Tr ansgr essor oft heNat i on
Châ€™ aeMan-Si k Tr ans l at edbyJ aneKi m
Transgressor of the Nation By Châ€™ae Man-Sik Translated by Jane Kim
Originally published in Korean as Minjokui Joein in Baik Min, 1948-1949
Translation ⓒ 2013 by Jane Kim
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and Literature Translation Institute of Korea.
The original manuscripts to these translations were provided by Gongumadang of Korea Copyright Commission.
The National Library of Korea Cataloging-in-Publication Data Chae, Man-sik Transgressor of the nation [electronic resource] = 민족의 죄인 / [written by] Chae Man-sik ; translated by Jane Kim. -- Seoul : Literature Translation Institute of Korea, 2013 p. ISBN 978-89-93360-28-8 05810 : No price 813.61-KDC5 895.733-DDC21
About Ch’ae Man-Sik Ch’ae Man-Sik (1902-1950) was born in Okgu, North Jeolla Province in 1902. His pen names are Baek-reung and Chae-ong. After graduating from Joong-ang High School, he studied the arts at Waseda University, Japan. Ch’ae Man-Sik is considered to be one of the most emblematic novelists of the colonial period. He produced works that authentically showcased the social realities and conflicts of the time such as “My Innocent Uncle” (1938), Turbid Waters (1937-1938), Peace Under Heaven (1938), Frozen Fish (1940), and the play The Legend of the Mantis (1940), among others. His artistic world puts emphasis on reflecting and criticizing the reality of his day. In his works, he truthfully describes the destitution of farmers under colonial rule, the anguish of intellectuals, the fall of the inner city lower class, and the chaos that ensued after independence. After the restoration of independence, he produced controversial pieces such as “The Story of the Rice Paddy”, “Mister Bang”, and Transgressor of the Nation, that reflected on the history of Japanese forced labor camps and incisively delved into post-independence Korean society. He died right before the outbreak of the Korean War in June 25th, 1950, from pneumonia. Transgressor of the Nation is a novella that was serialized in the magazine, Baik Min, from 1948 to 1949. This is the author’s self-reflection on his involvement in pro-Japanese activities, and at the same time, an apologia against the wholesale punishment of people who collaborated with the Japanese without specific consideration that pertained to each complex case. Through this work, one can fathom the profundity with which Ch’ae Man-Sik contemplated the problem of pro-Japanese activities in which he participated even after the restoration of independence.
Transgressor of the Nation
1 Until then, I had simply thought myself a sinner and was only lost in thought with feelings of shame and repentance, but after the day that Mr. Kim of Company P suffered that incident, my thoughts were infiltrated with a kind of self-destructive, pent-up anger and the uncontrollable feeling of displeasure at not knowing what to do with my destitute body. Then, I lay bedridden for a fortnight with an inexplicable suffering like that of a serious illness. 2 Whether you consider it the leisure of writers, or their loosened habits, it was hard to pass a magazine or publishing company where a close friend worked regardless of whether there was work or not, unless it was urgent business. Going inside and sitting down, I would flip through the newspaper talking a lot of small talk, literary talk, and random talk until we were sick of doing so, forgetting the time that was passing by. The owners cheerfully welcomed this and joined in on the conversation, but would make sure not to be intrusive, which is why writers felt as free and welcome there as at the local lounge, and the reason why I felt free and comfortable at Company P where Mr. Kim worked. That was why one naturally ended up visiting a few publishing companies or magazine companies once he set out for the day, and that day I went past Namdaemun, the South Gate. I suddenly decided to stop by Company P on my way home, not because I had any particular business to take care of, it was just a casual visit... But as Mr. Kim would say, I seemed to be out of luck that day. It was an evening in late April where the sky had been cloudy since the afternoon, looking as if it would drizzle any moment. It was a time in which the leaves on the trees lining the street were waving softly as if waiting quietly with a light silence for some kind of destiny, in sharp contrast with the crowded streets of Namdaemun. Mr. Kim's Company P was in the building right next to the street. I was panting my way up the 40-odd steps in the building to the pigeon cage-like room on the 4th floor when I ran into a hatless Kim. “What's with the condition of this office for someone who's dreaming of one day being at the top of Joseon publishing? A person runs out of breath and loses strength in his legs.” In response to these harsh words in lieu of a greeting, Kim spread laughter throughout his large eyes, nose, lips, and mouth. “Our company's office being poor is similar to you not being able to secure one of the commonly available houses left behind by foreigners and living in a worn-down rent house, so 4
let's just not talk about it... I'm glad you came because I've actually been waiting for you. I'm just going to run downstairs to make a phone call, so why don't you go ahead upstairs.” Company P already had a guest. Yoon was two years younger than me, but had started his social life about the same time. As Yoon and I exchanged greetings, I studied his face. Yoon was someone I felt uncomfortable around. Yoon and I weren't friends. When we met in the streets, we would exchange a single greeting. “How do you do?” “How do you do?” And leave it at that, or just silently lift our hats in greeting as we passed each other, like others commonly did with “someone you know.” There wasn't much that I knew about Yoon as a person. Early on, he had majored in political economy at a municipal university in Tokyo, returning upon graduation to his hometown where he had the experience of managing a branch office of a newspaper company for a short time; about two to three years after the Sino-Japanese War, he had worked as a reporter in the political department of a newspaper company in Seoul writing editorials, and had already read about two political theses on the state of affairs in Europe when he had made his announcement in the magazine. It was difficult to not say that his sentences and structure were a bit rough, but it was possible to get a glimpse of his extremely progressive ideology. Other than that, it was both difficult to know and have the chance to learn about his personality or family and surrounding circumstances. And of course, there weren't any other kinds of official or personal life-related exchanges that took place. In this manner, there wasn't much I knew about Yoon, nor was there much association between us as friends but there was one important fact that I would not allow myself to forget. Yoon was a person who did not cooperate with the Japanese colonialists. I think it was likely after the second harvest following the Sino-Japanese War. Yoon's name began to disappear from signatures in both newspaper and magazine editorials. He quit his job as a journalist and was no longer seen on the streets, as if he had left Seoul. If Yoon had written something, it would have been related to his specialty of politics and current affairs, and he would never have been able to accept a paper rationalizing the totalitarian fascism of the East and West that had erupted in a war of aggression based on the preposterous pretext of the construction of a new world order. Inwardly he would have had to accept the integration and union of Korea and Japan, while outwardly foretelling the victory of the Japanese army and the inevitable collapse of America and Britain. Furthermore, if he had not given up his occupation as a journalist, he would have had to continue acting as the hands and feet of pro-Japanese cooperation through the newspaper even if he disliked it. However, Yoon put down his pen in its entirety and by leaving his job at the newspaper company did not participate even in the slightest bit towards pro-Japanese cooperation. It was 5
clear that he did not. If he did not contribute to Japanese colonialism and thereby kept his integrity, others who did contribute, be it much or little would fall into the ranks of a traitor to the people or pro-Japanese collaborators, like this transgressor of the nation, and so with him twisting my arm behind me, there was no way that he could be to me anything other than an uncomfortable person. It might have also been the simultaneous weakness of a transgressor, but there was no way that I could not be overly uncomfortable at unexpectedly meeting him. If I said, “How do you do?” in a greeting, the same “How do you do?” by Yoon would hold a vivid flash of contempt in tone and expression. After a while, Yoon put down the newspaper he was flipping through and unexpectedly stated in a friendly manner that it had been a long time. So I also responded amiably, “It's been an awfully long time.” Indeed it had been a very long time since we had met. About two years after the SinoJapanese War Yoon had halted his literary activities, and because he had left his position as a newspaper reporter and also disappeared from the streets of Seoul, this was the first time in about 10 years since our last meeting. However, it was what he said next that made it clear that he hadn't stated that it had been a long time just as a greeting. “It seems you evacuated to the countryside for a while.” “Yes.” “So did you harvest a lot of pumpkins and corn?” His cheerful laughter and the unique, cynical corners of his lips were an obvious and blatant expression of contempt and mockery. If I thought about it, it was justified contempt and mockery from Yoon’s perspective. Last April (in 1945), I evacuated and went down to my hometown. On the surface, the reason for this evacuation to the countryside was so I could avoid bombings myself, and thereby passively cooperate with national defense, but in reality this was self-justification, I had fled under the excuse of evacuation. In Europe, Germany was unable to drain the massive attacks of the Allied forces and retreated until it eventually became a trapped rat, and Japan's defeat in the East seemed just as conclusive. Of course, it can't be denied that hopeful wishes of Japan's defeat did contribute quite a bit, but in any case, I believed that Japan's defeat was not far off. What came after Japan's defeat? I had never imagined that we would be gifted liberation as easy as on August 15. It was difficult to judge whether Japan would squat and continue to oppress us, or if a new oppressor would come forth, or perhaps if lucky, we would become our own masters. But one thing I was certain was that the day Japan was defeated would mean the breakdown of the public security and social order maintained until then, with the world concurrently becoming a pit of uncontrollable chaos and disorder. This would continue on freely until a new power came to be and a new order was formed. But it would be difficult to guess if this period would be one month or two, three months, a half year or one year, or even longer. 6
Thinking about the day and moment that Japan would be defeated, when all public security and order would be ineffective as policemen wearing swords, stragglers with machine guns, and commoners with physical strength would join the thieves and rioters to do as they pleased, leading to an inevitable situation of food shortages and mass starvation, resulting in an instant change into an abyss of carnage and pillaging, rape and arson, disease and famine, I could not help but feel a shiver go down my spine drawing up an image of myself standing on the walkway of death, awaiting death with my little ones hanging onto me despite my inability and lack of connections to save them. Compared to the big city, my hometown was rather safe. It would be challenging at first, but if I were to face hardship, it would definitely be better if it happened while at my hometown. It was a hometown that my family had lived in for generations and it was familiar because I had a few relatives living there. Everyone knew each other there, so it was good that any time there was trouble, we didnâ€™t have to fear the most feared â€œpersonâ€? in that situation. There was a small piece of barren land that assured that if worse came to worst, we could subsist off of planted potatoes. I finally made my decision to go down to my hometown. Not only me, but I even talked to some relatives explaining my opinion and conditions, and recommended they go down to our hometown if they didn't have a particular reason to stay in Seoul. After enduring the unexpected change of the nation's liberation up until now, if I closely and objectively reviewed my mind and actions of the past with my current mind, there was no doubt that the reason I had only aspired for safety first and foremost instead of taking the chance to shake off the weakened pressure of the oppressor and proactively attempt to fight for liberation was precisely because I had become weak and pitiful. However I couldn't tell if I was especially weak and pathetic, or if others were generally individualistic, passive, and conservative, it being the character of a people of a ruined country that was to blame, but whatever the case, it was true that I was weak and pathetic and they were both inevitable roles. Of course, that doesn't mean that I am bragging that I have become quite strong and courageous. Even now, I'm still a weak and pathetic husband. Before the anxiety and fear of the chaos and disorder that would come from Japan's defeat was another imminent threat. I was temporarily living in Gwangnaru, which was located on the banks of the Han River by the Gyeongchoong Highway, about 30 li1 east of downtown Seoul. Gwangnaru was a place where people from Seoul who had been evicted to decrease fire hazards came to, and so it was a place where the cost of housing continued to increase each time an eviction order was made. This was a place that was the final destination for those who were evicted. That alone made it no place for me to even come forth and say I was going to evacuate. 1
A measure for distance. One li is approximately 0.393km.
It was the day that a B-29 made its first appearance in the Seoul sky. This particular day, I hadn't gone into town but had stayed home and then taken a walk through the pine forest on the hill when I heard the cry of the air raid siren. It was actually more of a small hill that jutted out from the bank of the river than an actual mountain. It was a place that brought to mind Pyongyang's Cheongryu Cliff, where the blue river water splashed onto the boulder and flowed right below the steep cliff. Not only that, but there was a flat and wide field across the river which was very similar to the placed recited in the famous poem “Mountains are Spotted Across Beyond the Expansive Field”2 with the calm and deep of the distant mountains starting where the field ended. At the peak was a religious shrine thick with shade from the surrounding pines and oaks. The grass was also nice. I would pass the unending time sitting under that shade and looking down at the long river gazing at the distant mountains, or laying on the grass staring up at the blue sky, and this was one of the significant solaces in my dreary, melancholy life. I just happened to be reading The History of the Joseon Dynasty and had reached the main text of the Manchu War of 1636, when the king and the Joseon Army had fought in the final battle at Namhansan Fortress, and when the king got on his knees and surrendered to the military troops of the Qing dynasty at the Samjeon Dock, and when countless young soldiers on both sides became wandering spirits because of the arrows and spears at the earthen fortifications of Pungnapri, and it was particularly stirring to look out into the distance that day. Even though the day had experienced this kind of rise and fall, it ignored this and continued on steadily and calmly, as if contemplating the repetitive future of the world and the future changes in the history of man while the river – whether it should be considered absent mindedness or something to be envious of – also ignored this fact and continued to flow calmly for thousands or tens of thousands of years… it was a morning when I was lost in thoughts like these when the air raid siren suddenly began to sound. I became suddenly alert, as if I had just woken from a dream. Seen or not, it was clear that my wife would have had to run out with the water bucket. Though she would have been in a rush to get home out of worry about the young ones, she would likely be stopped by one of the Gyeongbangdan firefighters to help work or be dragged to a bomb shelter. Looking up from my anxiety, I saw a small plane (B-29) smaller than a dragonfly serenely flying in the sky with a long pair of white gas tails behind it. That desertion and indifference. The stillness and grace. I rather admired it. I could not sense whether it was sending the slightest bit of hostility, nor any threat or fear from this so-called prelude to an airplane attack. So I calmed down and waited, and the air raid alert was soon dismissed. I went down to the main road with a kind of disappointment. As I did so, a military truck came rumbling down
the main street and stopped in the middle of the neighborhood, when about twenty to thirty tense soldiers jumped out with anti-aircraft machine guns. The group had come from the barracks across the river in Songpa to guard the Gwangnaru District after hearing the air strike warnings. However, the weapons they came to “guard” with weren’t A.A. machine guns, but were instead light machine guns used in normal skirmishes, and it was evident without being said that they were waiting with these pointed into the middle of the neighborhood to shoot at the right time, to shoot people – Joseon people – who might seize the opportunity from the chaos of the bombing to cause a riot. Starting with the leader, I looked straight into the eyes of the soldiers. Their eyes were spewing a malice that was ready to kill. I got goose bumps all over. The grudge that prepared them to shoot and kill Joseon people at the right moment instead of providing defense during the air strike, and those murderous eyes, eyes, eyes… if the bombings of the B-29 were awaiting us in the front, the soldiers’ machine guns were pointed at us in the back, and even if it was to avoid the machine guns, I felt that I had to get myself to a relatively more safe and secure place. In April of 1945, I just happened to sell my house – a tiny thatched roof house that was bitterly purchased – at almost nothing and selling most of the household goods, moved back to my hometown with only the easy-to-carry items, in the name of an evacuation. But there was another reason I need to retire to the remote countryside other than the insecurity and fear of what would follow after Japan’s defeat or the threat of the bloodthirsty, machine-gun aiming Japanese soldiers. My trip to Hwanghae Province in February 1943 to give a lecture was what I would probably consider my first step towards contributing to the Japanese colonial effort. The colonial government and Joseon Collective People’s Alliance stated that each township within each district was to hold public indignation meetings for the annihilation of America and Britain, simultaneously boosting morale and increasing hostility towards America and Britain, and I was selected as one of the 200 lecturers from the fields of religion, ideology, art, public media, literature, and education who would be responsible for giving lectures to a few designated townships. It was my first time contributing to the Japanese colonial effort, and it was also the first time in my 40 years of life that I had given a lecture to a gathered group of people. When I told them I wouldn’t participate due to my poor Japanese skills, they told me that it was fine to use the Joseon language because a special measure had been passed to allow its use which was against the official rule of using Japanese since it was more effective to use the Joseon language with the audience, who were in actuality farmers from the countryside. When I told them that I didn’t think I would be able to actually lecture since I had absolutely no experience on a platform, they told me that all that was needed was passion, arguing that I definitely could not back out since the very sight of a person with no public speaking experience vigorously giving a lecture would in itself be inspiring to the audience. 9
Whatever the case, it wouldn’t have been a big deal even if I had just not gone. Sure, there may have been some repercussions later on, but it wouldn’t have been possible for them to immediately do anything. However, I walked into it on my own two feet. It was because I knew that it was possible for one to be safe and not be hated only when one did not violate the command. I think it was two years before the Pacific War, when I was living in Kaesong. It was near the end of March when I came back from my last three, four-day business trip to Seoul, my family was lost in despair like a house in mourning. Just before, two detectives from the Kaesong Police Department had come and searched my room, taking some letters, a few manuscripts and some magazines as well as books, and left saying that they had something to ask me, and told my family to tell me that they would soon return with a high level detective. And that morning, my family told me that Mr. X and Mr. Y had been taken away. Mr. X and Mr. Y were two young literary enthusiasts barely in their twenties who had occasionally come to visit me. I was aware that the high level detectives in the country police stations often cause embarrassment to their superiors because of their hypersensitivity and directly proportional ignorance, which was inversely proportional to the amount of work they had. Since it was obvious that there was no trace of violating the Law to Maintain Public Security, I didn’t think much of it and took the shortcut towards the police station. It was people from the police station, people who were as frightening to see as unexpectedly coming across a snake. The police station was for some reason a fearsome place to enter. Even if it was to deliver a normal written notice, one felt the angry glares and feared loud reprimands and physical abuse that might rain down on him upon entering the station, the things that caused fear and anxiety were the police station and its people. And so one could not remain cool and calm about this situation even if it was that he had abided by the Law to Maintain Public Security without a trace of violating it, and had thus treated it lightly. After making me wait quite a while, a Japanese detective – a person with a skinny physique, face, eyes and even hands and feet that flowed with a ferociousness, whose face was familiar to me – took me to a separate room and began to ask me about my association with Mr. X and Mr. Y. How did we meet each other and since when, how often did they visit each month, what did we talk about and do together. I explained within a benign range that the first time we met was about half a year ago when they first came to visit me; the things that we talked about were related to the study of literature for beginners, including how to study writing, what kind of books one should read, which authors wrote which books and why they were good pieces, and if they brought passages they had read but couldn’t understand, I would explain it to them. “Is that all?” The last investigator glared at me with vicious eyes luring me for more information. 10
Though I was trembling inside, I calmly replied, “That’s basically it.” “Think about it some more.” “There’s nothing more to really think about, that’s how it is.” “Truly?” “Yes.” “You bastard.” Along with a sound came slaps across the face slap, slap, slap… “Kneel down you bastard.” I got down from the stool and kneeled. “Tell me the truth now!” “I did tell you the truth.” “There was that time that you talked about the Chinese Incident! “What about the Chinese Incident do you mean?” “You said that Japan would fail at ultimately conquering China in the end even if there may be a period when it briefly conquers it by military force.” “That was simply a historical explanation, not in reference to Japan but focused on how the Han Chinese were a people with an assimilative power such that though it had been repeatedly conquered by border tribes, it would assimilate and integrate the conqueror’s culture and society so that after time had passed, it would be a reverse conqueror and the Han who had been the conquered would swallow the border tribes who had been the victors.” “So weren’t you saying that to mean that Japan would ultimately lose in this Chinese War as well?” “If you force a connection between these two then there’s not much I can say, but my intent...” “Why you ungrateful little bastard. Who do you think you are saying something like that… you bastard, do you think that a few Joseon insects like you can make a mockery of the rise and fall of the Japanese Empire? How dare a scum like you say something so outrageously rude and unforgivable.” This time, a booted foot smashed into my body. Punishment truly did hurt. “Go rot for a while, you bastard.” Thus I went into prison for the second time in my life. After being thrown in, all I did was silently rot away for over a month. During that time Mr. X, and Mr. Y, as well as another who was imprisoned would occasionally one at a time be pulled out for a beating and then be sent back in. For someone who was left alone in prison, the idle days brought a frustration and fear as well as anxiety about what may follow in the coming days, and this kind of cruel punishment was no less than being frequently dragged out for lashings. There was likely no other place as well utilized by the conquering forces and their native collaborators as the prison at the police station to bully and abuse the vanquished humans as humans. 11
The prison guards would draw some cold water in a water container and leave a ladle in it, brewing tea for us to drink or scooping water for criminals when they requested it, but required us to drink it in aluminum pots that were provided in each room. There was a village farmer who was arrested for petty one-cent gambling. It was a very light crime, and he was a young lad who had a naive appearance. As a petty thief, he was called from the prison cell to sweep the floors of the jail and do small chores for the other criminals – delivering water or taking them toilet paper so they didn’t have to request it from the guards. The penny gambler had just finished sweeping the floor, and apparently thirsty, had begun to gulp the water from the container straight from the ladle. That was when suddenly we heard, “Hey! You little bastard!” And along with this thunderbolt-like shout, the guard jumped from his seat and ran over, slapping him across the face and kicking him. The thief dropped the ladle and fell over onto the concrete floor spitting out the remaining water and blood, repeatedly screaming, “Oh shit!” The guard continued to beat and kick the thief not heeding whether it was his head or ribs and did not stop. While he did so, he cursed and scolded him. Asking why he put his dirty snout on the ladle, yelling that yobo3 were dirtier than pigs. Of course the colonizers didn’t know if we were dirtier than pigs or not, but one thing that was clear was that the colonized were as powerless as pigs. The day that I was imprisoned, I didn’t get to eat my first meal there, which was dinner. Part of it was indeed that I wasn’t hungry because I was worked up, but even for someone with a palate as humble as mine, I couldn’t bring myself to put that “food” into my mouth. The bent and crushed aluminum bento that was black with grime was partly filled with “rice,” which was actually yellow millet with a few kernels of rice mixed in visible only if examined closely, and one side dish of a slightly salted parboiled mix of sprouts from the mountains that were clearly picked without much thought. In the rice, there was millet from Manchuria with its characteristic triangular shape and thin yolk-color with plenty of fine sand mixed in. When the thief next to me learned that my food was going back out into the hallway without even touching my chopsticks, he said almost as if talking to himself: “Then I’ll eat it.” And quietly taking it began stuffing himself so that his cheeks looked like they were going to explode. Ten days of being a criminal in the East would make most fight and curse for one more chopstick full of food, and one could see man’s animalistic nature to fight for food. I didn’t eat anything the second day either. The criminal guilty of fraud, the one with thick cotton pants, quilted jacket, thick cotton socks, and a borrowed blanket who ate food brought in from the outside by visitors – he had the highest seniority in room number five with 16 months in prison. Around lunch, he told me that the guard would permit me to have outside food if I requested, and recommended that I do so.
Yobo, was a derogatory word used by Japanese colonizers when referring to Koreans.
I said well… and responded vaguely. I wasn’t in the circumstances to be able to afford a won and 50 jeon5 each meal for a total of 4 won and 50 jeon a day on food. Likewise during dinner, I gave the bento box that the institution gave me to my cellmates. The fraud criminal took half of his rice, fish, and grilled meat from his privately ordered food and put it in front of me saying, “Have some of this at least. You don’t look like someone who has lived any which way, but you can’t just starve here now, can you,” and offered it to me. Truly, I was dizzy with hunger. The soft white rice and delicious side dishes made my molars ache and the roundworms inside me squirm. However it was only after he offered about three to four times that I even acted like I was eating a few bites. If I didn’t eat the prison food and waited to receive bits of privately delivered food from others merely because I wanted it but couldn’t afford it, I was a shameless beggar of the aristocracy, and this was nothing but disgraceful. “There’s nothing you can do. You still have to eat. Brother Noh, it’s because you just got here that you’re uneasy and in a bad mood, but just you wait. You won’t have any other worry than being hungry. You’ll forget wanting to leave and all the issues your family faces, so that the only thing you’ll think about is food.” That’s what the fraud criminal said. I didn’t believe what he claimed, but I realized that he spoke truth before the week was over. The dry, yellow millet, with only a few kernels of rice no matter how hard you looked but plenty of sand and dirt, and the bitter wild greens or the three pieces of salted radish that were rotten black were all so flavorful and tasty that I was certain that I had never had a more delicious meal in 35 years. Even for someone who ate as little as I did, there was no way that the scant food in the flat aluminum bento could be filling. I would lick each kernel of millet rice clean from the sides, but I as I put down my chopsticks, I would immediately get hungry again and would wait for my next meal. The food cart would come rattling down the aisle at seven in the morning. After breakfast, I would stare at the clock that hung behind the guard more than a hundred times until lunch at noon, waiting to hear the rattling of the food cart. And after strenuously finishing lunch, I would again look at the clock more than a hundred times waiting for six o’clock dinner. I spent my days in this way, and waiting for food became my only occupation. Even when I thought about it, there could be nothing more crude and vulgar. I was no different than a pig wanting food all day. 4
Won- monetary unit of Korean currency Jeon- former monetary unit of Korean currency, equaling 1/100 of a won.
I did try to reproach myself saying that this was an opportunity, even if forced, where I could concentrate my mind and meditate, but I could not be at ease because first, I didn’t have that kind of leisurely personality and second, I wasn’t a criminal with a determined punishment. Anyhow, it goes without saying that if I, who had a bit of self control and was not the usual petty criminal, was such, how much worse would others be? The amount of fighting that occurred as each person sought to eat someone else’s leftover food was genuinely an embarrassing sight to see. The regulations were that unfinished food had to be returned, and so no one could freely eat the leftovers, and if it was found out that someone had violated this regulation, he was severely beat. Thus, eating leftover food was a largely risky task that had to be done secretly. Nevertheless, they did not fear to dare these risks. It was revealed that an extra portion of rice had been sent in to room number three. Though it was April, the cells of the prison were as cold as winter. As punishment to room number three for eating the extra rice, the guard poured three containers of water in the room. Additionally, the four who had shared the rice had their hands tied to the outside of the prison bars and were beat all day with a Kendo stick. I don’t know how the police stations after liberation compare to the rules of that prison, but once one was a suspect, the Japanese police treated them cruelly like animals. I had rotted in the “pigpen” with those people for a month, receiving treatment like a pig and acting no better than a pig when I was called to the investigation room for the first time in a month. It was a Japanese detective whose body, face, eyes, and even hands and feet exuded violence and ferocity. “Are you going to continue to say that you don’t know anything when soand-so confessed to organizing the reading club?” The investigator responded with this in a fulminating voice. “We organized a reading club?” I was immediately lost for words and replied after staring blankly. “That’s right, we got his confession.” “I don’t have one to give you.” And in actuality, I didn’t. It was likely that Mr. X gave a false confession after suffering from the beatings, or that this was one of their conventional methods of jumping to conclusions. From that day’s investigation, I learned for the first time what it was that they were plotting about me. It was unknown if this was a good enough piece of evidence to create into an incident by making some loose assumptions about a reading club… there is a cheeky-looking fellow who gathers with a group of young men to study literature, share books, and exchange opinions, and apparently they often freely engage in ill-meaning conversation about the state of affairs. It must have been the same kind of magic touch that the North Jeolla Province police department used to 14
produce the KAPF6 incident, in the same way that a rusted old piece of metal becomes an axe or kitchen knife at the touch of a blacksmith. About ten days later, I was dragged out for the second time. Meanwhile, I received a note that Mr. X had sent me: “You must deny the matter of the reading club. They told me that you already confessed, but I don’t believe them. I’m only worried about the fact that they confiscated my journal where I wrote some things that may be disadvantageous to you teacher.” It was written in pencil on prison paper, and it was through this that I confirmed that my guess was correct. This time it was the partner of the Japanese detective, a Joseon investigator by the name of Kim, who had an extremely large head and short legs that splayed when he walked. He was known all throughout Kaesong for being a merciless and violent detective. But this very Kim began inquiring with a soft expression, and even used respectful language. “Why are you being so stubborn and suffering like this?” “I’m not trying to be stubborn. What else can I do when you asked me to tell the truth.” “You know very well that even if the reading club didn’t have a name, the fact that the reading club met and acted is enough to validate the incident.” “What is it that the reading club had to have done?” “Even if an incident can’t be established, you can’t deny that you’re hated now. Don’t you know that once it’s been decided to hate you, there’s no limit to that end? What can we do but lock you up for one, two, or three years to make a joke out of you?” More than torture and living out a sentence in prison, the worst possible sentence that I feared most was being locked up in jail uselessly to rot. There were plenty of cases from the former Joseon period when people who were imprisoned first for ideological reasons were not found guilty for anything but were left to meaninglessly suffer and rot away in prison. It wasn’t just ideologists who were imprisoned but also those who didn’t have an immediate crime to get them arrested, such as the man in my cell who had been locked up for a year and four months on accounts of fraud and embezzlement. I associated the “iron mask” that wasn’t wearing a mask of iron and shuddered. Kim seemed to be appeasing me on the one hand with a deliberately soft expression and respectful language while remaining quite threatening as an intangible “iron mask.” I had to choose between confessing to a crime I did not commit and living out the sentence, or rotting away in the jail at the police station for an unknown length of time. The thing that saved me in this moment was a single unexpected letter. Another ten days or so passed. 6
KAPF, Korea Artista Proleta Federatio - A literary group formed in 1925 of Korean proletariate artists.
A Japanese detective came to me and while smiling vacantly for some reason asked, “Do you want to get out of here?” When I couldn’t respond with an answer right away and just continued to study his expression, he asked again. “Do you want to get out of here?” It was then that I also replied. “Am I here because I want to be?” “Hmm…” and he studied my face for a long time and then asked again. “Is there something called the Joseon Literary Association?”7 “There is.” “What kind of group is it?” “It’s group of Joseon literary artists who try to aid the country through literature.” “How did this group form, and with what relations?” “The colonial government and influential Japanese among the people led the efforts.” “The members are all Joseon?” “Many of the founding members and honorary members are Japanese.” “So the Joseon Literary Association is dispatching a group to the northern borders to provide comfort to the Imperial Army?” “That’s correct.” “Is this the notice for that?” And with that he took out a single-page letter. This was the very letter from the Literary Association that arrived right before my last trip to Seoul notifying the Association’s intent to send a group to encourage the Imperial Army in the northern border regions and its request for members to attend the meeting that would be held on a certain date and location. I later found out after I was freed that they had searched my house for the second time about 10 days before my release, and had found this stuck between the pages of a magazine. My wife told me that they had taken this letter when it had fallen out. “If you look there, it says that a meeting would open on March 28th to discuss dispatching the literary comfort group, did you attend?” “I did. That’s actually why I went up to Seoul last time.” “What kind of decision was made then?” “It was decided that a few reputed people from our membership would be chosen and dispatched.” “Who was selected?” “It was decided that the selection committee would take care of that.” “And the cost?” “Government money will be used.” 7
Joseon Literary Association, or Korean Literary Association
“Hmm...” At long last, he put on a serious expression and tone. “You know, no matter how much you all deny it, there’s plenty of irrefutable evidence to establish something here, do you understand?” “Yes.” “However, since it appears that nothing seems to have been done intentionally but rather unintentionally, and the results of our investigation found that you are an active member of the Joseon Literary Association, we will be pardoning you as an exception this one time. You understand?” “Yes.” The truth was that though I had in actuality gone to Seoul, I hadn’t attended that meeting. The meeting time had already passed, and so this was what I had heard from so-and-so, whom I had met randomly on the road. The detective continued on about the results of his investigations, but from what I found out on my trip to Seoul soon after was that the Kaesong police department had never inquired to the Literary Association about my background or affiliation. “And the other three… not only would it be a pity for them to have a criminal record at such a young age, but this will also do them damage when they work for the country later on, and so we’re going to fully forgive them, you understand.” “Yes.” “Hereafter, you need to take extra caution and be ever more loyal to the country and its affairs. “Yes.” “If something unfortunate happens again, there will be no forgiveness under any circumstances.” “Yes.” After I was released, I found out that the son of the wealthiest man in Kaesong, who controlled the police department with his powerful money and called upon the detectives and police like his personal servants, had heard the requests of my elder brother and friend and had taken the two detectives out for drinks when he had harshly scolded them, if you have nothing to do, just sit around and scratch your feet instead of this bullshit of imprisoning and abusing an innocent man like him. I’m sure that was helpful, but the single-page letter from the Literary Association played a decisive role. An important thing from the answers about the Literary Association was that although there were many parts that were temporarily said in the moment for my benefit, I was able to accurately learn what was considered beneficial and advantageous for the sovereign power in pro-Japanese collaboration through this “Kaesong Incident.” Whatever the case, I knew that they weren’t going to drag me out even if I didn’t participate right away, but I couldn’t just lay there and suffer which is the reason I didn’t try to 17
avoid lecturing for the anti-American, anti-Britain public indignation meetings but instead voluntarily participated, because I knew that this was advantageous to pro-Japanese cooperation. Many bright people genuinely followed after the Japanese to secure and promote their personal interests and safety. And surely many others submitted to the Japanese because they didn’t have the courage to endure persecution. Those who did not want to submit and also had the courage went abroad to fight for the struggle for the nation’s liberation. Others who were even braver didn’t seek asylum in foreign countries, but instead hid underground and continued their struggle from there. Neither brave nor intelligent, I fell into the category of foolish and weak husbands by appearing to obey when in fact that wasn’t my true intention. 3 With the snow piling up, it was a fresh start to a cold February. After completing my assignment in Songhwa County, I was on the road to the last stop at the small town of Pungcheon. After finishing the lecture, there was a bus leaving for the next destination in two hours. In the middle of eating lunch surrounded by a bustling crowd of people, I received a message that someone was looking for me. I walked outside wondering who could possibly be looking for me in this town and saw two young men I had never met before. The pair was quite contrasting as one was healthy and the other had a pale face and ashen body. My heart skipped a beat the moment I realized I did not know them, but on the other hand I also felt glad. Having done five lectures in a row always in the midst of an audience full of clean cut sophisticated students with determined faces, there was no instance of anyone bellowing, “Enough with your nonsense” after hearing my babbling. Moreover, there were no instances of anyone suddenly attacking and beating anyone up in the night. Safety was not something to be taken for granted, however. But the realization that the youth were so down made me feel empty and sad. However, despite my initial feeling of fear, I was also glad that these courageous young strangers had requested a meeting with me – clearly, those from the birthplace of Noh Baek-lin were different. However, these strangers did not appear very hostile, their words were gentle, and there were too few people to have come to beat me up, leading me to feel both safe and disappointed at the same time. The bulkier one was Noh, and the pale, ashen one was Lee. After exchanging greetings, Noh asked a question. “Teacher, when are you leaving?” “Later, I am planning to leave on the afternoon bus.” At my answer the two suddenly plunged into despair, and Noh spoke. 18
“If it’s at all possible, perhaps you could leave on the morning bus, and spend some time with us tonight…” “It’s because I have a previous engagement.” The two looked at each other with disappointed expressions, and this time Lee asked. “Then would it be possible to spend an hour or 30 minutes even, with us after lunch?” “Let’s do that.” Whether the results of this meeting will be bruises or a nice meal was yet to be determined, but I was thankful for this sort of responsibility to know what kinds of thoughts and expectations the youth in the countryside had about the current state of affairs. Although I tried my best to quickly end the lunch that soon easily became a drinking fest as it certainly is common, by the time I got to where the youth were waiting for me, I nearly had to get up to leave as soon as I sat down because of the lack of time. A setting of apples, fruit, and tea had been prepared before us, and there were two other youngsters who looked about the same age as Noh and Lee, as well as one who liked music and another who liked literature. We shared first introductions again, and before we could have a proper cup of tea, it was time for me to rush off to catch the bus. Noh and Lee tried earnestly to dissuade me from leaving, asking me to talk with them through the night and leave in the morning, as they in the countryside had longed to speak and spend time with their seniors and did not want to let this infrequent chance pass by. My plans for that day were lined up one after another as I was supposed to leave Pungcheon to go to Songhwa Hot Springs, where I would meet the person coming from Jangyeon who would guide me there, where I would prepare and begin lecturing the next day. However, I could not brush aside the students’ request and stand to leave, even if it meant that I would have to miss my contact from Jangyeon and risk causing a scheduling conflict. At night our group swelled to about twelve people. They were a group of outstanding young men between the ages of 20 and 24 or 25, most with at least middle school education. One young man spoke. “Our future is dark. We can’t help but be pessimistic. We don’t know what to do.” I was immediately stuck for an answer. This was not because I did not have a clear answer. Even if this group of over 10 people was trustworthy, there was no guarantee that the words spoken here would not jump from one house, across two mouths, and into the ears of the police. Trusting in the fact that I was their senior, these students were pleading for the truth. Everyone gathered in this group also attested that they all attended my lecture during the day. Trusting that the content of the lecture was spoken against my will and that it was not the truth, they were also trusting me by expressing their honest thoughts.
My fears of rumors spreading and punishment from the police made me cowardly, and I could not respond to the honesty of these youth who embraced me and trusted me with their concerns with the same kind of honesty. I thought myself cold-hearted and sad. “The scope of that is very vague… in what way do you mean?” I responded hastily with a question in return. “The majority of us gathered here are those who have to be dragged into the army through conscription or as student soldiers. Must we be dragged away to a useless death?” It felt as though cold water had been poured onto my back. Many stopped eating, and waited for my answer in anticipation. “If we are to demand a life with the same rights as Japanese people, don’t you think we will have to sacrifice some blood? If blood is shed, won’t that blood give us the right to make demands?” “Yes… but…” He seemed dissatisfied with my response. I was more relieved that they were dissatisfied than if they had been satisfied. Another student spoke up. “The discriminatory treatment is so revolting I cannot handle it anymore.” “In order to be treated with respect, we must also develop our skills. Be it culturally or economically, we need to reach a level that is no less than that of the Japanese. If we as a whole strive and achieve that level, how could they dare look down at us?” “At the same school the same year, a Japanese student ranked last and a Joseon student graduated top of the class, but when both entered the same company, there was a difference in the wages they were given. The Japanese student will soon be promoted, but the Joseon student will continue to be stuck in the same place. Attaining skills is futile.” “There may be some of us who are better as individuals than other Japanese, but can we really compare as a whole? We must develop skills as a whole that are better than the Japanese as a whole, or at least skills equal to them, and wait for that day.” This theory about skills and sacrificing blood were argued by the so-called progressives within the pro-Japanese group, extremists who called themselves Naeseon Ilche-ists. So even though they were pro-Japanese, they were hated and watched by the colonial government and military. Instead of filling the thirsty students’ bowls with refreshing cold water, it was as though I had given everyone a spoonful of bitter pro-Japanese rhetoric. With a heart that hurt more than broken bones or being seriously beaten to the verge of death, I returned to the inn and lay down to sleep. I was having trouble falling asleep when Lee alone came to me. “I realize that I created discomfort for you by inviting a lot of people. But know that they are all people you can trust.” 20
Lee kneeled politely and after apologizing and justifying his actions said, “Teacher, what are we to do?” Lee was asking in earnest distress. It was in reference to conscription and student soldiers. I did not hesitate in responding. “I want to advise you to try not to go. No matter what it takes. “…” Lee’s pallid face shone as he stared at me in silence. Tears had welled up in his eyes. These tears began to flow. My eyes began to also burn. “Since we are already talking, I have one request. Develop a strong consciousness and protect it. Rather than living a life of compromise stooping over to those with power to achieve an imminent, pathetic security, develop a strong consciousness so that you do not yield and continue to fight against them even if persecuted. The reason we were oppressed for thousands of years by people from the interior, and the reason we are now slaves to the Japanese, is because we lacked the firm mind to fight against the foreign enemies when they invaded us and oppressed us. The biggest flaw of our nation is collaboration – flattering and yielding to the strong for the pathetic goal of momentary security. Our misfortune of today comes from the defect of our ethnicity, and if we do not fix this defect, we will either face extinction as a race or remain forever as unhappy tomorrow as we are today. Now, what we earnestly need especially from our youth, is a strong mind to not yield and fight. But of course, this is no use if each person stands firm alone. When many gather, only then can strength be formed.” “…” Lee hung his head and continued to only listen. I changed the tone of my voice and continued to speak. “But, please be careful. First, please remember that being close to someone and being able to trust someone is different. Second, restrain your passion. It is but a short distance between passion and thoughtlessness.” “…” “Also, in my view, this barbaric and terroristic state is not a normal state of human history. It truly seems like an alteration of another time. Please do not feel too hopeless or disappointed. It does seem like the day when things will return to normal will soon come.” “Thank you teacher. I will bear in mind the things you have said. I will believe it.” Lee raised his head, wiping the tears still streaming down his face with clenched fists, and spoke in a choked voice, panting. That night, I felt a bit lighter and as though a heavy load had been lifted off my shoulders. However, I had to continue speaking in front of large groups that America and Britain were evil, Japan was right, war is but a pulley, Joseon people should quickly increase production and save a lot to cooperate and quickly end the war as Japan’s victory – there was no option but to remain an ugly amphibious creature. 21
After that in May of 1944, five writers and five painters were paired into groups of one writer and one painter each and sent to one of five different production sites, including Mokpo Joseon Dockyard in Mokpo, South Jeolla Province, anthracite coal mines in Yeongwol, Gangwon Province, anhydrous alcohol factory in Ganggye, North Pyongan Province, Bulyi Farm in Yongcheon, North Pyongan Province, and an aluminum factory in Yangsi, North Pyongan Province. I was selected into one of the pairs and went to the aluminum factory in Yangsi. My duty was to stay there for about a week and learn the practical knowledge of that production site before returning, upon which the painter would paint drawings of increasing production and the novelist would write novels about increased production; the host and organizing body was the culture division within the Joseon Collective People’s Alliance. Upon my return, I wrote and submitted two twenty-page products, and though it was said that someone would be translating it into Japanese, it lost steam and was never released. Again, that fall, I went to lecture in Gimhwa, Gangwon Province, like I had the previous year in Hwanghae Province. Just before this, I had begun to write a serial novel for the Maeil Sinbo. The inspector demanded a resolution from the author via the editor of the newspaper. The pledge was threefold, it had to be novel about the current situation, an outline of the novel had to be submitted in advance, and the novel would be written faithful to the outline. Extremely poor, the only method of earning money was then, as it is now, selling my writings, and without that, it was difficult to even access two bowls of distribution rice… I made the pledge as demanded and began writing. In the midst of writing I would at times breach the pledge, a few times was called into see the inspector – a retired police officer for a scolding, and sometimes listened to lectures about literature. Whether they were good or bad, I was a 20-year veteran author who in his old age was listening to a lecture on literature all evening long from an inspector... However, if I thought about it from a different angle, this kind of punishment was deserved. Byron or someone had woken up one morning to realize that he was very famous, but I woke up one morning to find that I was standing inside a pit. I was continuing to slowly slip without limit into the pit of Japanese collaboration. I had already slipped in knee-deep. But at this point, it wasn’t that I couldn’t pull myself out. If I didn’t pull myself out now, knee-deep would rise to the thigh, then from thigh to the navel, navel to chest, from throat to forehead, and then forever plunge... and that would be the end of that. This made each and every hair on my body stand on end. Leaving Seoul and going to the secluded countryside I would be isolated from opportunities to respond to the “dried persimmon” bait to go give lectures. If I was in the countryside, the hoe would at least provide half the necessary barley rice, and I wouldn’t have to sell writings, which was no less than prostitution. 22
Japan’s defeat, the insecurity and fear that would follow it, the threat of the machine guns aimed at people’s backs by Japanese soldiers with murderous eyes; other than these reasons, there was another different reason for why I felt I had to move to a remote corner of the country, and this was to escape from the pit of Japanese collaboration. And that’s what I did. But I didn’t exactly get up and courageously shake everything off. Of course this was clearly a clumsy, quiet method of escape, so characteristic of me. It wasn’t even as if there was some sort of firm determination that was stirring within me. At the same time, it wasn’t as if I was strategizing to try to get a light sentence if I was ever indicted in the future. Furthermore this wasn’t an attempt to try to hide my past from others by moving my home. For something like that, far off Gwangnaru would have been more advantageous. It was just that the foul smell emanating from the truth that I was a Japanese collaborator was still unbearably offensive, and I was confronted with this simple desire to spare myself before I was neck-deep. No matter the fact that I had escaped when only knee-deep, the filthy mud of Japanese collaboration were worn on my two legs like an eternal pair of rain boots. They were an eternal “sign of a sinner” that could not be washed off, shaved off, nor erased off. In the same way that the menstruation of a prostitute who returned to her family can never revert back to that of a virgin. Although I had escaped when I was knee-deep, it really was no different from being belly-deep or chest-deep. Even if I had been ankle-deep before fleeing, I would still have had the dirty mud of pro-Japanese cooperation on my skin. Therefore, the gradations of one’s mark of transgressions did not vary much whether one was only knee or ankle-deep, or deeper in up to the chest, even if there may be differences in the amount of one’s sin.
4 I had evacuated and gone down to my hometown, but even so I was dejected. April in any year was spring poverty, and while this spring famine was in itself difficult to pass, the previous year’s harvest had also been bad. On top of that, every bit of the unharvested rice had been taken as the delivery quota to the government. And then, the so-called “rations” and “restored rice” were distributed like medicine to each home, a quart or so of rice, and a bit of rotten corn kernels. The majority of commoners were barely avoiding starvation with a bowl of grass gruel a day and with sallow looks, didn’t have the strength to sow seeds even though spring had returned. To make things worse, the barley harvest had been terrible. The people struggled to find a way to survive through the spring and summer until October. My countryside home consisted of my 80something-year-old mother and my 60-year-old elder brother and sister-in-law. Plus my four family members. I had to be responsible for these eight people. Not only was it difficult to buy rice, but if I did use the 3,000 won I gathered to buy it, it would barely last a month. No matter, I had to use that 3,000 won as investment to raise this 23
year’s crops. As long as I had put my pen down, there would be no income from writing as I had in Seoul. No matter what, my lifeline depended solely on farming, hence that very 3,000 won could not be consumed. I helplessly gave my 80-year-old mother a transparent, green gruel. I fed my four-year-old who had gotten a stomachache the ration of rotten corn porridge. Rice paddy farming needed expert skills and strength I wasn’t capable of, so we had no choice but to hire expensive workers, but my wife and I decided that we could handle the dryfield farming. Since we had to make do until the new crops grew in the fields in autumn, we planted millet and potatoes. We also planted dry-field rice. We grew greens, too. In each nook and cranny throughout the field, we planted corn and pumpkins, since they could be harvested and consumed the fastest. This kind of work was new to both my wife and I, and we found it extremely arduous. We had bloody noses from time to time. Sometimes, we were bedridden from fatigue. More difficult to withstand than physical exhaustion was hunger. Breakfast hardly felt like a meal, and there was no lunch most days. Shoveling dirt and plucking weeds with my belt tightened under the long rays of the April and May sun, I often experienced sudden bouts of dizziness when the sunset. Yet, there was no opportunity to concern bodily ache in this singleround match – either starve comfortably to death or struggle to plant and harvest to eat and survive even if collapsing in the furrows while doing so. With the onset of May, work was less busy and I set out for Seoul. The purpose of my visit was to pick up my belongings that I had left at another person’s house and send them via express. When I stopped by the Maeil Sinbo, a local news reporter welcomed the timing of my visit and inquired about the conditions of my life in exile. I shared that the food situation was critical, and answered that I was waiting with all my heart for the day when I could fill my hungry stomach with the ripened harvests from the 300 to 400 stalks of corn and 50 to 60 pumpkins that I planted with my own two hands. The day after that, the paper published “Tale of Evacuation” as the second installment or so, and included my picture and introduction as a writer who had contributed greatly to the movement to increase food supply by planting 300 to 400 stalks of corn and 50 to 60 pumpkins with a hoe in his leisure time. It was a well-written and strategic article that claimed me as an example for other farmers. I was grateful. Because of that I could avoid forceful draft, and instead of drawing the attention of the police, I received some “respect.” Yoon’s question of, “Did you harvest a lot of pumpkins and corn?” And the slight smile of vivid contempt and scorn was in reference to this Maeil Sinbo “Tale of Evacuation.” And so it was that this was really, “You idiot, you are a traitor to the nation!” No different from a harsh insult. 5 The manager of the office, Kim was back. 24
After he briefly stated that it was necessary to have a small magazine with the reluctant purpose of propaganda in order to start publishing, and that the proactive assistance of us two either through the form of editorial policy or manuscript was needed to smoothly release its first volume, he turned to me and said: “First, you write a novel, a short and pretty one. The deadline is within two weeks… this has ‘command-like characteristics.’ No need to unnecessarily violate that.” “What kind of novel looks like a ‘pretty’ one?” I couldn’t help but joke and ask a question in return. “For example, your recent novel “Police Officer Maeng,” published in so-and-so newspaper, is in no way at all a pretty one.” “Then it would be much easier for you to ask another person.” “Since you mention it, it was a bit disappointing that that was your first piece of work since 8.15.”8 “What do you expect if that’s all the talent I’ve got?” Had Yoon not been there, I would have said instead, “Were you expecting a masterpiece from that silence?” “So, it’s pretty easy to write novels nowadays, is it?” Yoon chimed in to ask. “No, that’s not at all the case. With the censorship gone, it’s like how a rickshaw driver is no good at running marathons." “Oh, so you’re writing some Naeseon Ilche9 novels now.” That the response to me insinuating that I had become too relaxed in the absence of censorship and so writing became a fruitless task was, “You’re trying to write Naeseon Ilche novels” – just complete nonsense. It was a totally incorrect deviation. It was an effort to pick on me to insult me. I swallowed that which was writhing in me and surging within my chest and restrained myself. Fighting back would only make it appear as if the guilty one was being angry, doubling the scorn. Noticing the intensifying atmosphere, Kim changed the subject. “Anyways, the novel should be done in that manner. Yoon, would you please write about this? ‘A look at the national temperament of the Japanese people through their defeat.’” “Not only is that not my specialty, but what kind of title is that?” “It’s grand if it’s decided upon. I was even thinking of holding a symposium, but I don’t think that will be necessary. They say that even junior high students nowadays have a lot of expectations and enthusiasm for what’s to come in the next ten years.” “But on the other hand, look at the interesting paradox of their unfocused and servile state of mind that’s resulted from defeat in the war. Where did that vicious, rampant, and arrogant attitude all go? Suddenly replaced with servility, half-wittedness, and cowardliness? I actually 8
8.15 is in reference to Liberation Day, August 15th, 1945. Naeseon Ilche- Literally meaning "Korea and Japan are One," this was Japan's policy to assimilate Koreans into Japanese culture. 9
thought that the day of Japan’s defeat would be met with suicides and such, but what in the world… those who were the leaders became even more shameless and selfish. Among them, particularly the ones who had been working in Korea, what did they do with all that vigor, that pride… And who was it? That fool Gocheon 10 went to North Hamgyeong Province and got arrested there, and then went around acting like a servant of the police.” “Hmph, why are you talking about others like that?” And with that Yoon pouted his lips. “Are the Japs the only ones whose leaders are selfish and shameless? What about the Joseon ones?” “The issue of Joseon people is unrelated to the title, so let us put it off for a second…” Kim was acting in consideration as he examined my expression for changes in my emotions, but Yoon completely ignored this and continued: "Having become the dogs of the Japs by flattering them and matching their sense of humor, these so-called artists and critics would gather the innocent youth and foolish people and exuding a horrible stench, would shout by scribbling with their rotten brushes to become loyal subjects of the Japanese empire, and to adhere to Naeseon Ilche. America and Britain are thieves, immoral, and destined to be wiped from the earth by the war. Japan is great and just, and will certainly win the war to prosper for eternity. Deceiving and pressuring people to join as volunteer soldiers, student soldiers, and reinforcement soldiers, to die a worthless death for Japan. Deceiving and pestering for people to send delivery quotas from their harvest even if it meant they had to starve to death. Deceiving and pressuring to join the requisition even if it meant the house is on the verge of ruin and the family is separated.” “This is too much, way too much. This is totally off topic for an editorial meeting.” “And particularly, those so-called novelist and poet bastards…” Then Yoon glanced at me – it was the kind of look full of hostility and hatred that is difficult to face directly – and as he stared at me with that expression, said, “I’m not talking about you specifically so don’t think I am.” And turning again to Kim he said, “Whether it is well-written or not, if novels and poems are considered the arts, then they are acts of conscience, studies of truth, and expressions of the truth. Of course, novelists and poets are human so they may lie with their mouths, but most hate lying with their pens and shouldn’t do so. Still they write complete lies in be-loyal-to-Japan novels and Naeseon Ilche novels, and glorify and praise the heroism of Korean youths who were forcefully drafted, which was in actuality only useless sacrifices that stood in the way of our liberation – so are these writers really artists? They are nothing but bastards who disgraced art and the honor of artists who are filled with wiggling maggots inside their stomachs instead of a conscience that seeks truth, good, and beauty.” “Goodness, are you going to write about the national temperament of the Japanese people in defeat, or not?” 10
Gocheon, a Japanese person’s name.
“And if they did, and even an ounce of humane conscience left in them, they should have some sort of regret and embarrassment for the way August 15 happened, shouldn't they? Even if they can't hang themselves on a roof somewhere, the least they could do is stay silent and out of sight, don't you think? But what would you know, instead of that, they were out taking charge after liberation even before those who really needed to be taking the lead – it was truly like the saying that the fool who doesn't own his own boat gets on the ship first. And so up until the day before, no not even the day before, even until the morning of, they ran to the Government General and the military and the Joseon Collective People’s Alliance like servants of Japan who were upholding their parents, and the furnace and brushes attacked America and Britain as the most irreverent enemy under the heavens, asked the people why they weren't becoming citizens of the Japanese empire as well as why they weren't enlisting in the army, pestered and demanded why they were not delivering their food quotas properly. Yet not long after, they were squashed by that furnace and brush no matter how thick like cow leather their faces were and those foreigners, our evil enemies surrendered. The blood-sucking foreigner thieves have gone away, the oppression and control of deceit that tried to eradicate our national consciousness and replace it with one as ‘citizens of the Japanese Empire’ and Naeseon Ilche have collapsed. All the chains of pressure and exploitation to be forcefully conscripted, forcefully used, and forcefully vanished have been broken. Now it's liberation. The national soul of the 30 million people of our nation, built of 4,000 years of proud history, radiant culture and unique traditions, continually fought against 36 years of colonial Japan. And now liberation has come to the entire 3,000 li of Korea. Now, it's the founding of the country. You and I, we all should dedicate ourselves to the building of the country. However, the pro-Japanese collaborators and traitors to the people should be punished. They were the bastards who sold out the nation to the foreign bastards. They are no less than the foreigners. In fact, they treated us even worse and harassed us even more than the foreigners. Oh, the saviors of our liberation are drawing near. Let us greet the great apostles of justice, the allied forces. In order for these kinds of words to be accepted, they shouldn't even write if their faces itch with shame, and they are ashamed to face their wives and children. At least it's possible to have a reason to be sympathetic to a prostitute who goes around from the bosom of Lee today and Kim tomorrow. Those contemptible, shameless things aren't even human. They're more base than pigs. Don't they say that even the dogs of thieves know how to obey their masters?” “Now, how about we decide that this is enough? I think it’s a sufficient enough explanation to understand that you’re a heartless person.” A little bit earlier, Kim had started to paste a newspaper clipping into a scrapbook. Kim’s voice was quite dignified. As was his facial expression. Kim wasn’t the kind of person who outwardly expressed sudden excitement or rage. Thus, the imposing voice and face he was showing now was no different from the level of anger others would have generally showed. Yoon didn’t mind him and continued to the very end. 27
“So I don’t want to take part in helping to establish the country or what not until those good for nothing people are purged. I have absolutely no intention of sitting in the company of that dirty bunch” “If a person like you takes something that petty to boast about and then is cruel to others about it in a way that is beyond its status, that can’t be beneficial to your personal interest and the world won’t tolerate it either...” “What? A petty thing to boast about? More than its status?” Yoon turned blue with anger and began to fight back. Kim put down what he was doing, and putting his two hands under his chin and looking straight across the table at Yoon, asked his question. “Hey you, Yoon. Do you see it that I cooperated with the Japanese or not?” “Of course you did, are you saying you didn’t?” “You view it that I absolutely did so, right? However, did you early on ever refute Japan’s offensive against Joseon leaders and intellectuals – I’m talking about the Government General’s so-called high politics. Have you ever counterattacked that before?” “…?” “Simply put, has the Joseon Collective People’s Alliance or countryside police station ever bargained with you to lecture on the state of affairs?” “No.” “What about a manuscript?” “No. After I quit the newspaper company, I went down to the country.” “I didn’t ask because I didn’t know. Thus firstly, you are a person who never had the active opportunity to test the strength of your principles. An untested product whose slate has yet to be determined as accepted or unaccepted. Do you understand what I’m saying?” “So what?” “If you compare it to a tree, it's a tree that has never endured being axed before. There's no way to know if it would have fallen over in one swing or five or ten, or if it would have been able to withstand 100,000 swings of an axe.” “So what?” “So the strength of your resolve is unknown. If yours were like the kind of principles and beliefs that had been maintained despite having been axed a hundred, a thousand times over like the leftist activists who have consistently struggled for their cause or some of the leaders from the democracy camp, then it would be worth boasting about. And surely they have had the chance to fault others who couldn't do so. But whether it's like a fragile egg that children often struggle to handle properly, or it's like the sturdy back of a terrapin that won't break even if a cow stepped on it, in any case, bragging and scorning others is an act that overvalues this untested resolve, don't you think?” “Are you saying that I'm bragging?”
“Whether it’s conscious or unconscious... and second, you’re someone who has your innocence. You and I were in the same position at the same newspaper company when you left with your family and I stayed, weren’t we?” “So what of it?” “I stayed and continued to make newspapers because I couldn't have survived two days if I would have quit my job as a newspaper reporter, and you're claiming that whatever I had to do to make the newspaper was considered collaboration with the Japanese, right?” “That's right.” “But you've never had to depend fully on that monthly salary to survive because your parents are wealthy, which meant you never had to worry about the basics of putting food on the table, and was why you could so easily throw away your job as a newspaper reporter, which spared you from being a Japanese collaborator with the newspaper company, right?” “So?” “Then this is really just the fate of wealth and possessions; the reason I can't be innocent is because I am poor, the reason you can be innocent is because you were born into a wealthy family, is there anything other than that? At least when we compare you and I, is there anything more than this? Of course, it is definitely embarrassing to have sold one's integrity because of poverty. And it's not as if there isn't willingness to accept the transgressions committed as convicted by the judgment of the nation. However, I don't think it's really something to boast about for having kept your integrity when it was thanks to having a wealthy father.” “That's really trite formal logic that is essentially obstinate reasoning. Who is to say that a salary man must only make a living from a newspaper company? Aren't there plenty of other positions a salary man has to work other than as a newspaper reporter?” “For example? A bank employee?” “Be it a bank or an average commercial company.” “Is it possible for a bank to stay in business without cooperating with the Japanese?” "If there's no other option, working in the fields is always an option." “…” Kim was staring at Yoon blatantly dumbfounded. “Have you not fully matured yet? Are you purposefully trying to be stubborn?” “How about you refrain from speaking?” “If I had asked you to borrow some land because I truly wanted to abandon the offensive world with you and close friends and go to the countryside to work the land, would you have been prepared to immediately offer it to me?” “Who ever made such plans, and who ever asked me for some land?” “True. You didn't offer because no one asked. Then we'll just overlook that. So according to you, the plan was to go to the countryside and work the land... and become farmers?” “That's right.”
“So if a newspaper reporter makes a newspaper that's collaborating with the Japanese, and a farmer farming and delivering food quotas to the government to keep the stomachs of the damn foreigners and their soldiers full for the war isn't?” “But there's a difference between the leader and the follower, don't you think? The difference of having the newspapers collaborate with the Japanese, and the farmers following what they’re told to do isn't a small one.” "If the farmers had delivered their quota of rice to the government, and young people had enlisted as soldiers and student soldiers solely because of what the Joseon leaders and seniors were saying, then every single one of the pro-Japanese collaborators among the intellectuals should be killed. But look here Yoon. Say you questioned 10,000 farmers individually and asked if it was the pestering of the district chief and township employees, and the beatings from the police endured in prison for hiding some of their harvests that led to them delivering their quotas. You ask if some voluntarily delivered parts of their farmed goods after hearing a lecture or reading a novel in the newspaper saying that it was necessary to do so. You ask for a very straightforward answer. Some will say they don't know, but it will be difficult to find even one farmer who answers that it wasn't the pestering of government employees or fear of reprisals from the police that made him submit his quotas of rice but was instead in agreement with the lecture of some Joseon person or being moved after reading some novel, or reading a newspaper and thinking it good to do so, and it was with this overflowing heart that he delivered his quotas. The answers for volunteer and student soldiers will be similar... How on earth is it that you think Joseon people today, and in particular youth, trust in what these so-called great leaders who collaborate with the Japanese say? Forget credibility, they don't view us any better than dogs. So who would have submitted their delivery quotas and enlisted in the armed forces as a result of listening to these so-called leaders? They would have done so because they were either forced by the damn foreigners and public officials or did it as a measure of self-defense.” “Well, according to your rationale, it sounds like not a single person would be a proJapanese collaborator or traitor to the nation.” “How could there be no one guilty if two of the three here are traitors?” “I'm talking about those who should be punished.” “There are a lot. However, the gravity of a punishment must be determined by considering the impact of the crime and the circumstances of the criminal, as well as the psychology and actions of the criminal after the crime, but people like you would say that the death sentence should be given to the majority of strong, young men among the 30 million of us, and indeed it’s like trying to uproot something but instead it kills the pine itself.” “Most people should be purged. Be generous and it may be a big hindrance towards the reconstruction of the country. We should do it the same way they did north of the 38th parallel. And you know, what I dislike no matter what others say is that contemptible, selfish, and shameless human quality. I hate it and find it so odious that it gives me the chills. The fact that I share the same title as a Joseon person with people like that is offensive and worth cursing.” 30
Kim hadn't been trying to introduce various different ideas about the actual issue of his own collaboration with the Japanese during the colonial Japanese period through newspapers, but it was because he was so embarrassed that he momentarily threw away his general rule in life to be nice to everyone and picked a fight with Yoon on my behalf. However, Kim's defense of pro-Japanese collaborators was even without Yoon's words, slanted by a stubborn, old formal logic that made it mostly lacking and full of holes. Even if I, essentially the defendant, had been completely defended, I was in a mental state that wanted to say, “No, it's the prosecutor's argument that matters, the lawyer's claim is useless.” And thus thought it hardly worth saying anything. And in terms of the issue of Yoon's principles and innocence, this was furthermore not a problem. There was no rule that said that not having one's principles and beliefs tested, or being innocent because of wealth meant that such people didn't have the qualification to attack criminals. Though we waited a while, Yoon did not speak any further. I took it that I had completed my duty in that situation and after saying goodbye to Kim and Yoon, came out from Company P. I knew without having to look in the mirror that I had not a trace of color in my face. Kim shortly followed me out to the first floor to send me off. “It seems you had bad luck today.” Kim said this chuckling as he let go of my hand as we said goodbye. I also laughed and said something. But it may have appeared to Kim like I was in fact crying. “It seems that the only thing we haven't done much of is die.” Then Kim shook his head back and forth a few times and said, “It's just so cheap of him to claim that one is either innocent and dies from anger or stained and dies from embarrassment.” What he said was appropriate. Thoroughly appropriate. I was suddenly resentful of Kim, who had spoken such utterly appropriate words. “You’re the real mother-in-law here.” I was slightly dizzy when I got out onto the street. An uneasy rain was falling from the dark sky. The world made of people, buildings, and streets somehow looked different from the way it did when I first walked into Company P an hour ago. 6 After returning home, I laid in bed as if sick for half a month until today. Sitting in front of a meal closer to lunch than breakfast that was brought before me, I said something out of the blue to my wife. “Let’s go down to the countryside.” “...” My wife was not surprised. I had left the house so normally and had returned suddenly on the verge of death, such that at first it seemed because of an illness, but was not. Yet, I was bedridden like someone who had been ill for days. 31
It seemed like something erupted outside. On the one hand, since I didn’t not know the sudden disturbed feelings that followed liberation, I could guess the nature of the happening outside. My wife responded only after a long while. She had always been the more composed and realistic one between us. “If we have to go then we will… but we need a means of survival.” “...” “We cannot just head to an unfamiliar place where we don’t have any friends; if we are going to go, won’t it always be back to our hometown? But is there any kind of organization in that backwards countryside where you can actually find employment? There’s nothing to do there but farm work, and considering how we spent the past year, why...” The conclusion after a year of farming experience was that people like us just were not the kind who could make a living from farming. This was because we were physically too weak to be able to do the kind of farming necessary to feed our family. Even if the both of us put energy into cultivating the land outside, it would not amount to 500 pyeong11. Field farming on 500 pyeong would merely be a fenced-in garden of garden vegetables, garlic, peppers, and pumpkin. Other than the fenced-in farming of the constantly growing garden vegetables, things like barley, beans, and sweet potatoes purely required the hired help of farmers. In order for a family of seven or eight people to secure enough rice for one year as tenant farmers, they would have to sharecrop at least 3,000 pyeong of a field. And to rice farm and field farm things like barley and beans on this 3,000 pyeong, it would require hiring roughly about 200 individual farmers. The most recent prices in my hometown paid a farmer wages of 60, 70 won a day, and included two meals of lunch and dinner, as well as an order of drinks. The total cost to hire 200 helpers, including the cost to feed them and their wages, was 25,000 won. I needed that 25,000 won in order to be able to go down to my hometown and farm. It may have only been 250 won in the former currency, but 25,000 won was still a challenging amount of money for me to gather. And it was just the same, because even if I saved 25,000 won this year for farming capital, it wouldn’t last very long as seed money. Come next year, investment for farming would be needed again. Ultimately, farming was something only farmers – those who could feed their families by farming with their hands and feet – were made to do. The warm sunshine splashed onto the floor where the five-year-old and three-year-old were chatting away and playing carefree. After her eyes lingered on these young for a long while, my wife lets out a sigh and speaks.
Pyeong- a unit of area measurement equal to 3.3058m2.
“If you must leave Seoul, it won’t be all that difficult to live elsewhere, but don’t you feel sorry for our young ones? The year after next we have to first send one to primary school, but isn’t it 10 li to the school? Not only is it too much for a seven year-old to walk 10 li both back and forth every day, but even after finishing primary school, then what. There’s nothing equivalent that is higher than middle school, is there? And it will be difficult to somehow send her off to study in Seoul...” “…” “They will be farmers for the rest of their lives if we raise them in the country and only provide them a primary school education, and of course there’s nothing wrong with being a farmer, but if their nature shows some skill, be it in the arts or in science, isn’t it the duty of parents to try to help develop them in that direction?” “…” “Honey?” “…” “Let’s just suppose that you and I are dead.” “…” “If we’re going to suppose we’re dead, then what is there that we can’t suffer and what is there that we can’t endure?” “…” “You, didn’t you commit a crime? Do you want to continue on to the next life guilty of committing that crime?” This was the first time my wife called me a criminal. She cried as she spoke those words. I respected and was grateful for this worn-out wife of mine, who didn’t even try to deny that I was a criminal. “You may never receive judgment from our nation because you’re an insignificant being, but even if you did and received punishment for it, that punishment wouldn’t free you from your transgression.” “…” “Let’s clench our teeth and not be distracted by other things so that we can educate our son and daughter well and try to guide them so that they grow up upright and are able to stand confidently in front of others. Whether it be through the affection a father has for his children, or the sincerity of a sinner who is seeking atonement from the next generation.” “…” “Children being affected and impacted by the faults of their parents is so sad, isn’t it? “…” “Don’t you try writing manuscripts. It would be better if you found a job at a commercial company. If you don’t even want to do that, then just stay at home for a while. Even if I’m not particularly smart, I can figure things out.” “…” 33
“It’s not that I don’t know this or that, it’s that life is so miserable that I don’t want to do it anymore, so miserable and frustrating; there’s absolutely nowhere that I can release this pentup anger in my chest that it is rising up into a ball of disregard.” Just as we were having this conversation, our nephew suddenly arrived. He was my fourth brother’s son who was attending middle school in a different region. Though he was my nephew, I had special affection for him such that he was no different from my own child. When I asked why he was visiting when it wasn’t even Sunday, he hesitated and then answered. “The students all unified and boycotted class. I didn’t really want to take part so I decided I would come down here to study or something until it was all sorted out…” “What’s the reason for the unified strike of classes?” “They say it’s an attempt to expel the teacher.” “Why, what did the teacher do?” “A new teacher came, but he was apparently a famous Japanese collaborator when he was at a school in Seoul.” “How?” “He would fail those who didn’t adhere to the rule of using Japanese names, silently follow people and then beat them if they spoke the Joseon language, and after he came to our school, he always spoke in Japanese... in any case, he’s awfully arrogant.” “How did you find out that the teacher is for certain a pro-Japanese collaborator, and that he is engaging in these horrible acts?” “A few of the students who went to his school transferred to my school.” “So this is according to just those children?” “Apparently they reinvestigated the situation after hearing what those children said.” “Then… you’re now 20 years old and in the graduating class in middle school, you need to be able to judge for yourself and decide whether this kind of thing is right or wrong. If you can’t, you’re an idiot.” “…” “Okay, so are the students who want to expel that kind of teacher in the right? Or in the wrong?” “The students are right.” “If you know that they’re right, why did you drop out and not join them?” “…” “Huh?” “Graduation is just ahead, I need to study so I can take the entrance exam for high school. It’ll also probably affect my marks for conduct.” “You moron!” I shouted so loud that not only did the child jump in surprise, but so did my wife who was sitting next to me. It was the innocent explosion of the anger that was pent up inside me. 34
“Your friends are using the emergency measure of a unified school boycott, fighting for what is right, and you avoided joining in very well knowing that it was for the right thing? Because it will set you back a little in your studies? Because it will impact your marks for conduct?” “…” “Not being able to do what is right just for the pathetic safety and tiny benefit of one person, that’s not human. You’re a so-called advanced level student, right?” “Yes.” “And you’re the classroom president?” “Yes.” “You said that the students respect you, and trust and follow what you say?” “Yes.” “But look at you! Someone like you who should be in the lead, is quietly evading! So you’ve just become someone who has committed a traitorous act. If you’re going to be that worthless, you should just go die, you fool.” “…” “It would be pointless for someone to study with the goal of becoming one of the six ministers in the government if he chooses the easy and safe but wrong path instead of standing up and fighting for what is right.” “…” “There’s a saying that good character comes before learning. It means that knowledge is second to character, which is the most important. You must learn to become someone who comes before his studies. It’s the integrity to draw one’s sword when on the wrong path and to not yield even when persecuted. The heroism to disregard the self for the group. That is character. And that’s when you will need your studies. You got that?” “Yes.” “Now go right this instant. Go and join them. It’s okay if you get expelled from school. It doesn’t matter if you can’t get into high school this year.” “Yes.” “Even if it’s not just a unified strike against school, whatever you do wherever you are, don’t you be cowardly. You understand?” “Yes.” This was an opportunity of various kinds. If it had been an admonition merely for the sake of admonishing, the form and method would not have always been like this. Even if I thought about it, I was being presumptuous, and I couldn’t bear to look over to my wife to whom everything was transparent. And yet, I myself couldn’t resist the inexplicable part of me that felt both liberated and relieved.
Ch'ae Man-Sik is considered to be one of the most emblematic novelists of the Japanese colonial period in Korea. He produced works that auth...
Published on Sep 17, 2015
Ch'ae Man-Sik is considered to be one of the most emblematic novelists of the Japanese colonial period in Korea. He produced works that auth...