As a Peace Loving Global Citizen – Ch 1.4
A Definite Compass Compass for My Life
The Moon clan originated in Nampyung, near Naju, Cholla Province, a town about 320 miles south of Seoul, in the southwest region of the country. My great-great-grandfather, Sung Hak Moon, had three sons. The youngest of these was my great-grandfather, Jung Heul Moon, who himself had three sons: Chi Guk, Shin Guk, and Yoon Guk. My grandfather, Chi Guk Moon, was the oldest.
Grandfather Chi Guk Moon was illiterate, as he did not attend either a modern elementary school or the traditional village school. His power of concentration was so great, however, that he was able to recite the full text of the Korean translation of San Guo Zhi just by having listened to others read it to him. And it wasn’t just San Guo Zhi. When he heard someone tell an interesting story, he could memorize it and retell it in exactly the same words. He could memorize anything after hearing it just once. My father took after him in this way; he could sing from memory the Christian hymnal, consisting of more than four hundred pages.
Grandfather followed the last words of his father to live his life with a spirit of giving, but he was not able to maintain the family fortune. This was because his youngest brother, my Great-Uncle Yoon Guk Moon, borrowed money against the family’s property and lost it all. Following this incident, members of the family went through some very hard times, but my grandfather and father never spoke ill of Great-Uncle Yoon Guk. This was because they knew he had not lost the money gambling or doing anything of that nature. Instead, he had sent the money to the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, based in Shanghai, China. In those days, seventy thousand won was a large sum, and this was the amount that my great uncle donated to the independence movement.
Great-Uncle Yoon Guk, a graduate of Pyongyang Seminary and a minister, was an intellectual who was fluent in English and well versed in Chinese studies. He served as the responsible pastor for three churches, including Deok Heung Church in Deok Eon Myeon. He participated in the drafting of the 1919 Declaration of Independence, together with Nam Seon Choe. When it was found, however, that three of the sixteen Christian leaders among the signatories were associated with Deok Heung Church, Great-Uncle had his name removed from the list. Seung Heung Lee, one of the remaining signatories who worked with my great-uncle in establishing the Osan School, asked Great-Uncle Yoon Guk to take care of all his affairs in case the independence movement failed and he died at the hands of the Japanese colonial authorities.
On returning to our hometown, Great-Uncle Yoon Guk printed tens of thousands of Korean flags and handed them out to the people who poured into the streets to shout their support for Korean independence. He was arrested on March 8 as he led a demonstration on the hill behind the Aipo Myeon administrative office. The demonstration in support of independence was attended by the principal, faculty, and some two thousand students of the Osan School, some three thousand Christians, and some four thousand other residents of the area. He was given a two-year prison sentence and was imprisoned in the Eui-ju prison. The following year he was released as part of a special pardon.
Even after his release, severe persecution by the Japanese police meant he could never stay long in one place, and he was always on the run. He carried a large scar where the Japanese police had tortured him by stabbing him with a bamboo spear and carving out a piece of his flesh. He was speared in the legs and in the side of his ribs, but he said that he never gave in. When the Japanese found they couldn’t break him, they offered him the position of county chief if he would pledge to stop participating in the independence movement. His response was to rebuke the Japanese in a loud voice: “Do you think I would take on a position and work for you thieves?”
When I was about seven or eight years old, Great-Uncle Yoon Guk was staying in our home for a short time and some members of the Korean independence army came to see him. They were low on funds and had traveled by night on foot through a heavy snowfall to reach our house. My father covered the heads of us children with a sleeping quilt so that we would not be awakened. I was already wide awake, and I lay there under the quilt, my eyes wide open, listening as best I could to the sounds of the adults talking. Though it was late, my mother killed a chicken and boiled some noodles to serve to the independence fighters.
To this day, I cannot forget the words that I heard Great-Uncle Yoon Guk speak as I lay there under the quilt, holding my breath in excitement. “Even if you die,” he said, “if you die for the sake of our country, you will be blessed.” He continued, “Right now, we can see only darkness before us, but the bright morning is sure to come.” Because of the effects of torture, he did not have full use of his body, but his voice resonated with strength.
I also remember thinking to myself then: “Why did such a wonderful person as Great-Uncle have to go to prison? If only we were stronger than Japan, this wouldn’t have happened.” Great-Uncle Yoon Guk continued to roam about the country, avoiding persecution by the Japanese police, and it was not until 1966, while I was in Seoul, that I received news of him again.
Great-Uncle appeared in a dream to one of my younger cousins and told him, “I am buried in Jeong-seon, Kang-won Province.” We went to the address he gave in the dream and found that he had passed away nine years before that. We found only a grave mound covered with weeds. I had his remains reburied in Paju, Kyounggi Province, near Seoul.
In the years following Korea’s liberation from Japan in 1945, communists in North Korea killed Christian ministers and independence fighters indiscriminately. Great-Uncle Yoon Guk, fearing his presence might cause harm to the family, escaped the communists by crossing south over the 38th parallel and settling in Jeong-seon. No one in our family was aware of this. He supported himself in that remote mountain valley by selling calligraphy brushes. Later, we were told that he set up a traditional village school where he taught Chinese classics. According to some of his former students, he often enjoyed spontaneously composing poems in Chinese characters. His students transcribed and preserved some 130 of these, including the following:
South North Peace
Ten years have passed since I left home to come South
The flow of time speeds my hair to turn white
I would return North, but how can I?
What was intended as a short sojourn has been prolonged
Wearing the long-sleeved ko-hemp clothing of summer
I fan myself with a silk fan and consider what the autumn will bring
Peace between South and North draws near
Children waiting under the eaves, You needn’t worry so much.
Though separated from his family and living in Jeong-seon, a land unfamiliar to him in every way, Great-Uncle Yoon Guk’s heart was filled with concerns for his country. Great-Uncle also left this poetic verse:
“When setting your goal in the beginning, pledge yourself to a high standard; don’t allow yourself even the least bit of private desire (厥 初立志自期高 私慾未嘗容一毫).” My great-uncle’s contributions to the independence movement were posthumously recognized by the Republic of Korea government in 1977 with a Presidential Award and in 1990 with the Order of Merit for National Foundation. Even now, I sometimes recite his poetic verses. They are infused with his steadfast love for his country, even in the face of extreme adversity.
Recently, as I have grown older, I think about Great-Uncle Yoon Guk more often. Each phrase of his poetry expressing his heart of concern for his country penetrates into my heart. I have taught our members the song Daehan Jiri Ga (Song of Korean Geography), whose words were written by Great-Uncle Yoon Guk himself. I enjoy singing this song with our members. When I sing this song, from Mount Baektu to Mount Halla, I feel relieved of my burdens.
Song of Korean Geography
The peninsula of Korea in the East
Positioned among three countries.
North, the wide plains of Manchuria
East, the deep and blue East Sea,
South, a sea of many islands,
West, the deep Yellow Sea
Food in the seas on three sides,
Our treasure of all species of fish.
Mighty Mount Paektu stands on the North,
Providing water to the Rivers of Amrok and Tumen.
Flowing into seas east and west,
Marking a clear border with the Soviets
Mount Kumgang shines bright in the center,
A preserve for the world, pride of Korea.
Mount Halla rises above the blue South Sea
A landmark for fishermen at sea.
Four plains of Daedong, Hangang, Geumgang, and Jeonju
give our people food and clothing.
Four mines of Woonsan, Soonan, Gaecheon, and Jaeryung
give us the treasures of the Earth.
Four cities of Kyungsung, Pyongyang, Daegu, and Kaesung shine over the land
Four ports of Busan, Wonsan, Mokpo and Incheon
welcome foreign ships.
Railroads spread out from Kyungsung,
Connecting the two main lines, Kyung-Eui and Kyung-Bu
Branch lines Kyung-Won and Honam run north and south,
Cover the peninsula.
Our sites tell us our history.
Pyongyang, 2,000-year-old city of Dangun,
Kaesung, capital of Koryo,
Kyungsung, 500-year capital of Chosun,
Kyungju, 2,000 years of Shilla’s culture shines, origin of Pak Hyuk-ko-sai,
Chungchong has Buyo,
the historic capital of Paekche.
Sons of Korea pioneering the future, the waves
of civilization wash against our shores.
Come out of the hills, and march forward in
strength to the world of the future!
Historical note: On August 2, 2012, he day before Father entered the hospital (August 3, 2012), he visited the Osan school. There’s a short write up of his visit here along with a video (we’ve only been able to find the Korean version so far!).
- Why do you think Father titled this chapter “A Definite Compass for My Life”?
- What about Great-Uncle Yoon Guk made such a great impression on Father as a young boy and served as a model for Father’s early life?
- In reading about Great-Uncle Yoon Guk, what moved you most?
Great-Uncle Yoon Guk lived a life rooted in a deep love for his country. What can you find that moves your heart about your country and how can you act on it this week?