South Korea is a country where the words ‘Yankee, Go Home’ can be punished by one year’s imprisonment under the Anti-communist Law, and where a judge can tell an opposition presidential candidate that ‘the freedom of speech prescribed in the Constitution does not mean unlimited freedom’.footnote1 The government’s purpose has been summed up by its leader Pak Jung-hi in his book, Our Nation’s Path: ‘The democracy we aim to build should be one that meets social and political reality and not the unworkable West European Democracy. Our type of democracy can be termed “Administrative Democracy”.’ In such a country opposition groups have to fight for their very existence. The stakes are high, and the government’s inability to distinguish between different types of opposition groups produces strange alliances; radicals and liberals, and even progressive conservatives, find themselves aligned together against the regime. Official and unofficial groups are often mixed; elderly conservatives who remember the Japanese occupation find themselves in sympathy with radical students fighting Japanese economic investment. This means that divisions become blurred, aims and purposes diffused. But one theme overrides all others among the Korean opposition:

This popular student song, banned by Pak’s government, illustrates the overriding importance of Japan for the opposition. It is not the only problem which taxes them; but, despite the huge American military complexes in Korea and the obvious influence of the United States in every sphere of life, there are many among South Korea’s opposition who would prefer American domination to that of Japan, as the lesser of the two evils. The fears of re-emergent Japanese militarism and economic neo-imperialism are amply illustrated in a ‘White Paper on Korean–Japanese Relations’ which has been secretly circulating among opposition groups.

Next to relations with the us and Japan, and the need for obvious reforms in domestic government, the main focus of opposition demands is ‘reunification’:

These are the words of Lee Yong-hak, a southern poet who was active in the opposition in the 1930s and who returned to the North after the division of the peninsula in 1945. Despite government efforts to the contrary, Lee Yong-hak is one of the most widely read poets among South Korea’s young generation, and his vision of the North is vividly matched in the work of Kim Chi-hah, the most outstanding literary rebel in South Korea to-day. Kim Chi-hah is only 27 but is a chronic sufferer from tb; yet he has inspired all opponents of the South Korean regime. He has been imprisoned under the Anti-communist Law for his most famous work, ‘The Five Bandits’, and his lively verse and his keen concern for the future of Korea have made him a household name among students and opposition alike. To match Lee Yong-hak’s ‘North’, Kim Chi-hah has written ‘The South’:

The theoretical and intellectual universe of the Korean opposition is an intensely local one. Partly because many of its major tasks concern national unity and national questions but also because ideas from abroad are extremely hard to acquire. Koreans do not have the benefit of books: all socialist writing and tracts are banned. They must rely on their own resources; some of the most active labour leaders have never heard of Marx, let alone considered his ideas—and, even if they had, the effect of government propaganda would be that Marx would be associated with the 1950–53 war. In schools, communism and socialism, and even liberalism, are all confused and lumped together. There are only a few translations of Capital in Korean still in existence; they were printed illegally by the South Korean communists during the Japanese occupation. In certain student bookshops it is possible to find Korean translations of Ho Chi Minh: his combination of Vietnamese nationalism within a socialist framework has a tremendous impact on Korean students.footnote4 Apart from this there are few socialist authors available in Korean, other than very occasional underground circulation of selected parts of Guevara. For those who can read English it is somewhat easier to get books from sympathetic foreign friends. But in general Korean militants are thrown back on their own abilities; while oppressive measures by the authorities leave little time for careful preparatory thought, only for hasty action.footnote5