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[Opinion] Hong Nan-pa, Patriot or Sympathizer?

Posted November. 14, 2005 03:07,   


“Bongseonwha” (touch-me-not), composed by Hong Nan-pa in 1920, was loved by Koreans during Japan’s colonization of the Korean peninsula. The lyrics aptly described how Koreans under the colonial rule suffered.

In April 1942, amid Japan’s ruthless oppression of Koreans, Kim Cheon-ae, a soprano singer, sang Bongseonwha, wearing a traditional white Korean dress, at a concert for music debutants held in Tokyo, Japan. The Koreans at the concert applauded in tears.

The Japanese authorities subsequently banned Bongseonwha because the song became a part of Kim Cheon-ae’s repertoire after returning to Korea.

Hong Nan-pa was not only a composer but also Korea’s first violinist. According to Lee Dae-hyung, his wife, when a huge demonstration for liberation from Japan broke out on March 1, Hong borrowed money by pawning his cherished violin. He spent the money to print and spread thousands of copies of Korea’s Liberation Declaration.

He was put on the Japanese police’s watch list as a result. He contracted pleurisy while imprisoned. In 1941, he died of recurrent pleurisy. He was 43 years old.

Hong’s wife died last year. “Don’t tell others I died. In particular, I don’t want the media to know I’m dead,” was her dying wish. It is quite obvious what was on her mind. She must have been worried that her husband might once again be involved into the controversy over who was pro-Japanese and who was not. She must have been concerned that Hong Nan-pa’s reputation might be further damaged by controversy over his past record.

Frustrated by the on-going controversy over Hong’s past record, some musicians have decided to come to his rescue. They say that it is unfair for the Dictionary Compilation Committee deploring pro-Japanese activities to place Hong Nan-pa on their list in August. Last week, the musicians held a small concert at Hong Nan-pa’s home in Seoul in memory of him. Today, they held a seminar.

The musicians must have mustered much courage because if a person is to side with a figure who is considered to have been pro-Japanese under colonial rule, that person or those persons face being branded as pro-Japanese sympathizers as well.

In history, politicians have always used artists to their advantage for propaganda. Koreans underwent colonization and the Korean War. For someone who has never lived in such turbulent times, it may not be possible to fully know what is the real truth about some allegations of pro-Japanese activities.

Musicians who are more familiar with Hong Nan-pa’s life and music are better qualified to comment on him than the rest of us. It seems that some Koreans are obsessed with putting Korea’s history into the right perspective. They often believe that justice is easily defeated by evil. Hong happen to have become part of that history. His own song, Bongseonwha, also describes how he has been suffering at the hands of some people who hastily jump to conclusions.

Hong Chan-sik, Editorial Writer, chansik@donga.com