Daily Archives: 15 December 2005

Topsy-turvy Chaos of Liberation, Korea, 1945

Life for the Japanese changed overnight [after the liberation of Korea in 1945]. In our Chongju area, our people policed themselves, and treated the Japanese well. The Japanese went to live in shelters or schools, and went out during the day to find jobs. We ourselves hired a Japanese woman as our maid.

One man who had been the middle-school principal was reduced to living at the shelter and going out during the day to seek work. One day two boys saw him and they thought he looked familiar. When they got close and recognized their former principal, old habits took over. They automatically stopped and gave him their respectful bow, even though he now dressed as a rag picker. He returned their bow, and right there shed tears, to think that the boys still respected who he was, not what he had become.

As for me, one day, walking toward Toktal village to visit Grandmother, I noticed a Japanese family trudging dejectedly along the road in the opposite way, toward Chongju city. I gasped when I recognized the school principal and his family from Chonch’on where we had lived earlier. They had been our friends. I didn’t know what to do. I hung my head and pretended I didn’t see them. To this day I am ashamed that I couldn’t even greet them.

In our north part of the country, when the Japanese packed up to leave, no one really knew how to rule in their place. People tried to police themselves and in some areas it worked better than others. Where we lived, in Chongju, it was calm and orderly. Much later I learned that terrible things happened in some places, especially in Hamgyong Province to the northeast near the Russian border. Anti-Japanese nationalists let out all their frustrations, and also the Korean communists, who had been biding their time, became militant. Cruel guerrilla attacks made everyone nervous. Nobody really knew who was in charge.

SOURCE: Under the Black Umbrella: Voices from Colonial Korea, 1910-1945, by Hildi Kang (Cornell U. Press, 2001), pp. 143-144

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Friends and Neighbors in Defeat, Korea, 1945

CHIN MYONGHUI, (f) b. 1932, housewife, South Hamgyong Province:
My father had lived in both Russia and Japan. When he returned to Korea, he got a job teaching in Wonsan, South Hamgyong Province, and became principal, which was very unusual for a Korean. Almost always, school principals were Japanese.

Because of Father’s high position, we lived in a Japanese neighborhood and my best friends were Japanese. I did not know or use any Korean language at all, not speaking or reading or writing.

After liberation, the Koreans said my father was pro-Japanese, a running dog, because he was so high up. They almost lynched him. Then the Russian army came, and they wanted someone who could speak Russian to help them out. Father said no. So because of these two events, he fled to south Korea, leaving the rest of the family in the north. Later we made our own way to the south.

KIM P. [ANONYMOUS], (f) b. 1931, housewife:
When the war ended, everyone stopped using Japanese and started speaking Korean again. I was young, and I had never spoken Korean in my entire life. Since I didn’t know a single word of Korean, I repeated the sixth grade just to learn to speak my own native language.

YU TOKHUI, (f) b. 1931, housewife, South Ch’ungch’ong Province:
I noticed that the Second World War upset the entire social order of our village. My uncle had many servants and they all knew their places, but when the war required the young men to be drafted into the Japanese army, every young man was taken, servants and yangban, all went together, and it blurred the hierarchy. Everybody’s fate was the same, so they all became equal. Because of that, after the war, many of the servants moved out of Uncle’s house and moved to other cities. The old order crumbled.

PAK SONGP’IL, (m) b. 1917, fisherman, South Kyongsang Province:
On August 15, I finished ferrying doctors out to the troop ship in the Pusan harbor, docked my boat, and went upstairs in the office building. I had no idea what had happened. I saw the Japanese workers in the office wailing, banging on the desks, banging the floor. I can see them today in my mind. These very ones who had been so sure they were invincible. The next thing they did was drink themselves into a stupor. They went crazy. It was the tragedy of a nation in defeat.

SOURCE: Under the Black Umbrella: Voices from Colonial Korea, 1910-1945, by Hildi Kang (Cornell U. Press, 2001), pp. 145-146

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