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  • Excerpts from Tokko Chun
  • Koh Jongsok (bio)
    Translated by Cho Beckhee (bio)

Part II The Four Seasons—April

The Revolution

Thursday, April 28, 42931

Am I a nihilist, unable to accept submissively the common knowledge of the world? Am I a pessimist? Very much the way I was not able to foresee fifteen years ago the sudden liberation that happened overnight, I was not able to anticipate the fall of the Liberal Party under Syngman Rhee. I was too young to foresee the liberation, and that’s that. But now? The eleven-year-old me and the twenty-six-year-old me, we are the same political dimwit. Will I be able to write anything with such dull senses? For the last ten days, actually, for more than a month, I have been a bystander to the revolution. To put it nicely, I have been a friendly onlooker. Rather than joining the people on the streets, gathering in the plazas, I have been in this shabby secret room of mine, peering at the revolution’s progress. Most likely, I will benefit from this democracy to which I have contributed nothing, like the thousands, tens of thousands, of other bystanders. Is it fair? Even if it isn’t, [End Page 13] that’s what history is all about. There is the one that builds, the one that enjoys, and the one that loses. At last, the dictator is gone. And a second liberation has been bestowed upon us. However, my pessimism does not budge. Even if this new regime is generous and considerate enough to try to distribute this new freedom equally to all the citizens of this land, and especially if it actually can, it would be so easy for it to stumble.

When the April Revolution began, Father was a twenty-six-year-old university student in the graduating class. Because he served in the military while in college, he was one of the older students. Father was not part of the revolution, not on the streets or out in the plazas applauding and cheering. A member of The Closed Generation (a student club within the university, organized around the time of the revolution by Father’s close friend Kim Hak) lost his life out on the streets. Over a drink, Father used to talk to Sun and me about the revolution with an expression of awkward embarrassment. (By the way, Mother never touched a drink in her entire life.) He used to tell us that he took a free ride on this train called “the revolution.” He said that when he reached the final destination and got off the train, he could smell the air of freedom. When this account began, this was a sign that Father was drunk.

The April Revolution was dramatic, even from today’s perspective, all the more so because Korea had never experienced a revolution throughout its long history. The revolution took place three years before I was born, and it advanced democracy to a new level in this land of the morning calm. Even Father recognized and admitted that the Second Republic was the most democratic regime in Korean history, with the exception of the governments of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, much later on. He said that it was a democratic system like nothing the Korean people had experienced before, or even dreamt of, for that matter. However, Father was neither an ardent supporter nor mesmerized by the revolution. He had good feelings about this historical event but was troubled by the reaction that could follow, the backlash. [End Page 14]

“The Second Republic was like an inverted cone, a cone standing on its head,” Father told me once. When I heard the word “cone,” it reminded me of math class in junior high school. Instead of immediately thinking about the unstable state of a cone standing on its head, I was thinking to myself, “Hmm, what was that equation to calculate the volume of a cone?” Was it one-third of pi times radius squared times height (1/3 π × radius2 × height) ?

There are three math teachers I remember fondly. One was a young man, single, who...


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