I found these remarkable 1939 Japanese articles about Kim Il-sung and his comrades in Keijo Nippo (Gyeongseong Ilbo), the official propaganda newspaper of the Imperial Japanese colonial regime that governed Korea from 1905 to 1945. The article from June 23, 1939 takes us on an interesting journey into the aftermath of the Battle of Taehongdan of May 1939, offering a unique perspective that has long been overshadowed by the North Korean account of this historical event.
What sets the June 23rd article apart is its exclusive interview with a Korean abductee who spent five harrowing days in captivity with none other than Kim Il-sung’s band of guerrilla fighters. While the North Korean narrative has dominated online discussions, we now have a rare opportunity to compare it with the Imperial Japanese account of what transpired during that fateful battle.
One intriguing parallel that emerges is the number of casualties. Kim Il-sung’s “Reminiscences” state that there were two injuries and one fatality on his side, as documented in Volume 7, page 187. In contrast, the Korean abductee’s account reveals that 2 or 3 guerrillas were injured, with one of them severely. However, the Korean abductee goes a step further by providing fascinating insights, such as the revelation that the working language of the guerrillas was predominantly Chinese. Surprisingly, they only switched to Korean when communicating with the Korean abductee, who couldn’t converse in Chinese.
This revelation seems to challenge Kim Il-sung’s apparent need for a member fluent in Chinese to act as a liaison with ethnic Chinese in southern Manchuria, as implied in pages 82-83 of Volume 7 of his “Reminiscences.” Indeed, according to Soviet archives, when Kim arrived in Korea in August 1945, his Korean was not very good, though he was fluent in Chinese and conversant in Russian, and he had to be fed a speech to learn and practice reading aloud in Korean (Source: The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future by Victor Cha). The question arises: why did Kim Il-sung conceal the fact that his group primarily communicated in Chinese during this period?
Another eye-opening aspect of the Korean abductee’s testimony is the use of abduction as a recruitment tool to bolster their ranks with young individuals. Furthermore, we have an account from a Japanese abductee featured in another newspaper article published a few days earlier than the one describing Taehongdan, though it provides fewer details and focuses mainly on Kim Il-sung’s appearance.
These extraordinary articles opens up a treasure trove of historical insights and raises thought-provoking questions about the Battle of Taehongdan and Kim Il-sung’s guerrilla forces. Here is a link to the English copy of the Reminiscences of Kim Il Sung on the Marxists website. Select the Volume 7 and search the PDF for ‘Taehongdan’ for the relevant passages.
Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) June 23, 1939
Anti-Bandit Frontline Reconnaissance (6)
The Bandits are Mostly Young Men
We hear from the abductees about the daily lives of the bandits
The Final Course
Since the tenth was the anniversary of that incident, everyone unusually gathered at eight in the morning. Now we headed to our final destination: Taehongdan (대홍단, 大紅湍) in the innermost part of the foot of Mount Jangsan (장산령, 長山嶺). We got on a truck, and the journey began in Samjang (삼장, 三長). Diverging from the riverbank road at Samsang-dong (삼상동, 三上洞), we followed the small streams, enduring the truck’s violent rolling for several hours on treacherous mountain roads. Just before noon, we arrived at Kaetak-dong (개탁동, 開拓洞). During the journey, we were guarded by several security personnel, including Deputy Police Chief Shiramizu, who had joined us from Samsang-dong, and they also pushed the truck when it stalled.
Kaetak-dong is a rafting area for Northern Korean Paper Manufacturing, where about 50 raftsmen live. On the 24th of last month, it suffered the most significant damage in the recent incident when bandits attacked and abducted head raftsman Sakamoto Tetsuji (age 35) and around twenty others, plundering 900 yen in cash. Today, Mr. Horimoto’s house, one of the places attacked by the bandits, stands forlornly deserted on a corner of the riverbank.
We were welcomed here by Deputy Police Chief Shimatsu (Elite Provincial Division), and after trekking for another two Ri (7.9 km) on terrible roads, we arrived at Taehongdan. We paid a consolation visit to the Shimatsu squad, immediately turned around our vehicle, and returned to Kaetak-dong. While dwelling on the past in the vacant house of Mr. Horimoto, a victim of the vividly distressing bandit attack, we ate our “Hinomaru” bento boxes. Here, we gathered around Kim Jae-ho (김재호, 金在濠) (age 42), who was abducted by bandits for five days, underwent hardships deep in the dense forest, and recently managed to escape. We listened to his testimony, an honest eyewitness account of the bandits’ daily life. Here is a summary:
Q: What were the circumstances when you were abducted?
A: The bandits stormed into my house and immediately told me to carry some things and follow them. They forced me to carry rice and chestnuts, and took me away.
Q: What kind of weapons did they have?
A: They had unusually long guns, regular rifles, short pistols, and long swords.
Q: What were they talking about?
A: Initially they spoke in Chinese, so I could not understand them.
Q: What did they look like?
A: They were mostly young men under 30. There were six women among them who wore a top that resembled a military uniform and a bottom like a Korean Chima (skirt).
Q: What happened when they encountered the security forces and engaged in combat?
A: While they were fleeing, they encountered the security forces and fought four or five times. They just kept telling us to run and pulled us along aimlessly.
Q: How many casualties did the bandits have?
A: Two or three were wounded near the Cheonwang-dang (천왕당, 天王堂) area in Taehongdan. One was severely injured, and one of the abductees had to carry him.
Q: How many bandits were there?
A: They were divided into several groups of about ten people each. When the sun set, many more gathered from all around the foot of Mount Jangsan. I did not count, but there might have been about 300. They set up 13 tents and slept there. The tents were larger than this house and had a large furnace set up in the center, and they guarded the perimeter. About thirty people were staying in each tent.
Q: What did they feed you?
A: They gave us porridge made of chestnuts and steamed barley, which tasted terrible. But I had no choice but to eat because I was starving.
Q: Did they abuse you? And did they speak any Korean?
A: They did not beat me. When they realized I did not understand Chinese, they started speaking in Korean with an accent that seemed like it was from around Pyeonganbuk-do.
Q: What were the bandits mostly talking about?
A: There were around 30 abductees, and they were strongly encouraged to join their ranks. They did not say anything to the older ones like us, but they seemed to be brainwashing the young with communism. Every morning, everyone gathered around the tent, and someone who appeared to be the leader (or Kim Il-sung) gave some instructions in Chinese.
Strict Male-Female Relations
Q: What about the bandits’ male-female relations?
A: I am not sure, but they were very strict. I heard that anyone who broke the prohibition was routinely beheaded.
Although these may be superficial observations, this fragmented Q&A does seem to provide some sense of their daily lives.
[Photo = The house in Kaetak-dong of Mr. Horimoto, who was attacked by the bandits]
Gyeongseong Ilbo June 3, 1939
Astonished by Female Bandits
Kim Il-sung was a Gentleman
A Kidnap Victim Shares His Experience
[Telephone Report from Ranam] On the 22nd of last month, a person who had been kidnapped by bandits in the jurisdiction of the Samjang Police Station returned and spoke about the interesting inner workings of the bandits, based on his experiences of living with them deep in the mountains for over ten days.
One surprising thing was the presence of many female bandits among them, not just men as he had initially thought. These people are primarily ethnic Koreans from the Gando region and usually handle cooking and sewing for the bandits.
It was unique that they cook rice in a washbasin, but it was also surprising that they skillfully made Western clothes and combat hats using a proper hand-operated sewing machine. All of them uniformly expressed nostalgia for their homeland and said they wanted to return to Korea as soon as possible.
He met the leader who introduced himself as Kim Il-sung. Kim was a fair-skinned, good-looking man in his thirties, about 5 shaku and 5 or 6 sun tall (167 to 170 cm tall). He was bald, wore a combat hat, dressed in brown woolen clothes, and wore jika-tabi footwear.