Pyongyang Turns to the Left

Hwang Jang Yop's Memoirs - 14
 |  2010-02-11 23:25
A car with the eight of us and the detective inside left for Seoul. Once it had gotten dark, we started to exchange glances. The car was climbing on a road with pine trees all around. We kept our swords hidden, and waited for Sohn to give the sign.

But all of sudden a military jeep appeared from behind. The jeep signaled at us with its headlights, at which point the detective raised a hand and we stopped. Then the detective, almost as though he were laughing at us, jumped out and left! We stared at the jeep for a while, feeling totally despondent.

The incident was just one part of the plaintive and even ridiculous portrait of a generation facing its abrupt liberation.

Anyhow, it was around 10 o'clock at night when we arrived in Chuncheon and tracked down a motel. There was a young man from Samcheok there. He told us he had been drafted to Yongsan in Seoul but deserted after knocking down a Japanese squad leader. He said he’d heard that a group of students from Samcheok had booked in at the motel, and so he came to see us. He told us about his own army life and asked us what we, the young blood of Korea, were all going to do from then on.

Several people including Sohn gave him some advice, but I did not join in because I hadn't decided my course either. All of them seemed to regard their drafting by the Japanese as some great achievement, and were excited that they might be able to do something great in the future as intellectuals.

The next day we went to Seoul by streetcar. I was very touched by the fact that Koreans were running the streetcar, but soon disappointment swept me away. Japanese policemen were still dominating the city's public order with their machine guns. I thought my country would be totally free of external forces once it was liberated. I was somewhat bitter about the fact that Japanese policemen were in charge of the public order.

Students from the Southern regions, including Sohn, moved to another residence while I went along with my hometown friends to stay at one friend’s brother's house. I forgot the name of the school, but he was a professor in a college. While I was staying at his house my friend and his brother went to meet many figures including Yeo Woon Hyung (one of the main independence movement activists), but I didn't feel like following them around, so I decided to go back to Pyongyang. I headed north on August 20th, 1945.

When I got back home, I found that my old parents' household hadn’t really changed, but it was also barely standing. Acacia trees father had cut down were supporting the tilting house, replacing the original pillars. The fireplace was full of water, so they did not have any choice but to cook in the yard. My sister-in-law wasn’t doing any better, either. But at least my second brother-in-law, who made a living driving a truck, was in relatively good condition.

Former student soldiers and drafted young men were actively leading the confiscation of property from the Japanese. They swaggered around the city with Japanese swords at their sides and arm bands that said “security force.”

Since household conditions were worse than ever, I had to do something to help my parents. My elementary schoolmate Yun Byeong Seon had joined the Communist Party and had been participating in an important project. He visited me one day and asked me what I was going to do.

“I want to study some more.”
“Stop studying and participate in new politics. How could you even think of studying in this chaos?”
“Well, I will decide after I’ve been to Pyongyang.”

When I parted from my friends in Seoul, I had promised them that I would find a way to start studying after visiting my hometown, so I went to Pyongyang and visited the Pyongyang Commercial School, my old school, and met some of my seniors.

"Thank God you are here. All the Japanese teachers left, so it is so difficult to run the school. You've got to help us with the school affairs."

Then they told me that the Seoul-Pyongyang railway had been cut on August 23rd. If I had gone back to Seoul before then, my life would have been completely different. However I did not have the guts to illegally cross the 38th parallel, and did not know much about Seoul either. Also I could not imagine leaving for Seoul alone, with my old parents left behind, so in reality I didn’t even really think about it.

Meanwhile, I could feel a sudden increase in the number of left-wingers in Pyongyang. A lot of people tried to convince me that the Communist Party's theory was the right one. However, instead of following them blindly, I decided to watch the situation carefully while teaching at my old school. So I moved into the dormitory.
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