By that time, I had started working with Song Han Hyeok, who joined the Japanese army as a volunteer student soldier and later worked as an elementary school teacher in Jeungsan-gun. We had not yet joined any party, but did join lessons for schoolteachers, listened to the lectures and read books about communism. We did think that if we were to join any party, we would rather join the Communist Party than the New Democratic Party.
We asked a Communist Party member we knew whether we could join the party.
“How long have you been a laborer for?” He asked, “Why do you wish to join the Communist Party?”
He asked questions as if he were interrogating us. We thought they would welcome us as long as we showed the desire to join the party, but due to his unexpected lack of hospitality we abandoned the idea of joining. We also did not have any plan to join the New Democratic Party.
Not long after Song came, the school changed into a special, co-ed Business school. It was divided into three; Economics, Business Management and Accounting. We had to yield our building to the newly-established Kim Il Sung University and move to the annex of a normal school located in Munsu-ri, East Pyongyang. The memory of packing our things and drawing the wagon on that slippery, rainy day is still so clear.
The new building was not as good as the previous one. However, it was relatively clean compared to other school buildings. My student Yun Jae Yong and I lived in the night duty room together. Ever since Song Han Hyeok had gotten married, I had become the only teacher without a house. Therefore, I had to take responsibility for guarding the school. We did not cook properly though; we just cooked corn and ate it with the students, chatting loudly.
We frequently got robbed. The burglars even came to the night duty room where we were sleeping and took our clothes. The fountain pen from my senior and clothes Yoon Jae Yong had given me were stolen, too. It gave us such a big headache, because they even stole the glass from the windows. One day I made two football players hide and watch, and two burglars were caught. We followed them to Yeonmot-dong, their base. They were living in an old warehouse, using rice straw as blankets. It was no wonder they were stealing, so we just told them not to steal glass from the school building and left it at that.
In autumn a dormitory was prepared near the school building, and I became the supervisor once again. As it had been turned into a special school, the principal also changed and a new supervising teacher was brought in. At this time the North Korea Workers’ Party was formed from the merging of the New Democratic Party and Communist Party. Our new principal, Shim Jae Yun, was from South Korea. He had led a Communist movement in Japan and later was involved in the independence movement in China. He was handsome, sophisticated and happened to be a good singer. He regarded himself as a good revolutionary and a philosophy expert. He claimed that the reason why he had not made it to the level of official was because the ML (Marxist-Leninist) faction was wrought with factionalism and excluded him.
He had acquaintances like Kim Du Yong, a Communist from the University of Tokyo. He was a good speaker blessed with good looks. I respected him as my senior, and he cared about me as well. Being a compassionate person, he would even buy me snacks whenever I was working late. He suggested that I study philosophy. I, however, already knew that he was only reading Chinese textbooks and that his knowledge of philosophy was minimal, because he rejected Greek and German classic philosophy as idealism.
Choi Gyu Bong was the chairman of the Party cell. He claimed that he had joined the Japanese army as a volunteer student soldier, escaped and later fought with Japanese soldiers on the coast. He threateningly “suggested” that I join the party. Principal Shim also recommended joining. I did not want to join, but my colleagues told me joining the party was necessary for teachers. So I submitted an application form, went through a regional evaluation, and finally became a member of the Korea Workers Party on November 16, 1946.
The background I wrote on the application form was “middle-class farmer,” while my social background was “clerk.” My colleagues cautioned me to change the way I had written it.
“You studied in Japan and were a laborer before the liberation. You were even drafted for 1 and a half years. Why are you writing like that? Your laboring experiences will help you build a successful career, so correct it.”
“I was forcefully drafted,” I replied, “and I had no choice but to be a laborer. That’s not the definition of a laborer, is it? I have no intention of having a successful career, so it’s all right.”
I handed my application form in.
The regional Party chairman gave me a party certificate, emphasizing what an honor it was for me to share a party with Kim Il Sung.
In February of 1947, Choi Gyu Bong was appointed to the Social Safety Agency. Thereafter, the regional Party inquired of Principal Shim and Choi Gyu Bong as to who should be appointed chairman of the Party cell, and they recommended me, saying there was no other person who could be appointed. Therefore, only 3 months after joining the party, I became the school cell chairman. Things got a lot busier from then on.
As supervisor I was responsible for the students in the dormitory. I had to take more classes, too. The chairman was in charge of subjects for cultivating students. I was mobilized to eliminate illiteracy. But the regional Party conference was a bigger pressure for me. The regional Party called conferences almost every day. Those conferences started at night and continued until early in the morning. Usually they had nothing to do with education at all.
Many of the Chairmen were from farming areas, and a lot of criticisms of them were motioned. Trivial topics such as catching more rats, watching out for wasting grain, reactionaries, more class struggle, prevention of theft, operating newspaper reading groups and study groups and many more were discussed in the conferences. I got so sick of them.
Conferences would last all night, and we left at dawn. Those cell chairmen who came from far away complained as conferences were held too frequently. The Party gave us a truck as a result. But the dormitory wasn’t far from the conference hall and I just walked. Walking all by myself at dawn, I complained to myself about the Communists abusing us. I did not, however, want to speak badly of them because they were working so hard. And I myself was beginning to act like them. Whenever I gathered teachers at school and announced the Party’s orders, I unconsciously spoke like the authorities of the regional Party. It made me feel like an active member of the party. There was a rumor among the students.
“Hwang must have become a Commie since they appointed him chairman of the Party cell.”
But I had not changed at all. I never once participated in oppressing students, nor did I tell on anyone. There were students who would distribute anti-Communist leaflets and go on a strike. Whenever such things happened, I visited them at home and persuaded them to go back to school. I did not get intimidated by leaflets delivered to me, saying I should not go around persuading students to return to school. I continued to do what I had to do, because I knew most of the students supported me.
Students frequently refused to take exams and openly cheated, but teachers could not stop their collective action. I once proctored the seniors during their exams because some hardworking students asked me to. But I was not completely comfortable with it. I was their respected senior, and it would be a shame for me if there were students disobeying me. And even if I caught students cheating and punished them, it was obvious that it would be to my disadvantage.
Desperate to prevent any unfortunate incident, I went into the classroom and spoke for about 15 minutes.
“Comrades, exams are enforced by the state. So play fair. Cheating is a cowardly action. If you don’t know the answers, then leave the paper blank. Do not lose your self-respect. I am your senior and teacher. But during this very hour, I am a state-appointed proctor. Therefore I have a duty to catch any dishonest action. I will be faithful to my duties. Do not misunderstand me.”
Thankfully, the students followed me. There was not a single student who cheated. Unfortunately there were some students who handed in blank papers, but I visited the advisor to those students and suggested that they be given another chance to take the exam, so they all graduated.
I always emphasized to my students that they should dream big. When I was their age I had gotten no such advice and wasted so much time trying to become an abacus calculator. If I had spent all those hours studying English and Math, it would have been better.
Much later, when I met my old students in Seoul, all of them told me that my encouragement had really helped them a lot. One of them even asked me to rewrite the phrase in Chinese characters that I had written to him back then: “A scholar makes astonishing progress in three days,” which I had quoted from the Chinese classic novel, “Romance of the Three Kingdoms.”