Remembering Gwangju

Imui Haengjingok 임의 행진곡   video

Poems from    萬人譜  ManInBo (高銀 Ko Un)
Translated by Brother Anthony with Lee Sang-wha

May 19

The morning of May 19 was quiet.
The ten-fathom well ceased weeping.
Between barbarity
and the next barbarity
the spring foliage was quiet.
The ten-fathom air stopped weeping.

After yesterday’s pandemonium
and massacre,
quicklime was scattered
over bloodstains on the street.
One shoe sat quietly on the pavement,
amidst what looked to be white flour.

The arrested students, girls
lying on the street
in only their panties,
they were also quiet.
If they opened their mouths, they got beaten.
Barbarity alone cried out.

“You bastards,
we’ll bury you all.
Breathe your last,

Then from a valley
a woman’s voice cried out:
“Seung-Hun! Seung-Hun!
For God’s sake, speak, say you’re alive!
Open your eyes. Open your eyes and come home.”

An air force ranger came running, brandishing his cudgel.
“Bloody woman, can’t you keep your mouth shut?
I’ll shut you up, bitch.”

Struck by the ranger, the woman fainted,
fell face down.


In the quiet of the aftermath morning,
in the quiet of the streets,
in the quiet of distant Mount Mudeung-san,
and in the quiet of her name she called out.

Massacre Landscape

You tethered calf,
let me ask you:
under what pretext is a human human,
and when not?

You mongrel yellow dog,
let me ask you:
what kind of wretched beast is a human?
Gwangju’s yesterday,
Gwangju’s today
these were the death of Gwangju.
Days of death. Humans obliterating humans.

You midnight wild goose,
let me ask you:
what beast’s shit is a so-called human?

covered in blood,
dragged onto trucks
beaten in the trucks,
and battered with rifle butts.

Is that what it means to be human?
In front of the Gwangju district reading room
frequented by lovers of good books,
near the YMCA in Geumnan-ro,
the taxi driver
who was transporting those arrested,
those dying,
the wounded,
the bleeding,
was killed by a blow from a club.

You, gravel on the side of the street,
let me ask you:
what is a human being?

Certainly not a body,
not a body
but a sack of barley
by bayonets.

Gunfire began at Gwangju bus terminal.
On TV, Miss Korea’s behind was swaying madly,
a twenty-year-old sang liltingly
while in Wolsan-dong
a pregnant woman died, her belly slit open.
The baby in her womb died.
In front of Gwangju station
female students were stripped
and their breasts were gouged out.
A seventy-year-old was killed by one blow from a club
before he could make a sound.

Now there are no humans.
Humans killing,
humans dying,
no humans anywhere.

What is a human being?
I will not ask the ignorant sky.
I will not ask that ignorant Chun Doo-Hwan.
No longer will I ask anyone.


After May 21 that year,
the city was surrounded by forces lying in wait.
The city was a beast within a cage.
Step foot outside the city and you
were in the hands of paratroopers,
their zone of operations.
Every street leading into Gwangju was blocked.
Every avenue into the city was closed.

From Noritjae leading to Hwasun,
from Hyocheong-ri leading to Mokpo,
the street by the prison leading to Damyang,
beyond Weolsan-dong leading to Songjeong-ri,
on every road paratroopers lay in ambush.
In all directions, everything was blocked.
Alleys, paths, blocked.
On the sixth day of the citizens’ resistance
the sound of helicopters could be heard day and night,
and continual distant gunfire.
From outside, the city was under siege, unmoving;
inside, the city was all commotion.
On the sixth day of the resistance
on the cement floor of the basement of Gwangju tax office,
the body of a female student lay rotting.
Her breasts cut off,
her school skirt torn,
her genitals exposed,
her face and back slashed with knives,
she lay rotting.

Her student ID-card was in her pocket.

Some say it was a false rumor.
Some say it was not so groundless.
Take your pick.
Above ground and underground
death was a suspension of life,
life was a suspension of death.

All lay rotting.

For Several Days

The nation as a whole knew nothing.
Jeju Island,
Daejeon, Hoideok
Gangneung, Samcheok,
Hongseong, Pohang,
no matter where, nobody knew anything.

The country knew
only the Declaration of Martial Law
with its scarlet words, scarlet lies,
so the little the country thought it knew
it knew not a whit.

“One civilian died,
five soldiers died,
thirty soldiers were wounded.”

Such were the lies they had to endure.

From May 18
they knew nothing of the dying city
struck by mortal bullets,
struck with fatal clubs,
a city risking death,
anger welling up.

Once the martial law troops had withdrawn,
that anger produced a city of freedom.
“We’ve won! We’ve won!
Our deaths
and the blood we shed,
our isolation,
and our democracy won!”
The nation knew nothing of that democracy.

After the troops withdrew, for a few days,
it was a city of beauty,
a city of happiness,
a city of you and I.
Until the troops stormed in again,
spraying bullets,
that city was a city of life
between death on one side
and death nearby on the other.

During the night of May 19, in 68 Jisang-dong,
the third son of Song Bok-Nam was born.

City of life.

The country as a whole, indeed the world entire,
knew nothing of what happened in the city
until that third son was ten years old, or older.


Who am I? Who do you say I am?
Where was I born?
Who were my parents?
What is my family name?

I don’t know.

Ask the leaves of the plantain
along the roadside
who you are.

Someone, it seems, had calculated.
They said I was eighteen.
Maybe when I was fresh,
when I was thirteen,
one day I ran away from the city orphanage
in Nokbeon-dong, Seoul,
that prison.
I stole onto a train headed south--
anywhere beyond Seoul was fine with me.
On that night train,
I went to a place named Songjeong-ri,
a place named Gwangju.

There at South Gwangju station
my life began.
It was nice.
I used to sleep on a stool in the waiting room,
then in front of the station
where passengers gave me a penny or two.

The dusty willows along the street were my family,
as were the trash, and the flies that communed with the trash.
How could it be otherwise?

Samhak soju was sweet,
Jinro soju was sour.
Early on I would sit in front of the bottles.

I was dragged off by a drunkard
with an artificial arm
and began to sell gum.
As I roamed the city selling gum,
somebody told me to come with him.
I followed him to the juvenile rehabilitation center
in Bangnim-dong.
There I had older and younger brothers,
some fifty of them.

There I began a new life as a shoe-shine boy.

In May the year I turned eighteen
as I was shining shoes
I saw the martial law troops
beating innocent citizens mercilessly
and my heart caught fire.
Together with friends from the rehab center
we rushed to join the protest march.
In front of Gwangju High School I died.

As I died
I saw my mother I had never seen.
She was wearing a yellow blouse
in the clouds.

After I died
the couple in charge of the center
and my houseparent visited the army gym,
the South Jeolla provincial office,
Jeonnam University Hospital,
and the Christian Hospital, looking for me.

Shot in the throat, my corpse,
had already been taken to Mangwol-dong
and buried wrapped in plastic.

My name is Kim Jae-Hyeong.
At least, that’s the name I was given
by the director of the center.

Who do you say I am?
I’m asking: Who?

Kim Gae-Dong

The first instructions were as follows:

“You are going to cut off the heads
of ten or more of the North Korean puppets.
You are going to cut off the heads
of their subversive sympathisers
Then you guys get to live
in the Republic of Korea.
Toward this end
you will undergo special training.
You make it through or croak.
Any questions?

That’s all!”

Next breath, the torture.
Out of our minds from the start,
our muscles crunched, lungs burned
twenty hours out of twenty-four.


Each day was like a century.
The excruciation lasted a month.
One month and six days, to be exact.

We felt nothing but hatred,
had murderous thoughts.
If we saw a man,
we wanted to beat him to death on the spot.
If we saw a woman,
we just wanted to fuck her,
strangle her, gobble her up.

We were ready.

We boarded a transport plane at three a.m..
We expected to fly north across the DMZ,
to cut off the heads of the North Korean puppets.

Nothing of the sort.
The plane was heading south.

We landed before dawn.
Day broke
on a mountain in the distance.

No way we could tell that was Mount Mudeung-san.

Damn it to hell!
It was Gwangju.

After a month and six days of brutal training
we had nothing in us but hatred,
a wish to kill.

I am Sergeant Kim Gae-Dong,
3rd special forces brigade,

All my eyes could see
was northerners, reds:
northerners in plain sight in the south,
reds in plain sight.
They all had to be beaten and killed,
raped beaten shot killed.

Poplar cudgels tensed, trembled,
eighty M16 rounds tensed,
bayonets trembled.
We advanced toward Jeonnam University.
Our commander, Colonel Gwon Song-Man, shouted:
“This is enemy territory. Here you will either live or die.”


I was Sergeant Kim Gae-Dong.
Here in enemy territory my goal was
to hunt down twenty or thirty reds,
and earn the order of military merit

I wanted to set fire
to each of those three-story houses, two-story houses.
I wanted to kill everyone.
Just wait, you red bitches,
I’m on my way,
on my way,
I’ll finish you off. I’ll devour you.

I clenched my fists. My prick rose and stiffened.

Yun Sang-Won

During the ‘70s
Gwangju saw the beginning of devotion
in a night-school room
at Deulbul (‘field-fire’) night school—
a room for workers,
a room for children who couldn’t go to school,
a room where a few dozen old books were neatly arranged
and fluorescent lights flickered, occasionally went out.

Fifteen met at a time, or thirty-one,
including the man who taught them
every evening.

He stopped drinking,
He stopped smoking.
He always laughed.
And he bowed to greet people.

Early in the morning of May 27, 1980,
having resisted to the bitter end
as commander of the citizens’ army
in the South Jeolla provincial office,
he was shot by martial-law troops.
He was killed.

Beside his body lay Kim Jong-Cheol,
a 17-year-old mother-of-pearl worker,
atop of 16-year-old An Jong-Pil,
first-year student at Gwangju commercial high school.

The devotion was fulfilled. The world was a sea of blood.

Jeong Gyeong-Chae

When dynamite exploded
in the quarry on Mount Baekam-san,
with a crash
and a clangor,
rocks and boulders tumbled down,
making a wind of their own.

There sixteen-year-old Gyeong-Chae
broke stones.
Each day felt like three years,
like five years.
With a hammer nearly as heavy as himself,
he broke stones
nine or ten hours a day.
Every day felt like ten years. Slowly
he grew deaf.

Judging that he shouldn’t make him work like that,
the foreman told him to go to a factory down below.
So he moved to the mason’s yard below the quarry
where they made gravestones,
stone tables to place in front of tombs,
and stone buddhas.
All day long he ground away the corners of stones.
His home in Gangjin felt as far away as grass.

As a mason’s assistant, he helped make 250 gravestones
and 43 buddhas.
Each day was loathsome.
Every day felt like 12 years.
He learned more about the world.

Unable to endure it any more,
he went to live with his elder brother,
and lived in the sea breezes of a seaweed farm
near Gangjin.
When he felt vexed,
he wept, looking out to sea.
When he felt sad,
he wept, looking out to sea.

He moved to Imsil.
Thence to Gwangju.
On May 20
he happened to be standing at the Yudong-ro junction in Gwangju.

After that, his whereabouts are unknown.

Gwon Ho-Yeong

His childhood dream was
to build a house as big as Jinnam-gwan in Yeosu,
to buy land half the size of Dolsan Island,
and to live there with his parents.

He dreamed big dreams blindly.

Abandoning that dream and
dropping out of high school,
he left Yeosu for the big city,
courageously headed for Gwangju,
near Mount Mudeung-san.

He lived in a rented house near Gyerim Market
with his tough-as-nails mother, good-for-nothing father,
and four younger brothers.
They had pork soup just once a month.

Harboring grand dreams in my heart,
I studied hard preparing for university entrance exams,
determined to build a house as big as Jeungsim-sa Temple.

I held to those dreams from the day I was born
November 17, 1963
to May 26, 1980
despite times as harsh as they were inescapable.

One day in May I fell in Gwangju,
dreams lost, and
vanished without trace.

Did my classmates who survived
graduate from evening school?
Did they mix soju, makgeolli and beer
and drink it along with some digestive tonic
or Chilseong Sprite?

Now I’m just scraps of clay.
Hey, you guys, it’s up to you
to realise my big dreams
every damn one.

Jo Ara

Known as Gwangju’s Mother,
she called herself
Gwangju’s Daughter.

She was born in a seaside village of Naju, South Jeolla Province
early in the Japanese colonial period.
Her family Christian.
she was baptized as a baby
in the local church
and grew up singing in the children’s choir.

She went to Gwangju when she was eleven
and attended the Christian School,
studied at the Sophia School for girls
then taught at the Sophia School.
During the ‘Silver Ring Incident,’
she was active in the underground
Gwangju student movement of 1929.
A hundred students participated,
each wearing a silver ring.
Arrested as a ringleader,
she was imprisoned, then released.

Time and again she was detained,
imprisoned then released.
Refusing to perform Shinto shrine worship
Sophia School closed its doors voluntarily.
She went to prison again.
She went to prison carrying her first baby
and raised the child in her cell.

Then she went to Pyeongyang
to attend a seminary for women.
Her husband died of typhoid fever early on.
She was imprisoned under sentence of death,
accused of being a pro-American spy.
August 15 came
and she headed back to Gwangju,
where she raised some two hundred children,
her own and others’,
as a mother for orphans.

She taught hundreds of boys and girls.
Under the dictatorial regimes of the Liberal Party
and Park Chung-Hee’s Yushin Constitution during the 1970s
she stood out as the Heroine of Gwangju.

Her magnanimity was magnificent,
her spirit bold,
her love considerate.

After early barley sprouts had found their way to green
once March was past,
April 1980 came and then May 1980.
In May 1980 she was Gwangju’s Mother.
Ah! Really! Gwangju’s Grandmother!

Gye Nam-Su’s Gravestone

Born August 15, 1945.
Died May 20, 1980.

A cuckoo perched on top of the gravestone.
It has not yet flown away.

Gi Yeong-Do

While living in this world I learned
that ocean gulls follow ships headed for the horizon,
follow them for a long, long time,
borne on the wind, not flapping their wings,
and then turn away.

All I know in this world
is Hangeul, the Korean alphabet,
and a few Chinese characters.
Fortunately, I can read traffic signs.

And I can drive.

I drove a truck for a puny transport company
with just a few vehicles and no office.
The boss conducted business
from a coffeehouse, using its public phone.
Finally, he stopped paying bills and fled,
emigrating somewhere—
Australia maybe, or Canada.

my older colleague, Im Sun-Man,
got a job as a garbage-truck driver for Gwangju City,
so I went with him.

My rounds were in the north,
an area designated for a children’s park,
and I’m not too proud to say I worked hard,
driving my garbage truck at daybreak every day.
I never guessed that months later
I’d be loading corpses onto my truck
and burying them in secret, temporarily.

In May 1980,
I became in effect a mortuary labourer,
loading bloody corpses.
I buried them together with rotting fish,
junk from building sites,
chunks of broken cement.
Drivers suspected of revealing our secret
occupation were thrown into prison,
or got rid of under pretext of death by disease or accident.

I made it through those critical days,
managing somehow to survive.

In the announcements by martial law authorities
or by the Korean government itself,
the number of Gwangju citizens who were killed
was vanishingly small.
They counted the corpses collected in just a few places,
such as the Christian Hospital,
the Red Cross Hospital,
the Jeonnam University Hospital.
Their figures were fictions.

Corpses kept temporarily in such places
as the Combined Armed Forces Hospital
were omitted from all lists of the dead.
The martial law forces
suppressed the count of those they had killed,
burying the dead in great numbers in secret,
however temporarily.

Most brutal was Chun Doo-Hwan
in the Blue House below Mount Bukak-san in Seoul,
who appeared first on the nine o’clock news.

Afterwards I fell sick,
became a wreck,
unable to drive a van
or a truck or anything:

a dumb wreck with no mouth,
a wreck who locked himself inside a room,
frightened even at the shadow of a butterfly in spring.
I was a wreck, felt like a flute shut up in a room.
In the end I lost my wits.
Sorrow--or whatever--is a luxury, out of reach.

Mountain is mountain,
water is water.
Water is mountain, mountain is water.
No doubt about it, this world is the other world.

Father and Son

The father, Yi Cheon-Gyun
and the son, Yi Jeong-Yeon,
sat facing one another.
It was the morning of May 18.
The father poured his son a drink,
the first time ever.
The son’s eyes widened.

I’ll have a drink too.”
It was their first time drinking together!

Father and son—
the son was in the second year of Business Education,
a top student, a model student.

Having wet his throat, the father spoke:
“Stay home today.”
The son kept quiet.
“Bear in mind what I say. Please do not go out.”
The son spoke up.
“Do you realise how many of my friends have died,
how many been taken away?
And the numbers of the dead, wounded, arrested are going up.”
His father replied:
“You were already caught once;
you were lucky to be set free.
You were detained on the 14th
and headed for jail,
but set free in exchange for a policeman
the students had taken prisoner.”

I cannot betray my friends.”

“From today onward
go and stay in your aunt’s house.
Her husband has agreed.
Because he is a government official
their house is safe.”

At last the son acceded to his father’s wishes
and went to stay with his aunt in Sansu-dong.
He looked down on the city from far off.
He could see black smoke rising
near Geumnam-ro and the express bus terminal.
He could hear the last echoes of shouting.

May 24 was his grandfather’s death anniversary
so he went back home.
Once the offerings were over
his father and he shared the wine offered to his grandfather.

The next day he went out,
saying he had something to do at the Catholic Center.
He went straight to the South Jeolla provincial office.
More friends were dead,
some wounded,
and some friends had been dragged off,
whereabouts unknown.

In a flash he grabbed a gun.
He became the older brother in a militia
of shoeshine boys,
junk dealers,
high-school students.
Where had those many famous men, the leaders, gone?
At best he might be able to count on a few senior students
from the Green Bean Bookstore.
From May 25
to May 26,
to May 27,
guns in hand, they defended the provincial office.
As the days passed, their chances grew dimmer.

He recalled the sound of the wind in the pines and bamboos
of his childhood home in Jangseong.
He recalled the fulsome nights at home,
the same for a thousand, ten thousand years.
He recalled the red autumn foliage
below Baekyang-sa temple
on which he just wanted to rub his breast and back.
He recalled the mountain trail
where he went with his grandmother.
He recalled the long snake crossing the stream.
He recalled Sun-Ok, the girl next door.
He recalled her long neck
as water spilled from the water-jar on her head.
He recalled the beauty spot below her nose.
He shook those memories off.

Early in the morning of May 27,
he embraced the junk dealer Park
who looked older than his age.
“We’re sacrificing ourselves
for our country’s democracy.”
“True. True, indeed.”

The first shots rang out.
Many more followed.


Yi Cheon-Gyun

His son died at the South Jeolla provincial office.
From that day on, the father, Yi Cheon-Gyun,
was called an agent for Kim Il-Sung and a red,
a red’s dad.
Welcome nowhere
he had nowhere to go.

But that father, Yi Cheon-Gyun
cut out one of his breasts
and stuffed it with rage.
His wife, Gu Seon-Ak,
took up smoking
and comforted her buried son in her breast.
As she comforted him,
she vented her rage:

I cannot let Chun Doo-Hwan, Roh Tae-Woo, Jeong Ho-Yong
go on as if nothing happened.
They are my son’s enemies,
Gwangju’s enemies,
democracy’s enemies.
I will, I mean it, club them to death.”

Rage and pain, pain and rage
rivalled in their breasts.

Father and mother called it quits
on bitter mournful tears,
ripped the wraps off their supposed lives as reds,
clenched their fists and raised their heads.

For the first death anniversary, second and third anniversaries
they worked as joint presidents of the bereaved families’ association.
Their telephones were endlessly tapped
and they were under close surveillance.
Abruptly, no reasons given,
they were carted off and dumped by the Maryang seaside in Gangjin,
or by the reedbeds of Suncheon.

They were the commie father,
commie mother.
On the seventh death anniversary in May 1987,
they held a ceremony where they burned straw effigies
of Chun Doo-Hwan and Roh Tae-Woo.
When the burning figures were taken away
they set fire to a police car.
The father, Yi Cheon-Gyun, was arrested and sent to prison.
When the mother, Gu Seon-Ak defied the police,
they threw her down onto the ground, calling her

Hatred was what they lived for.

As a wise man asked:
Is such hatred evil? Must we forgive
everything, everyone?


She should have become a fresh-water clam in a shallow sea.
She should have been a dunlin hesitant to leave that sea.

On May 20, a voice was heard passing along Geumnam-ro.

It was a weeping street broadcast,
a lovely, heart-rending voice:

“Citizens of Gwangju are dying.
Sons and daughters of Gwangju are dying.
Gwangju is dying.
Democracy is dying.”

At that voice, people awoke and arose.
At that voice people gathered.
Seed bags
full of seeds,
full to bursting
and aching to be scattered,
would be sown.

At noon on May 21,
the martial law forces started to shoot.
There was a heart-rending voice,
a very lovely voice.

“Citizens of Gwangju! Let us defend Gwangju!
Let’s stand up for democracy!”

On May 23.

“Citizens of Gwangju! Students of Gwangju!
Don’t let any spy intrude!
Let’s try not to destroy anything!
We are democratic citizens!
Gwangju is beautiful!
Citizens of Gwangju are beautiful!”

That voice led them.
The autumn harvest
would be bountiful.

At 5 in the morning of May 24,
that voice,
that voice passed by again.

As death approached,
nearing that voice:

“We are bare-handed.
The martial-law forces are coming.
Let’s fight to repulse them.
Let’s protect ourselves and our families!”

It was a wailing broadcast, a screaming broadcast.

On hearing that voice
people who had been hiding came rushing out.
Life rushed out
to face death.
Those who had been sleeping came rushing out.
People sunk in dread
and anguish
rushed out to crowd the dark streets.

A woman was making the broadcasts.

On May 25
no one hesitated to carry corpses.
They ran from one to another,
over here, over there.

Someone asked,
“Isn’t that girl a spy?
How can she speak so well?”
Someone else denounced her as a red
because she was so good at broadcasting.

Sure enough,
she was dragged off to a KCIA cell
and recast as a spy.
She was tortured day and night for ten days,
her blood spurting onto rifle butts.
She was slashed with screw-tipped tools, gimlets.
She was stripped of her underclothes.

Money she had earned by selling a few boxes of pears
was accounted a fund for espionage.
On June 4, she was formally accused of spying,
as a member of the Kim Dae-Jung party.
Her right arm was broken with a baseball bat.
She was given water only, no food.
Her sister-in-law urged her to confess.
Who did not try to cast her as a spy?

Once she was freed of the false charge of espionage,
she was recast as a prostitute,
implicated in relationships with many men,
all fabricated.

Her breasts were examined. Her vagina was examined.

Transferred to Gwangsan police station,
she was stripped naked and thrown into a cell.
For a calendar year, her vagina bled.
She was taken to a military hospital.
The prosecutors continued their torture.
Finally, she cleared herself of conspiracy to rebel and arson.
She defended herself against suspicions of espionage.
with all her body.

She was sentenced to fifteen years for agitation.

She lost all her bodily functions as a woman.
Barely alive,
she panted like a carp.

In the course of being cast as a spy
her name too had been lost, had become Peony,
said to have trained on Moran-bong, Peony Peak, in Pyongyang.

I will not reveal her real name here,
that sacred name so profaned,
no matter how much I am urged to.

Na Hong-Su

In days gone by I was a ‘brave warrior in Vietnam,’
a member of the White Tiger Corps.
After the capture of Ankhe Hills in Qui Nhon
I spent three days’ leave in Nha Trang.
Looking down at a sea so clear you could map the bottom
I shouted ‘Na Hong-Suuu…’
and ‘Mother! Mother! Mother!’ at the top of my voice.
Then I reported back to my unit.
I got caught in a Vietcong boobytrap
and narrowly escaped death.
I received a medal, which shone on my chest.
When I left for home from Busan harbor
I was in tears: farewell, farewell.

I came back to Osan Air Base in a military plane.
Film star Do Geum-Bong hung a welcoming garland round my neck.

Then came the humdrum days
when I often thought of the girls in Ao Dai.
I set up a woodworking shop at home,
became a carpenter.
I had two little boys and one daughter.
Together with my wife Yi Geum-Ja we were five.

When my wife went to visit her parents,
she used to walk to save the bus fare
in order to buy a pair of sneakers for our daughter.

I myself limited my drinking to a single session,
leaving my pals before their second round.

At the age of thirty-three,
once the kids were in bed
I would take a second round with my wife and a bottle of soju.

On May 21 I had to close the workshop.
Martial law forces arrived.
Wondering what was going on outside
I went out into the street, cautiously,
as far as Geumnam-ro.
Marksmen opened fire
from the rooftop of a building.
I ran off.
Marksmen opened fire
from the rooftop of another building.

The right side of my breast was pierced.
Part of my chest was blasted away.

I died on the spot,
No time to call out my children’s names
or call for my beloved wife.

I didn’t die in Qui Nhon fighting under Chun Doo-Hwan.
No, I died in Gwangju at the hands of the troops of Chun Doo-Hwan.

Jeon Gye-Ryang

Facing the corpse of his son Yeong-Jin,
he realised in a flash
what pain was,
what sorrow was,
what hatred and love were,
ah, what truth was,
among all the maggots of falsity and fabrication,

and realised what the military were,
what Chun Doo-Hwan was,
what martial law was.

The realization was intense; potent.

He became a completely different person.
On May 21 his son died.
His son went out, saying “My country calls me.”
A shot from a sniper of the 7th brigade
pierced his temple.
Facing the corpse of his son,
he came to a realization.
Ever after,
his son’s death
was the father’s remaining life,
his fight.

He stood up with his gaunt body
to such dreadful oppression and malignant artifice.
He took the lead in responding to the May deaths in Gwangju
and the deaths of lives following those deaths.

Facing the death of his son Yeong-Jin,
he took to heart the souls of all the sons and daughters
who died defending the South Jeolla provincial office
at dawn on May 26 and 27,
all of the souls buried in Mangwol-dong,
as if holding in his arms a houseful of sons and daughters.

His heart’s bleeding cry: “Gwangju, live forever!”

Yi Gui-Nim

Gwangju in May!

In front of her husband’s rotting body,
she sank down, stunned.

They had little children.
She had to feed them.
She had to keep them alive.
She stood up.

With a towel wrapped around her hair,
she dragged out her handcart.
She bought corn wholesale and sold it.
If any was left over
she sold it cut-price at great sacrifice.
If any was still left over,
she would steam it to sell
and steam it to eat.

She bought chicks wholesale
and sold them.

It depended on a rented room;
who would rent a room to her
with two children?

The chicks she bought wholesale died.
She fell into debt.

There was no room she could rent.
She pulled up grass on the hill in Nongseong-dong
and built a shelter there.

She struggled to live.
Then could not live any longer.

She could not feed her two children,
so she sent them to an orphanage in Mokpo.
Three months later the children were sent
to the Holt Foundation in Seoul.
Then they were reported to have been sent to somewhere in Jeonju
but in fact they were sent to France.

The two would grow up somewhere in Paris,
children of another world.

Living alone,
she met a lorry driver.
His parents swore at her, calling her a goddam whore.
She left his house, four months pregnant.
She gave birth to a daughter.
They moved up to Seoul.
She had no time to rest from dishwashing
in a company canteen.

“Ah, my twenties
and my thirties have past.”

She listened to a song on the radio,
‘Don’t ask me about my past’

“Ah, she sings so well!”

And out of the corner of her mouth:
“That’s not a song, it’s my life.”

Sea Waves

The night was full of beauty,
a certain long-lasting beauty.

He told one of his friends:
“I’m childish.
I have the pen-name Hae-Pa,
meaning Sea Waves.”

The night of May 26 was outrageously long.

He came
for that day in May, that day in Gwangju.
He came
for that day, for democracy.
He died
for that day in May.

The night before, Yun Sang-Won had an empty stomach.
He gave the last ramyeon noodles to a boy,
whom he kept telling to go away
but who kept coming back, insistent,.

At midnight that night,
beyond midnight,
in the darkness
of the conference room
of the office for Civil Affairs
on the second floor of the South Jeolla provincial building,
that night was beautiful.

He was with Yi Yang-Hyeon and Kim Yeong-Cheol.
Yun Sang-Won spoke:
“Although we are sure to be defeated,
we must defend this place to the very end
in order to be victorious in history.
Let’s keep our trust and love as comrades
in this and the other world.”
His voice was low and deep.
Yeong-Cheol nodded.
Yang-Hyeon nodded, in tears, in the darkness.
It was beautiful.

The night passed.
At four o’clock, early dawn,
marksmen from the special forces
opened converging fire
from behind the back wall of the provincial office.

Yun Sang-Won’s abdomen was pierced.
Yang-Hyeon and Yeong-Cheol tore up a curtain and bandaged him.
Hand grenades exploded.

That night had a certain beauty.

It is worth noting that
Yun Sang-Won had not used his gun.
His gun had been loaded but its trigger was never pulled.
He welcomed his approaching death.

Yun Sang-Won’s gun was not a gun
but a symbol of May,
the meaning of May in Gwangju.
It was the childish beauty of never shooting, to the very end.
It was Sea Waves.

A Snowy Day

On June 6, 1980, the day
of a memorial ceremony for the bereaved families,

amidst the fear of Chun Doo-Hwan’s 5th Republic
after it suppressed the rioters,
after the slaughter,
after the arrests, tortures, imprisonments, tortures,

the families of the victims gathered one by one,
stealthily, away from all informers of the information division,
the special office of the KCIA.
they collected five thousand won from each family.
Five thousand won each per month,
amounting soon to 500,000 won.
That would do.

With the money, they prepared food for the offerings
and performed a memorial service at Mangwol-dong, Gwangju.
The police followed and surrounded them.
The CIA came running
and glared fiercely at them, eyes honed like axes.

It was a memorial service of tears,
with the surround-sound of weeping.

July passed.
September passed.
November passed.
December was passing.

In Gwangju, which means City of Light,
snow was falling in drifts.

Young and old who had stayed home,
men and women who had stayed cowering
for the past six months
since that slaughter and that resistance
began to come out in ones and twos, cautiously,
onto the snowy streets,
at random in ones and twos.

It was not a noisy demonstration like those of the past.

Everyone came out and stood quietly
under the heavy snow.
There was some laughter in the snow,
some weeping.
They cried, embracing one another.
They laughed and sang, hand in hand,
arms around shoulders.

On December 20, 1980
it was snowing hard.
Under the heavy snow they sang.
In Geumnam-ro,
in Chungjang-ro,
in front of the unhallowed South Jeolla provincial office:
love under heavy snow.

Ah, Mount Mudeung-san was also covered in snow.
It could not be seen,
but it was a place of peace
blanketed by heavy snow.

Chun Doo-Hwan’s country did not exist there
under that blanket of snow.

Choi Mi-Ae

is anything left of her life.
Born on February 6, 1957,
she fell on May 21, 1980.

That evening
when the students of Jeonnam University
rushed in droves into the streets and were driven back,
driven back by the martial law forces,
scattering up the alleys,
she came out to meet her husband, a high-school teacher,
on his way home from work
and was shot by the military,
fell soundlessly to the ground.

That was the entire life
of housewife Choi Mi-Ae,
eight months pregnant.

Who in this world
could have taken her end in her stead,
and the end of the baby in her womb?

Her last words went floating up into the sky:

“My love,
while waiting for you
in front of the gate
I died,

Song Gui-Suk

A rioter!
A rioter!

My husband Choi Yeollak became a rioter.


He died as a rioter.
He was just a decent, ordinary citizen of Gwangju
until the previous year,
until March 4 of this year.
He was just an obscure citizen,
the family-head of a shabby house,
eating three humble meals a day.
Three years before
we were introduced,
got married,
had two sons,
looked up at the wide sky for a moment
beyond the diapers
in the yard where diapers were hung out to dry.
He was the head of a family,
as ordinary as any other.

On May 21
my husband, Choi Yeollak,
went out to meet a friend in Gyerim-dong.
He came home after seeing the military forces
beating people wildly with their clubs.
He was trembling with fear and anger.
That night he got out a knife from the kitchen
and a stick from the shed.

That night in Nongseong-dong
where the civilian militia
confronted the martial law forces,
citizens used stones and sticks against them,
steel pipes from building sites,
and guns from the armories.

At dawn the next day
my husband, Choi Yeollak, got up,
left the house at six,
joined the militia.
It was the fifth day of the citizens’ resistance.
Abolish martial law!
Punish Chun Doo-Hwan!
As the militia ran down streets
hung with banners written in blood
they shouted repeatedly:
Long live Gwangju!
Long live democracy!

The martial law forces had already blocked
the roads leading into the city.
The civilian militia, too, erected multiple barricades
with burning vehicles,
barbed wire,
cement pots . . . .

My husband, Choi Yeollak, did not come back home.
Looking for him
I asked everywhere,
again and again.

On May 28 I went to register him as missing.

In the interrogation room of the West Police Station
a lynx-like detective asked with the growl of a threat:
“Did you know that people from your husband’s family
went North? Has your husband ever listened
to North Korean broadcasts by night?
Hasn’t your husband gone North?”

He shouted,
shouted nonsense and
rubbish at random.

At the end of that summer
one of the three bodies secretly buried
on a hillside near Gwangju jail
was identified as my husband’s.

Grave number 100 in the old Mangwol-dong cemetery,
grave number 1-61 in the new cemetery.

A rioter!
A rioter!
My husband was a rioter.
I was a rioter’s wife.
Our two children
were a rioter’s kids.
We couldn’t go on living in Gwangju
so we moved into my parents’ house in Seoul.
There, the future was bleak,
but as a mother of two small children
I struggled to survive.

A rioter!
A rioter!
Look closely!
A rioter died,
and that rioter’s wife and kids
are living with cockroaches. Look!

What do you see?

Bak Yeong-Sun and Yi Gyeong-Hee

May 26, 1980, on silent streets
where murderous troops must soon arrive,
happened an interval of silence
in preparation for death.
The few remaining civilian militia
were resolved to make a last stand
defending the South Jeolla provincial office.

80 were young men discharged from military service,
60 of them teenagers,
10 women.

Each had a designated place along the defensive wall.

Across those silent streets
loudspeakers spread and multiplied
the girlish voices of Bak Yeong-Sun and Yi Gyeong-Hee
of the citizens’ militia.

Martial-law troops are entering.
They will murder our beloved brothers and sisters.
Let’s resist the troops to the very end!
We’ll defend Gwangju to the very end.
Don’t forget us.
We’ll fight to the end.
The troops are coming in now.”

Through the deep night
their voices echoed alone,
echoed on,
died away.

A huge stillness and a huge loneliness hung in the air.

At four in the morning, the troops started to fire.
Bak Yeong-Sun and Yi Gyeong-Hee
were still alive then.

Four in the Morning

It was the end, then and there,
on the first and second floors
of the Annex to the South Jeolla provincial office.

This was it.

Early dawn,
and all that remained was death.
They looked at one another,
nodded at one another.
Nothing more.
No need of songs.
No need of slogans.
For these, bands tied tight around their brows,
all that remained was death.

Dawn, May 27.

At the limits of the long silence,
in the darkness
the only living, moving things
were the voices of two girl students.

Martial law troops are coming in.
Beloved brothers and sisters
are dying under their bayonets.
Let us all fight to the bitter end.
We will defend Gwangju.
Do not forget us.
We will fight to the last.”

Bak Yeong-Sun of Songwon College,
Yi Gyeong-Hee of Mokpo College.

Speeding along in an anti-demonstration tear-gas wagon
they had taken over,
their voices spread from a bullhorn.

At the news of martial law troops on their way,
hand grenades and live ammunition were provided
to the first, second, third and fourth floors of the provincial office.

Their voices fading away,
at four in the morning,
blackened faces began to appear
near the back entrance of the provincial office.

The end.

Bullets flew.
Grenades were thrown.
Within an hour the operation was over.
were covered in blood.
Those taken prisoner alive lay stretched out on the sidewalk.

When May is Gone

What shall we do when May is gone?
What shall we do when May is gone?
One day in May at dark midnight
martial law dropped down on us;
we were dragged away like so many dogs,
beaten and punched as we went along;
so what shall we do when May is gone?
One day in May we all rose up,
clasping a thousand years' rage in our hands,
clenching bare fists, we all rose up.
Charging down the green-leafed road,
down Kumnam Street--Liberation Road, our road--
we all rose up that day;
our hearts were ablaze
as we drove out dark night.
Our cry: Democracy! The Masses! The Nation!
We rose up against our land's division, imposed betrayal,
against the tanks reinforcing
forty years' brutal martial law.
Sing! Fight! Sadly bury these bodies!
Down the green-leaved road, our road,
soon we were felled, felled by their guns,
spouting blood, we dropped, spouting crimson blood.
We were dragged away, fallen corpses
covered in grey dust, covered in ashes,
we were carried away like so many dead dogs,
carried off somewhere in fast army trucks.
Ah, Mangwoldong! Not only there! Not only there!
Still they lie in unknown places,
buried there. Seven hundred? Eight hundred?
Two thousand of us?
What shall we do when May is gone?
One day in May we fought to the end;
around the Provincial Government Capitol,
down scattered back-alleys we fought on and on,
trampling the stains of our dead comrades' blood.
We fought on, proudly bearing the name of
the Gwangju Struggle Citizens' Army.
Brought low by foreign interests,
brought low by compradors,
brought low by all the dregs of Yushin;
defending our land from further disgrace,
our breasts were pierced and so we died.
What shall we do when May is gone?
As night was falling a high school boy
came tearing his clothes out there in the road in front of the Capitol,
his shout went echoing down the street:
My sister's been murdered! It's brutal, inhuman!
Give me a gun! I can fight too!
Just then they shot him, that student died there.
A girl's sweet milky breast was sliced like curds,
and so they sliced
gentle girls, pregnant wives, and they all died.
Down roads, down side-streets, and cul-de-sacs,
men died and were brutally hauled away.
Democracy! The Masses! The Nation!
Down that street, one day in May,
suddenly, alas, the savages drew near:
the 20th Division from Yangpyong,
special troops,
the 31st Division,
the 7th airborne, the 3rd, the 11th,
martial law troops came smashing through.
Striking at random with M16 rifles,
smashing down butt-ends,
slashing and slashing with bayonets fixed,
stinking strong of drink;
all who surrendered were shot, as well.
Ah, it was hell; screaming and crying
surging like waves.
What shall we do when May is gone?
What shall we do when May is gone?

Then over all that whirlpool of terror
spread a tomb-like silence,
covering the dead and the living alike.
What shall we do when May is gone?
We really should have started all over again
out of death;
those who lived, forgetting to grieve,
should have started again
out there on the streets of death;
but we have died and have no words,
we're alive and have no words,
we're in prison cooking grit,
with never a glimpse of the sky above,
we're all of us silently gnashing our teeth,
each heart brimming full
with a thousand years' bitter resentment,
swallowing down this age of shame.
The 5th Republic's army boots go clattering
down the streets of outrage.
When that May was past, we loaded death
on our backs,
and one bitter day for the first time went out
to Kumnam Street and Chungjang Street;
we recognized each other and retrieved
the handshakes they had robbed us of:
You're still alive! You're still alive too!
But then we went quickly to Mangwoldong,
and there we wept.
Since then we have united every year
and risen up again.
Several times we have seen how
with two puffs of our hot breath
we could identify
shadowy enemies, our foes on the other side.
In our country's sky
the Stars and Stripes flies high.
Over our country, see, Japanese swarming.
Gwangju today in no longer Gwangju.
Gwangju is not just Gwangju.
It is the nucleus of our country's history.

Since then, every street has risen up.
Every village has gathered murmuring.
With workers' lives turned into lumps of coal,
with beef bought no dearer than a load of shit,
farmers have swallowed pesticide,
too many of them have fallen and died.
Taxi drivers have died in a sea of flame,
families have died by coal-brick fumes.
What shall we do when May is gone?   
Students have committed self-immolation, a heroic end.
Dozens have volunteered,
and wait to do the same.
What shall we do when May is gone?
Billions of Won spent on tear gas bombs,
apple-shaped bombs, zig-zag bombs,
bombs have hit eyes and put them out,
bombs have hit breasts and put lives out.
You throw just one stone, you're carted off,
beaten with truncheons till you vomit blood.
What shall we do when May is gone?
What shall we do when May is gone?
In factories, in schools,
the fight for justice goes on unending,
in prison too, till victory comes.
But in the towns of deceit
the flag of America proudly flies.
The Japanese LDP come and go merrily.
They come and go like eunuchs
making visits to parents-in-law.
Even Yushin rubbish makes a return,
intent on grabbing its fair share too.
What shall we do when May is gone?
If we're to smash these foreign powers,
these compradors, this treachery,
if we're to sweeep away our land's division,
and this fascist rabble here,
if we're to achieve our autonomy,
our equality, our reunification,
if we're to dance for once our dance
upon old history's dance-floor here,
today we have to let our bodies grimly rot and die.
Then, buried deep within this history,
dead, we shall fight on.
Feverishly living, we shall fight on.
For see how now we live suffocating.

Ah, May, May!
Glorious fresh green,
dazzling days, ah May!
What shall we do when May is gone?
Days thick with tear gas,
tears pouring down,
hacking coughs,
the cuckoo is calling, in the night,
sadly, the cuckoo is calling.
What shall we do when May is gone?
Alas, dead champions, departed friends!
Our hundred year's battle is still not done!
We shall have to fight on a hundred years more, old friends!
We shall have to fight on from age to age!
What shall we do when May is gone?
What shall we do when May is gone?
But always we'll unite anew.
Scattered, we'll always gather again.
Blood-seething May!
Month of struggle, tossing body and soul,
May, you are us!
See us advancing united,
through the parting ocean waves!
Though May must go by,
for us May is ever alive.
Yes, we, we are May, we are May!
A great outcry arises from our people's seventy million throats.
The frontline of joy exploding that morning
in this land!
For such is our May! Liberation arising out of death.
May that day quickly come!