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Manoa 14.2 (2002-2003) 25-27

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Younghill Kang

[Would You Go?]

It may seem strange to the reader unfamiliar with Far Eastern politics that Korea, an independent nation for over forty-two centuries, should have been so helpless those first ten years of the twentieth century before the stealthy but persistent encroaching of New Japan. But Japan's strength in the East is due to rapid Westernization, especially in regard to armament. That alone, perhaps, she thoroughly learned, since the time of Perry's entrance, and is thoroughly competent to proselyte. With the vigor of a younger nation, engaged already in enormous changing, inherently imitative, it is easy for her to slough one borrowed culture and to absorb another in its place. Yes, comparatively, easy, as it was not for the older nations, China and Korea. Clinging closely to the old Confucian nature, and each in an exhausted era of their history, they were truly stunned for those first decades of world-wide intercourse.

That little Japan won over the million millions of wise, deep China first. After her victory, she began to make her demands upon Korea, during the Russo-Japanese War. She must be allowed passage for her troops through Korea, and she signed a treaty stating that she had no designs upon the Korean state as a whole. These troops were never withdrawn. They remained to shelter the swarms of low-class Japanese adventurers who followed, and to uphold them in all they mis-did. Japan moved deliberately step by step. She first seized the silent control of the incompetent and bewildered government at Seoul in 1907: hemmed in by spies and Japanese generals, the old emperor was made to abdicate to a minor son; then at last Japan spoke plainly, the 29th of August, 1910, when all treaties were annulled and Korea was publicly declared annexed...

When the news reached the grass roof in Song-Dune-Chi, my father turned a dark red, and could not even open his mouth. My uncle pak-sa became suddenly very old and he shriveled and fainted in his own room. My crazy-poet uncle sat staring straight ahead of him until far into the night. My first thought was a selfish and immature one.

"Now I cannot be a pak-sa or the prime minister of Korea." [End Page 25]

I burst into tears. But my elders did not cry, not yet. So I ran crying out of the house. I looked up at the sky, to see if there was really a black doom up there. Were a final thunderstorm and a flood about to come which would wipe us all out? But the sky was blue and serene, and the river had only a sunny crystal foam as it whirled past. Children were standing around with scared blank faces. The village was quiet. Nobody spoke. Later on, in the afternoon, there was a general weeping, everywhere the sound of mourning, as if each house in the village were wailing for somebody dead. Some men began to drink and drink, shouting:

"The doomsday has come! We have all gone to the Hell!"

My father lurched out of the house, although he had had nothing to drink, and nothing to eat since morning.

"My poor poor children!" he cried out, and tears now streamed from his eyes. He held out his hands to us, as if we were all his eldest sons. "Now all are going to die in the ruined starvation. The time of the unending famine has come down upon us. Who knows when we may be happy again?"

And with tears running over his face, and mingling with his beard, he put up the Korean flag over our gateway and bowed down to it.

There was no supper that night. My grandmother sat up by candlelight, in the same dress she had worn in the morning. Again and again she took a cup of rice tea to my father, but he lay heavily on the mats, and he would not accept it.

In the morning, it was found that several of the young...


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