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The Korean Who Fought for Indonesian Independence March 24, 2017

Posted by Sharehouse Jakarta in Uncategorized.
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Have you heard the story of Yang Chil Sung (양 칠성), the Korean anti-colonialist who didn’t stop fighting when World War II was over? His nom de guerre was Komarudin.

Born in 1919 in Wanju County,  North Jeolla Province, he was conscripted by the JIA while young. Korea and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) were both under Japanese occupation. And life was brutal.

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By age 23, Yang found himself in West Java, guarding Allied prisoners of war. But he was almost as badly off as the Australian and Dutch men he was guarding.

When the war ended in 1945, he joined local Indonesian freedom fighters in the mountains near Garut, West Java. They began preparing for the Dutch attempt to retake their former colonies.

After participating in several significant guerrilla operations, Yang was captured and executed by the Dutch in 1949. If the reports are true, he died at peace with himself and the decisions he had made, requesting red and white clothing for the execution, and a Muslim burial.

I believe he was married to an Indonesian woman. And he must have spoken Javanese and Indonesian, in addition to Japanese (and Korean). In fact, most people thought he was Japanese, as his identify as a citizen of Japan-occupied Korea would have been totally subsumed under his identity as a Japanese soldier.

Around 1400 Koreans were taken from Busan to Bandung in 1942 to work as guards. Few returned. In 1975, Yang’s remains were relocated to Indonesia’s most prominent war veteran’s cemetery (Taman Makam Pahlawan Kalibata) in Kalibata, South Jakarta.

South Korea marks independence day on 15 August while for Indonesia it’s 17 August. That’s history, not coincidence.





1. Sharehouse Jakarta - March 25, 2017

Staying in Java to avoid war crimes rap? Maybe. Yet formal and informal trials were ongoing in Jakarta and Singapore at the time. Not a very safe bet. Plus, in Chil-Sung Yang’s case, the Allies got him anyway.

But I don’t think Chil-Sung is one of the Korean prison guards who should have been tried for war crimes. Some were remembered for their viciousness, true. (And sometimes because Japanese forced them to be cruel.) But several POW accounts that I’ve seen single out the Korean POW guards for their humanity. Here’s one of them.

Chil-Sung Yang likely found it easy to relate to the Indonesians, as Korea had been under Japanese rule since 1910, i.e., his entire life. Based on my reading of translated sources, I believe he was also active in the Korean Independence Movement during the time he was a prison guard.

Repatriation was a messy and uncertain process. Yang’s fortunes would have been inextricably tied to those of the defeated Japanese for months or years to come had he not slipped away into the mountains.

2. Sharehouse Jakarta - March 27, 2017

Little is written on this topic in English or Indonesian. However, after Prof. Aiko Utsumi and her late husband Prof. Yoshinori Murai began their research in Indonesia around 1975, there is much more written in Japanese and Korean, and principally their book: Korean Rebels of the Tropics (『赤道下の朝鮮人叛乱』) officially translated into Korean as “Buried on the Equator.”

This interview and this one with Aiko Utsumi are obviously very interesting. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Korean.

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