In August of 1967, there was a big flood which submerged the entirety of downtown Pyongyang. It is said to have been the biggest flood in the history of the city. We got an instruction to lead students in repairing a dike on the Hapjang River, which runs around the vicinity of Kim Il Sung University and into the Daedong River. It was on the brink of collapse, and I was doing that. However, central emergency command then handed down another instruction that it was too risky, so we needed to withdraw.
Not long after we returned to the office, we heard a loud bang. The dike on the Hapjang River had collapsed. If we had left a little later, we would have drowned to death.
With the dike broken, Pyongyang was drowned instantly. It seemed that the students who had been working on farms were in danger of being sacrificed, so I requested an amphibian vehicle from the army and went out to look for them at night. However, the whole farm was flooded already; all I could see was the roof of the house where the students had been staying. We were deeply saddened but didn't have any other choice than to go back, because the water had to at least recede before we could look for their bodies.
Then the next day, those students whom I had thought were dead came back with the pigs we'd been raising. It was an indescribable joy we felt when we saw them alive. After we had calmed ourselves down, we asked them what had happened.
"We thought the farm would soon be flooded, so we escaped with the pigs to find shelter and came back by a different route."
I was so grateful that they had survived, and gave them a pat on the shoulder.
The flood damage increased as time passed by. When we went up Moran Hill at night, we heard people holding onto trees in the water near Neungra Island, shouting for help. However, there was nothing we could do to help them.
The next day, I dropped by my house to have breakfast after taking a catnap in my office. The Botong River had already taken over.
There were people getting washed away by the water. Even though a net had been cast across the bridge to save people, it was no good because soon the water started coming up to the bridge. At that moment, I witnessed a scene I never forgot; there was a woman being swept away by the water with her baby, clinging to something floating in the water. Once she saw the people on the bridge, she held her child up in the air so that they could take the child while she herself passed under the bridge in the water. I witnessed there and then with my own eyes what the love of parents for their children really was.
Whenever I meet people who claim that society is established based on a contract, I look back at that day, wondering if love is also the product of a contract.
The damage Pyongyang suffered was too big to handle. Everything was underwater, including department stores and a thermoelectric power plant. Pyongyang was covered in floating stuff. Bottles and kitchenware drifted aimlessly in the water.
The first floor of the apartment complex I lived in was underwater because of the Botong River. This apartment was for major officials of the Party and state. I lived on the second floor. People told my father to go to the fourth floor because the water kept rising. However, my father refused to go up, saying, "If water comes up to the second floor, many people will die. I can't just go up to the fourth floor to save my own life while others die."
I didn't have enough time to take care of my family. Instead, I had to visit teachers who had lost their houses in the flood and deliver words of consolation. Also, along with my students, I had to engage in restoration work late into the night.
Kim Il Sung visited Kim Il Sung University students mobilized for flood damage reconstruction projects. He did not show up where I was working, though. It seemed that he was intentionally avoiding me.
At the end of November that year, Kim Il Sung didn't call me, and instead called the First Vice-president of the university to an evaluation conference about the flood damage reconstruction projects. I was prepared to accept my fate. Ever since I was young, I have always been a faint-hearted person. But when my fear reaches a certain point, I can calm myself down and, oddly, be bold and act with a fresh mind.
Just as Kim Il had said, I decided that theoretical problems should be solved theoretically, and tried my best to explain issues of the transition period and proletariat dictatorship. I thought it was more important to know what I had been doing wrong and explain my faults than to change my fate. I barely slept or ate, and continued to think and think.
My wife was worried about my health and obstinacy. However, I was calm once I was prepared for anything that could come. My attitude towards the teachers and students also changed after I emptied my mind. I slept in the dormitory more often than at home. I ate and cleaned up the dormitory with the students. At night, I also stoked the boiler with the plumbers. When the dormitory was not clean, I started cleaning the toilets, and even polished the dirty shoes that belonged to the students instead of scolding them. Then I'd go back to my office and think or write.
After an inspection team consisting of the Director of the Science Education Department and the Chief of the University Management Department of the Guidance Department of the Central Committee of the Party examined the university, there were extensive conferences to criticize me, the president. I had to offer a self-criticism, and the teachers criticized me harshly, too. Among those at the conference were student Party members.
But, just as criticisms about me were getting quite heated, something quite unexpected happened. A 5th year student majoring in philosophy made a statement supporting me,
"Our president is not that kind of person," he said.
It was almost impossible in that atmosphere to advocate for me like that. But then, again, when a researcher severely criticized me, another female researcher criticized the researcher in return, saying,
"Comrade, you went around saying the president's lecture moved you so deeply that you even shed tears and now you're criticizing him. Do you have a conscience?"
I didn't feel reassured by their advocacy. Rather, I didn't know what to do. Those brave students, of course, didn't have any problems in their family backgrounds as far as I knew, and were quite influential in the school. However, nobody knew what would happen to them after those statements. Worried that I might cause them trouble, I resolved to solve issues of class struggle and the proletariat dictatorship in order to return their faith.
However, while I continued to reflect upon that issue, I couldn't see a way forward; it was as if a fog had set in my mind. Whenever conferences were held, I always got criticized and went through self-criticism again. Not many students sided with me.
Time passed by and eventually winter came.
Then, one day, I was working in my office and fell asleep. I woke up after a while, but something strange had happened. In that short period of time, the fog in my mind had cleared and I could see a faint clue.