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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