situation and dealt a heavy blow at the enemy with a powerful counterattack. While the two sides were fighting, the goldminers shouted that Ri To Son was getting away. They probably knew him well. The guerrillas chased after him and shot him dead with a barrage of machine-gun fire. Choe Hyon’s unit pursued the fleeing enemy for four miles and annihilated them.
The battle of Jinchang became famous, for it took vengeance upon the people’s enemy. The news of Choe Hyon killing Ri To Son and wiping out the “punitive” force was given wide publicity by the newspapers of that time. Choe Hyon was a renowned soldier, but the advance of his unit to the Musan area was at the expense of a painful loss: they lost Ri Kyong Hui, known as the “Flower of the 4th Division”.
The news of her death brought everyone to tears.
Ri Kyong Hui’s family were all ardent patriots who laid down their lives lighting for the revolution. When she was a child, she lost her brothers, uncles and grandmother. Her father was a guerrilla. Ri Kyong Hui, too, joined the army in order to avenge the death of her relatives. At first the commanders were reluctant to admit her into the army: she was too young for one thing, and for another, if she took up arms as well, there would be no one to carry on the name of her family. They could not dissuade her, however, and finally accepted her into the army.
The soldiers were as devoted to her as they would have been to their own daughter or sister, calling her the “Flower of the 4th Division” because she was not only pretty and charming but also hardworking and kind-hearted. Her dancing and singing—her special skills—were the pride of the unit. When she joined the guerrilla army the commanders had given her a pistol, thinking that a rifle was not suited to this weak giri of small stature. But she was not satisfied with the pistol in battle and carried a carbine with her. It is said that whenever she danced with the carbine on her shoulder, her comrades-in-arms clapped and cheered and requested her that she do an encore.
Ri Kyong Hui had an extraordinary ability to cheer up the unit. If a soldier was angry or dispirited she would joke with him and buck him up. When she danced or sang a song, soldiers who had broken down from exhaustion would get back on their feet. She was adept in needlework and embroidery, and the tobacco pouches she made were everyone’s pride and joy. Even coarse herbs were said to become a delicious dish when cooked by her.
In battles with the “punitive” forces, Ri Kyong Hui usually took her place at a small distance from her comrades-in-arms and picked off the enemy by taking careful aim and counting the number of troops she killed. In one battle she shot six enemy soldiers. As she was reloading her rifle, two or three more of them escaped. Exasperated at missing them, she shed tears and bit her lips.
When the three units that had been operating from three different directions held a joint celebration of guerrillas and people at Diyangxi after the Battle of Pochonbo, Choe Hyon told me about the death of Ri Kyong Hui. As he spoke, he wiped his eyes with his handkerchief. Seeing the tears falling silently from the eyes of this tiger-like man, I was aware of how painful the loss of Ri Kyong Hui was to all of us.
As Choe Hyon held the mortally wounded Ri Kyong Hui in his arms, her blood flowed in a stream through his fingers.
“This is the homeland, isn’t it? I am lucky to have trodden our native soil at last. All of you, please fight well. Fight for me.”
These were Ri Kyong Hui’s last words as she died in Choe Hyon’s arms.
Later on her father was killed by the enemy as well, when he came to the Hoeryong area on a mission to the homeland. Thus, father and daughter were both buried in their native soil. After the liberation of the country, Ri Kyong Hui’s comrades-in-arms went to the Musan area at my request and made every effort to find her remains, but failed. They could not recall the exact place of her death, for she had been buried level with the ground in the midst of battle, and so it was impossible to discover her whereabouts.
Thus we advanced into the land of our birth, treading the stepping-stones laid so tragically at the cost of the lives of our comrades-in-arms.
Choe Hyon’s unit advanced into the
Pulgunbawi area in Musan, where it hit the enemy, then disappeared over the
Manchurian border for some time. It resurfaced to attack lumber yard No. 7, at
Sanghunggyongsuri, of the Japanese lumber business, southeast of
There was not a shadow of doubt that Choe Hyon, a veteran soldier, would extricate himself from the difficult situation. However, we could not afford to be optimistic about the changing battle situation. This unexpected situation had a serious effect on our operations. We had to work out flexible tactics that would save Choe Hyon’s unit from the danger of complete encirclement and simultaneously push ahead with the advance into the homeland.
I summoned the commanding officers and put a series of questions to them: The 4th Division has been surrounded by the enemy, I told them. Choe Hyon says that he can break through by himself. Should we do nothing to help him, believing his decision to be a correct one? Or should we put off our advance into the homeland to save his unit first? Another possibility is to advance into the homeland first, then take action to save his unit. If none of these solutions is desirable, should we divide our main force and undertake the operations in two directions at once? Which area in the homeland will be ideal for us to attack in order to save Choe Hyon’s unit from encirclement? Everyone focussed his attention on me. With things being so serious and pressing, the argument that followed was heated from the start. The officers were mainly of two opinions.
One was that we should first save Choe Hyon’s unit by striking from behind the northward-surging enemy and then push into the homeland when developments permitted it. Many other comrades rebuffed this opinion, however. They said that while there was no doubt the main force would succeed in the rescue operations, the shooting would attract the attention of the enemy forces in the border area and West Jiandao, which would then dash along the shortest roads available and surround the main force.
The other opinion was that since Choe Hyon’s unit was strong enough to break through the encirclement by itself at any cost, we should keep to the original plan and attack Hyesan on the enemy’s first line of defence along the border as soon as possible. This action would throw the enemy into confusion and force it to lift the encirclement in order to turn back to where the battle was raging.
However, this idea was also rejected as being too risky. Strong as Choe Hyon’s division was, it might have become exhausted in the course of repeated battles and long marches and might have been unable to break through the encirclement. In addition, it was not certain that the enemy forces, which were moving northward far away in the Musan area, would lift their encirclement if the main force attacked Hyesan.
I proposed a plan combining the two operations into one:
“We have to advance into the homeland at any cost, hence we cannot change or cancel this plan of operation. At the same time, we must save Choe Hyon’s unit quickly. It is inconceivable that we abandon our revolutionary comrades in the jaws of death because the advance into the homeland is important. There is only one way out. We must strike at one specific point in the homeland, the point that will enable us to attain both goals at once.”
The officers could not hide their curiosity about the “one specific point”. Ri Tong Hak asked me on behalf of everyone which place I had in mind.
I continued my explanation over the map.
“In choosing our point of attack, we must take into account the following aspects: The place must be close to Pegae Hill, on which the enemy forces are concentrated. Only by attacking here can our advance into the homeland have an effect on the two objectives. The key point closest to Pegae Hill is Pochonbo, situated midway between the hill and Hyesan. If we attack Pochonbo, the enemy concentrated on the Pegae Hill area will find itself in a danger of being surrounded by both our main forces and Choe Hyon’s unit. They will then be forced to abandon their plan of encirclement and pursuit and will withdraw from the line they have reached. Moreover, an attack on Pochonbo will have as strong an impact on the homeland as an attack on Hyesan. Therefore, our aim of advancing into the homeland will also be achieved. The key to solving the problem is an attack on Pochonbo.”
The commanding officers nodded approvingly.
I then put the following questions to them.
“In order to attack Pochonbo we have to take several things into consideration. First, can our force of several hundred break through the enemy’s tight borderline surveillance in such a way that we hit them like lightning, then withdraw at the same lightning speed? Second, this battle is not a mere firefight. Our main task in this battle is to inspire the people back home with confidence in our victory; this means that we must combine the firefight with strong, swift political propaganda. Can we undertake a quick propaganda campaign such as this? Third, on this occasion we intend to create a model of joint operation between our revolutionary armed force and our underground organizations to strike at the same target. Is that possible?”
The commanding officers were once again enveloped in an atmosphere of tense concentration: the three challenges were not simple. Kwon Yong By ok broke the silence in a voice that carried weight.
“Comrade Commander, we can do it. Just give us the orders!”
“Can you say that with absolute certainty?”
“Of course. Pochonbo is a part of the homeland, isn’t it?”
I felt elated, as if I had shouted the answer myself rather than heard it from someone else. What a coincidence that he should be thinking just as I was. The other comrades no doubt would have answered the same way, for it was a reply that was in everyone’s heart.
There was no reason why we should not win
the battle in our beloved homeland, the land that had given us our lives and
our souls— we, the communists of
Our meeting was brief but full of discussion. The exact details of what was said have slipped my mind with the passage of time, but I still remember clearly Kwon Yong Byok’s confident voice declaring, “Pochonbo is a part of the homeland, isn’t it?” Even as we set out on our historical advance into the homeland, our hearts were heavy with resentment and anger at the thought of our ruined nation, the land of our forefathers, deprived of its great entity.
At Diyangxi, Shijiudaogou,
The march was not simply an operational movement, but something for which the Korean communists had prepared for many years after spilling much blood. Our intent was to stir up the homeland with the roar of our gunshots—we the communists who, mourning over the loss of our national sovereignty, had made every effort in the foreign land to win back our lost country. That was why, feeling as if we were about to visit our beloved families after a long separation, we had dressed and equipped ourselves in our best: we intended to show our compatriots in the homeland the gallant appearance of the revolutionary army.
Previously some of us had been dressed in makeshift clothes, for the clothing of the revolutionary army was usually made by its sewing unit. But when the unit was short-handed, the housewives in nearby villages rendered assistance, and some of the clothes were, therefore, not as neat as the uniform. Sometimes men in civilian clothes could be seen among our ranks.
After devising the plan of operations of advancing into the homeland, I decided to have new military uniforms made, as designed by Headquarters, for all the army units. Red-star badges were sewn on caps and insignia on the tunics. Men soldiers wore riding breeches somewhat restyled to suit guerrilla activities, while the women soldiers wore both pleated skirts and trousers. Both sexes wore tunics, as they had done previously.
At Yangmudingzi we had sent the members of the supply department, including the sewing unit, to Changbai after deciding to make 600 uniforms. The situation being what it was in those days, we had had to march toward Pusong despite hardship and danger and could hardly afford to pay attention to clothing. Where our next meal was coming from was a more pressing issue at the time. Nevertheless, we went ahead and arranged the work of getting the clothing ready for hundreds of our men and women soldiers in preparation for the planned advance into the homeland.
0 Jung Hup and Kim Ju Hyon had worked their way through untold problems to carry out the assignment of making 600 uniforms.
The hardships suffered by the supply-service detachment, led by O Jung Hup, on their journey from Xigang to Changbai have been recounted by certain veterans of the war against the Japanese, but the full picture has not yet been given. When we left northward for Fusong we had taken along some food obtained after the battle of Limingshui. However, O Jung Hup’s detachment heading for Changbai did not have even a bowlful of cereal, and his men were too famished and exhausted to move on. One can get along for a few days with no food, but not for too many days. Unable to endure their hunger any longer, they turned their steps towards Duantoushan. Apparently they calculated that they would be able to find the heads of the oxen they had buried after the battle at Duantoushan.
However, when they reached the burial place, they found only bones, for the meat had been gnawed away by wild animals. Still, the detachment boiled the bones and drank the water to regain their energy to some extent.
Hunger soon threatened them again, and they were faced with the threat of death from both starvation and cold. All of them were nearly frozen to death, their clothes torn to pieces by the sharp ice-crust that covered the deep snow drifts and their bare flesh exposed to the cold.
If it had not been for their great ambition to be a part of the impending advance into the homeland—an ardent desire they did not forget for even a moment—the members of the supply-service detachment might never have been able to make it over the mountains and might have remained buried in the snow on a ridge in Fusong or Changbai.
Kim Ju Hyon said that he had nearly burst into tears when O Jung Hup’s detachment arrived at Xiaodeshui, for their appearance was so appalling, they looked to be near death. The villagers of Xiaodeshui met them, took them to their houses and cut their rags off with scissors. Their bodies were covered with blood and ice. Their wounds had to be sterilized with salt water, and their chilblain had to be treated before they could be dressed in new clothes. Everyone, including O Jung Hup, was thoroughly frost-bitten.
Astonishingly, as soon as they came to themselves again, they sat down before their sewing machines. Hearing the news, the members of the ARF and the inhabitants of Xiaodeshui did their best to help them recuperate. The guerrillas and the people got some cloth and the 600 uniforms were made by joint effort.
At one point Pak Yong Sun told me that when he recounted the hardships suffered by the army and people in Chechangzi during the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle, he used to omit the most tragic parts because the younger people might not believe him. I think I understand why he did that. Those who had no experience of the hardships during the revolution against the Japanese will find it difficult to imagine how hard the struggle was.
Once I read a military magazine published
In late May O Jung Hup arrived in Diyangxi with 600 new suits of clothing for the soldiers.
The marching force, dressed in the new
uniform that had been created at the cost of so much blood and hardship, left
Shijiudaogou in early June 1937, and marching by way of Ershidaogou,
Ershiyidaogou and Ershierdaogou reached a place within a hailing distance of
Our unit stayed at a village near
That day the unit took a rest on the tableland. Kim Un Sin and other members of the advance party went to the Kouyushui Barrage to build a raft bridge. We crossed the Amnok on the night of June 3.
A strange tension gripped my entire body, not leaving me till the last member of the unit was safely across. The border was said to have been tightly guarded by the enemies with four cordons, for the original three had been found to be unsatisfactory. There were as many as 300 police stations and substations in the northern border area, manned by repressive, highly mobile forces several thousand strong. The Hyesan police station had a special border-guard force to check the advance of the KPRA into the homeland. Okawa Shuichi, the then commander of this force, confessed in later days that it had been the best of the units, whose main mission had been to take “punitive” action against the guerrilla army.
The enemy had dug out trenches and built
artificial barriers, such as earthen walls, barbed wire and wooden fences,
around the buildings of police substations and agencies in the border areas,
and in some vital places they had either set up observation posts or dug out
communication trenches. The police guard forces of
The strict watch along the border, however, could not hold us back.
The Kouyushui Barrage covered the sound of
our crossing with its roaring torrent of water. The turbulent current of the
history of modern
We climbed up Konjang Hill, which was a flat hill covered with a thick forest. The unit posted a sentry there and bivouacked overnight.
On the morning of the next day we got
ourselves ready for battle in the
We had already obtained enough information of Pochonbo through different channels, such as those from Kwon Yong Byok, Ri Je Sun and Pak Tal, so as to build up details on the enemy situation, in three dimensions.
After dark we descended Konjang Hill. Entering Pochonbo, the unit dispersed in several groups and occupied designated positions.
I took up my command post under a poplar tree that stood at the edge of town. The distance from there to the police substation, one of our major targets, was no more than 100 metres. It is a tenet of street fighting that the command post is seldom located near the street, as mine was at the time. Yet this can be said to be one of important features of the Battle of Pochonbo. My commanding officers had advised me to locate the command post a little farther from the town, but I had declined, for it was my earnest desire to be where I could see every move of the fight at all times and be able to throw myself into the battle if it was necessary.
Still vivid in my memory of the scene just before battle is a group of people playing chess in the front yard of a farmhouse near the command post. Had I been working underground then, I would have spoken to them and helped the players with moves.
At 10 p.m. sharp, I raised my pistol high and pulled the trigger.
Everything I had ever wanted to say to my fellow countrymen back in the homeland for over 10 years was packed into that one shot reverberating through the street that night. The gunshot, as our poets described, was both a greeting to our motherland and a challenge to the Japanese imperialist robbers whom we were about to punish.
My signal started a barrage of fire destined to destroy the enemy’s establishments in the city. The main attack was directed at the police substation, the lair for the policemen of this region and the citadel of all sorts of repression and atrocities. O Paek Ryong’s machine-gun poured out a merciless barrage of shots at its windows. As we knew that the enemy also gathered at the forest conservation office, we struck it hard as well. The town turned upside down in an instant. Orderlies came running to the poplar tree one after another to report to me of the developments of the fighting. To each of them I stressed that no civilians were to be hurt.
Soon fires began to flare up here and there. The subcounty office, post office, forest conservation office, fire hall and various other enemy’s administrative centres were engulfed in flames, and the streets were floodlit like a theatre on a gala night.
While searching the post office some of my men found a lot of Japanese coins in a tin box. As we withdrew from Pochonbo, they tossed them around everywhere in the street. O Paek Ryong broke into the police substation and came out with a machine-gun inscribed, “Presented by the Patriotic Women’s Association”. He looked delighted at the find.
I walked down the middle of the streets, with Kim Ju Hyon just ahead.
People began to gather on the street from every comer. When they first heard the gunshots, they kept indoors, but later, when our agitators began shouting slogans, they came pouring out in a throng. Poet Jo Ki Chon described the scene by saying, “the masses swayed like a nocturnal sea.” The line was quite apt.
As the people bubbled over around us, Kwon Yong Byok whispered that I should address a greeting to the compatriots.
Looking round the crowd, I found their eyes, as bright as stars, all focussed on me.
Taking off my cap and waving my uplifted
arm, I made a speech stressing the idea of sure victory and resistance against
“Brothers and sisters, let us meet again on the day of national liberation!”
When I left the square in front of the subcounty office, which was a mass of flames, my heart felt heavy and full of pain, as if pierced with a knife. We were all leaving a part of ourselves behind in the small border town as we marched away, and the hearts of those left behind wailed silently as they watched us go.
On climbing up Konjang Hill, the entire unit did something unexpected: The marchers broke up suddenly without my orders and started picking up handfuls of their native soil to put in their packs. Even the commanding officers did it.
A handful of earth was little compared to
the 220,000 square kilometres that made up
As we recrossed the River Amnok, we made the following pledge to ourselves:
“Today we are leaving after striking one town, but tomorrow we will attack hundreds of towns, thousands of towns. Today we are leaving with only a handful of earth, but tomorrow we will liberate the whole country and shout out cheers of independence!”
The Battle of Pochonbo was a small battle that involved no large guns, aircraft or tanks. It was an ordinary raid, which combined the use of small arms and a speech designed to stir up public feeling. It produced few casualties and none of us was killed in the battle.
The raid was so one-sided that it seemed to have fallen short of the expectations of some of my men. Nonetheless, the battle met the requirements of guerrilla warfare at the highest level. The selection of the objective, the timing and method to attack, especially surprise attack, the combination of brisk propaganda and powerful agitation through incendiary action—all the processes of the operations were perfectly coordinated.
The significance of a war or battle is determined not only by its military importance but also its political importance. I believe that those who know that war is the continuation of politics pursued by different means can easily understand why. From this point of view, it can be said we fought a very great battle.
The battle was a triumphant event in that
it dealt a telling blow at the Japanese imperialists who had been strutting
There was no doubt whatsoever that the outcome of this battle would make a great impact on the world: Korea, a lesser nation that had once exposed the crimes committed by Japan and begged for independence at an International Peace Conference12, suddenly revealed itself to possess a revolutionary fighting force capable of dealing merciless blows at the army of Japan (which boasted of being one of the five world powers), a force that swiftly broke through the “iron wall” built by the Japanese imperialists and dealt a crushing blow of punishment to the aggressors.
The Battle of Pochonbo showed that
Tong-A Ilbo, Joson Ilbo, Kyongsong Ilbo and other major newspapers in the homeland all reported the news of the battle under banner headlines.
The battle was also headlined by the
Japanese mass media, such as Domei News, Tokyo Nichinichi Shimbun,
and Osaka Asahi Shimbun, and Chinese newspapers, including Manchurian
Daily, Manchurian News and Taiwan Daily. Pravda and Krasnoye Znamya,
not to mention TASS, of the
An article on the Battle of Pochonbo was also carried by Orienta Kuriero, a magazine in Esperanto.
The aim of Orienta Kuriero was to lay bare the brutality and plunder of Japanese imperialism and to give publicity to the anti-Japanese war and Oriental culture. All the articles carried in the magazine could be translated into the readers’ languages and reprinted. Thanks to these characteristics of the magazine, the news of the Battle of Pochonbo spread widely in the countries where the magazine was distributed.
The Battle of Pochonbo demonstrated to the public at home and abroad the revolutionary will and fighting spirit that drove our people to end Japanese imperialist colonial rule and win back national independence and sovereignty. Through this battle the Korean communists were able to demonstrate the staunch anti-imperialist stand and the policy of independence to which they had consistently adhered throughout their entire course of action. They showed their effective combat power and the thoroughgoing way in which they practised what they preached.
The battle also proved that it was the communists, spearheading the anti-Japanese armed struggle, who were the true, most ardent patriots and the most devoted and responsible fighters capable of emerging victorious in the fight for national liberation. Pochonbo provided the needed impetus for the compatriots in the homeland to rise up nationwide against Japanese imperialism, with armed struggle as the main axis. It also created the necessary atmosphere for pushing ahead with the building of party and the ARF organizations in the homeland.
But the greatest significance of the Battle
of Pochonbo is that it not only convinced our people, who had thought
Not surprisingly then, this battle had an
enormous impact on the people of
On meeting me in
“When I heard of the news that the guerrilla army had attacked Pochonbo, I felt my distress as a citizen of a ruined nation, humiliated for over 20 years under Japanese rule, disappear into thin air in an instant. Walking around Pochonbo after the battle, I slapped my knee and shouted, ‘What a relief! Tangun’s Korea14 is alive.’ This thought moved me to tears.”
According to An U Saeng, Kim Ku15,
too, was exhilarated by the news of the Battle of Pochonbo. He had long served
the Provisional Government in
Kim Ku then went on to say to An U Saeng:
“The situation is very frustrating: with the Sino-Japanese War so imminent, the
so-called campaigners have all disappeared. How perfectly timed on Kim Il
Sung’s part to have led his army into
This anecdote shows how Kim Ku and other
well-known people in
I heard that Kim Jong Hang, a close friend
of mine during my days in Badaogou, read the news of the battle in Asahi
Early one morning when he turned up at a branch office of Asahi Shimbun, he was told by his employer to deliver 100 extra copies. He wondered why and opened the newspaper to find the incredible news that Kim Il Sung’s army had attacked Pochonbo.
Kim Jong Hang said that at the time he had no idea that Kim Il Sung, who had assaulted Pochonbo, was Kim Song Ju from the old days in Badaogou.
Kim Jong Hang felt suffering as an
intellectual when he had read about the battle: “When young patriots are
fighting the Japanese, what the hell am I doing here in
His self-examination finally resulted in a
firm determination to go off and join the guerrilla army to take up arms. He
As the case of Kim Jong Hang shows, the
Battle of Pochonbo brought about a great change in the lives of the
conscientious intellectuals of
When we arrived at Kouyushuigou on our way back from the attack on Pochonbo, the rank and file suggested to me through their commanding officers that we take a day’s rest. As far as I remember, the rank and file had never asked Headquarters for a rest in the whole period of the anti-Japanese war. How tired they must have been to make the suggestion! To be candid, my men and officers had not had a day’s rest in those days. The men and officers had spent a day on Konjang Hill, and they were too excited to sleep or to feel tired. Once a round of battle was over, however, the strain that had gripped the unit suddenly gave way, and everyone yearned for rest and relaxation. I myself felt exhausted from the lack of sleep.
Moreover, the peasants in the village in Kouyushuigou begged us commanders to stop and relax. They had prepared rice-cakes and slain hogs, they told. us, hoping that we would accept their hospitality. The soldiers, who were hungry, were all the more eager at the mention of rice-cakes and pork. Even the political commissars of regiments fell in with the men’s suggestion and advised me to accept their hospitality.
Nevertheless, I did not give the order for a break. Commander must be all the more vigilant at such a moment: we may have left the battle ground across the border, but we could still suffer disaster unless we were on the alert. The enemy’s border guards must have got flurried under issued emergency mobilization orders, and they might attack us any minute. From past experience, it was pretty obvious that me enemy would chase us.
When would the enemy appear? A quick estimate showed that we had no more than half an hour to stay at Kouyushuigou. It was a small village with little space to accommodate hundreds of soldiers and civilians carrying booty, even if they ate quickly.
After ensuring that part of the booty was
divided among the villagers, I ordered my men to put rice-balls in their
packs. At the same time I sent back home some of the people who had followed us
from Pochonbo to act as our carriers. Then, together with the few remaining
people carrying our goods, we climbed
As the unit reached the summit, I prepared the men for a possible combat even before they had cooled off their sweat. With a view to combine an exchange of fire and a rockslide to suit the terrain, the unit built several rock piles and settled down to wait Then we had a light breakfast of rice-balls.
I looked down and found a horde of enemy troops climbing in our wake. It was a special border guard force under the command of Okawa Shuichi. The enemy was approaching in fairly high spirits. When they came within 30 metres of us, I gave the order to fire. The rifles and machine-guns went into action. I also took up a rifle and started shooting.
The enemy crawled up the mountain doggedly,
taking cover behind rocks. In that terrain rifle fire was not effective. I
ordered a rockslide, and my men began to roll down the stones they had
gathered. We had employed the rockslide tactic on
This battle was another demonstration of
the fighting efficiency of our men. As we had not given the enemy time to offer
resistance during the Battle of Pochonbo, the battle ended too easily in our
one-sided attack. But on
When the bugle sounded, O Paek Ryong charged down the slope and killed the enemy machine-gunner, waving the machine-gun he had captured at me. Kim Un Sin fought hand-to-hand with a bulky enemy soldier until he managed to wrest a grenade-launcher from him.
Our counterattack was so violent that one
That day our blocking party repulsed the attack of the Hyesan garrison led by Captain Kurita.
The civilians who had followed us from
Pochonbo carrying booty witnessed the entire battle and were greatly impressed
by the fighting power of the People’s Revolutionary Army. They saw clearly how
the enemy were vanquished. And what they saw that day became silent material
for their education: they reaffirmed the combat efficiency of the People’s
Revolutionary Army, and they discovered that, although the Japanese army
boasted of being “invincible”, it was not they who were invincible, but the
KPRA. Takagi Takeo17 himself spoke highly of the fighting efficiency
of our army at the battles of Pochonbo and
Later Pak Tal told me that enemy personnel
who survived the battle on
Okawa Shuichi, chief of the special border
guard force, who miraculously survived the battle of
I saw a picture of him and his wound. The
wound had never really healed. Like many of the soldiers and policemen of old
The victory we achieved in the battle of
The enemy enlisted the people living near
After the battle we had an emotional
reunion with Choe Hyon’s unit, ‘ which had returned safely by breaking through
an encirclement. Choe Hyon’s shoes and clothes were tattered beyond
description. He warmly congratulated us on our victories at Pochonbo and on
I briefly explained how we attacked Pochonbo to rescue his 4th Division.
He laughed loudly and said, “Seeing them running off like that, I wondered if it wasn’t the hand of God, but after all we owe it to you, General. It is really wonderful.”
He used the pronoun “they” whenever he spoke, in contempt of the Japanese soldiers and policemen.
When I asked him to take me to his division, as I wanted to see the soldiers, he pulled a face, saying that they were not presentable.
When I asked him what he meant, he answered that they were too ragged.
I called Kim Hae San and ordered him to issue uniforms to the soldiers of the 4th Division. They had been kept for Choe Hyon’s unit from the 600 uniforms made before the advance to the homeland. As Choe Hyon said, the appearance of the soldiers in his division was indescribable. Their beggarly clothes and their heavily sunburnt faces told the true story of the arduous road they had traversed. Only after shaving and changing into a new uniform did he come to see me and give an official report about his past activities. Their battle results were great.
In Diyangxi we met the 2nd Division of the 1st Corps. That division, too, had fulfilled its mission satisfactorily. I thanked the soldiers of the 4th and 2nd Divisions for their flank and rear support and cooperation with the main force thrusting into the homeland. In this way the revolutionary army units, which had launched themselves in three directions in accordance with the resolution adopted at the Xigang meeting, assembled on the tableland at Diyangxi, fixed earlier as the place for reunion, and shared their friendship. The green plateau was full of holiday atmosphere as those present talked about their experiences in battle.
The extraordinary results achieved by the
revolutionary army in the course of carrying out the policy put forward at the
Xigang meeting brought great happiness to the people around
What was notable in Choe Hyon’s report was the story about a Japanese, named Kawashima, they had captured when raiding lumber yard No. 7 in Sanghunggyongsuri. The yard was merely a branch of the head office in Hyesan, and Kawashima was its chief. The 4th Division soldiers told me that they had taken him to Diyangxi because, first, he was an interesting man, as he spoke Korean well and his wife was Korean and, second, they wanted to take him hostage for ransom.
Choe Hyon said that he had had a quarrel over the man’s fate with Jon Kwang and Pak Tuk Pom, who had put pressure on him to execute the man. He asked my advice.
I curtly replied that executing him was out of the question, and said, “It is untenable that Kawashima should be executed because he is a Japanese. Although he is chief of the lumber yard, he should not be killed if he is not guilty of any crime as a reserve soldier against our people. Such people must be dealt with prudently.”
Choe Hyon said he agreed with me.
That day I saw Kawashima in person. I said
a few words to him and found that he spoke Korean better than I had expected. I
asked him if he was not afraid of the revolutionary army, and he answered that
he had been at first, but now he was not. He continued, “The Japanese authorities
call the guerrillas ‘bandits’. But while following the revolutionary army these
days, I realized that this was a lie. Bandits plunder others of (heir property,
but I have not seen them doing such a thing. The guerrillas are fighting
solely for the liberation of
I advised Choe Hyon, Jon Kwang and Pak Tuk Pom to return him in safety after giving him education, as he was not guilty of any serious crime and was a clever man.
According to information from our
organization later, Kawashima on his return to the lumber yard said to his
fellows that “The Korean guerrilla army is not a banditti but a
well-disciplined revolutionary army and they are not so weak as to be conquered
by the Japanese army.” Even after he was taken off to the police station he
said the same thing, insisting that this was what he had witnessed. The police
authorities sent him back to
Reading the article, Choe Hyon said to me with a laugh, “Kawashima is paying back what he owes to the guerrillas. I can now see why you advised us to release him.”
My experience with Kawashima reconfirmed my view that not all the Japanese people were bad and that they should be dealt with discreetly, according to their acts and ideological inclination.
The day we arrived at
However, Ri Hun, who had always been obedient to me, now stubbornly insisted that the people’s offer of hospitality not be turned down. He said, “This is not my personal wish, General. It is the unanimous desire of the people of Shijiudaogou. Please don’t decline our request. If I return with your refusal, even the women there will call me good-for-nothing and throw stones at me. I can endure that, but what can I do if the entire village sheds tears?”
I found it difficult to decline their invitation. If we said no to the people’s hospitality and left Diyangxi all of a sudden, how disappointed both the people and the guerrillas would be.
I said to Ri Hun:
“Since things have come to this pass, it would be better for the guerrillas and the people to get together and enjoy the day to their hearts’ content. The day of Tano festival is just around the comer and it would be a good idea to hold a grand celebration in broad daylight out on the Diyangxi plateau as a joint celebration between the army and the people. Let them encourage each other and share their friendship. Let’s have some entertainment and an athletic meet so that they can enjoy the festival and feel free from worldly worries.”
The commanding officers of the 4th and 2nd Divisions supported the idea. Having succeeded, Ri Hun was all smiles. That was the first time we tried an army-people joint celebration after the evacuation of the guerrilla bases.
Defudong, chosen as the place for the celebration, was a village that had been given revolutionary education by Ri Je Sun, Kim Un Sin, Ma Tong Hui, Kim Ju Hyon, Ji Thae Hwan and Kim Il. As it was situated on a tableland dozens of miles away from the county town, neither policemen nor the district head frequented it. The enemy administrative organs were relatively far away. The nearest police station to Defudong was situated in Ouledong, far away along a mountain path. When selecting the place for the celebration we took all of this into account. The place produced many guerrillas in later days.
I stayed with 50 officers and rank-and-file guerrillas in the house of An Tok Hun, chief of an ARF chapter. Ri Je Sun had joined hands with Ri Hun and An Tok Hun before anybody else in Shijiudaogou. We dropped in at his house before and after the Battle of Pochonbo and received much help from him. His family aided the guerrillas well. His younger brother. An Tok Su, was also a fine man who zealously helped us in our work.
In Defudong there lived a rich man, sumamed Song. He was a landlord with a strong pro-Japanese disposition. He did not care at all what happened to the country so long as he was well-off, that was his view on life. One day our operatives, having found out that the man had much money, called Song and Ri Hun to An Tok Hun’s house and made an appeal to them to help the guerrillas. In summoning Ri Hun, a member of the secret organization, to that place, the operatives had a plan: if Ri Hun said that he would donate a certain amount of money, Song could not refuse. Also, by shouting at Ri, they could further conceal his identity as a member of the secret organization. Things turned out as they had expected. When Ri said he would contribute his share of money on behalf of his village. Song, unable to refuse, answered reluctantly that he would contribute 150 yuan for fear of future troubles.
Unhappy with this forced contribution.
Song, in reprisal, gave a hint to his wife’s brother, who was working at a
police substation, that operatives from the guerrillas frequented An Tok Hun’s
house. Informed of this, Ri Hun discussed the matter with the operatives. As a
result, he sent An Tok Hun to the guerrilla army and An’s family to
At An Tok Hun’s house I drew up the programme for the joint celebration in consultation with the influential figures in Shijiudaogou and the commanding officers of the 4th and 2nd Divisions. The young people in the village prepared about 50 noodle-presses at the same time. In each house the guerrillas and the people got together and spent a night, singing and talking.
Chon Pong Sun’s story of scouting out Pochonbo provoked a burst of laughter each time he told it.
At the end of May 1937, Chon Pong Sun got our order, through Kim Un Sin, a guerrilla from Ouledong, to find out the number of enemy weapons and equipment and the disposition of their forces. He learned from his relative living in Pochonbo that there were seven policemen in the police substation with one light machine-gun, five Japanese in the foresters’ station (the station head would soon be transferred to another locality), and about 200 households in the town. But he wanted to confirm all this himself.
One day he went to Pochonbo and drank a cup of wine at a pub; then he walked reeling to a general store in front of the police substation. Pretending to be drunk, he searched his pockets with trembling hands, muttering to himself that there must be 1 won in there. Then taking out a 5-won note, he said, “Ah, here is 1 won,” and demanded a packet of Mako cigarette. In those days a packet of that type of cigarette cost 5 jon. The change should have been 4 won 95 jon. The wicked woman shopkeeper, however, gave him only 95 jon, thinking that he was too drunk to distinguish a 5-won note from a 1-won note. From then on, everything went as he had planned it. He demanded the storekeeper 4 won in addition to the 95 jon as a change, as he had given her 5 won. The storekeeper retorted, “What an impostor this guy is! You gave me 1 won, and you insist that you gave me 5 won, ha! No more nonsense, be off with you.”
Thus they began a squabble. The storekeeper threatened that she would take him to the police, and he responded that they should, indeed, put this quarrel before the policemen. The storekeeper readily agreed, confident that the police would side with her.
In the station the two continued to argue, swearing at each other. As both of them insisted that the other was wrong, the policemen were at a loss as to how to judge. While all this was going on, Chon found out the number of policemen, machine-gun and rifles. After ascertaining what he had to, Chon said, “Then what about going to the shop with us, sirs? The 5-won note I gave her has a patch of paper in the centre. If we find it, then I am right, and if not, she is right.” They went off to the shop with the duty sergeant.
True to his words, they found a 5-won note with a patch of paper in its centre. But the storekeeper insisted that she had got it from a customer that morning. At long last, the storekeeper won the suit. Chon left the store, saying, “Madame, live in clover, cheating many more innocent people.” She was a dishonest woman, yet he felt thankful to her; but for her, he could not have found an excuse for going into the police substation.
The members of the underground organization in Defudong were encouraged by Chon’s story of scouting. It heightened their dignity. It was a source of great pride to them that a member of the secret organization in their village had contributed to the People’s Revolutionary Army’s advance into the homeland.
While the whole village was astir with
preparation for the joint celebration, we received some disturbing
information: the commander of a composite brigade of the puppet
My unit, along with Choe Hyon’s, met the enemy and annihilated them with one swift stroke. The remnants of the brigade were so frightened out of their wits at our attack that they called the lane along the battlefield on which their colleagues had been killed en masse “the path of wolf’s fangs”.
This battle raised the prestige of the revolutionary army even higher. The booty we captured included a large amount of food that would be of help in preparations for the joint celebration.
On the fifth day of the fifth month by the lunar calendar the joint celebration was held on the Diyangxi plateau. The three units of the army filled the wide vista of the tableland. Hundreds of members of the ARF had gathered there, and the Korean National Liberation Union had sent its representative. The village heads had dispatched the enemy’s agents to other places in advance for the sake of keeping secrecy, and the celebration proceeded in a free atmosphere from beginning to end. That day the guerrillas and the people mixed freely. The presence of many old people made the occasion all the more pleasant. They all sat round food dishes and enjoyed the festivities to their hearts’ content. Of all the foods the people prepared that day, rice-cakes made with mug-wort and marsh plant leaves were most highly appreciated.
Along with Choe Hyon, I greeted every elderly man and woman, with the introductions being done by Ri Hun and An Tok Hun. We then passed on to the young and middle-aged men and women, whom I greeted in general. They all deserved many thanks ‘for their sincere help to the People’s Revolutionary Army in its advance into the homeland.
Some women guerrillas appeared at the celebration in Korean costumes. As they took off the military uniform, which they had worn day and night, and returned to the way they looked in their homes, they seemed as beautiful as fairies. They sat in pairs on the swings with the village girls. Songs were heard from forest and a dance was held. Some women beat the tune on dippers that had been overturned in large brass vessels filled with water.
“How could these strangers mingle with one another so warmly, like a family reunited after a long separation?” I thought, enjoying the sight of the plain, where guerrillas and people milled about, forming a living, moving garden of flowers. The enemy called us isolated beings, yet here we were, on a sea of people whose devoted love supported us. The joint celebration on the Diyangxi plateau was a pinnacle in the anti-Japanese revolution, which had managed to traverse the thorny path of history precisely because the guerrillas were loved by the people and the people were protected by the guerrillas.
I made a speech on behalf of the People’s Revolutionary Army. It was a short impromptu speech to the effect that the revolutionary army would exist and be victorious in every battle, since the army and the people had achieved unbreakable unity in mind and purpose. As far as I can remember, in this speech I gave an outline of the advance into the homeland.
A representative of the organizations in the homeland also made a speech.
After speakers from various circles had
taken the floor, an old man from Ouledong handed over a congratulatory banner
to us on behalf of the ARF organizations in
The joint celebration ended with a grand parade, considerably larger than any of the parades we had held since the start of the anti-Japanese war. During the military parades held in 1948 and after the victorious Korean war, I recalled with emotion the parade we held on the Diyangxi plateau.
The joint celebration of the army and the people held in Diyangxi showed the whole world that a great political unity existed between the army and the people.
Later, in the first half of the 1940s, the people who participated in this celebration refused to believe the Japanese imperialist propaganda that the revolutionary army had all been destroyed—a testimony of the deep impression the celebration had made on the people. The anti-Japanese guerrillas, too, were confident that the people would never lose their love for and trust in them. They turned to the people each time they faced difficulties.
To our regret, Kim Chol Ho and some other soldiers of the 4th Division were late that day, being slowed down by hunger and weakness from the shortage of food, and missed the grand celebration.
I was very sorry to miss them on this occasion, and on the Tano festival day in the liberated motherland several years later, I, with Kim Jong Suk, invited them all to my house.
was probably on the Diyangxi plateau,
Nevertheless, the younger guerrillas were not satisfied with having only one picture taken. They wanted to have individual and group photos of squads; they also wanted to pose with friends in other units, whom they had met after a long separation. Some guardsmen were keen on having a picture taken with me alone as well.
But the unwilling photographer packed the camera and walked away, probably quite embarrassed: there were too many applicants and too few dry-plates to meet all their demands. The younger men went back, sulking. I thought of calling back the photographer, but I had no time to spare for it.
I understood the feelings of younger men who were disappointed not to have their photographs taken. At their age everyone wants to have his picture taken. I was no exception.
I did not have many pictures from my
childhood. I could hardly afford to eat my fill of coarse gruel, how could I
think of having my photo taken? In those days there was no photo studio in or
around Mangyongdae, one had to walk nearly eight miles to
Once when I was a little boy, my
grandfather gave me 5 jon. As it was the first money I had ever
received, I walked many miles to
However, it was naive of me to think I could pose for a photo for only 5 jon. When I saw ladies and gentlemen in modern suits counting what seemed like wads of bank notes in front of the cashier, I realized that I had come to the wrong place. I hurried out, aware that it was a pipe-dream think one could have a taste of civilization with 5 jon. On walking away from the studio, I had a mental vision of the whole world sinking under the weight of money. I felt crushed by the vision, and since then I avoided photo studios whenever I went to the city.
In my days in
Once I received a letter from my mother with a notice of remittance. “I’m sending you same money,” she wrote, “so that you could have your picture taken on your birthday and send it to me. That way, whenever I miss you, I can see you in the picture.”
I could not but comply with her request. My
younger brother, Chol Ju, had told me that she would bury her face in my
worn-out underclothes and shed tears whenever she missed me. Proof of how much
she was missing me lay in this extra expense for her, paid in addition to the
school fee! So I had my picture taken and sent it to Fusong, the only solo
photograph I posed for in my days at the
In later days I had my picture taken on various occasions, but most of them were lost. The photograph I posed for in dabushanzi with Ko Jae Ryong was discovered a few years ago and made public in my memoirs.
And yet the photograph I had had taken in
my days in the
This did not mean that I entirely gave up being photographed. When I had an unexpected reunion with comrades, or at moments of separation or joy, I wanted to imprint those moments so as to remember them. There were many dramatic instances worthy of photographing in my underground and guerrilla activities and there were many impressive events during my life at the guerrilla base.
However, not a single one of these events remains in the form of a photograph. It could not be helped: In those days none of us could afford to leave a memento or a symbolic piece of evidence for the future. As our struggle was arduous and pressing, more important and immediate tasks occupied us, we had no time for more extravagant thoughts.
As the saying goes, life exists even on a deserted island, and there was no reason for the guerrillas to live an austere life at all times.
When I saw the young guerrillas so eager to have their pictures taken, I felt dismay. The fact that my unit had no camera, while the 4th Division had one, made me reflect upon myself. It was a great surprise to me, who had been camera-shy for so long, that the guerrillas, who lived on the mountains and knew nothing but the revolution, were as eager to sit for a picture as were other people. Their interest was quite unusual.
That day when I returned to my quarters I mentioned to some of the commanding officers that our young guerrillas had been following the photographer of the 4th Division around, trying to win his favour. I added that we should have a camera of our own: I merely mentioned it in passing, but my words had an exceptional result.
One day in the summer of 1937, when we were
away from Changbai, staying at the secret camp in Liudaogou,
Ji had been picked, trained and sent to my unit by Kim Il, and like Kim Il, he was reticent and practical. Whenever he was entrusted with a task, he carried it out in silence, like a steadfast peasant. Kim Il and Ji Thae Hwan were very much alike in their character, in their work attitude and behaviour.
Ji told me how he had gone about capturing the camera. It was a veritable adventure story:
At first Ji, together with a guerrilla named Kim Hak Chol, called on Ri Hun, head of Shijiudaogou, and seriously discussed the matter of the camera. The village head also worked out the way to get one with the local members of the ARF. One day Ri Hun informed Ji that the police had brought a camera to their branch station in Ershidaogou in order to take photos of the residents for their resident cards and registration. He added that it would be like killing two birds with one stone if they got hold of the camera, for not only would it be useful to the guerrillas, but also removing it would delay the fuss of resident-registration for a long time.
In West Jiandao the Japanese imperialists
attempted to enforce the system of internment villages and the medieval
“collective culpability system”18 on hundreds of households, a
system they had introduced in eastern
People between the ages of 15 and 65 could neither become residents nor move away without a resident card or a pass, nor could they buy grain, cloth or shoes without a license for purchasing goods. If a person was revealed to have bought goods without the license, he or she was arrested for “having contacts with the bandits”.
The point was how to get the camera, which was standing in the yard of the strictly guarded police branch station. Ji Thae Hwan and Ri Hun discussed the matter for a long time.
The next day Ri Hun appeared in the office of branch station chief, wearing a long face, and gmmbled, “I’m so angry, I can no longer work as the village head. I told the peasants time and again they can have their pictures taken if they go to the branch station, but they are too ignorant to believe me. They trembled even at the sight of me, as if I were a police officer. How can I work under these conditions?”
The chief of the branch station said nothing, only licked his chops.
Ri Hun continued, “Even the influential villagers are grumbling that it’ll take until the end of autumn for the hundreds of households on the 25-mile stretch of Shijiudaogou to go to Ershidaogou to have their pictures taken. They say they have to give up harvesting and eat photographs. I don’t know what to do.”
Then he plumped down on a chair. The chief was annoyed:
“How tactless you are! What do you expect from me to do? Think up your own method of dealing with the problem!”
This was what Ri Hun had hoped the chief would say. After pretending to be racking his brains for a few minutes, he said, “It is true that the people are afraid of this branch station; it’s also true that it is far away from Shijiudaogou. What about doing it at Ri Jong Sul’s house in Shijiudaogou? The yard of his house is large enough for taking pictures.”
Ri Jong Sul was the enemy’s running dog. As he used to treat the policemen and other officials to a drinking bout whenever they visited his house, they were willing to go there on any excuse. The branch station chief leaped at Ri’s suggestion, calling it a bright idea. In this way the camera was moved from the strictly guarded police branch station in Ershidaogou to Ri Jong Sul’s yard, and the villagers of Shijiudaogou gathered in the yard.
The police chief went to Ri Jong Sul’s house in the company of his men. Needless to say, Ri Jong Sul prepared a drinking bout. The chief posted a policeman in the yard and sat down at the table. A few minutes later the policeman standing guard joined the others.
When they were roaring drunk, a member of the underground organization in the village abruptly opened the door and shouted that the “bandits” were taking away the camera. He made a great fuss, saying that they were all over the surrounding mountains. The station chief went pale, drew a pistol and assumed a posture of charging forward, obviously under the influence of alcohol.
Ri Hun restrained him, saying, “The ‘bandits’ are not just a few. How can you match them by yourself alone? Save your own skin. They say that a dead lord is no better than a living dog.”
He led him to the backyard, pushed him into a pigsty and covered him with straw. Other policemen hid themselves as best as they could.
Meanwhile, the guerrillas came to the yard and made a stirring speech in front of the people who had come to pose for their photos, and then went quietly away with the camera.
When we heard the story from the soldier who had been there in person, I laughed till I cried.
The Japanese imperialist secret documents entitled Case of the Situation of the “Bandits “ across the River and Judgement of the Hyesan Incident read in part:
“Around 1:30 p.m. when the photographer was taking photos of 100 people in Xiaopudaogou, men armed with pistols, believed to be Kim Il Sung’s unit, appeared and said, ‘What are you taking their photos for? You are living off photography, so we will let you go if you give us the camera.’ Then they left with the camera and a dozen dry-plates.”
The dry-plate is something like film for today’s camera. The cameras of the old days used glass plates instead of film.
All in all, Ji Thae Hwan, along with Kim Hak Chol and Ri Hun, had made my wish come true.
Ji took the photographer with him from the enemy-ruled area, a man by the name of Han Kye Sam. The guerrillas called him Ri In Hwan. He was nearly 40 years old. Tall and strong, he was fit for a guerrilla.
I resolved to learn photography from this man so as to take the pictures of my men when necessary. I was sincere in my wish to learn the art, but he could not understand why I took time out for this trivial thing.
He taught me how to capture a good image when taking a picture and how to expose the plate. He was very kind and meticulous.
After he had found out who I was, he unlocked his heart to me. What still remains most clearly in my mind of what he told me is “strings of mushrooms”. He said that as soon as he had arrived at my unit, he had looked for “strings of mushrooms”. I asked him what he meant by this strange expression, and he answered that it meant strings of dried ears. According to him, the enemy was spreading propaganda that the revolutionary army cut the ears off the people they captured and dried them in strings, as one would do with mushrooms. He said that the Japanese imperialists had strategic bodies they called “pacification squads,” which had a variety of sections under them and advertised that the guerrillas were savages with red faces and horns on their heads. He said he had believed it to be true until a few days before.
“When the guerrillas appeared in the yard of Ri Jong Sul’s house, I was scared stiff and shook like a leaf, even with the dark cloth over my head. This is the end, I thought and clasped my hands to my ears. But I found your men to be kind-hearted people.”
Learning that he had several children, I advised him to return home. But he would not listen to me and begged that he should be allowed to stay with us, for his wife could easily take care of the children. He was so sincere and adamant, I admitted him into the guerrilla army. He was overjoyed at his new military uniform, and that pleased me.
After the battles of Liukesong and Jiaxinzi we admitted a large number of workers into the army and organized several squads with the recruits. Ri In Hwan was leader of one of those squads.
He took many photos of our fighters. He carried some developing solution with him and developed the negatives soon after he had taken a photo. He fought bravely, so everyone respected him, valued him and liked him.
Once he fell ill from influenza. We put all we had into nursing him. As he slept, many of our men put their overcoats over him. I, too, covered his head with my blanket and stayed up all night beside him, reading a book.
When awake, he squeezed my hands and said in tears, “Why all this care when I am a nobody? How can I repay your kindness?”
He said that while staying with us, he had been treated as a man and now realized the true meaning of life for the first time in his life. He had decided that he preferred living like a man, even if it meant eating grass roots in the guerrilla army, to leading the life of a servant to the Japanese, even though that meant eating rice.
One day the photographer set up his camera in front of me and adjusted my pose, saying, “Please allow me to realize my wish today. I’m going to take your photo. General.”
He wanted to take this photo of me to the homeland in person to show it to the compatriots.
“Thank you for your sincerity, but, making one’s photo open to the public is against the discipline of the army. When the revolution emerges victorious, we can take as many photos as we want. When the country is liberated, please take my photo first,” I said.
He smiled amidst tears. It was the first time I had seen such a delicate smile. It is still vivid in my memory.
As we were switching over from our large-unit activities to activities by smaller units after the meeting at Xiaohaerbaling, I again advised him to go back home, but he insisted on remaining. To the great regret of the entire unit, he was killed soon after.
When I sit for a photo now, I often have a vision of Ri In Hwan approaching me with his camera of the old type and adjusting the focus....
Although he was killed, some of the photos he took remain as a miraculous history of the guerrillas. The photo taken in the secret camp in Wudaogou, Linjiang, and that of the women guerrillas, taken on the River Hongqi, were done by him.
The group picture was taken in the secret camp in commemoration of the return of Kim Ju Hyon’s small unit after operations in the homeland. That day I had tried to take their photo, but the guardsmen insisted on posing with me and Ri In Hwan pushed me forward, telling me to sit with them, as he would press the shutter. I sat with them, wearing the black-rimmed spectacles I wore when disguising myself.
To my regret, most of the photos Ri In Hwan and I had taken were either burned or lost. Whenever they got hold of our photos, the enemy used them for their scheme to track us down. The photos my guardsmen and I had kept were lost when Rim Su San raided the secret camp in Hwanggouling at the head of the enemy’s “punitive” force.
Decades after, we learned that Kato
Toyotaka, a former high-ranking Japanese policeman in puppet
In an article entitled Important Photos
of the Police of
“...the photos of Kim Il Sung and the cadres of the Communist Party of China, used for tracking them down, are extremely important and rare.”
On the back of one photo were the words, “All the members of the Headquarters of Kim Il Sung’s unit”, written by a member of the “punitive” force.
Thanks to the photo, a historical fact was made public in a picture. The photos show the true appearance of the revolutionary army, whose officers wore the same uniforms as the rank and file, not the nasty “bandits,” “devils” or “savages” the enemy had made them out to be.
Many of our officers and men were killed in battle without leaving photos of themselves behind. Things nowadays are different. When a soldier is killed in action, we give him a commendation according to his military service, send the death notice to his hometown and arouse the concern of society over the death. But, in the days of the anti-Japanese war we could not send the notice of the death of a guerrilla to his family, nor could we set up a tombstone over his grave. As the enemy were always at our heels, we heaped up snow or stones on his grave, and when we had no time to do that we covered his body with pine boughs before leaving in haste.
When burying fallen comrades, we felt bitter at the thought of burying their hot youth in a desolate land, and felt a handful of earth to be as heavy as a large rock. How many martyrs passed away like that without leaving a photo? Bidding farewell to fallen comrades was heartrending, and taking leave of living comrades was also painful. How good it would have been if we had been able to sit for a photo together in exchange for those moments! Seeing women guerrillas dying without leaving their pretty faces in photos was beyond endurance. When they fell, we felt as if our hearts were torn to shreds.
They left only their packs behind in this
world. In the packs used to be small pieces of embroidery of me rose of Sharon
on the map of
However, this seems not to be the case with me. I can never forget any of my fallen comrades-in-arms, probably because the farewells between the dead and alive were such bitter events. Their images are vivid in my memory as if on hundreds and thousands of clear prints. It is natural that photographs should get discoloured and memories grow dim with the passage of time; somehow, however, for me their images grow fresher with each passing minute and wring my heart and soul.
When building the
Reading the document of the “Hyesan incident” the Japanese imperialists had dealt with, I saw the photos of many fighters in it.
Thanks to Ji Thae Hwan who had obtained a camera, we have a small number of photos of us in the days of the anti-Japanese revolution. But Ji Thae Hwan did not sit for a photo even once. An indefatigable and skilled underground political worker, he was arrested at the time of the “Hyesan incident” and left his photo only in the enemy’s document.
He was photographed, bound with a rope; he turned his indignant face aside and his sharp eyes were downcast. As he was a man of unusual self-respect, how furiously his blood must have boiled! Although he was sentenced to death, he remained calm. He guffawed, saying, “I made the Japanese imperialists pay by the blood I shed. I’ve nothing to regret even if I die now.”
I have many sleepless nights, not only when I have many things to do, but also when the images of the martyrs, who left no keepsakes or photos behind, pass through my mind.
Probably for this reason I do not slight
photography as I grow old. When I visit a factory or a rural village, I pose
for a photo with working people and women. When I call on an army unit, I have
a picture taken with the People’s Army soldiers. One year, when I dropped in at
As the present system is excellent, there is no difference in men and jobs; when a man renders good service, he enjoys distinction and is praised by everybody. One can enjoy a varied and abundant cultural life everywhere. The songs and dances created in labour are staged on squares on holidays and during the festivities; at nights the happy people walk endlessly through the brightly-lit streets and parks.
Half a century ago, this was a Utopian dream. Most of the anti-Japanese fighters passed away before seeing the life of today. If it were not for the historical path they paved with blood by laying down their lives, could there be a today or a tomorrow for our generation?
the joint celebration of the army and the people, we decided to attack an
As a result of the success in the operations for advancing into the homeland and the grand joint celebration of the three large units and inhabitants, the morale of our officers and men was sky-high. Some of them even formally proposed that we make further advances into the homeland, or attack areas such as the Changbai county town, to demonstrate once more the stamina of the People’s Revolutionary Army, taking advantage of the large forces we had assembled.
From the tactical point of view, however, it would be disadvantageous to repeat the advance into the homeland immediately after the attack of Pochonbo. An attack on the Changbai county town also required prudent consideration, since the atmosphere in the Hyesan area was alarming. High spirits and desires alone would not ensure victory in a battle. So I chose Bapandao for the next target of attack.
Comrades from the 2nd Division had provided
us with information about Bapandao, giving us detailed account of the situation
there when they visited our secret camp. Later we had formed an underground
organization in Bapandao. Among the members of the underground was a former
soldier of the puppet
Generally speaking, after attacking a
massed enemy force at its stronghold, the guerrilla army usually got away by
applying the tactic of the swift march. But we did not do so after attacking
Pochonbo, because the enemy by then knew guerrilla tactics well and could take
measures to counter it. In fact, the
Another reason for remaining near the border was that we intended to get detailed information on the situation in the homeland, while helping the ARF organizations there. We also wanted to help promote the revolution in the homeland, which was on the upsurge. Slowly moving toward Bapandao, we met with political workers on the way in order to acquaint ourselves with the progress of underground work and give them new assignments. At the same time, we met with those in charge of local organizations to teach them how to carry out their work.
Around this time Ri Hun, who had been in Hyesan on a fact-finding mission, sent us information through old man Han Pyong Ul from Tao-quanii that the 74th Regiment in Hamhung had suddenly arrived in Hyesan aboard dozens of lorries, had then moved in the direction of Sinpha and had begun to cross the River Amnok. The commander of the “punitive” force was a rabid Korean officer, Kim Sok Won.
According to information from a different source, the commander of the Japanese 74th Regiment was Kim In Uk, also a Korean. But other information sources—underground organizations at home and in Changbai—reported unanimously that the commander of the enemy’s “punitive” force was Kim Sok Won.
Later we learned that for the sake of publicity the Japanese imperialists had held a grand-style send-off gathering at Hamhung Station, where Kim Sok Won had pledged loyalty to the Japanese emperor. He was holding a blood-written banner, “Success in War”, and vociferated that he would annihilate Kim Il Sung’s army.
He reportedly babbled that he was leaving for “punitive” operation on assignment by his superiors because he knew the tactics of the communist army well, that the 74th Regiment would prove its worth before long and that the communist troops would meet a sad fate, like dead leaves falling in the autumn wind, before the mighty imperial army.
Send-off ceremonies were also held for Kim
Sok Won’s 74th Regiment on leaving Hyesan and Sinpha. Stooges of the Japanese
imperialists forced people to attend them, making a house-to-house visit.
Policemen, influential Japanese people, government officials and reservists
made a great noise on the street, singing songs and waving the national flag of
It was wonderful that Ri Hun, who was not even a trained secret ageri obtained the amount of detailed information. Ri Hun, who received the assignment to scout the enemy’s movements in Hyesan for us, decided to penetrate its destination in the guise of a timber dealer. He assigned the branch chiefs of the ARF in Shijiudaogou to fell several hundred trees in a few days, and made a raft of them. He obtained an ID card as a timber dealer.
Ri Hun had worked as a raftsman in lumber yards for eight years. Together with an organization member he made a raft and left for Hyesan. By good luck, on the shore he met an old man, a relative of the police inspector Choe. Choe was a wicked policeman who had arrested many patriots during the “Hyesan incident”. It was Choe who apprehended Pak Tal.
Seeing Ri Hun, who had brought several hundred pieces of lumber with him, the old man asked him to sell him a couple. Ri Hun gave him two for nothing, saying, “How can I sell them to the uncle of police inspector Choe for money?” Very pleased, the old man introduced him to a timber dealer in the town. The old man said that the son-in-law of the timber dealer, like his nephew, was serving at the Hyesan Police Station.
After making his acquaintance with the timber dealer, Ri Hun asked him to help him, saying, “It is dangerous to live in Changbai because there are many bandits there. After making money by selling timber, I intend to move to Hyesan.” He sold timber to the timber dealer at half the price and got acquainted with his son-in-law, a policeman by the name of Kim, staying in his house for several days. Ri Hun even arranged a party for him.
Ri Hun invited policeman Kim and the timber dealer to a restaurant That day, the policeman, in his cups, let out the secret that Kim Sok Won’s regiment was to arrive in Hyesan at a certain hour on a certain date.
Policeman Kim said, “The prestige of the
empire has plummeted to the ground because of the Pochonbo incident. It seems
that Kim Sok Won has come to enhance the prestige of the military authorities.
He is said to be an able soldier. He is also said to have assured that he would
defeat Kim Il Sung’s army and conquer
On the day the 74th Regiment entered Hyesan, Ri Hun, clad in a high-quality Western suit and spring overcoat like a gentleman, came out to the street and stealthily wormed his way into the midst of senders-off to observe what the strength of the “punitive” force was and how many guns and machine-guns it had. No sooner had the send-off ceremony ended than he crossed the River Amnok and sent us a messenger. Simultaneously with the arrival of this messenger at Headquarters, another messenger, sent by Jang Hae U and Kim Jong Suk, arrived to give us more detailed information. He said that the enemy troops, which had crossed the River Amnok, had disappeared at Shisandaogou, and that organization members were looking for them. The information sent by Ri Hun coincided with that sent by the organizations in Tao-quanii and Sinpha. Judging by messages sent by local organizations, the strength of the enemy called out on “punitive” operations was estimated at about 2,000 troops.
Judging from the fact that the 74th
Regiment of Hamhung, the crack unit of the Japanese army stationed in
The prevailing situation showed that we had been wise to agree, while drawing up our operations plan in Xigang, that the troops advancing in three directions should get together after the advance into the homeland.
The 2,000-strong enemy was superior to us
by far in size. In such situation it was usual practice to avoid an engagement.
But we decided on a frontal confrontation with this large Japanese force, which
had come from
We halted our march toward Bapandao and decided to choose a battlefield. Climbing up a mountain west of Laomajia, we reconnoitred the terrain. This was Jiansanfeng, with an open field of view all around. Jiansanfeng consisted of three peaks in the north of Xigang plateau, which stretched over 25 miles from Shisandaogou to Badaogou. In the north of Jiansanfeng there was a boundless primeval forest and beyond it soared the Sidengfang mountains. The area was called Sidengfang.
In the south of it a sea of forests extends over 25 miles in the east-west direction. This was Xigang plateau, which was dotted with villages like Bapandao and Laojusuo. The three peaks of Jiansanfeng rose over the vast primeval forest like three islands. From our point of view, Jiansanfeng was most suitable for a battlefield because the enemy had to turn the bend leading to Xigang from Shisandaogou and cross several awkward mountain ridges on their way there.
In the evening our commanding officers got together and discussed the combat plan. I stressed the need to apply guerrilla tactics instead of being caught in the enemy’s regular tactics.
For this purpose we had to occupy the mountain ridges by way of forestalling the enemy and compel him to descend into the valley. We should avoid the stereotypical troop disposition as well, seeing to it that a large force was placed in the spots to which the enemy might expect us to pay little attention and making sure that in the course of fighting the troops used flexible tactics suited to the circumstances—rapidly moving to the right and to the left, for example, and taking advantage of the forest cover.
After working out the combat plan with the commanding officers of the 4th and 2nd Divisions, I discussed the work orientation and duties of the revolutionary organizations with Kwon Yong Byok, Kim Jae Su, Jong Tong Chol and other political workers of the homeland and Changbai area who had come to Jiansanfeng in answer to our call. By this time it was dawn.
That morning the enemy attacked Jiansanfeng. From dawn on it drizzled and a mist arose. The first signal shot rang out from the sentry post on the mountain ridge occupied by Choe Hyon’s unit. I immediately went to the command post on the mountain ridge. Choe Hyon went to the forward edge with one company, fearing that the outpost might be surrounded by the enemy. The enemy soon encircled Choe Hyon’s company.
The situation had to be straightened out
immediately, because morale depended on how the battle started. I told Ri Tong
Hak to take the Guard Company with him and rescue Choe Hyon’s company as soon
as possible. The Japanese attacked hard with the puppet
After reversing the situation, we hit hard at the enemy all day long, driving them into the valley time and again.
However, the Japanese ran wild like beasts
of prey, attacking tenaciously. They came at us in continuous waves, raising
battle cries and treading on the dead bodies of their companions. During the
defence of Xiaowangqing we had resisted the attack of the Jiandao detachment of
the Japanese army, which had come over from
They continued attack all day long, so we had to fight a really tough fight. In some places the enemy broke into our positions and we had to engage in close combat. To make matters worse, it kept raining. The battlefield presented an appalling sight.
We wondered how militarism could make people so tenaciously and senselessly barbaric. The “Yamato spirit”, loudly touted everywhere by the Japanese militarists, produced a multitude of idiots who mistook injustice for justice and evil for good, blind followers who died a dog’s death by throwing themselves before the muzzles of rifles like butterflies, yet boasted that this was the samurai spirit. These were barbarians who drank a toast and had souvenir photos taken with a stack of dead bodies from some other nation in the background, lunatics who thought that when they died, the Amaterasu Omikami (celestial sun goddess) would take care of them, the emperor would pray for their souls and the Japanese nation would remember them for ever. The Japanese warlords and ministers praised this as the spirit of the Japanese army, likening the men and officers who died in such manner to cherry blossoms, which bloom for a short time and wither.
The Japanese soldiers believed that their
death was a rich fertilizer for the prosperity of the Japanese empire, but this
was nothing but a preposterous daydream. The “Royal spirit” led
Our men and officers, who saw the Japanese troops in this light, looked down on them with the pride of revolutionaries and victors who would repulse them no matter how tenaciously they attacked.
Taking advantage of the situation, we struck the enemy hard till dusk fell. While fighting, the women guerrillas sang the song Arirang, which resounded across the fighting ranks. Only the strong can sing a song in the field of heavy battle. Arirang sung in the battlefield of Jiansanfeng showed the psychological strength of the revolutionary army and its optimism. It is not difficult to imagine what feelings the singing of Arirang aroused in the enemy.
Later prisoners of war confessed that on hearing the song they were nonplussed at first, seized with fear next, and at last felt the futility of life. Some of the wounded wept, bemoaning their fate, and there were even a number of deserters.
The enemy did not suspend attack in the heavy rain until the evening, although they suffered many casualties. We sent messengers to Pak Song Chol’s small unit, which was on its way back from reconnaissance in the Bapandao area, and to a food-procurement team, telling them to strike the enemy from behind. Kim Sok Won was threatened with attack from both front and rear; in addition, dusk was falling, so he fled from the battlefield, taking with him about 200 men, all that remained of his regiment.
The battle of Jiansanfeng produced many interesting anecdotes. Kim Ja Rin, Choe Hyon’s bugler, was in such a hot hurry that he shot a grenade-launcher by setting it on his thigh, getting his thighbone dislocated by the recoil.
Choe Hyon hurled abuse at Kim Ja Rin while annihilating the enemy that swarmed about their gun position by shooting off a grenade-launcher once or twice. He then put Kirn’s dislocated thighbone right, pulling Kim Ja Rin’s leg with both hands. We heard that Kim Sok Won was wounded by one of our grenades that day but I do not know whether it was true or not.
The “punitive” expedition of the 74fh Regiment from Hamhung ended in a fiasco.
Some of the enemy soldiers who survived in
Jiansanfeng fled to other cities instead of returning to Hamhung. According to
data, an enemy soldier,
According to him, although he was Japanese he spoke Korean, and this saved his life.
The Japanese officers had apparently driven
their men into the attack, telling them to climb up the mountain ridge at the risk
In the evening the guerrillas searched the
battlefield to gather rifles and cartridge belts. They went away leaving
“Luckily I knew a bit of Korean. This saved
my life. So I am now studying it hard.” This is what
Anecdotes about Jiansanfeng and rumours
about us spread widely in
Our comrades who visited the villages near the battlefield some time after the battle of Jiansanfeng returned with a detailed account of the enemy’s defeat.
The day after the battle the enemy carried away the dead bodies of their soldiers, requisitioning stretchers, carts and lorries from Hyesan, Sinpha and villages near Jiansanfeng. According to the peasants there, Jiansanfeng and villages near it were littered with corpses of Japanese troops. The enemy covered the dead bodies with white cotton cloth and did not allow inhabitants to come near. They feared that their defeat would be exposed to the world. When they published news about the battle at Jiansanfeng in the newspapers, they conveyed the false information that there were few casualties.
I am told that it took Kim Sok Won all day to cross the River Amnok from Sinpha to attack us, but only half an hour to return.
There were so many casualties that heads were cut off from the dead bodies, packed in sacks and wooden boxes and carried on carts to the place where lorries were waiting. They were loaded into the lorries, which crossed the River Amnok. Peasants in the Jiansanfeng area were to have been nearly smothered for several days by the smoke and smell of burning corpses.
A peasant, feigning ignorance, asked a Japanese soldier disposing of corpses, “Sir, what do you carry on the cart?” The Japanese soldier replied cunningly, “It is kabocha.” Kabocha means pumpkin.
The peasant ridiculed him with a grin, “You have a bumper crop of pumpkins. It will serve for good soup stock. You will have a plenty of it.” From then on the expression “pumpkin head” spread among the people. Whenever they saw dead bodies of Japanese soldiers, they joked, calling them “pumpkin heads”.
Kim Sok Won and his runaway troops returned cautiously to Hamhung, via Sinpha and Phungsan, instead of passing through the busy streets of Hyesan. Hamhung Station, which had been so alive with its noisy send-off on their departure, was as desolate as a house of mourning on their arrival. Only the soldiers who had remained in their barracks came to the station to meet them. They passed down the street, hiding the wounded soldiers in the midst of their ranks. Perhaps they did such a seedy thing to hoodwink the citizens and cover up their defeat.
Mudokjong in Hamhung was known as a fencing ground for Japanese soldiers. After the Jiansanfeng battle they did not do fencing there for some time. After Jiansanfeng, in fact, even the sound of the night watch making his rounds was said to have disappeared from the streets of Sinpha.
Defeat at the battle of Jiansanfeng brought
irretrievable disgrace to the samurai of
The battles at Pochonbo and Jiansanfeng completely foiled the so-called “radical strategy” that Minami, Governor-General of Korea, and Ueda, commander of the Kwantung army, had worked out while holding their “Tumen conference” with a view to annihilate the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army.
This successfully concluded the operation for advance into the homeland by large forces, which we had planned in early 1937.
Jiansanfeng marked a milestone in the history of our anti-Japanese armed struggle. This battle, together with the battle at Kouyushuishan, consolidated the success of the Battle of Pochonbo. Kouyushuishan and Jiansanfeng added lustre to the victory gained at Pochonbo. They can be said to be the echoes of Pochonbo.
Through these battles we shattered the myth
of the “invincible imperial army” and demonstrated once again the might of the
KPRA to the world. Jiansanfeng was an important battle that played a
conspicuous part in bringing the anti-Japanese revolution to its zenith after
the KPRA’s advance into the area around
By the irony of fate, our sworn enemy Kim Sok Won again confronted Choe Hyon on the 38th parallel after liberation. Choe Hyon was in command of a Guard Brigade there. Syngman Rhee supposedly sent Kim Sok Won to the 38th parallel to give him an opportunity to recover his ignominious defeat at the battle of Jiansanfeng.
According to soldiers of the “ROK army” who defected to the north, Kim Sok Won basely slandered communists while guarding the 38th parallel. Choe Hyon was on the lookout for an opportunity to give him a hard time in an encounter.
On the eve of the Korean war, Kim Sok Won
made a large-scale surprise raid across the 38th parallel. Thus a battle took
I gave Choe Hyon a rigid order to withdraw
immediately. I said to him, “In the past he fought as the faithful dog of the
Japanese imperialists, but now he is subject to the
Choe Hyon and Kim Sok Won are dead and gone. Now new genera-dons in the north and the south, which did not experience the sorrow of a ruined nation, continue to keep guard along the Military Demarcation Line, levelling guns at each other. My hope is that the new generations in the north and the south will act as one and pull down the artificial barrier that cuts the nation in half as soon as possible. I hope to see them lead a harmonious life in an independent, reunified country. I suppose that Kim Sok Won, too, had this same desire in his last years.
noteworthy effect the advance of the People’s Revolutionary Army to the
As the volunteers increased, many interesting events took place.
Once we were visited by a dark-complexioned
boy with bushy hair wearing wet trousers. He earnestly pleaded to be allowed to
enlist in the guerrilla army, saying that he wanted revenge for his brother’s
death. The boy came from the
Joking, I said to him that the young people who came in dry clothes were too numerous to enlist all at one time, so how could a playful fellow like him, who came in wet trousers, expect to be admitted. At this, he explained, saying his mother was to blame for it.
Jon Mun Sop had told his mother that he would leave with the guerrilla army unit, which had stopped over at Shangfengdok village. His mother cut him short, declaring he was too young to be a guerrilla. When her son went off to sleep, she put his trousers into the washtub, thinking that if he had nothing to wear because his only trousers were in the tub, it would be impossible for him to follow the guerrilla army.
He was annoyed by this. His joining the revolutionary army had already won the approval of the Children’s Association.
He had been prepared to run naked to Ml. Paektu if it meant he could become a soldier of the revolutionary army. Early in the morning he took his trousers out of the tub, hastily squeezed out the water and put them on. Seeing his determination, his mother finally consented to his joining the guerrilla army.
This shows what a fever to volunteer had
swept the northern border areas of
At first the commanding officers in charge of recruitment would send these boys back home immediately, not even asking my opinion. Until then, none of the men and officers had ever thought that boys of fourteen or fifteen could fight, arms in hand.
Even Kim Phyong, who was fond of children, would shake his head whenever these boys came to us.
One summer’s day in 1937, when our unit was bivouacking on the highland of Diyangxi, he came and asked me for advice, saying that about 20 kids, each shorter than a rifle, were plaguing him with requests to join and he did not know what to do with them. “I told them to come back when they were a little bigger, but they would not listen to me. In the end they started pressing me to let them see you, General.... They say they won’t leave until they’ve seen you. General. They are as obstinate as mules.”
I went to the boys and had a chat with them. I told them to sit down on a fallen log, then asked them, in turn, what their names were, how-old they were, what their fathers did and where they came from. Each time I asked a question, the kid I was addressing would spring to his feet like a bouncing ball to answer the question. What was common in their behaviour was that they all tried to look as grown-up as possible. They had all lost parents, brothers or sisters, witnessing horrible scenes of their family members being killed in the enemy’s “punitive” operations, and this was why they had resolved to take up arms: to avenge their deaths. Having this heart-to-heart talk with them, I felt that in their thinking they could match several wise men.
As the saying goes, children mature early
in troubled times. All these boys saw was misfortune and their life was full of
hardship. The children of
The 20-odd boys who flocked to our bivouac hoping to become guerrillas were all miserable victims in one page of our nation’s history, a page beset by vicissitudes. I was greatly moved by these little boys, who so passionately volunteered to shoulder the heavy duty of social transformation and take part in an armed struggle that was trying even for adults.
If I remember correctly, Ri Ul Sol and Kim Ik Hyon, Kim Chol Man and Jo Myong Son were among the boys I met that day. Though today they hold the positions of Vice-Marshal, General or Lieutenant General in the Korean People’s Army, at that time they were little cubs who had to stand the test of whether or not they were capable of holding a rifle.
“What has to be done with these children?” I thought.
I was at a loss as to what I should say to send them back home, these young hawks so ready to go through fire and water. Life in the revolutionary army was one that even robust young men at times found hard to take, becoming stragglers if they could not keep up the tireless training and constant self-discipline.