Doomsday: Short Story by Younghill Kang

Doomsday is a chapter from ‘The Grass Roof’, the autobiographical novel by Younghill Kang, published in 1931. This has been adopted as a standalone short story too.

Younghill Kang who was born in Korea and later immigrated to America, is deemed as an esteemed Asian American writer. He had to flee Korea in 1921 due to his anti-Japanese and pro-independence movement.

The significance of ‘Doomsday’ is in its reference to the Japanese invasion of Korea. Korea was an independent country for over forty-two centuries that lay helpless in the first ten years of the twentieth century against the rising Japanese power. New Japan with its increasing westernization, especially in armaments had won over huge areas of China and finally abdicated the King of Korea. 

…at last Japan spoke plainly, the 29th of August, 1910, when all treaties were annulled and Korea was publicly declared annexed…”

The story begins with the ten-year-old Chunga-Pa coming home from school on the pretense of a stomach-ache.

He lives in a village called Song-Dune-Chi in Hamkyung Province, 300 miles north of Seoul, Korea. His Grandmother is the traditional Korean woman with her belief in Confucius and Buddha. She is alarmed by Chung-Pa’s sickness and calls for a witch/ fortune teller. This witch/ fortune teller is an old woman from the lowest class, dressed in dirty mud-coloured clothes and holding a cane.

The men in the house didn’t believe in this witch cum fortune teller. Even Grandmother had no interest in calling over this old lady except when someone in the house was sick. The old lady felt it was important to be in close proximity of Grandmother, for she held a powerful influence on the entire village.

The old lady asks the Grandmother to give away Chung-Pa’s clothes as a cure; she took these for her own son. When Chung-Pa continued the pretense of the stomach ache, the old lady asked for his favorite ribbon to be donated. This made Chung-Pa scream out spiteful words against the old lady. In return, during Chung-Pa’s absence, this old lady gave the idea of sending the boy to study the doctrines of Buddha and to save the family from ruins to be brought by him.

Chung-Pa’s father accepts the suggestion. The two, Grandmother and Chung-Pa set out on their journey of about thirty miles on foot, post the rituals of purification. Keum-Soon, the fourteen-fifteen year old daughter of a poor widow, working as a servant at the house accompanies them with a bundle of food.

Ten miles before the monastery was the no-man’s land. During their travel, the enthusiastic Grandmother tells Buddha’s story of enlightenment.

After Buddha’s tale, the narrator begins to tell about the power that monks wielded in the country. But, gradually they had become corrupt. Now they reach the monastery, a magnificent sight of tranquility.

“Up here in the Yellow Dusk the antique monastery seemed to melt into the summit of the green mountain, bounded everywhere with stone tigers and marble lions, singing streams and holy graves.

Somehow everything seems ethereal and unreal, as if this was a dream.

For three months, Chung-Pa learnt the Buddhist scriptures. He had learnt about Nirvana, the principle to not hurt the tiniest of creatures. The monks taught him not to hurt even a fly troubling him on his nose and ears.

On his return, the news of Japanese invasion of Korea reached.

“The doomsday has come! We have all gone to the Hell!”

People had felt an imminent starvation, famine and calamity was their future. Many men committed suicide. Chung-Pa’s father had tears running down his face, he put up the Korean flag at the gateway and bowed down to it.

The Japanese police had marched down the village to check on each house, to hoist the Japanese flag. As Chung-Pa’s father acted not to understand the Japanese policemen, they began to beat him. When Grandmother intervened, even she was kicked with ‘western boots.

The violent, brutal measures of the Japanese troops were in complete contradiction to the Korean belief of Confucius and Buddha.

Doomsday’ ends as Chung-Pa cried himself to sleep contemplating, ‘Was Korea ended then?

This post is a part of #BlogchatterA2Z challenge under Alphabet Y

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