The fire and the agony of Kim Chi Ha's verses are rooted in Korea's long and tragic history. Kim, one of Park Chung Hee's most dangerous critics, was born on February 4, 1941, in Mokpo, Cholla province, for centuries the scene of resistance to overbearing govts. While a student he spent two years -wandering" in the countryside to avoid the clampdown of 1961. Later he was tortured and imprisoned for joining the student movement against normalization of Japan-south Korea relations in 1964-65.
After acute tuberculosis had put him in a sanatorium for two years from 1967, his first long poem, "Five Bandits," was published in 1970. Kim, the editor and publishers of the paper that printed it, and other people were arrested under the Anti-Communist Law and the paper confiscated by the KCIA. After a long imprisonment, the charges were suspended and the defendants freed on bail. Three months later the anthology, "Yellow Earth," was published, and Kim took to the countryside to avoid arrest
After the 1972 publication of his next anti-establishment poem, "Groundless Rumor," the govt re-committed him to Masan sanatorium for penning material "likely to benefit north Korea," and threatened recriminations against his family if he kept it up. Still he continued to write clandestinely. After a Japanese writers' delegation, part of a global campaign for his release, visited him at the sanatorium, Kim was released in July 1972. By April 1974 he was once again in jail, this time for writing "Cry of the People," a biting attack on Park's ultra-oppressive Emergency Measures. In July he was convicted of helping plot a nation-wide student rebellion (the "NDYSF -see pp.8-15, this issue). In a hasty, closed trial he was sentenced to death, and only a new international outcry forced the govt to commute his sentence to life. He did not reappear until February 1975, when he and almost all of the NDYSF students were released. This breath of freedom lasted him but three weeks. After Kim revealed the truth of KCIA tortures in the Dong-a Ilbo, the gates clanged shut behind him once again.
Kim's poems attack govt and official corruption, erosion of human rights in south Korea, and the suffering and poverty of his fellow Koreans. They make you cry and laugh at once, such is their satirical power. As government oppression of Kim got ever more violent, so the tone of his poetry has hardened and sharpened, until it seems the pages must explode with the power of the images. As long as Kim Chi He remains alive and writing, the govt and Park Chung Hee will squirm in its iron-shod shoes. The "Statement of Conscience" below was smuggled gut of prison in mid-1975, soon after 8 of the PRP "spies" were hung. In it, Kim exposes the govt's plan to frame him on similar charges. Since its appearance, he has been refused all visits, and is still awaiting trial.
To all who cherish justice and truth:
The Park regime is tying me up in a conspiratorial net of incredible lies. They say I am a communist who infiltrated the Catholic Church and pretended to be an advocate of democracy and human rights. I have been arrested and imprisoned on these charges.
The authorities will soon begin a courtroom charade to "legally" brand me forever as a treacherous Marxist-Leninist agent. I will be impressed into the ranks of that legion of govermnent-designated "communists."
I am not the only target of this conspiracy. It is directed at the whole movement to restore democracy and at the Christian Church which has been fighting for social justice. The authorities are particularly determined to label as procommunist the Association of Catholic Priests for the Realization of Justice, the National Council for the Restoration of Democracy, and all youth and student movements. This is the forerunner of a broad crackdown on dissent.
The government has been making these vile charges against me for more than a decade; they are nothing new. I should prefer not to waste words with a personal defense here. The Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) agents say, "If you have a statement to make about these charges, do it in court." For once I agreed with them. I intended to do just that: to bring out some of the truth about this travesty during the trial by challenging the prosecutor.
However, the current political situation compels me to speak out now. It is not just my convictions and my credibility that are endangered. The net has been thrown widely to encompass all democratic forces, my church and the student movement. I owe it to history and the Korean people to state my beliefs and the facts about my arrest as I know them.
Am I a Communist?
I have never in the past thought of myself as a communist, and I still do not. I am not a communist. The KCIA charges against me should be patently absurd. My lawyer has told me they have taken the "confession" I was forced to write and have made it public to prove that I am a communist.1 The "confession" in the pamphlet is called "Statement No. 2" but actually it was the third one. The KCIA discarded the second statement but still numbered the third version as No. 2. These details aside, it is true that the document was written by my hand.
But not by my mind and soul. It was not a voluntary statement. I was a powerless individual in an underground interrogation room of the KCIA's Fifth Bureau.2 They were the almighty agency of state terror, beyond any law or decency. How much truth do you think there is in those sheets of paper, my "confession?" From the time of my arrest I was pressured to say that I was a "communist who had infiltrated the Catholic Church." The government had decided to destroy me politically and religiously. They were going to crush me until I was flattened out like a piece of dried cuttlefish. I resisted my interrogators and refused to "confess." The grilling continued for five or six days, I think. Finally they wore me down. I had not been in good health before my arrest; I had fainted several times due to anemia, and I was suffering from chronic insomnia. The constant questioning left me physically exhausted and delirious. I knew the Park regime would use any means necessary to convict me as a communist. It did me no good to keep telling the interrogators that I was innocent. They had strict orders from their master to "Get Kim Chi Ha" regardless of the facts. The KCIA agents were cogs in the machine; they could not refuse that order. They were ashamed of what they were doing but they harnmered away at me day and night. I saw no point in continuing the nerve-wracking war of attrition against such pitiful men!
Finally, on the sixth day, I wrote out a statement which they dictated. I scribbled it down like graffiti on a toilet wall and threw it at them. That is how my "confession" was written.
As one might expect, the statement is full of lies and inconsistencies. There is the banal wording so dear to the KCIA hacks: "I became a communist out of a sense of inferiority and frustration due to poverty and illness."3 This is the vilest part of the document. They used the same phrasing over and over again when I was indicted in 1970 for writing "Five Bandits," for "Groundless Rumors" in 1972, and in the National Democratic Youth and Student Federation (NDYSF) case of 1974. There is a materialistic determinism in the phraseology, as if all the poor and afflicted are "Potential communist criminals." Would any self-respecting person write such craven drivel of her/his own free will?
According to the "confession," all my activities, including writing "Five Bandits" and "Groundless Rumors," were due to my communist ideas. I wonder if foreign readers of these poems were deceived by my communist propaganda? There must be many red faces among those foreign literary critics who praised my work and did not even realize that it was "communist propaganda." If "Five Bandits" is communist literature, why have the charges against me been pending for more than four years! And why was I not even indicted for "Groundless Rumors?"
The "confession" says that I am a communist and a Catholic. That is an antimony like being a "democratic fascist." Every school child knows that communism regards religion, especially Christianity, as the "opiate of the masses."
I understand that the KCIA pamphlet cites a few books I had in my possession as "proof" that I am a communist. They are so stupid! Their petty, frightened police state minds! No matter how severely intellectual freedom is restricted in south Korea, does reading a few marxist classics make a person a communist? The most avid readers of leftist books are the censors who check every piece of literature that comes into this country. If they can read these materials, why is it a crime for me? I have read hundreds of books; the authorities seized fewer than ten. Every one of those, without exception, is a classic that any foreign intellectual has read.
The KCIA pamphlet reproduces some of the notes I jotted down in prison from April 1974 until this February. Again those memoranda and notes are supposed to be "proof" that I am a communist. These notes contain all kinds of thoughts and emotions. Ideas that winged into my mind like birds flitting past my cell window. There are ruminations on this or that, outlines of projects I hope to write about in the future. Bits and pieces, unconnected fragments. They do not show that I am a person ideologically committed to communism. If the government will make public all my notes, the charges against me will fall of their own weight. Anyone who examines the material will see my values: my hatred of oppression and exploitation, my groping in the political wilderness for a way out of these iniquities. How I have driven myself in the quest for the answers! This search has nothing to do with communism.
How should I define my ideological position? Before I attempt that, two points require clarification. First, I regard myself as a free thinker not bound by any ideological system. I hope my ideas are neither shaped by personal ambition nor yield to intimidation and that they are also unfettered by any dogma or creed. Thus I have never defined myself as an adherent of any "ism." I belong in the creative tension formed by the chaos of freedom. A natural pool swirls with crosscurrents of ideas, values, systems, experiences. By diving into that pool again, and again I hope to come up with a few grains of truth. I stand beside that pool poised for the next dive.
Secondly, I am ideologically unfinished. That's a crude way of saying that I have never accepted one ideology as my operative value system. So far I have never found one system of thought that was logically convincing. I am still looking. In a sense, this is a shameful admission, but there are extenuating circumstances, I think. An individual's beliefs and conscience must be free, and the process that shapes them must also be open, competitive, eclectic. A person has a natural right to find her/his own values. Even the Yushin Constitution, promulgated by Park Chung Hee in. December 1972, guarantees this right to south Korean society. Nevertheless, intellectual life and value-formulation are totally controlled in our country. A single ideology with its priorities, preferences, taboos and sanctions is dominant.
Consider the spiritual ethos of south Korea. The flow of information is controlled. Once can only read a limited number of authorized books. Anti-intellectualism and pervasive secrecy are the rule. I have tried, though often with doubts and remorse, to find the truth in this darkness. I am not the only one. Every south Korean who sought to understand what is going on in this country and in the world has trod the same uncertain, dangerous path. My ideological education is incomplete.
Under such conditions there's surely no chance of autogenous communism sprouting here. Our conditioned reflex to "communists" was to imagine redfaced devils with horns growing out of their heads and long claws dripping with blood. Every south Korean below the age of thirty has been educated and indoctrinated this way. Furthermore, we have never been taught anything about communism except emotional diatribes against it. Even if a few curious people secretly read some leftist books, how could they turn into full-fledged communists with a firm grasp of dialectics, party history and doctrine? No "autogenous communist" could emerge from the younger generation. That includes me. Far from being a committed communist, as the KCIA charges, I have no reliable information about the nature of communism or what life is like in a socialist country. The charge that I am a communist is utterly groundless.
2. Democracy, revolution, violence
I want to identify with the oppressed, the exploited, the troubled and the despised. I want that love to be dedicated, passionate, and manifested in practical ways. This is the totality of my self-imposed task for humanity, the alpha and omega of my intellectual search. I hope that my odyssey will be understood as a love for humanity.
My desire to love the human family makes me hate the oppression and exploitation that dehumanizes. One who exploits others corrupts oneself. Thus I fight against oppression and exploitation -the struggle is my existence.
I became a Catholic because Catholicism conveyed a universal message. Not only that spiritual and material burdens could be lifted from humanity but also that oppression itself could be ended by the salvation of both the oppressor and the oppressed. Catholicism is capable of assimilating and synthesizing these contradictory and conflicting ideologies, theories and value standards into a universal truth.
My beliefs spring from a confident love for the common people. I have opposed the Park regime and ridiculed the "Five Bandits" because they are the criminal gangleaders looting the country. I have grown up as one of the oppressed masses. That perspective enabled me to see that a pernicious elitist bias permeates our society. The oppressors say the masses are base, ugly, morally depraved, inately lazy, untrustworthy, ignorant and a spiritless, inferior race. But the common people I have known were not like that. They were honest and industrious. They may have looked stupid to a Seoul bureaucrat but they were endowed with a rich native intelligence. Although they seemed listless, they possessed enormous inner strength and determination. They may have been rough, not very sophisticated, but they had genuine affection for their friends and neighbors. The common people I knew were proud and full of an unassuming vitality.
I have total confidence in the people. Given the opportunity they will find correct solutions to their problems. And their time is coming. The people cannot be denied their rights and justice much longer. My confidence in the people has led me to trust their ability to determine their own fate. Those who fear the people, who find the masses despicable, are ipso facto not democrats. When the going gets rough they will stand with the oppressors.
What is democracy? It is an ideology opposed to silence, a system that respects a free Logos and freedom of speech. It encourages the cacophony of dissent. A political system where everything is not revealed to the public is not a democracy. I believe that the truth, only the truth, will liberate humanity. A public consciousness dulled by soporific incantations and smothered in darkness can be liberated by the truth. Only when the people struggle out of the darkness, driven along by the very chaos of their opposition to authority, will they reach the sun-drenched fields. Then they can head toward Canaan, the land of justice and freedom promised by the Creator. This is my dream, my faith.
I cannot describe Canaan in detail. No one person can do that. I think it win be created by the collective effort of all the people. My task is to fight on until the people hold the power in their own hands to shape their destiny. I want a victory for real democracy, complete freedom of speech. Nothing more, nothing less. In this sense, I am a radical democrat and libertarian. I am also a Catholic, one of the oppressed citizens of the Republic of Korea, and a young man who loathes privilege and corruption and dictatorial power. This defines my political beliefs. I have nothing more to add.
Democracy does not require a "benevolent ruler who loves the people." A ruler who fears the people's wrath and weapons is preferable. Democracy entails an uncompromising rejection of oppression. There is no democracy as long as the people cannot depose an undesirable ruler. Thus democracy does not deny the people the right of revolution; on the contrary, that fundamental right is the last guarantee of popular sovereignty. This obvious truth must never be forgotten.
The right of revolution, the constant and eternal possibility of overthrowing illegitimate authority, is the ultimate sanction against misrule that enables the people to defend themselves from oppression and exploitation. Rulers, of course, make revolution illegal, even discussion of it is banned as subversive. Thus they can continue their political and economic domination. But that is why I must support resistance and revolution.
I feel enormous pride in our Korean traditions. The people have often protested against injustice and misgovernment., Unfortunately, the rulers, irredeemably callous and arrogant, often crushed the protests with force. Under these circumstances have the people any choice but revolution?
Catholic political thought since Thomas Aquinas has explicitly recognized the people's right and duty, based on natural law, to overthrow a tyrant who threatens their existence and the common good. Resistance abruptly changes the course of human affairs. The people themselves recover their humanity., The masses undergo a sudden and profound awakening; history makes up for lost time by encouraging the people to miraculous feats.
Sooner or later resistance and revolution lead to the phenomenon of violence. When the violence of authority sustains oppression, the people's will is crushed, their best leaders are killed, and the rest are cowed into submission. The "silence of law and order" settles grimly across the land. Then an antithetical situation exists where. violence must shatter this macabre order. To a degree, I approve of this kind of violence -no, that is not strong enough. I must approve of it! I reject the violence of oppression and accept the violence of resistance. I reject dehumanizing violence and accept the violence that restores human dignity. It could justly be called a "violence of love."
Jesus used his whip on the merchants defiling the temple. That was the "violence of love." It was force suffused with love. Jesus wanted the afflicted and their oppressive rulers to be reborn again as true children of God.
Violence and destructiveness obviously bring suffering and hardship. But we' must sometimes cause and endure suffering. Never is this more true than when the people are dozing in silent submission, when they cannot be awakened from their torpor. To preach "non-violence" at such a time leaves them defenseless before their enemies. When the people must be awakened and sent resolutely off to battle, violence is unavoidable. Gandhi and Franz Fanon agonized over this dilemma. Father Camillo Torres took a rifle and joined the people. He died with them, the weapon never fired. The fallen priest with his rifle epitomized godliness. I do not know if his beliefs and methods were correct or not, but the purity of his love always moves me to tears. He staggered along his road to Golgotha with uncertain tread. He was prepared to commit a sin out of his love for others. He was not afraid to bum in the depths of eternal hell.
True non-violence requires total non-compliance and non-cooperation. It concedes nothing to the oppressors. The superficial kind of non-violence which makes limited gestures of opposition is just another form of craven cooperation with the authorities. Cowardly non-violence is the moral equivalent to cruel violence because with both the people get crushed. On the other hand, the "violence of love" is essentially the same as a "courageous non-violence" in that it arms the people against their foes. I approve of the "violence of love" but I am also a proponent of true non-violence. The revolution I support will be a synthesis of true non-violence and an agonized violence of love. (I am now working on a long ballad, "Chang Il Tam," set against this background.)
To reach th it golden mean-a non-violence that does not drift to cowardly compromise and a violence that does not break the bonds of love and lapse into carnage -humankind must undergo an unceasing spiritual revival and the masses must experience a universal self-awakening. While I grant that the violence of Blanquism can light the psychological fuse to revolution, I do not anticipate nor support a "lucky revolution" achieved by a small number of armed groups committing terrorist acts of violence. That is why I have eschewed the formation of or membership in secret organizations and have participated in activities consistent with the democratic process: writing and petitions, rallies and prayer meetings.
My vision of a revolution is one to create a unified Korea based on freedom, democracy, self-reliance and peace. More fundamentally, however, it must enable the Korean people to decide on their own fate. I can confidently support such a revolution. That revolution will not follow foreign models or patterns, but will flow from our unique revolutionary tradition. The Tong Hak rebellion, the March First independence movement,4 and the 1960 April Student Revolution adumbrate the next revolution.
3. Revolutionary religion: the world of "Chang Il Tam"
The more I search for answers, the more contradictory ideas I find and the more confused I am. J. B Metz confessed to the same experience. Yet the antagonistic diversity of these systems of thought makes me strive even more for faith in the one absolute being. I believe such faith is attainable. Must revolution reject religion and religion be the foe of revolution? I think that the answer is "no." Perhaps by this reply I could not be a Marxist-Leninist. But the Marxist dictum that religion is the opiate of the masses is only a partial truth applicable to one aspect of religion.
When a people have been brutally misruled and exploited for a long time, they lose their passion for justice and their affection for their fellows. Committed only to self-survival, they lapse into an individualistic materialism. Their near-crazed resentment and rage at social and economic conditions, diverted into frustration and self-hatred, is repeatedly dissipated in fragmented, anomic actions. Our prisons are full of lower-class criminals, thrown there by the ruling elite that spits on the poor and flourishes on social injustice. The prisoners' roster of crimes is diverse: armed robbery, theft, murder, desertion from military service, kidnapping, etc. Yet their wretched tragedy has a common origin in frustration and isolation.
The chief priests and Pharisees defuse the people's bitter resentment and moral indignation with sentimental charity. The people are emasculated by mercy. The god of philanthropy serves the oppressor by turning the people into a mob of beggars. That is why I cannot admire Albert Schweitzer.
In similar situations of bondage and deprivation, prophetic religions of love arise in the wilderness and shake the emotions of the oppressed and mistreated people. The slumbering masses awaken like a thunderclap! Their human and divine qualities suddenly shine forth. The mystery of resurrection -revolution! That resurrection fashions people in God's image, opens their eyes to their own nobility and turns their frustration and self-hatred into eschatalogical hope. This kind of resurrection changes a selfish, individualistic, escapist anomie into a fraternal, united, realistic commitment to the common good. It becomes a struggle for a humane life and dignity for all the people. This resurrection prevents the people's bitter resentment and moral indignation from evaporating in self-hatred and converts it into a fierce demand for God's universal justice. If necessary, the people's enormous energy may also be directed to a decisive, organized explosion. This is a revolutionary religion. This miraculous conversion which conceived the mystery of revival may also bring a decisive spiritual revival. This conversion is the philosophy of tan-the determination to choose the circumstances of one's death-that my hero, Chang Il Tam, sings about.
Since my college years when I suffered from tuberculosis, I have passionately wanted to understand both my personal situation and my country's. How could I overcome my terror of death and how could south Korea find its way out of ubiquitous spiritual dehumanization and material poverty? I heard something then about the Tonghak teaching5 that "the human is Heaven." At first it was a pianissimo idea that made only a slight impression. Later, I learned more about the Tonghak rebellion, and an image took shape in my mind. I could see that awesome band of starving peasants, their proud banners proclaiming "An end to violence, save the people," as they marched off to fight. Suddenly that Tonghak teaching became fortissimo, as thunderous as the battle cries of those marching peasants.
I feel like writing a rude straightforward poem such as
no one has ever written before. It has been a long time
since I was beaten to hell for writing unsavory articles.
My body is itching for a beating, my mouth is eager
to speak and my hands are dying to write.
Since this impulse to write is beyond my control,
I have made up my mind to set down a story concerning
some strange thieves....
I do this knowing full well that I am asking for
severe punishment including physical pain. But it's the best
story that you ever saw with your belly-button or heard
with your asshole since this country was formed under the
Paektu mountain on the third of October a long time ago.
I have been grappling with that image for ten years. At some point I gave it a name - "The unity of God and revolution." I also changed the phrase of "the human is Heaven" into "Rice is Heaven" and used it in my poetry. That vague idea of "the unity of God and revolution" stayed with me as I continued my long, arduous search for personal and political answers, and as I became very interested in contemporary Christian thought and activism. European social reformism, including Ernst Troeltsch, Frederic Ozanam, Karl Marx and others, had been absorbed into the grand edifice of Christian thought. Their ideas were now being questioned anew, developed in new directions. I was intrigued by efforts to combine Marxist social reform and Christian beliefs as evinced in the 1972 Santiago Declaration of Christian Socialism.
The synthesis draws from diverse sources. One example is the adaptation of the teachings of Marx and Jesus. Marx's contribution is his structural epistemology which maintains that social oppression blocks human salvation. From Jesus's teachings we take his humanism, which advocates love for all people, the sanctity of the person, his emphasis on rebirth as the means to salvation, the idea of the God of hope who brings salvation, equality and liberation on earth, and the activities of Jesus of Nazareth during his lifetime. The synthesis tries to unify and integrate these concepts. In my view, this is not a mechanical process, a rote grafting of bits of Marxism onto Christianity. The union produces something entirely new. (The new synthesis is not finished. Its gestalt cannot be defined; it is still amorphous. Therefore I must decline to use the existing terminology. The Korean people are suffering from the tragic reality of a divided peninsula. This division has become the excuse for brutal repression; everything is done in the name of "national security," the threat from the North. Under this praetorian system, south Korean society has become rigid, intolerant, frightened; our intellectual life is as airless and barren as the valleys of the moon. The authorities, hyper-sensitive and always suspicious of new and possibly "dangerous thoughts," may attempt to label my ideas as a certain ideology. I reject this false labelling of an unfinished "product." I stand on my human right to be creative. Humankind's original ideas are not turned out on an assembly line.)
My image of the unity of God and revolution was clarified by Pope John XXIII's encyclical, Mater et Magistra. "The mystery of Jesus and the loaves of bread is a temporal miracle which shows the future heaven." I also benifitted from writings of the liberation theologians: Frederick Herzog, James Cone, Richard Shaull, Paul Lehmann, Jurgen Hartmann, J. B. Metz, Todt Hugo, Reinhold Niebuhr, Dietrick Bonhoffer, and others. The statements of the pope after Vatican II and encyclicals such as Rerum Novarum provided insights. The greatest single influence on my thinking, however, has been my participation since 1971 in the Korean Christian movement for human rights. This experience convinced me that the Korean tradition of resistance and revolution, with its unique vitality under the incredibly negative circumstances prevailing here, are precious materials for a new form of human liberation. This rich lode will be of special value to the Third World. Shaped and polished by the tools of liberation theology, our experience may inspire miraculous new forms of Missio Dei in the gritty struggle of the south Korean people.
My ballad, Chang Il Tam, attempts to express these ideas through the teachings and intellectual pilgrimage of one holy man who speaks in the form of gospels. However, the Park regime has seized my notes as proof of a "conspiracy to publish subversive materials."
Chang Il Tam is a. thief, the son of a prostitute and a paekchong.6 A failure in life and despondent, Chang suddenly attains enlightenment and becomes a preacher of liberation. Chang emulates Im Kok Chong7 in believing that the poor should "re-liberate" what the rich have stolen from them and divide it equally among the needy. He begins by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, is arrested and thrown into jail, whereupon he teaches the other prisoners about revolution. One day Chang is unfairly disciplined. Angrily throwing caution to the winds, he shouts, "We must be liberated! Down with the hated bourgeosie!" (My working notes cover only a portion of his proselytizing in prison; these are his early radical ideas. The government claims they are identical with my ideas and therefore constitute irrefutable proof that I am a communist!)
Chang escapes from prison, is hunted by the police, and finally hides in a filthy back alley where some prostitutes are plying their trade. He calls to the prostitutes: "Oh, you are all my Mother!" He kisses their feet, and declares: "The soles of your feet are heaven!" "God is in your putrid wombs!" And "God's place is with the lowest of the low."
Chang later goes to live on Mt. Kyeryong and preaches about a paradise in the land of the Eastern Sea.8 He teaches a systematic religious discipline in three stages: Sich'onju, acceptance of God and service to Him; Yangch' onju, cultivation of God in your heart and subordination. of everything to God's will; and Saengch' onju.9 Chang preaches "community ownership of property," teaches about revolution, stresses the unity of prayer and action, and advocates "resistance against the tide." His major ideas include, "the transformation of the lowest into heaven," that the traveller's path from this world to heaven is revolution, the need to purge wild beasts that lurk within human heartssymbolic of the paekchong's occupation-and that this world is corrupt but in the next world they will visit the paradise in the Eastern Sea.
Chang Il Tam preaches to the workers and farmers. He builds an altar in the wilderness, starts a huge bonfire, and casts everything old into the flames. He teaches the people that although violence is unavoidable, tan is desirable. He leads the multitude toward the evil palace in the capital, Seoul. The throng all carry beggar's cans. At this point Chang proclaims that paradise is "to share food with others" and that "food is heaven." They reach the capital where food is abundant and continue through the city on the eternal journey toward paradise where food is shared by all. (This journey implies an endless transmigratory discipline: to the destination and then a return to a place where there is no food.)
During the march to Seoul, Chang is defeated in a battle. The government offers a reward, and the traitor Judas turns Chang in. Chang remains silent, saying nothing in his own defense. He is convicted of violating the Anti-Communist Law, the National Security Law and inciting rebellion. Chang is taken out to be executed and just before he is beheaded, breaks his silence to sing a song, "Food is Heaven."
Food is heaven
You can't make it on your own
Food should be shared
Food is heaven
We all see
The same stars in heaven
How natural that we
All share the same food.
Food is heaven
As we eat
God enters us
Food is heaven
Should be shared by all.
Chang is resurrected three days later. His severed head seeks out the traitor Judas, decapitates him and places itself on his trunk. The traitor's body is joined with the saint's destiny. This weird union of holiness, goodness and truth, accomplished through Judas' wicked intelligence, is both Chang's revenge and salvation for the sinner. It expresses the manifold paradoxes of Chang's thought.
My tentative denouement for the ballad is "The song, 'Food Should be Shared' has become a raging storm sweeping into every comer of south Korea."
That is the general outline of the ballad. I repeat that Chang Il Tam's world is in flux. Religious asceticism and revolutionary action, the works of Jesus, the struggle of Ch'oe Che U (founder of the Tonghak) and Chon Pong Jun (commander of the Tonghak peasant army), a yearning for the communal life of early Christianity, and a deep affection for the long, valiant resistance of the Korean people are all part of Chang's kaleidoscopic world. So are Paulo Freire's The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Franz Fanon's ideas on violence, the direct action of Blanquism, the Christian view of the human being flawed by original sin, the Catholic doctrine of the omnipresence of God and the Buddhist concept of the transmigration of the soul, the populist redistributive egalitarianism of Im Kok Chong and Hong Kil Tong,10 and the Tonghak teachings of Sich'onju and Yangch'onju. Some of these movements and doctrines combine and coalesce; others clash in mighty confrontations.
I have no intention of trying to provide a consistent theoretical elucidation of Chang II Tam while I am still writing it. That is impossible. When the work is finished, I may be able to do so.
4. Did I violate the Anti-Communist Law?
The charge that I am a communist rests on three allegations. First, that. my notebooks for Chang II Tam and other works contain statements favorable to north Korea. Second, that my statements about the so-called People's Revolutionary Party (PRP) "praise, encourage and support" a subversive organization. Third, that my possession of several books was beneficial to north Korea because they "praise, encourage and support" subversive ideas.
National security laws have been misused in south Korea for many years. The constant, expedient, indiscriminate and conspiratorial application of the dreaded Article Four of the Anti-Communist Law has been the most malevolent restriction on the intellectual and spiritual growth of the republic.11 It has been used to deprive us of freedom of speech and to impose a suffocating culture of silence that has killed democracy and sustained a corrupt dictatorship. I oppose the misuse of Article Four with every ounce of strength in my body. It is repugnant to everything I believe in and stand for. I call on others to oppose the regime's attempt to gag me with this filthy rag of a "law". We must have freedom of thought and expression. Individuality -conscience and creativity -must be protected.
I shall discuss the state's allegations one by one. I was threatened by the KCIA interrogators to admit that some of my notes for Chang Il Tam were based on Mao Tse-tung's thought. As I stated above, the work draws on the seminal ideas, theories and accomplishments of world civilization. Mao's "On Contradictions" is an important contribution to politics. But the KCIA people were so proud of themselves! At last they had found a real "communist connection." They said I was a Maoist who joined the Catholic Church because I followed Mao's teaching on the transformation and unity of antagonisms. My notes included the words, "God and revolution, bread and freedom, the unity of earth and heaven" - all phrases that correspond to the resolution of contradictions. To my astonishment, the KCIA even attributed my use of the word "resurrection" to Mao! They said the "resolution" of death into resurrection was the resolution of a contradiction! Even perverse sophistry has its limits, one would think! Perhaps under the circumstances I can be excused for not admiring the vivid imagination and creativity of the prosecutor.
The police of the Republic of Korea are not much for subtle distinctions. They regard materialism as identical with metaphysics. At the faintest whiff of dialectics, they stick the communist label on you. In south Korea, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Jesus, the Buddha-anybody and everybody concerned with fundamental truth or essential reality would be a communist.
I said above that it would be premature to categorize Chang Il Tam But I can say that it is not socialist realism, a vehicle for Marxist ideas. The work is apocalyptical, prophetic, full of allegory, mystery, and symbolism. I use supernatural occurences and the fanciful events conjured up by the sensitivity and imagination of peasants and workers. I dab in a touch of the abstract with bizarre illusions. I use death, chaos, insecurity, terror, revolution, despair, melancholy, atrocities, executions and decadence to create the overall tone. I attempt to describe a ghastly, blood-soaked, transitional period by the use of furious language and violent incidents. My work bears no resemblance to the pallid tone, naturalistic descriptions and realistic plots of conventional socialist writings. There are no romances between steel workers and their blast furnaces in Chang Il Tam.
This is what I am working on. It is far from finished. Nevertheless, the government says it was written "to aid the Northern puppet regime." What can I say? There has been much publicity recently about the government's "Five-Year Plan to Encourage Literature." But what they are doing to me is really how they go about "encouraging" literature.
Let's look at the second charge. I had made notes for a play called "Maltuk," in which a day-laborer by the same name fights against the bourgeoisie. The police and the KCIA insist that this is Marxist writing which calls for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie by workers and peasants. They are so eager to find communists that they react like Pavlovian dogs to the word "bourgeoisie" and neurotically grab the Anti-Communist Law. Just because Marx called a flower a flower, am I supposed to call it something else? The word "bourgeoisie" is an internationally accepted historical term. If the mere use of the word, or the expression of contempt for something "bourgeois" proves a person is a communist, where does that leave France's George Bernanos, who said, "I hate the bourgeoisie?" One hardly need cite foreign examples. Don't we hear the word everyday as a half-humorous term for the rich? That is how I used it. To be more exact, my use of the word "bour.: geoisie" has the limited meaning of the "corrupt ruling elite" which dominates south Korea. It is synonymous with the "Five Bandits."
"Maltuk' is based on the rebellious servant character in traditional mask dramas. The plot evolves from a popular protest against corruption and privilege. The protagonist is a laborer but he is not trying to start a revolution to impose a dictatorship of the proletariat. I am trying to portray a rebel from the lowest stratum of society -far lower than organized industrial workers, in fact. My idea was to make my hero a "debased ch'onmin," a stratum shunned by society as subhuman. He is a typical dehumanized south Korean, spiritually and physically robbed of his manhood. I want to describe his despair and the divine inspiration that rescues him. I will show the "reciprocal effect of action and prayer" which leads Win to resist and regain his human dignity. I place this interaction in Maltuk, a "rebellious, sweaty, dirty south Korean peasant," and stressed hope. I tried to describe a certain world of "community" which appears in the resultant eschatological illusion. This is also an illusory manifestation of an oppression-free society, the eternal theme of true art. The drama is sustained by an imagination rooted in Christian eschatology; it is not derived from any political ideology. The allegation that it "was written to aid the Northern puppets" could not be more preposterous.
I want to explain why I wrote "Five Bandits," "Groundless Rumors," "Chang Il Tam," "Maltuk" and other works. So they could be used by someone? No! Because I wanted to write them. I had no choice. They were deep inside me, stirring and swirling. I had to, let them burst out. I wrote them because I had to. That was the only reason.
Next, the "People's Revolutionary Party" case, I wrote about the torture of Ha Chae Wan and I held a press conference to ask for the release of the PRP prisoners. The government terms these actions "support for the propaganda activities of the northern puppets" that "benefitted the People's Revolutionary Party, a subversive organization." For the sake of argument, let's say that my statement about the torture of the PRP prisoners was identical with the north Korean "propaganda" on the case. The question really is, Did I "support" their version or did they, "support'' mine? They did not meet Ha Chae Wan. I met him and I heard his, story directly from him. I just told the world what I heard. I did not say Ha Chae Wan was tortured on the basis of a north Korean broadcast. Does similarity of. content mean "support?" If it does, thousands of ordinary citizens, intellectuals,, religious leaders, students and politicians who demanded the "release of the democratic leaders ' arrested in 1974 must be fellow-travellers since the North certainly must have advocated the same thing. Don't they all have to be charged under the' Anti-Communist Law? Hasn't this nonsense gone too far?
Did I speak out to help the "People's Revolutionary Party, a subversive organ' zation?" How could that possibly have been my reason? I knew certain fact which every person in this country needed to know. I made those horrible fact public in the interests of civil rights and democracy in south Korea. Consider in position. I had no connection with the "PRP" and I did not even know the prison ers. I was aware, of course, that the Park regime would retaliate against me. Why should I go so far just to help a subversive organization? Didn't I have anything better to do? The government, as usual, has a ready explanation. They say I called the PRP case a "fabrication" to conceal my own "communist sympathies!" Unless my memory is wrong, even the Prime Minister is supposed to have said in the National Assembly that "Kim Chi Ha is not a communist." The KCIA assertion that I was trying to bide my "pro-communist sympathies" is absurdly illogical. Claiming the government had trumped up charges against the "PRP" men would obviously bring me under suspicion.
I know the "PRP" men were tortured. What is the KCIA anyway? We all know that they have tortured students and opposition party National Assembly members. Recently. the National Assembly floor leader of the ruling Democratic Republican party revealed that he also had been tortured by the KCIA. That is how they function; brutality and terror are their standard operating procedure. Anyone who thinks the "PRP" prisoners - people being set up as communists for execution were not tortured ought to have his/her head examined. I spoke only about facts I heard with my own ears and saw with my own eyes - facts I am absolutely certain of.
Was the "PRP" a subversive organization? Was there really a "PRP"? My suspicions have not been resolved by the Park regime's pronouncements. If the government wants me to accept its version and to convince the public that I was wrong, they should bring back to life the eight men executed on April 9 . Or perhaps they can call the ghosts of Ha Chae Wan and Yi Byong Su to testify on the state's behalf. I want to challenge the legality of these "PRP" - related charges.
Finally, we come to the most absurd items in the indictment, that some of the books in my storage shed were a threat to the state. The magazines, Hanyang and Chongmaek I read, in 1964. Mao's "On Practice" and "On Contradictions" I read about 1969. I read these books and put them away years ago. How did these volumes gathering dust in my shed help north Korea?
I believe that all who oppose repression and dictatorship and defend freedom, justice and the rights Of conscience still remain committed to the struggle against the corrupt Park regime. When I was released from prison on February 15th, I reconfirmed my vow to resist this dictatorship as long as I live. I have explained in this statement the spurious charges against me. All those who know me will disregard any kind of slander against me which is at variance with this statement. Your understanding comforts me.
My prison notebooks contain ample proof that this statement is true. And more. Prison was not easy for me. But I gained precious experiences and inspiration through my fellowship with the other prisoners, supposedly the dregs of our society. The notebooks are not just about me: the truth about this period of our history is also there. I hope you can prevent their destruction.
Why have we been fighting against the Park regime? For human liberation. To recover the humanity God gave us, to be free people. Nothing is more important. We must press ahead. We will not be stopped. We shall overcome.
The government constantly asserts that the threat from north Korea is so serious as to make civil rights an impermissible luxury. But a corrupt, immoral dictatorship is the greatest spur to communism. What better argument do the communists have than the Park regime? Dictatorial rule will never make south Korea secure. A country is strong and viable only when its people are defending their freedom. If we have no basic rights or representative-government, then what is there left for us to defend? Our hopeless privation and disease, our endless despair and humiliation? Are we to risk our lives for these? In every neighborhood and village we must shout our opposition to this sterile dilemma.
We are not alone in this struggle. Men and women all over the world concerned with freedom will generously support our struggle. Our age demands truth and the passion to endure the suffering necessary to learn the truth.
We want to be free. To taste, feel and transmit to our children the freedom so long promised in south Korea. To this noble cause we must commit everything we are and hope to be. My -prayers are with all of you in this courageous struggle.
Kim Chi Ha
Just before I was arrested in March the authorities searched my country house and the home where my child is staying. They seized four or five of my private notebooks. At first I wasn't sure what they were after, but the interrogators' questions provided a clue. They asked: "Weren't you asked to write a poem about the Kim Dae Jung kidnapping?" and "Where is that manuscript?"12
I am not allowed to receive visitors or mail, to write anything, or even to read the Bible. I cannot move around very much. This gloomy, cramped cell is a bit less than seven feet by seven.
I sit here in the dark angrily thinking about the uncertain future. But prison has not dimmed my spirits. These miserable conditions and the endless waiting have made me more determined than ever. I feel a quiet composure, almost serenity. But I am terribly worried about what may happen to the individuals involved in making this statement public. My friends, please help these good people.
Do not grieve for me. We will surely see each other again soon.
Kim Chi Ha, May 1975
The Yellow Dust Road
Along the vivid blood, blood on the yellow road
I am going, Papa, where you died.
Now it's pitch dark only the sun scorches.
Two hands are barbed-wired
The hot sun burns sweat and tears and rice-paddies
Under the bayonets through the summer heat.
I am going, Papa, where you died
Where you died wrapped in a rice-sack
When the trouts were jumping along the Bujoo brookside.
When the blaze rose from Opo Hill every night
On that day when the sun brightly shone on the yellow land
The muddy land resilient as the gorses that grow intrepidly green
Shall I we cry out the hurrah of that day?
Shall we sing the song of that day?
In the small Whadang village embraced among sparse bamboo bushes
Blood wells up in every well, every ten years
Ah, born in this barren colony
Slain under the bayonets, my Papa.
How could the dews that spring in the bamboo buds
Forget, ever forget the crystal brightness of May?
It was a long and cruel summer
Even kids were starving to death
The sultry summer of blatant tyranny
That even didn't know of the Heavens
At last, all the time of the motherland, the yellow road,
And our hope.
Along the muddy beach where the sun burns old wooden boats to dust
Again through the rice paddies
And over the bleached, whitish furrows
It's been ten years since the hurrah of that day
That thundered the ever blue and high firmament
In the flesh, in the breath, the barbed wires keep tightening
Hearing, and sobbing, in your voice I am going now, Papa, where you died.
When the trouts were jumping along the Bujoo brookside
Wrapped in the rice-sack
Where you died.
This poem commemorates a village rising in Cholla Province
against the govt of Syngman Rhee before the Korean War.
(All notes are by the translator and editors.)
- 1. The KCIA, shortly after Kim Chi Ha's arrest, put out a pamphlet entitled "The Case Against Kim Chi Ha: The True Identity of the Poet." Containing Kim's "confession," excerpts from his prison notes, and a list of books ostensibly seized from his home, it attempts to "prove" that he is a communist.
- 2. The Korean Central Intelligence Agency, modeled after its American namesake, is so ubiquitous in daily Korean affairs, that, rather than saying someone was picked up by the KCIA, people always specify the Bureau. For torturing students, imprisoning priests and pastors and manufacturing domestic cases of "subversion" and "communist rebellion," the Fifth Bureau is responsible. For keeping up with the sinister schemes of the north Koreans abroad and other international affairs, the Sixth Bureau is in charge (most of the appointments to foreign embassies and legations are now filled by Sixth Bureau men, whose job it is to keep an eye on dissident south Korean activities). Within Korea itself, the two Bureaus compete, to the point where they now operate as nearly separate agencies (indeed, two years ago it was rumored that the Fifth Bureau was hauling in Sixth Bureau people for a working over.)
- 3. Kim's forced "confession" states: "After advancing to college, I suffered from frustration and an inferiority complex. I could not enjoy normal campus life because of sickness and family hardship, compared with other students, and these feelings developed into a sense of resistance against our social system.... Through my readings on communism, I have come to the conclusion that all irregularities and contradictions in our society derive from the capitalist system, and that the means to rooting out such irregularities is to overthrow the existing system via a proletarian revolution in accordance with the teachings of Marx. ("The Case Against Kim Chi Ha," p. 11)
- 4. The three rebellions that changed modern Korean history. The Tonghak Rebellion was the name for a wide-spread peasant rebellion that swept the lower Korean peninsula in 1893-94. Though it had Tonghak ("Eastern Learning" - see following note) religious origins, by the 1890s it had developed strong anti-government and anti-foreign overtones. Like the Boxer Reballion in China, it marked the end of dynastic rule and the collapse of the old order. And also like the Boxer Rebellion , it provided the pretext for foreign intervention - this time not by the Western powers, but by the "would-be Western power," Japan. The Rebellion was put down with the Japanese occupation of Seoul in June 1894, which led to 35 years of outright annexation and brutal suppression which did not end until Liberation Day, August 15, 1945.
March First refers to the date on which, in 1919, religious and cultural leaders throughout Korea simultaneously read in public a secretly-prepared "Proclamation of Independence:" "We herewith proclaim the independence of Korea... in witness of the equality of all nations, and we pass it on to our prosperity as their inherent right.... Victims of an older age, when brute force and the spirit of plunder ruled, we have come after these long thousands of years to experience the agony of ten years of foreign oppression, with ... every restriction of the freedom of thought, every damage done to the dignity of life.... The result of annexation, brought about against the will of the Korean people, is that the Japanese are concerned only for their own gain ... digging a trench of everlasting resentment deeper and deeper...." Japanese revenge was merciless as they set to applying their trench-digging talents to burying corpses. Thousands were killed outright; sometimes whole villages (in one village the people were locked in a church and it was set afire). In 1919-20 alone, some 7000 Koreans were killed.
The April 1960 Revolution refers to one of modern Korea's few successful rebellions. In protest against government corruption and widespread voting fraud, students took to the streets in April 1960. It led to the fall only days later of the American-supported strongman, Syngman Rhee (only to have a two-bit general that hardly anyone had heard of, Park Chung Hee, come to power a year later).
- 5. Partly in opposition to and partly as an imitation of Jesuit teachings (Sohak, or "Western Learning") into Korea, in the 1860s a religious cult, called Tonghak ("Eastern Learning"), was established by a young man of lowly Kyongsang province origins. Ch'oe Che-u (1824-1864) claimed to have received a direct divine mandate, on May 25, 1860, in which he was personally directed to lead a movement that would make the East as strong as the West. A syncretic thought "system" combining elements of Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, native shamanism and even Jesuit cosmology, it spread the word of a "world of re-creation," a new turn of the historical wheel that would see the poor and lowly come into their own. The Beatitudes bit. The movement spread like a prairiefire, especially among the impoverished peasantry in the southernmost provinces remote from Seoul. It was put down after a long and brutal campaign in 1863-64, and fell largely dormant after the capture and beheading of Ch'oe in 1864. The movement revived again in the '80s and early '90s, finally breaking out in full force with the Tonghak Rebellion of 1893-94 (see preceding note.)
- 6. Paekchong: a member of the lowliest caste, considered to be defiled and dirty. Paekchong could not marry outside of their caste or carry on other normal social discourse, nor were they permitted residence outside slum-like ghettos, where their labors were confined to trades considered beneath the dignity of "humans" -animal slaughter and butchery, tanning, garbage and manure disposal, cremation or burial of the dead, etc. Such discrimination still exists today.
- 7. Im Kok Chong: Hero of an early 17th century popular novel, the leader of a bandit band that set out to redistribute unjustly gained wealth to the poor. Sort of Korea's Robin Hood, he and his band came to inspire a number of peasant uprisings later.
- 8. The Eastern Sea is China's (the "Central Kingdom's") name for Korea; in ancient times travel to Korea was usually by boat from the Shantung Peninsula.
- 9. Author s term, meaning obscure.
- 10. Hong Kil Tong: a leader of Im Kok Chong's band (see note 7).
- 11. Article Four of the Anti-Communist Law reads in part: "(1) Any person who has benefitted the anti-State organization by praising, encouraging or siding with or through other means the activities of an anti-State organization or their components or the communist organizations outside the Republic of Korea shall be imprisoned at hard labor for not more than seven years; (2) the same penalty shall apply to any person who has, for the purpose of committing the acts as provided for in the foregoing paragraph, produced, imported, duplicated, kept in custody, transported, disseminated, sold, or acquired documents, drawings and/or any other similar means of expression." ("The Case Against Kim Chi Ha," pp.44-45.)
- 12. Kidnapped from a Tokyo hotel in August '73 by KCIA goons and spirited back to Seoul to stand trial for "election law violations" in the presidential "race" of '71, Kim Dae Jung is the most prominent "opposition politician" in Seoul, America's hope for a Korean Kerensky to replace the Tsar in the south and the Bolsheviks in the north.