Eighty-year-old Kim Yang-hak is a bereaved family member of a victim who died during the tragedy of Jeju 4·3. He has done more than nearly anyone else to draw attention to this chapter in Jeju history by trying to uncover the truth of what happened more than 70 years ago.
Kim wrote A True Record of the Tosan Village Massacre – Our Deep Resentment and Sorrow in 1987. His book has played an important role in revealing Jeju 4·3, which has for decades been trapped in darkness. Despite the public security authorities’ strict suppression, the massacre of the Tosan villagers by the constabulary forces during Jeju 4·3 has been vividly described in this important text. Each sentence carries the resentful voices of more than 150 Tosan Village residents who were killed.
The book first started to gain recognition in late 1987 after Kim Yang-hak met Prof. Kim Dong-man at Cheju Halla University, a freshman reporter for the Jeju National University newspaper and a founding member of the Jeju Society Research Association (an on-campus Jeju 4·3 research club). The book was introduced in the on-campus newspaper of Jeju National University in April the following year, after which Kim Yang-hak was interviewed by numerous reporters from other universities on the Korean mainland. In December of 1988, the full text was published in The Wailing of Halla, compiled by novelist Oh Seong-chan, which contains testimonies of Jeju 4·3 victims. After the meeting between Kim Yang-hak and Kim Dong-man, they became long-lasting partners in the movement to discover the truth of Jeju 4·3. And now, with more than 30 years having passed, has Kim Yang-hak’s deep resentment and sorrow been released? With Kim Dong-man, I visited his home in Pyoseon Village.
Interviewee: Kim Yang-hak, author of A True Record of the Tosan Village Massacre
Second Interviewee: Kim Dong-man, professor at Cheju Halla University
Photography & Arrangement: Kim Yeong-mo, Memorial Project Team, Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation
– Kim Yang-hak, from his testimony in December 1987
The elderly man, gray-haired and with a limp, welcomed us at his door. He sounded weaker than before, but clearly, he had not forgotten his first meeting with Kim Dong-man many years ago.
“Since I had a cerebral infarction, I haven’t been able to speak properly for two to three years and because I can’t move my hands freely, I haven’t been able to write. I listen to the news on 4·3 often these days and I heard the Revision of the Jeju 4·3 Special Act, which included issues like the indemnification and compensation for the bereaved families and permanent establishment of registering as a bereaved family, didn’t go through. I wish for it to pass before I die. The issue of recognizing children who were adopted to families whose entire male members had been killed as bereaved family members must be resolved.”
The only topic of conversation during our meeting was the massacre of the Tosan Village residents. It appeared that Kim Yang-hak still suffered from the deaths of his neighbors and felt guilty as a survivor. Many news outlets have visited him, but only a few recognized the massacre of Tosan Village.
“At the time of Jeju 4·3, people everywhere in Jeju suffered, but it is hard to find a case where people aged 18 to 40, almost a whole generation of people, were killed in one village, as was the case of Tosan. The naive villagers just gathered at the village’s office and Pyoseon Beach on the orders of the counterinsurgency forces. They probably didn’t think they’d be slaughtered. It’s in violent language, but I wrote about their deaths in A True Record of the Tosan Village Massacre. ‘The residents were dragged to Pyoseon Beach, regardless of whether they were guilty or innocent, where they were shot and speared to death. The victims’ cries of pain left an indelible deep resentment and sorrow in me as it shook heaven and earth.’”
In November 1948, Kim Yang-hak was an eight-year-old boy holding his mother’s hand as he witnessed this very moment. The world reflected in the eyes of the young boy, of young people gathered at the village office and women walking bound by rope, was a tragedy and a cause of perpetual despair.
No one was able to access the massacre site. It was only possible to recover the bodies in the spring of the following year, and they were only identifiable by the victims’ clothes.
Although the village has been gradually rebuilt and has changed over and over again with its growing population, the memory of Jeju 4·3 does not fade. By the time he was almost 50 years old, Kim Yang-hak was aware that he had been trying to hide the painful memory of the massacre and was still feeling guilty over those who were killed. This drove him to take action.
“After taking over as head of the village in 1985, I prepared a draft plan to investigate the damage that my village suffered during Jeju 4·3 and heard testimonies from elderly villagers. Most of them refused to speak of it due to the aftereffects and fears of Jeju 4·3. However, all I could think about was completing A True Record of the Tosan Village Massacre as a way to appease the victims’ souls and their bereaved family members.”
Cultural Jeju Monthly (April 1992 issue), featuring an interview with Kim Yang-hak and his book A True Record of the Tosan Village Massacre
After the publication of A True Record of the Tosan Village Massacre, Kim Yang-hak became a so-called marked man by the police and public security authorities. Nevertheless, he received residents’ signatures to file a petition concerning the massacre and continued to conduct an investigation into the damages. Before the 4·3 Special Committee of the Jeju Provincial Council received the first report in 1993, he encouraged residents to report the damages Tosan Village incurred during the incident.
“There were so many calls from public security authorities, so I said, ‘Did I do something wrong? Stop intimidating me and just put me in jail if I’ve done anything wrong. I don’t care where you take me or if I die. It’s just a description of what I’ve heard and seen, and it is all the truth, so do what you have to do!’”
He tried to prevent the residents from incurring damage in the form of guilt-by-association caused by Jeju 4.3. After writing A True Record of the Tosan Village Massacre, he said he was also exposed to external pressure, saying that his own relative was almost fired from public office because of the book. However, he did not turn away from his neighbors’ grievances.
“A young man in my neighborhood set his career path to join the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). But as a result of a background check, they found out his grandfather had died during Jeju 4·3 and they did not accept him. So I told his story to the security commander who was dispatched to Seongsanpo port at the time. The young man was finally allowed to enlist in the ROTC and he was eventually discharged as a lieutenant colonel.”
After writing A True Record of the Tosan Village Massacre, Kim Yang-hak met and shared opinions about Jeju 4·3 with college newspaper reporters in Jeju and other regions in Korea. He even worked with the Jeju 4·3 Research Institute, sparing no time in publicizing Tosan Village’s tragic history. Through newspaper articles, he also emphasized the government’s role in resolving 4·3-related issues.
In particular, he and Kim Dong-man visited police veterans who were involved in Jeju 4·3 and urged them to sign a declaration of conscience over their roles as perpetrators in the massacre. Of the police veterans they visited, a former police constable surnamed Kim who had participated in the massacre, admitted his wrongdoing and testified on video about the deaths of Tosan Village residents.
However, Kim Yang-hak still has not answered the question as to why women were spared during the Tosan Village massacre only to be slaughtered when the military unit stationed in the village left.
“After slaughtering the men, why did they place women in custody and let them live with soldiers until the military left the village? What kind of harassment did they do to the women until the soldiers left?”
He kept tossing his gray hair during our interview, saying that the task of finding out the truth is left to the descendants. He also said it was regrettable that Hyangsa, where the victims at the time were gathered, and the 4·3 fortress around it could not be restored as a historic site. After the interview, I went to the massacre site at Pyoseon Beach with Kim Yang-hak.
Kim Yang-hak — who visited the massacre site for the first time since the incident at the age of 80 — and I stared at the site for a while without saying a word.
Pyoseon Beach massacre site where Tosan Village residents were slaughtered during Jeju 4·3.
– An excerpt from the first draft of A True Record of the Tosan Village Massacre, 1987