In praise of Kim San

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In praise of Kim San

Nym Wales, the pen name of the American reporter Helen Foster Snow (1907-97), is why we remember Kim San (1905-­38).

Wales was a foreign correspondent and the wife of Edgar Snow, who infiltrated the tightly guarded police net of the Kuomintang and entered Yan’an in Shaanxi, China.

Yan’an was where the Long March ended and the center of the Chinese Communist revolution.

Whereas Snow published the book “Red Star Over China” based on Mao and his colleagues, Wales penned a book entitled “Song of Arirang” about the life of Kim San.

According to Wales, Kim didn’t fear death and was ruled by a warm heart and cold reason.

At fifteen, he crossed the Yalu River alone and walked 174 miles to the Shinheung Military School where he trained as an independence fighter against Japan and actively fought for Korea’s independence across China.

Kim was mesmerized by Leo Tolstoy’s brand of humanitarianism and, as did many independence activists, he thought Korea’s independence would come from solidarity with the Chinese Communist Party.

His aim was to muster Korea’s independence fighters in Manchuria and Siberia and chase the Japanese out of the Korean Peninsula. But in 1938, he was accused of spying for Japan and he was executed by the Chinese government.

Wales published Arirang in 1941 in the United States to protect the independence activist group.

In Korea, it was forbidden to mention Kim San’s name for a long time because he had been engaged in communist activities.

Arirang, which was translated and published in Korea in 1984, was a best seller among university students. But the publication fell victim to government censorship.

Three years ago, the government finally recognized Kim as a patriot and last Friday, his only son, who lives in China, was invited to the 60th anniversary of the Korean republic’s foundation, thus restoring Kim’s honor, however belatedly.

It is silly to give different degrees of recognition to independence fighters, based on whether they were leftist or rightist. All patriots made Korea the nation it is today.

“When I think about my country, my heart rushes to the future,” Kim once said.

We are now able to celebrate the 60th year of the establishment of the Republic of Korea in the midst of jubilation and blessings because of the numerous Kim Sans who died in Manchuria and Siberia, many of whose names may never be known.


The writer is a deputy political editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Yeh Young-june [yyjune@joongang.co.kr]


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