“Whenever the baby sitting in front of the gatepost cried, The bird cried too”

Lim Chun-hwa (born 1946 in Shinpyeong Village, Daejeong District, current resident of Shinchon Village, Jocheon District)

On April 15, 2018, the Jeju 4·3 Peace Park held the Haewon Sangsaeng Keungut [Shamanistic Ritual for the Consolation of Pent-up Hearts and the Mutual Rebirth of the Dead] to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Jeju 4·3. The “Old Photo Gallery,” a commemorative photo booth, was prepared at the site for the bereaved family members of Jeju 4·3 victims who attended the ritual. In front of the photo booth, I interviewed Lim Chun-hwa. Lim was bashful for not dressing more formally because she didn’t know about the photo booth event. After hesitating several times, she sat shyly in front of the camera. I asked, “Who died during Jeju 4·3?” “My father,” she said. Her eyes were already red with tears when speaking of her father. “Would you like to write down what you want to tell your father?” I cautiously handed over a memo pad. She was not confident because she had never learned how to write, but after a long time, she returned with the memo pad filled with small, crooked letters.
“Father, this is Chun-hwa. Just thinking about you makes me cry. You must have suffered a lot and been so hungry. Mother left for another region on the mainland because of the hardships she had to endure here. My husband was also taken away because of you and had a difficult time. Father, it’s hard for me to stand the unfair hardships. Father, are you looking at me from the other world?”
The hardships full of tears, struggle, hunger, and unfair treatment — the weight of her life. I could feel the much too heavy weight that the much too short woman of less than 150 centimeters tall had to bear. Last January, I met her again. The following segment summarizes her tormenting experience of Jeju 4·3, which she poured with tears and sighs.

Photograph and arrangement by Cho Jung-hee, deputy head of the Research Department, Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation

My aunt with a baby on her back and my uncle were shot to death

I was born on Dec. 5 by the lunar calendar in 1946, in Shinpyeong Village of Daejeong District in Namjeju County. I am the first granddaughter of my grandfather Lim Bom-ok and my grandmother Ko Byeong-dol. The other members of my family were my father named Lim Cheong-ya, my mother named Jwa Haeng-sun, my uncle named Lim Dong-ya, and my father’s four sisters.
When our house was burned down after Jeju 4·3 occurred, my parents evacuated to Yeongnak Village where my maternal grandmother lived. Leaving Shinpyeong Village, my father brought a blanket and a gwe [a wooden container], and my mother carried me in a gudeok [a wooden basket] on her back. My father, the son-in-law from a mountain village, was afraid that he would harm his wife’s family, so he quickly hid after leaving my mother and me behind. I heard that winter was exceptionally cold and long. Tired of his life as a fugitive, my father visited one of his elder sisters in Seotban in Yeongnak Village. My aunt would have hurriedly served her little brother, who was hovering between life and death, a meal. Then her husband returned home from guard duty, and as the two brother-in-laws were eating together the cops came in all of a sudden with a banging sound. My aunt rolled my father up on a straw mat on the floor and placed him vertically in a corner. Fortunately, my father was not found and could run away, but my aunt and uncle were arrested for hiding my father and feeding him. I have always felt sorry for my five cousins because if it hadn’t been for my father, there would have been no reason for their parents to be killed or for them to have become orphans and lived separately with other relatives.
Lim Woo-gil, my father’s second eldest sister, and her youngest son who hadn’t even been named were shot by police from Mureung Police Substation on Jan. 31, 1949. Her husband, Kim Shi-hwa, was taken to Jeongbang Waterfalls in Seogwipo City and became a victim of a mass execution on Jan. 27, 1949.

My father and his younger brother live only in records
Their prison term is not yet over

Later when I had my father and his younger brother registered as victims of Jeju 4·3 according to the national government policy, I first learned that they had been taken to Mokpo Prison where they served jail terms. When I went to the Jeju Provincial Office to file a report, they handed me a copy of my father and uncle’s record. The document recorded my father as Lim Yu-gil and my uncle as Lim Ja-gil, the first sentenced to seven years in prison and the latter to five years in prison. Because my family never heard of when, where, and how my father had died, and because we couldn’t find his body, we just cooked a bowl of rice on his birthday for his memorial ritual. Never had we dreamed that he was taken to a prison on the mainland. Should I say that I’m lucky to be able to check the final destination of my father by this record? It’s been more than 10 times of his imprisonment, and supposedly, his jail term is not over yet.

Record of Convicts details the sentence of Lim Cheong-ya (a.k.a. Lim Yu-gil).

My mother’s life was too heavy to handle alone

When my father disappeared, the police demanded my 70-year-old grandmother and grandfather to find him, and eventually shot them to death. My mother was dragged to Mureung Police Substation. They intimidated her, saying “Find your husband!” My mother, pregnant at the time, had to endure the harsh interrogation and torture. My maternal grandfather and grandmother visited the police substation several times and begged, “This young mother is responsible for three lives. Not just her own, but the lives of her daughter at home and the unborn child.” Only after begging the police, could they bring her back home.
My paternal grandfather, Lim Bong-ok, and grandmother, Ko Byeong-dol, were shot by police on Dec. 11, 1948, for the escape of their two sons, Lim Cheong-ya and Lim Dong-ya. Supposedly, my mother found it too tormenting to live alone without her husband or parents-in-law. My mother was often taken to Mureung Police Substation and suffered under interrogation. She used to climb mountains to collect wood and go to Moseulpo Market to sell it. She also sold boiled potatoes at Shinyeongmul [a site of spring water] in Moseulpo. She even brewed gosorisul [a traditional Jeju liquor] to sell. I can still clearly remember her being submissive to the investigators. When my mom went to work in the market, my brother and I, hand in hand, greeted her on the newly constructed road that was quite far from my house. When she went to collect wood, we met her at the three-way intersection on her way back home. I just liked it when she fed me the fruits she had picked in the mountain and carried the wood on her back.

Lim Chun-hwa’s father

For me, April is the worst month

In 1954, I turned 9 and my brother turned 6. However, I was as small as a 7-year-old since I was born in December. When school started in March, my mother bought me a notebook and a math book for the first semester of second grade. And in April, she left. That day, she was wearing a pink skirt, a pretty skirt with flowers printed on it. At the time, I was so naive that, with the money my mother gave me, I went to a store in Mureung Village to buy a ball. A while later, my mother returned. I heard she had gone to the port in the downtown area, so I wondered why she was standing in front of me. It turned out that she couldn’t get on the ferry because she didn’t have a Jeju resident card and returned to the Mureung Police Substation to get her license issued. Seeing her again, I grabbed her skirt tight.
“I’m too scared to live here. Your father’s family is rich, so you won’t suffer. Go live with your aunt for a while, and I’ll get a house on the mainland and come back for you.” When I saw my mother again after a long time, she said, “If you hadn’t let go of my skirt, if you insisted that I take you with me, I would have not left without you. But, you were always so nice that you tried to read my face and slowly let go of my skirt.” After my mother left, we never were able to live together again. For me, April is the worst month. It is the month my mother left. My mother left for the mainland, marrying a police officer at the Mureung Police Substation who was from North Korea. My mother never returned to Jeju.

You should eat

After my mom left, I was sent to my father’s eldest sister. It must have been hard for everyone to live then. Every day, I weeded the field, fed the cattle, and made firewood without a break, but I was always hungry. I could visit my mother’s family only for a memorial service. “You should eat. How can you finish it if you chew with only your front teeth? That’s why you are still small. You should eat. Swallow it.” In the past, people sat around a table and ate rice in a big bowl together. My grandmother was worried that I would not be able to eat enough when eating with my aunt’s family. I will forever remember how my grandmother cared about me.

The plot of older girls in my neighborhood allowed me to escape to Jeju City

When I turned 16, some older girls in my neighborhood started a plot to send me — the poor girl who worked from morning to night — to Jeju City. Among them, Jeong-un, a clerk of a Jeju City-based bakery, found a job for me. And with a black skirt and pink blouse made by another girl named Jeong-suk, all was prepared for me to move. Without saying a word to my aunt, not even to my maternal grandmother, I changed into the new clothes and got on the first bus to Jeju City. At Heungseong Store next to Samda Bakery in front of the Jeju Post Office, I started a new chapter of my life. Although my neighbors in Yeongnak Village fussed about my disappearance, I had no reason to go back there.

Whenever the baby sitting in front of the gatepost cried, The bird cried too

In the old days, when there was a problem in the house, the desperate family used to go see a fortune teller. My aunt also visited a well-known fortune teller when her son was hurt in a car accident. The fortune teller said, “There’s a bird sitting on your gatepost and a baby in front of the gatepost who cries every day. Whenever the baby cries, the bird cries, too. This keeps the bird from flying away.” The fortune teller explained that my father was perched on the gatepost, looking down on me. She said he couldn’t fly away because he was crying with me. My aunt was told that if I cried, her family wouldn’t be comfortable and that they should comfort me. Is it true? The fortune teller said my father, who was worried about his little daughter, stayed and wandered around in this world. Could that really be true?

My husband and I were taken to the police under the charge of seeing my father who had gone missing since Jeju 4·3

I got married and ran a small shop with my husband and three children. I enjoyed the most ordinary happiness until another event happened. By the time my eldest daughter had turned 10, some strangers visited me one evening. “Lim Chun-hwa,” they called my name and told me to come out. As soon as I left the store, I was put into a car and taken to the office right next to the police station near Gwandeokjeong. It was such a sudden event that I couldn’t recognize what was happening. I was just worried about my kids at home who must have been crying over me. Without any explanation, the police officers brought me a paper and pen and ordered, “Write down about your most recent meeting with your father.” I argued that my father had disappeared during Jeju 4·3 and asked the police officers when was it that I met with him again. The police officer answered, “Then, write everything you know about your father.” So, I wrote what I knew about my father, which started with, “My father took me in a gudeok when I was a baby to my maternal grandmother, and left and I haven’t heard any news about him since.” I also described how my father ran away while eating at his sister’s house, how my aunt with her baby on her back was shot, and how my grandparents were also shot to death. I wrote all I knew about the history of our family.
Later, I found out what had happened. There was a haenyeo who had the same name as me. She went to Gangwon Province and met a man there, who later visited Jeju looking for her. The agency that interrogated the man falsely arrested me to investigate the haenyeo whom the man had met. I was interrogated for three to four days and was only released after I left a written oath, saying, “I will never tell anyone about what happened here.”

It is all because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time

My husband suffered from the aftereffects of the interrogation. My husband from the Korean mainland knew nothing about my family history related to Jeju 4·3. Without a word about his pent-up anger, he passed away last year, after suffering long years from the interrogation, on the 70th anniversary of Jeju 4·3. I felt very sorry for his suffering, and I cried a lot after his death. My life was pretty tough. Could it be this hard to make ends meet? Just as my maternal grandmother said, it must be because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Losing my father, living separately from my mother, my husband suffering from the torturous interrogation. It is all due to the situation.
There is one last thing I told my mother when she passed away. “Mother, I don’t feel sorry for myself at all. I lived anyway.” Hopefully, someone will remember that a sorrowful poor little girl like me lived 70 years of hardships after Jeju 4·3.

Lim Chun-hwa holds a note she wrote to her father in 2018.