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The Korean armies in China – The Chungsan-ri Battle
The left-right confrontation in Korea – Its origin
Kim Young Sik, Ph.D.
11/13/2003

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[The following is the sixth excerpt taken from Kim Young Sik's paper "The left-right confrontation in Korea – Its origin."]

By 1912, the Japanese defeated the Righteous Army in Korea and the remnants of the Army fled to Manchuria and Siberia. Earlier, Korean nationalists had established military bases and conducted small-scale hit-and-run operations into Korea. Much of Manchuria belonged to Koguryo, one of the three kingdoms of Korea and millions of ethnic Koreans lived in Manchuria. New waves of immigrants from Korea swelled the Korean population in China by more than 400,000 by the early 1900s. The new immigrants settled mostly along the Yalu and Tumen River border. The Korean armies found much needed support among the Chinese-Koreans.

In September 1920, a Korean Independence Army detachment took Hunchun (China) and massacred its Japanese residents. In response, the Japanese Army dispatched two army divisions to crush the Independence Army. After a fierce battle, some 3,000 survivors of the defeated Korean army fled to Siberia. The enraged Japanese troops killed over 6,000 Korean civilians in revenge; Korean women and babies were bayoneted; village elders were buried alive; Christian pastors were crucified; and captured soldiers were quartered or skinned alive.

Gen. Hong Bom Do is the most famous son of my hometown, Kapsan. He is revered in South Korea as one of Korea’s greatest generals. He was born in 1868 in North Pyongahn Province. Early in his childhood, he moved to Kapsan and made living by hunting tigers and working at coalmines. In 1907, the Japanese made it illegal for Koreans to possess firearms. Hong was outraged by this decree and formed an anti-Japanese guerrilla force with his fellow tiger hunters.

His guerrilla unit fought Japanese police and troops in Kapsan, Samsu, Hyesan, and Pungsan. Once, his unit occupied and held Kapsan for several days. After the failure of the March 1st Movement in 1919, he formed a 400-men army and waged war against the Japanese garrisons in Kapsan, Hyesan, and Jasung. In June 1920, the Japanese 19th Division mounted a major offensive aimed at wiping out Hong’s army based at Bongoh-dong. Hong, commanding a force of 700 men, scored a major victory over the Japanese, killing more than 120 Japanese troops in the battle.

Four months later, an alliance of Korean armies – Communists and non-Communist united as the North Route Army of Korea - defeated a much larger Japanese army at Chungsan-ri. Gen. Hong commanded the First Regiment, Gen. Kim Jwa Jin the Second Regiment and Gen. Choe Jin the Third Regiment. Both Hong and Choe were Communists but Kim Jwa Jin was not.

The battle raged from October 21st to 26th on the foothills of the Paikdu Mountain. There were at least 10 major clashes. The Japanese Army, led by Azma, had 5,000 men equipped with canon and heavy machine guns. In contrast, the Koreans had 700 men, 4 machine guns, 500 rifles, 1,000 grenades and 20 horse-wagons. More than 1,000 Japanese were killed or wounded in this battle known as the Chungsan-ri Battle – the largest victory of the Korean nationalists over the Japanese army, the brightest spot in our war of independence.

The victory was short-lived, however. The Japanese Emperor ordered his army to wipe out the Korean resistance, once for all. Accordingly, the Japanese High Command in Tokyo mobilized the Kwangtung Army, the Japanese Expeditionary Army in Siberia and the Japanese Army of Korea. The three Japanese armies converged on the outnumbered Koreans from three directions in a gigantic pincer movement, and the Korean armies were forced to retreat to Siberia.
What happened to the Korean commanders of the Chungsan-ri Battle? Gen. Choe Jin was killed in action. Turncoat Koreans assassinated Gen. Kim Jwa Jin. Gen. Hong Bom Do’s fate was much worse. Stalin forcibly relocated the old tiger hunter from Kapsan and his soldiers to Kazakhstan. Hong died there in 1943.

Today, a small monument in his honor stands at Kril Oruda, Kazakhstan, Central Asia. Many songs, dramas and novels have been written about Gen. Hong, and he is one of the most revered military commanders in South Korea. The South Korean government awarded him a presidential medal for independence in 1962.


Kim Young Sik is editor of Korea WebWeekly.

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