Exiled activist returns; war hero meets his end

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Exiled activist returns; war hero meets his end

June 14, 1999
When he left on a business trip to Paris in 1979, Hong Se-hwa didn’t suspect that he wouldn’t see his country again for 20 years.
As a blacklisted student activist, Mr. Hong had a hard time finding work after barely graduating from prestigious Seoul National University. He finally managed to get a job at the small trading company that sent him to Paris. While there, he heard that friends formerly involved with his leftist student group had suddenly been accused by the intelligence agency of involvement in a North Korean spy scandal. It was obvious that if Mr. Hong came back to Korea, he would go to jail, perhaps even be sentenced to death. So began his long and tedious years of exile.
Mr. Hong, who was summarily fired from his job, took a job that was easy for a newcomer to get: that of a taxi driver. He would do it for the next 20 years. During that time, however, Mr. Hong remained a respected figure among young activists in Korea, writing books like “I’m a Taxi Driver in Paris” and “La Seine Divides East and West, the Han River Divides the North and South.”
He finally felt safe enough to return in 1999. When he landed at the airport on this date, he was welcomed by his friends and said, “I cannot tell you how happy I am to be back after such a long time, but I’m also afraid about how I can accept the changes in the meantime.” He recently wrote a book called “The Sadness of a Man Cast as the Bad Guy,” filled with his trademark sarcastic attacks against the Korean right wing. Mr. Hong is now a columnist at the left-leaning Han-kyoreh newspaper.

June 17, 1419
Koreans say that if Tokto island belongs to Japan, as the Japanese claim, then Japan’s Tsushima island must belong to Korea. Tokto, as Koreans refer to it, is situated in the East Sea between Japan and Korea. (The Japanese call the island Takeshima, and the East Sea the Sea of Japan). Tsushima island (which the Koreans call Daemado) sits in the South Sea between the two countries.
On this date, King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty (1392 to 1910) sent an army led by General Lee Jong-mu to Tsushima, conquering the island. From ancient times, Korea had been a target of Japanese pirates based on Tsushima, the Japanese island closest to the peninsula. After the invasion, according to the history books, the Joseon army left the island in the name of peace between the countries.

June 20, 1646
The dream of Im Gyeong-eop, son of a Joseon Dynasty general, was to be a heroic soldier for his country. He started off well, passing the state exam for army officers. Unbeknownst the him, it was the beginning of a stormy path that would eventually lead to his death.
As a general, he was talented and much respected; a novel based on his life became popular among commoners of the time. One of his major achievements was the fight against the Ching Dynasty army, which invaded Joseon in 1636.
Joseon was on friendly terms with the Ming Dynasty, and therefore a thorn in the side of the emerging Ching Dynasty. The invasion ended in victory for Ching after the Joseon king surrendered. General Im, however, would not let the Ching army go home unmolested. He launched a surprise attack that killed the dynasty’s crown prince, but did not change the outcome of the war.
From then on, he remained anti-Ching, which was not good for his career, especially after Joseon cemented ties with the Ching Dynasty. One of his close subordinates betrayed him by giving Joseon officials concrete evidence of his opposition to Ching, and Im was officially blacklisted; he had to flee his home disguised as a Buddhist monk.
He moved to China, where he tried to start a war against Ching yet again. This also failed, and he returned home to find his wife dead of suicide. King Injo confronted him face-to-face, and Im was beaten to death by the king’s men on this date. His last words were said to be, “Why are you trying to kill me when I still have so much to do for my country under the rule of the savages!”
A few decades after his death, the Joseon Dynasty posthumously reinstated his title and enshrined him to comfort his spirit.


by Chun Su-jin
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