Poet shares his view on Korea’s 2008 candle-lit protest and its significance
Poet Kim Ji-ha thinks Korea’s 2008 candle-lit protest against U.S. beef imports was a crucial moment in world history.
“It was the very first protest that was initiated by the most marginalized in the patriarchal society,” Kim said at a literary circle meeting held at the residence of Swedish Ambassador to Korea in Seoul, Tuesday.
“They were children, older women, and the homeless.”
Kim, who was a well-known dissident figure during former president Park Chung-hee’s authoritarian regime in the 1960s and 1970s, was invited to give a speech and recite his work by Seoul Literary Society.
Led by Swedish Ambassador to Korea Lars Vargo, Seoul Literary Society -- mostly made up of foreign diplomats and local figures in Korea’s literary scene -- has been inviting the country‘s prominent writers for literary meetings since 2006.
Vargo in fact first read Kim’s poems in the early 1970s while studying in Kyoto, Japan, and -- without Kim’s permission -- translated them into Swedish and published them in a Swedish literary magazine.
“Perhaps I should ask for that permission before we begin!” Vargo joked prior to Kim’s speech session.
During his prepared speech, Kim referred to his poems as “white shadow,” a paradoxical term that depicts two extremes in the world: unity and division, masculinity and femininity, north and south, and prosperity and poverty.
“The most exact meaning is looking into the bright future while wandering in suffering,” Kim said.
“And my works that are sharply critical of society are also white shadow.”
Yet Kim has been a lot more than simply “critical” toward society all his life.
Raising a fierce voice against the authoritarian Korean government in the 1970s, Kim was imprisoned after the publication of “Five Thieves,” a blunt collection of poems that openly criticized corrupt politicians and government officials.
Poet Kim Ji-ha at the residence of Swedish Ambassador Lars Vargo in Seoul, Tuesday. (Park Hyun-koo/ The Korea Herald)
He received the Lotus Award, given by the Afro-Asian Writers Association, in the mid 1970s for his pro-democratic literary achievements, while being in and out of prison and suffering from health problems as a result.
Kim said that while he is an avid supporter of Korea’s 2008 candle-lit rally against U.S. beef imports, he did not appreciate some of the political figures who ruined the “initial purpose” of the protest.
“The protest first began as a candlelight gathering of teenage school girls,” Kim said. “At that stage the protest was completely non-violent. It was led by the most cursed class of people -- young children, young women, and old people like me.”
The protest became violent as male grown-ups got involved, Kim said.
“They were the ones who threw fire bottles and performed violent acts for their own political purposes. At this point, it wasn’t a candlelight rally. It was torchlight.”
Kim said he was supportive of all non-violent candle-lit protests held by religious figures as well. He has written five books on this particular protest.
He also called Jasmine Revolution, a series of pro-democratic movements that first erupted in Tunisia to the Middle East and spread even to China, another “candlelight” movement.
“I’ve seen democratic movements and I know (what Jasmine Revolution is),” Kim said.
“It’s candlelight. I am confident that candlelight has been lit there,” he said.
By Claire Lee (email@example.com