The Words of the Pak Family

Dr. Pakís Testimony

Bo Hi Pak

From Yangban Landholder to Yangban Pauper

The following text is excerpted from Dr. Bo Hi Pakís tribute to True Parents, entitled, Messiah. Volume One, published in English last year, covers the period from Dr. Pakís birth in 1930, his boyhood in Japanese occupied Korea, his personal conversion experience during the Korean War, and concludes with the dramatic showdown with Congressman Fraser. Volume Two, currently being translated, picks up the story from 1978, and gives a unique insiderís view of Fatherís historic meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin and Kim Il Sung in North Korea. The Japanese-language version of Messiah was on Japanís best-seller charts for four months. Members were very inspired, and significantly, many new members came to the Movement after reading his autobiography. Dr. Pak is praying that something similar will happen to the American Movement. The book is available through HSA Publications, Readerís comments are welcome at

My fatherís name was Dong Hyun Pak. Among Confucian scholars, he was generally referred to by his nom de plume, Juk Cheon. This was written with the Chinese character meaning "bamboo" with a second meaning of "heaven." The name was quite fitting for a man who lived a life that was as straight and righteous as a bamboo plant in heaven. When the character for "bamboo" is placed above the character for "heaven" in such a way that they are combined into one character, the result is the character meaning "laughter." This made the name all the more appropriate for my father, whose outlook on life was that a person should always strive to do good deeds for others and live life with a smile and a positive outlook.

My father was considerably larger and physically much stronger than the average person, and he had quite a loud voice. Especially when he was young, he cut a conspicuous presence. In addition to his imposing physical demeanor, he had a tremendously loud and cheery laugh that could brighten up any conversation.

My father enjoyed spending time talking and drinking with the other men in the village. If he sat down to drink rice wine with a group of people, he would eventually become the center of the conversation. He had a way of guiding the conversation so that everyone there could express their feelings, open up to each other, and feel included. No matter how tense the atmosphere might be, Father had a way of creating a relaxed mood in the room. When he laughed aloud, even people in the courtyard outside would laugh with him. Even now, whenever I make a public speech I wish that my voice were a little more like my fatherís.

Father was Grandfatherís fourth son. As a child he showed himself to be quite intelligent and of good character. Grandfather had great hopes for him and not only had him study Chinese classics in the village school but also enrolled him in the secondary school in the nearby city of Gong-Ju. Such an education was an opportunity reserved for the select few during Japanís occupation, and Grandfather must have hoped that my father would someday grow up to be a person who could serve his country in some public capacity.

My fatherís career at the school in Gong-Ju was short-lived, however. He never spoke about it with me directly, so I have no way of knowing the details, but during his enrollment there he and some of the other Korean students organized an underground group whose purpose was to promote Koreaís independence from Japan. At some point, he became the leader of this rebel organization and began to play a part in the nationwide movement for independence.

In 1919, Koreans across the country rose up in what is known as the "March First Independence Movement." This was a series of rallies across the country in which people exhibited the Korean flag, which had been banned by the Japanese colonial administration, and shouted "long live Korean independence!"

When this movement reached Gong-Ju, the group my father led probably acted as the primary organizer. In any event, the Japanese school authorities had been suspicious about my fatherís activities for sometime and had noticed his excellent leadership qualities. Finally, the authorities got wind of something that gave them an excuse to expel him. That was the end of his formal education.

Father returned to his home village and concentrated on studying Chinese classics under Grandfatherís guidance. Had Father gone on to graduate from the Gong-Ju secondary school, he would have had many opportunities to succeed. Even under the Japanese occupation he eventually would have been assigned to an important government post.

Soon after he set up his own household, when I was a small boy, my fatherís life changed dramatically. A policy of land reform was instituted across the country, and the traditional system whereby Yangban landlords received income from sharecroppers was abolished. Landlords were allowed to keep only that portion of their land that they were actually able to work themselves. The rest of their holdings had to be turned over to the sharecroppers. Father was left with approximately 3,300 square meters of rice paddy, and a few hundred square meters of dry land that surrounded his house. He was transformed overnight from being a Yangban landlord to being a Yangban farmer. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that he became a Yangban pauper.

Father and Mother faced the change in their fortunes bravely. They were determined to overcome the new and difficult circumstances, but they were not accustomed to farm work, and it was far from easy for them.

A Virtuous Woman

Mother, the only daughter of a prominent family, was from the clan of Han. Her name was Pyung Chun. My parents were married in 1925, and immediately after that Mother took up her responsibilities as a daughter-in-law in the central residence of the Pak clan. Being the wife of the fourth son, she normally wouldnít have been expected to perform nearly as many household chores as were the wives of Fatherís older brothers. She possessed a great many talents, however, and she had a strong desire to serve her parents-in-law according to the long-held traditions of Chung-Nam Province. While this meant that she received much love from her parents-in-law, it also meant that all the most difficult tasks were piled onto her frail body.

She was quite a good seamstress, and she was given responsibility for making all the clothing worn by the adults in the household. (At the time, people still wore only the traditional Korean style of clothing.) If there was a wedding in the householdówhether a daughter was sent to another household as a bride or a new bride was being welcomed into the householdóMother had to work through the night many nights in a row in order to complete the preparations.

When it came to weddings, Mother was also a tremendous cook. People would praise her, saying, with some exaggeration, that she could "create a feast for the entire village using nothing more than one chicken." Because her talents were recognized, she was expected to cook all the meals for the adults in the household, to prepare meals for any guests that might visit the home, and prepare the feasts that were held from time to time. The household depended on her to the extent that the adults could not have their meals unless Mother was working in the kitchen. All this meant that Mother was recognized for possessing the traditional virtues of a good wife and wise mother, but it also meant that she was forced to spend her days as a daughter-in-law who served the household completely without having any time for her own personal needs.

Once, when I was in the first or second grade at Yum-Ti Elementary School, I fell asleep in Motherís lap. I awoke in the middle of the night and realized that she wasnít beside me. I looked around the room and found her sitting in a dimly lit area in the coldest part of the room. Her hands were busy with some sort of needlework.

"Mother, letís go to sleep. Please, I want you to sleep next to me," I said.

"All right," she said, "Iíll be just a minute. You go ahead and go to bed." Then she touched her cheek to my face and rubbed her hands across my back. As a child, there was no way for me to understand how much she was pushing herself beyond her limits or how heavily her responsibilities weighed on her shoulders.

Matters did not improve after the move to Persimmon Orchard Village during my second-grade year. With the Japanese-enforced land reform, our family was reduced to extreme poverty, and Mother had to bear full responsibility for the daily upkeep of the household. She worked in the rice paddies and planted cotton and picked it. She raised silkworms and processed the raw cotton and silk into thread and then wove it into cloth to make clothing for our family members. In this way, she made sure that we could provide all our own clothing. From about this time, it became obvious to me that Mother was growing weaker.

Mother always took very good care of me. I had a sister who was three years older than me, but she mainly lived with Motherís parents in Dang-Jin County and seldom visited our home. Especially after my maternal grandfather died, she kept my grandmother company and helped to care for her. My younger brother was born eleven years after me, so I was Motherís only child during the long period prior to his birth.

Mother did not have a specific religious affiliation. In a manner of speaking, though, she did have a religion. Her sons were her religion. She would do anything if it were for her sonsí good. She would sometimes go to a Buddhist temple and offer prayers to Buddha, because she felt that this might somehow benefit her sons.

In Korean homes, especially before the introduction of electrical appliances such as refrigerators, many perishable foods were kept in large porcelain jars placed in the backyard behind the kitchen. This area, the jang-kwang, was always immaculate and was even treated as a sacred area. In many cases the mother and other women in the family would set up small altars directly in front of the jang-kwang, sometimes using lighted candles and clear water, to offer prayers for the health and prosperity of the family. Mother set up such an altar just outside her kitchen, and I would sometimes see her praying there during the night.

Near our home, there was a mountain pass called Kalti Pass, and a shaman tutelary shrine had been erected there. Once or twice a year, Mother would prepare special rice cakes and cook the head of a pig. She would then take these and offer them at the shrine on Kalti Pass. As she made her offering, she would pray for the welfare of her son.

On these trips to Kalti Pass, I would follow behind Mother with the rice cakes loaded on an A-frame strapped to my back. Once, when we were making the trip to the shrine in the early morning twilight, Mother tripped and fell. She hit her forehead on a rock, and there was blood on her face.

She turned to me and said, "Oh, Bo Hi. Weíve been cursed because we are unclean. It must be that we have not shown enough sincere faith. Our offering will never be received like this. We have to go back home and start again."

We went home and started the entire ritual over again. Mother bathed in cold water as a symbolic cleansing of her spirit. Then, she cooked more food for the offering with a heart that was even more sincere than the first time. In the evening, we walked to the shrine, where she successfully completed the offering.

On the way home, she said something very significant. "Bo Hi," she said, "thereís nothing I wonít do if I think it will be beneficial to you." It was then that I realized that the only religion that Mother believed in was the religion of living for her son.

I wanted to do anything I could for Mother. I could see that her health was not good, and yet she had to perform a great many tasks that demanded physical strength. Both Father and Mother would be extremely tired at the end of the day after we had finished our evening meal. Mother would sometimes lie down, saying she would rest a little while before doing the dishes. I remember waiting until she was sound asleep and then clearing the dishes off the table and quietly taking them into the kitchen and washing them, making sure I didnít create any noise to wake Mother. Nothing made me happier than being able to help Mother in her daily chores.

When Mother awoke from her nap, she saw that the dishes were gone and knew what I had done. "Bo Hi, I donít want to have you washing dishes in the kitchen."

"Mother," I replied, "I want to be able to do all your work for you. Itís not just the dishes. Next time, Iíll do the cooking for you, too."

As I said this, I could see tears begin to well up in her eyes. For a moment, I tried to keep from breaking out into tears myself, but it was more than I could bear. I ran into her arms and began crying uncontrollably. To me, my mother was the most precious person in the world. She was all that I lived for.

"Mother," I cried, "please live a long life. Please live a long life. Thatís all I ever want."

The tears kept streaming down my face, and I didnít even try to wipe them off.

Mother had set the next day aside for preparing cloth. This involved taking the warp strings, that is, thread that was to be strung lengthwise in the loom, soaking them in starch, and then tying them to the beams in the loom. For Mother, this was extremely difficult physical labor. The work required that a flame be kept burning beside her, so she also had to endure the heat all day long.

That evening, I put on an apron and stepped into the kitchen. I wanted to prepare the evening meal for the family. This was my first time, so I wasnít really sure what I was doing. But I had seen Mother do the work many times, and I was able to work quickly. First, I cooked the rice and then some soup. Next, I boiled green vegetables and flavored them with soy sauce. Then, I prepared the kimchi, the spicy pickled vegetables that are a part of every Korean meal. Last, I took some seaweed and scorched it slightly over an open fire. Then, I set the table. Grandmother was also there that day.

About that time, Mother got up from her work, saying she would wash her hands and fix dinner. When she walked into the kitchen and saw the meal I had prepared, she let out a gasp of surprise. Quickly, I told her, "Mother, if you refuse to eat everything Iíve cooked, Iíll have to assume itís because you think it tastes terrible. If you eat everything, Iíll know itís because you love me. Please, at least have a taste." Both Mother and Grandmother ate the whole meal and enjoyed it. I was so happy, I felt as though I had gone to heaven.

One day, I realized that my parents were cold at night because there wasnít enough firewood to keep them warm. As soon as I came home from school, I strapped an A-frame to my back and climbed the slopes of Mount Do-Go. It was the first time in my life that I had tried to collect firewood by myself. I loaded the A-frame with a large pile of wood, but then realized that it wasnít going to be an easy job to climb down the slope with such a heavy load on my back. My legs trembled under the weight, and I almost fell several times.

When I finally made the trip back home safely and put my load down in the woodpile next to the kitchen, I was happy and felt great satisfaction, partly because I had opened up a new field of knowledge for myself. From this point on, I did almost all the wood gathering for the family. It was wonderful to see my parents at the end of the day sitting in the room resting after a hard dayís work.

One day, I got a little overconfident. I stacked too much wood onto my A-frame. As I started down the hill, my legs faltered under the extra weight, and it was all I could do to stay on my feet. I managed to walk down the slope almost to the bottom. I thought that I was out of danger of falling and that I could just walk the rest of the way down with a walking stick to support myself.

Thatís when disaster struck. I lost my balance and fell down head over heels. I started rolling down the hill with the fully loaded A-frame still strapped to my back. Over and over again, I would be looking up at the sky one moment only to have my face pushed against the ground the next. I rolled all the way to the bottom of the hill, where I fell off a short drop before finally landing on level ground. I hit the ground so hard that I saw a bolt of lightning flash across my eyes. I was lucky that I didnít break my neck.

I lay still for a moment to gather my wits and then checked to see if I had broken any bones. My face was bleeding from several cuts. I didnít want my mother to see me like this.

I set the A-frame down and went to a nearby spring to wash my face. Some of the cuts were deeper than I had first thought. I washed off the dirt and blood the best I could and returned to where I had left my load, but all I could think about was how I could keep Mother from seeing my face. I gathered up some of the wood that had fallen off the A-frame and retied the whole load, strapped it to my back, and walked the rest of the way home. As I went into the house, I tried my best to appear as if nothing unusual had happened, but Mother immediately sensed that something was wrong.

"Bo Hi," she said as soon as she saw me, "what happened to you?"

"Nothing, Mother. I tripped and fell while I was gathering the wood. But itís nothing. Really."

"Come here and let me see your face. My goodness! Whatís this? What happened to your face? Your face is cut all over! Come here and let me put something on that." She then got the iodine tincture and painted it on all my cuts.

"When did I ever tell you to go gather wood?" she demanded. "This wonít do. From tomorrow, Iíll go get the wood. I want you to stay home and study. Do you understand?"

I knew I couldnít stand by and let her take on responsibility for gathering wood. I had to do something drastic, so I said, "In that case, Mother, I refuse to go to school. If youíre going to go hiking around the hills for wood, then I cannot go off to school and study. If you go to the hills, then Iíll quit school."

I saw tears well up into Motherís eyes. She grabbed me with both arms, held me tightly, and began to cry. I cried with her.

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