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Who was Yo Un-hyung? (Part II)
Lee Wha Rang
The other major achievements of Yo during his stay in Siberia was the procurement of large volume of modern weapons from the Russian Czech Legion for the Korean armies led by Hong Bom-do, Kim Jwa-jin and others. In 1618, the Czechs and Slovaks were defeated in the Thirty Years War by the Austrian army. The Hapsburgs colonized the Czechs and Slovaks. After 300 years of slavery, the Czechs saw an opportunity to free themselves when World War I broke out. The Austrian army had conscripted large numbers of Czechs, most of whom hated their Austrian masters and defected to the Allies, who organized the Czech POWs into Czech battalions. Some 60,000 Czech POWs were in the Russian hand and the Russian Czech Legion was formed.
When Tsar fell and Lenin took power, Russia took itself out of war and the Russian Czech Legion got stranded. The Allies wanted the Legion moved to France but the only way open for the Legion to get there was via a sea route from Vladivostok. And so the Legion moved to Siberia but en route the Czechs got embroiled in the Russian civil war on the side of the counter-revolutionaries.
By a sheer coincidence, Prof. Clement, Yo's former English professor at Gumlung, was with the American Expeditionary Force in Siberia. The good professor helped Yo draw up an anti-Japanese brochure in English. Yo printed up several tens of thousands of the brochure and handed them out to the American, Canadian, British, and Czech soldiers. Yo met and developed a friendship with Col. Radola Gajda (his original name was Rudolf Gajdl) of the Czech Legion. It was Col. Gajda who provided modern weapons to the Korean nationalist armies in Siberia. The Czech weapons were superior to the weapons used by the Japanese and made it possible for Gen. Hong Bom-do and other Korean military leaders to defeat the Japanese army in a series of battles.
The Czechs stayed on and occupied key towns in Siberia and seized a large part of the Trans Siberia Railway. With the ending of World War I and of the Russian civil war, the Czechs were finally rounded up and shipped to their homeland. Col. Gajda traveled to on a train to Shanghai fpr an emotional reunion with Yo. Upon returning to the free Czechoslovakia, Col. Gajda was promoted to a general of the Czech army. Unfortunately, he became a Fascist leader and was purged.
After a two month stay, Yo returned to Shanghai via Harbin. Yo's New Korea Youth Party organized Korean students in Japan and mounted the February 28th Independence March in Japan, prior to the March 1st March in Korea. Yo heard the news of the failed March First Movement. In April, Yo became chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the newly formed Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai (April 1919). Yo represented Gyongki-do at the People's Assembly.
The 1919 Paris Peace Conference and Wilson's so-called principle of self-determination were not for the oppressed peoples of Asia. Germany's holdings in China were given to Japan, although China fought on the side of the Allies against Germany in World War I. Ho Chimin's valiant effort for his nation's freedom from France was in vain and the Korean delegation headed by Kim Gyu-sik was rejected by the conference organizers.
The March First Movement, inspired by Wilson's 14-point proclamation and the 1919 Paris Peace conference, cost Koreans dearly. Hundreds of thousands students led by their, Christian pastors and professional men, waved home-made Taegook-gi flags and shouted "Long Live Korea!" Japanese police and army attacked and burned Christian churches, fired on the unarmed students, arrested and tortured the marchers. About 6,670 Koreans were shot dead or beheaded, 14,611 were wounded, and 52,770 arrested.
The Japanese used a mix of brutal suppression and cunning enticements. In the spirit of the latter, prominent Korean nationalists were cordially invited to visit Tokyo, the rational being that if they saw how modern and prosperous Japan was, the Koreans would welcome the Japanization of Korea. Yo was among the Korean nationalists invited to visit Japan. In spite of the intense pressure from his fellow nationalists not to accept the invitation, Yo went to Japan in November 1919. Gen. Yi Dong-whi, the KPG prime minister at the time, was one of the nationalists opposed to Yo's trip to Japan and issued an official statement to the effect that Yo was acting as an individual and not as a reprehensive of the Korean Government.
Yo resigned from all official posts and told his Japanese hosts that he came to Japan as a private citizen. Ahn Chang-ho and some others backed Yo's Japan trip and raised money for Yo's travel expenses. The Japanese found Yo a hard nut to crack. Yo preached Korean independence to his disappointed hosts. He reminded his hosts that Korea had been independent for millennia and had made significant contributions to human civilization; the Korean culture, because of its uniqueness, has influenced the Oriental culture. Yo argued that the Korean independence must be restored so that the Korean people could continue to enrich the world culture; that the primary reason why China is hostile to Japan is because of Japan's annexation of Korea; that Japan's annexation of Korea has destabilized the Orient; that if peace is not restored in the Orient, the Western powers would muscle in the Orient. Thus, turmoil in the Orient would bring forth a worldwide war.
In January 1920, Ahn Chang Ho introduced Yo to Gen. Putaf of the Soviet Army. Yo wanted to meet the ultra-leftist Koreans in Siberia. After the failure of the March First Independence Movement in Korea, the Japanese colonialists were hell-bent on squashing the growing Korean nationalist movement in China.
In 1920, Yo joined the Koryo Communist Party in Shanghai at the urging of Gen. Yi Dong-whi, the KPG prime minister at the time. Other prominent figures such as Park Yong-man, Kim Gyu-sik, and Gen. No Baik-rin joined the Party as well. Lenin was the principal supporter - both financial and military - of the Korean nationalists at the time, and these nationalists believed that Communism was to way to freedom for Korea. Park Yong-man established a military academy in America for the purpose of training Korean officers. Later Park became a Japanese informer and was executed by Kim Gu's military chief, Gen. Ji Jung-chun. Gen. No Baik-rin, an officer of the Yi Army, established an aviation school in America and trained Korean pilots. Later he went to Shanghai with Rhee Syngman, where he died from natural causes about a year later..
On Jan. 21, 1922, Yo attended the First Congress of the Toilers of the Far East convened in Moscow. Gen. Yi Tong Whi led the Korean delegation - 52 members from Siberia and China. Gen. Yi's Korean army played a major role in defeating the White Army and the foreign expeditionary forces in Siberia, for which Lenin was grateful. Lenin treated the Koreans as his personal guests. Yo met Lenin in person. After returning to Shanghai, Yo served Chiang Kai Sek as a propagandist. Yo also met Sun Yatsen and Mao Zedung.
Yo believed that sports would be effective means of uniting young Koreans and encouraged and organized various sporting events. Thus, for example, he led a college soccer team to Singapore, Manila and other foreign places, and used this occasion to promote Korea's independence.
In July 1929, the Japanese arrested Yo and sentenced him three years in prison for his role in sending Kim Gyu-sik to the Paris Conference and other anti-Japan activities. He was served his prison term at the Daejun prison from 1930 to July 1932. Upon release, Yo was forced to stay in Korea. In March 1933, he took over the Chosun Joongahng Ilbo and began an overt passive resistance to the Japanese colonial government.
In August 1936, the Japanese forced Yo to shut down his newspaper. Yo encourage young Korean athletes to join the Japanese Olympic team for the 1936 Berlin Olympic. The Japanese were reluctant to let Koreans on their team and placed many barriers to the Korean athletes who desired to get on the team. Nonetheless, two Koreans, Nam Sung-ryong and Son Ki-jung, managed to join the team.
Son Ki-jung broke the Olympic marathon speed record (2 hrs 29 min and 19 sec) and won the gold for marathon. He was the first Korean to win a gold medal. This news hit Korea like a wild fire. Yo published Son's accomplishment at Berlin along with a photo of Son receiving the gold medal. The original photo showed Son with a Japanese flag on his chest, but Yo cropped out the Japanese flag on his news account. It did not take long for the Japanese to get wind of Yo's action and the Japanese Governor General of Korea banned the paper and had its president arrested. Yo was forced to shut down the newspaper.
In 1940, he went to Japan and worked with Korean students and residents in Tokyo. He was jailed again in 1942 and was released in 1943, whereupon he went into hiding from public affairs. In 1944, he formed the National Foundation League (건국 동맹), a secret nationalist organization, and established contacts with various nationalists in China and the United States.
Mu Jong, the ranking Korean officer in Mao's army, stayed at Yo's house while attending the Seoul Central High School (中央高普). Mu Jong was expelled from the school in 1923 for revolutionary activities, and in March of that year, he crossed the Yalu and reached Beijing. In May 1945, Kim Myong Shi (金命時), a liaison officer of Yo Un-hyong, traveled from Seoul to Mao's hideout on Yenan carrying a message for Mu Jong. She and Mujong were houseguests at Yo's house and apparently, she fell in love with Mu Jong. Mu Jong commanded the Korean Volunteers Army and Yo wanted to get connected with the army.
On August 14, 1945, Gen. Abe Endo Governor General of Korea in 1945, transferred his government to Yo, who promptly formed the Committee for the Preparation of Korean Independence (CPKI - later to become the Korean People's Republic - KPR). Yo agreed to safeguard all Japanese nationals and their properties in Korea.
Over 700,000 Japanese were stranded in S Korea and 200,000 in N. Korea. The CPKI established "People's Committees" in all of the thirteen provinces of Korea. The People's Committees took control of local administrative and police functions from the Japanese authorities on August 15, 1945.
While Gen. Abe was negotiating with the Korean nationalists, Gen. Kozuki Yoshio, commander of the Japanese forces in Korea, was negotiating with the American military. Gen. Yoshio warned the Americans (who knew next to nothing about the country they were about to rule) about Koreans who were led by "communist agitators." Gen. Yoshio described Koreans as savages bent on obstruction of whatever the US force might do in Korea and offered a full cooperation in keeping the Koreans under control.
Some 30,000 political prisoners were released from Japanese jails throughout Korea. They joined the CPKI and formed various local groups. More than 15,000 Koreans were released from the Japanese Army and labor camps - many of who were forced into working for the Japanese. CPKI leaders split into two factions: Yo's Konmaeng (Korean Independence League) and communists.
Yo and company announced the makeup of the first cabinet of the Korean People's Republic on September 14, 1945: President (Rhee Syngman), Vice President (Yo Un-hyung), Prime Minister (Hu Hun), Interior (Kim Gu), Foreign Affairs (Kim Gyu-sik), Defense (Kim Won-bong), Finance (Cho Man-sik), Security (Choe Yong-dal), Justice (Kim Byong-ro), Culture (Kim Sung-su), Propaganda (Lee Kwan-sul), Agriculture (Kang Ki-duk), Health (Lee Man-gyu), Communication (Sin Ik-hee), Transportation (Hong Nam-pyo), and Labor (Lee Wi-sang). One glaring omission from the list is Kim Il-sung, although a version of the list circulating in North Korea listed Kim Il-sung as 'Minister of Army.' Another omission is the Yenan Koreans - Kim Ki-bong, Kim Mu-jong and other prominent Communists.
Yo's People's Republic of Korea proclaimed:
Abolish immediately all Japanese laws
Yo joined forces with Kim Gyu Sik and worked to establish a pan-Korean left-right coalition government acceptable the US-USSR trusteeship. Rhee Syngman and Kim Gu were dead against the trusteeship and mounted terrorist attacks on those favored the trusteeship.
Feb. 14, 1946 - Seoul: Rhee's RDC (Representative Democratic Council) held its first meeting. Kim Ku and Kim Kyu Sik joined Rhee's camp. Yo Ung Hyon and communists were excluded from the RDC and form their own coalition, Democratic National Front. The Front included the domestic communists led by Park Hyong Yong, the leftist faction of the KPG led by Kim Won Bong, the Yenan communists, and Yo's followers. The DNF also was supported by the People's Committees in local communities.
Yo was caught between a rock and a hard place - between the far right and the far left. The far left led by Park Hyun-young accuse Yo being an American stooge, while far right led by Rhee Syng-man believed Yo was a Communist. Still others believed Yo was a pro-Japanese traitor. Kim Il-sung says in his memoirs (With the Century) that he admired Yo and sent an emissary to Seoul to coordinate joint actions. Unfortunately, the emissary was captured by the Japanese and hanged on the eve of 8.15 Liberation.
Yo held five secret meetings with Kim Il Sung in 1946. On several occasions, Yo stayed at Kim's home as an honoree houseguest and Kim's wife, Kim Jung-suk, personally prepared Yo's favorite dishes. Kim Il-sung spoke with a forked tongue, for on one hand, he saw some merits in Yo's efforts at left-right reconciliation (as a means of conquering South Korea), while on the other hand, he listened to his fellow Communists of South Korea led by Park Hyun-young. Park, while pretending to be working with Yo, had planted his men in Yo's organization and covertly plotted Yo's downfall.
Meanwhile, the far rights of Rhee Syng-man employed terrorists to intimidate Yo: he was beaten in a public place, his house was bombed, he received numerous death threats against him and his children. Yo sent his two younger daughters and a son to North Korea for safety. Both Gen. Hodge and the Korean police chief urged Yo to move to a remote village and lie low because they could not guarantee his safety. Yo ignored their warnings and went about his chores as usual.
During January and February of 1947, Yo busied himself trying to rebuild his People's Party, which was destroyed by Park Hyun Young in 1946. He dissolved the Socialist Labor Party. The plot to murder Yo began in earnest.
On March 17, his bedroom was bombed but Yo escapes. On April 3rd, would-be assassins fired on his car but Yo again escaped death. Yo was gunned down on July 19, 1947. On the night before, Yo stayed at Jung Mu Guk's house for safety. At about 9 am, Yo left in a car for Kim Ho's house at Sungbuk-dong in order to say goodbye to his old friend, Kim Yong Jung, a Korean American businessman, returning to the United States on that day.
Kim Yong Jung believed that Rhee Syngman and Kim Gu lacked leadership ability or political support base in Korea after decades of life abroad. Kim Yong Jung believed that Yo Wun Hyung was the right man to lead Korea. The US State Dept agreed with Kim's assessment and sent a cable in March 1946 to Gen. Hodge directing him to veer away from Rhee and Kim Gu.
After parting with Kim Yong Jung, Yo phoned Nan Gu, his eldest daughter, and told her to get a clean shirt ready for him. He was on his way home for a quick change. After leaving Kim Ho's house, Yo stopped by Jung Mu Guk's house briefly and left for his house in Geh-dong. He was to attend a friendly soccer match between a Korean team and a visiting British team on the occasion of Korea becoming a member nation of the Olympics. Yo headed the Korean Olympic Committee.
When Yo's car slowed down at the Hyehwa-dong intersection, suddenly, a large truck pulled out from behind the police station and blocked Yo's car. Yo's driver pressed on the breaks and the car came to screeching halt, when the assassin jumped on the rear bumper and fired two pistol shots at Yo through the rear window. One bullet hit Yo's back and came out of his stomach and the other went through his heart, killing him instantly. It was one pm.
Thus the Father of Korean Democracy was taken out by an impoverished refugee from North Korea. The shooter was sentenced to death, but he was secretly released By Rhee Syng-man. He took on a false name and emigrated to Japan, courtesy of Rhee Syng-man.
Upon Yo's assassination, Kim Gu and Kim Gyu-sik formed an anti-Rhee alliance and carried on Yo's fight for left-right reconciliation and cooperation for the good of all Koreans. In May 1948, Kim Gu and Kim Gyu-sik traveled to Pyongyang. Kim Gu, a long-time anti-Communist with red bloods on his hands. Kim Gu was called the 'Assassin, Robber, Traitor' in North Korea prior to his visit to Pyongyang, after which he became 'Patriot Kim Gu'. Kim Gu, indeed, had a number of Korean leftists murdered in China and forcibly took possession of the gold rubles sent by Lenin to Yi Dong-whi for his Koryo Communist Party (hence the "robber" label).
Photo: Kim Gu and Kim Gyu-sik enjoying a picnic on their way back to Seoul from Pyongyang on May 4, 1948. They met Kim Il-sung and got him to promise no war.
Kim Gu was assassinated on June 26, 1949, most likely by Rhee Syngman's machination. Upon Kim Gu's death, Kim Gyu-sik retired from politics and went into hiding. He was next on Rhee's enemy list. In June 1950, Kim Gyu-sik surfaced to welcome the People's Army to Seoul. After the Inchon landing, Kim Gyu-sik went to North Korea. In December 1950, Kim Gyu-sik was killed in an American bombing raid.
In 1960, the people of South Korea rose up against Rhee Syng-man's corrupt dictatorship, and the US CIA came to his rescue: a CIA plane took Rhee and his small entourage to Hawaii. Thus, the Dark Age of modern Korea finally ended.
Lee Wha Rang is a contributor for Korea WebWeekly.
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