[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]Fighting authority with poetry, liberty and faithfulnessJune 3, 1970
Since Park Chung Hee’s coup d’etat in 1961, Kim Ji-ha, a Seoul National University student, had already been imprisoned for his anti-government activism. Unbroken, the young poet turned his acrimonious pen toward the regime.
In March 1970, Mr. Kim was asked to write a satirical poem for the anti-military regime literary magazine Sasangge. It took only three days for Mr. Kim to dash off “Ojeok” (The Five Thieves).
Based on popular talk about the regime, “The Five Thieves” was the story about soldiers with an ambition for political power. The soldiers first say they’ll make a better world, but after taking power, they build plush villas and live in false splendor in their Town of the Five Thieves. Mr. Kim wrote, “I might be flogged on the buttocks later, but now I write this ridiculous and queer story about thieves.”
“The Five Thieves” came out in May’s issue, to commemorate President Park’s ascension in May 1961. Mr. Kim’s premonition was right and he was arrested on this date, on a charge of violating the almighty anti-communism law. “The Five Thieves” is remembered as the first democratic screed to become well known. Mr. Kim was released in September, but he was in and out of prison several more times.
June 4, 1966
After the April 19 Revolution in 1960, which ejected Syngman Rhee and his ambitions of holding office for life, it was Jang Myun’s turn to take charge, as the prime minister of the newly established parliamentary cabinet system. A graduate of Manhattan College, Mr. Jang had long opposed the Rhee administration.
Mr. Jang tried to introduce policies based on guaranteeing people’s freedoms to the extreme. But his ideal did not work well in reality, and soon disorder and confusion reigned. After nine months in power, Mr. Jang was overthrown by the Park Chung Hee regime in May 1961.
Mr. Jang died on this date, after being banned for life from any kind of political activity.
June 7, 1456
The symbols of faithfulness in Korean history, Sayuksin, or the Six Dead Loyalists of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), were executed on this date. Seong Sam-mun and the other five subjects were scholars and civil ministers, devoted to the young Danjong (1441-1457). Danjong was enthroned at age 11, rather feeble and too young, and he was soon usurped by his uncle Sejo.
The faithful subjects of Danjong, Mr. Seong and the other five included, could not deal with the coup d’etat. One year after the uncle was enthroned as Sejo, Mr. Seong took the initiative to assassinate the usurper. Their first plan to assassinate the false king failed, and as they plotted other schemes, they were betrayed by a collaborator.
Infuriated, King Sejo had the group dragged in. King Sejo tortured Mr. Seong by piercing his legs with a heated piece of iron, demanding he say “your Majesty.” Mr. Seong, however, kept calling King Sejo only “sir.” Five other fellows of Mr. Seong did not give in either. They were all executed on this date, either by by being branded with hot iron or by being beheaded.
The Six Dead Loyalists were later reinstated, with a shrine dedicated to soothe their angry spirits.
by Chun Su-jin