An inspiring poem, a fallen student and a released prisoner

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An inspiring poem, a fallen student and a released prisoner

March 28, 1929
One of the best-known Indians in Korea, next to Mohandas K. Gandhi, of course, is the poet Rabindranath Tagore.
Mr. Tagore was the first Asian to be awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, receiving it in 1913.
Beginning his writing career at the age of 11, he exploded onto the literary scene at 16 with “Wild Flower.” Mr. Tagore is often called P.B. Shelley of India.
What made Mr. Tagore so well-known in Korea, however, was not the Nobel Prize. It was, rather, a bit of poetry, titled “Lamplight of Asia,” that Mr. Tagore contributed on this date to a local newspaper.
While Mr. Tagore was traveling through Japan, a Korean journalist asked him to visit Korea.
Mr. Tagore’s tight schedule did not allow him to make a personal visit, but instead he responded by writing the poem. The poem said:
O Korea,
You were a shining light in Asia
In the Golden Era of the Orient
Torch it once more,
Then,
Thou wilt be a light of the Orient
Once more.
To Koreans, whose country was colonized by Japan at the time, the poem was a bright, encouraging message.
This was not the first time that Mr. Tagore had penned a message for the country. In 1916, Mr. Tagore wrote “Song of the Conquered,” for the newly colonized people of Korea, carving his name deep into Koreans’ hearts.
March 29, 1996
Roh Su-seok, 20, a law student at Yonsei University, was found dead on this date, during a street demonstration.
More than 2,000 student activists, Mr. Roh included, had gathered at and walked down the street of Euljiro in central Seoul, protesting the universities’ raising of their tuition fees and urging the government to open to the public how the election funds were raised and used.
About 6:30 p.m., Mr. Roh and the other students at the demonstration retreated when more than 6,000 riot police officers showed up, unleashing tear gas and violently confronting the protesters.
Mr. Roh took shelter at a nearby printing office, but soon after an employee at the office found him on the floor in the back of the office, unconscious.
By the time he was moved to the hospital, Mr. Roh’s heart had stopped beating.
The student union claimed that Mr. Roh had been beaten to death by the riot police, calling Mr. Roh a hero and a martyr. The police, however, denied the charge, saying there were hardly any wounds on Mr. Roh’s body, just a few abrasions, and instead claimed that the student has suffered a heart attack while running way.
Mr. Roh’s family filed suit against the government, demanding damages of 680 million won ($550,000). But the case was dismissed for lack of evidence. Still, Mr. Roh’s portrait continues to show up at university campuses, used by student activist groups as an elegy for the lost hero.
March 29, 1983
Lee Chul-soo, or Lee Max Barnett, a Korean-American, served 9 years and 10 months on death row in San Quentin State Prison for a murder he did not commit. On this date, Mr. Lee was released from prison, thanks in part to the support of the Korean-American community. Mr. Lee had been having a dispute with gangsters over a marijuana crop.


by Chun Su-jin
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