Political dissident Young Sam Kim stages hunger strike to solidify the dissidents in pro-democracy movement, 1983

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Timing
Time Period:  
18 May
1983
to
9 June
1983
Location and Goals
Country: 
South Korea
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Seoul
Location Description: 
Some action also took place in the United States
Goals: 
1. To draw public attention and regain political support for himself

2. To solidify the dissidents and facilitate joint effort to de-legitimize Chun administration

 

Doo Hwan Chun filled the power void in South Korea through his military coup right after the assassination of the former President Jung Hee Park in 1979. He became the president after amending the Constitutional Law that turned the presidential election into an indirect election—one that he could easily manipulate.

After he became the president, he took a very systematic and gradual approach to stabilize his power and persecute political dissidents. First, he took control of media through forced reorganization and appointed his subordinates as the heads of the public broadcasting system. Second, he ordered the KCIA to report in public that South Korea was on the verge of an imminent attack plotted by North Korea. Then, he declared an Emergency Measure—a martial law that suspended rights of individuals when deemed necessary by the government. Next, he tentatively suspended congress, banned parties that opposed his Democratic Justice Party (DJP), and arrested his political opponents—mostly from the New Democratic Party (NDP). Finally, he ordered the police and army to suppress demonstrations. His suppression culminated in the Kwangju Massacre on 18 May 1980, when he sent Special Forces into Kwangju, and ordered them to shoot down protestors there.

By 1983, most of his political rivals were extinct. Among three most prominent political dissidents, Dae Jung Kim and Jong Pil Kim were arrested without warrants, and Young Sam Kim was placed under house arrest. While Dae Jung Kim was successfully granted a “suspension in his jail term ostensibly for receiving medical treatment in U.S.” due to the effort of the U.S. government to rescue him (See “U.S. officials nonviolently intervene in South Korea to protect leading dissident Kim Dae Jung, 1985”), Jong Pil Kim and Young Sam Kim remained unsaved.

Young Sam Kim thought his political career and the democratization movement were on the verge of collapse. Young Sam Kim and Dae Jung Kim, despite their similar political goal to challenge the Chun regime, had not agreed to make concerted efforts due to their political rivalry, dividing lines of adherents within their defunct New Democratic Party. Moreover, while Dae Jung Kim was able to voice his concerns freely in the U.S., the sequestered Young Sam Kim found the press and most of his adherents turning their back away from him.

He first tried to overturn this public apathy by writing and publishing a 24-page statement called “Letters to the Citizens”, which supported demonstrators and urged the Chun administration to nullify the reorganization of press and media, to re-amend the constitution, and to free the dissidents.

Although he wrote the statement on 2 May 1983 and sought to publish it, every press in Korea refused to cover his fierce political message. The statement was just barely published by Associated Press on 16 May. He realized that it would be hard for him to retrieve his support without carrying out an action that he had planned as a last resort: a hunger strike.

Two days after his statement was published, Kim declared that he would carry out this hunger strike. When they heard the news of Kim’s strike, roughly 70 supporters immediately formed the “Kim Young Sam Hunger Strike Committee” to draw public attention and support. The committee first sent notice to the Chun administration with a brief summary of the statement that Kim had written on 2 May and tried to meet the Prime Minister Sang Hyup Kim to persuade him into stopping Kim’s hunger strike, but were denied an access.

By 22 May, the news of Young Sam Kim’s hunger strike reached the United States. As soon as Dae Jung Kim was informed of the news, he travelled around the U.S. to gain support for Young Sam Kim. Dae Jung Kim first formed the “Washington D.C. Committee in Support of Kim Young Sam” on 23 May, and the equivalents of the Committee were formed in New York, Philadelphia, and LA by 24 May. On 24 May, Dae Jung Kim declared official support of Young Sam Kim’s hunger strike.

On 25 May, President Chun—concerned that deterioration of Kim’s health might intensify public anger, ordered police to force Kim to be sent to hospital. 350 uniformed police besieged Kim’s house, and dozens of plainclothes police burst into his house. Kim was hauled to an ambulance, which took him to the hospital. He was sent to the 12th floor of the hospital with 24-hour surveillance by police, who rejected any public access, even to Kim’s family members.

However, Kim resisted doctors’ attempts at medical examination, and firmly continued his hunger strike in the hospital.

As days passed by, President Chun witnessed escalation of public anger due to Kim’s hunger strike. Twenty-three politicians from the New Democracy Party declared that they would follow Kim’s example and initiate hunger strikes. Religious organizations and students also began to demonstrate against Chun’s harsh treatment of Kim.

The government changed its initial plans to suppress Kim and tried anything possible to either tempt him into eating or appease him. Foods with strong and sweet smells were placed near his room so that Kim’s continued fast would be more difficult to maintain.

President Chun also sent Ik Hyun Kwon, one of the party leaders of his DJP, to deliver Chun’s message. Kwon said that if Kim broke his hunger strike, Chun would offer him a free trip to Europe, U.S., and/or Japan (anywhere he wanted). Kwon also promised Kim that Chun would provide his cost of living and a big house after Kim returned from the trip. But Kim remained resolute.

Kwon visited Kim every day afterwards, until on 29 May Kim said, “It’s not totally impossible to send me to foreign country.” When Kwon asked delightedly what he could do to make this possible, Kim said, “You could turn my body into a corpse and deliver the dead body to a foreign country.”

On that day, the surveillant police withdrew, and it was announced on the next day that Chun would suspend Kim’s house arrest.

As soon as the police pulled out from the hospital, Kim’s supporters, politicians, intellectuals, religious leaders, and journalists flocked into the hospital to meet him and/or to dissuade him from further fast. Among them was a man from the United States, who arrived to send regards on behalf of Dae Jung Kim. Now that Young Sam Kim realized that he had gained the political support of Dae Jung Kim, he sent clandestine letters to Dae Jung Kim through this man, which suggested that they issue a joint declaration on 15 August to announce that they would form a political solidarity to struggle against Chun’s regime.

By 1 June, fifty-eight former politicians issued a “declaration of the emergency situation”, which largely criticized Chun’s trampling upon the democratization movement and formed a “Pan National Movement for Democratization.” Moreover, Kim’s wife and prominent dissidents (some of the important names including Sok Hon Ham, Ik Hwan Mun, Mun Young Yi, Chun Ho Yee) also declared an indefinite hunger strike.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Dae Jung Kim was making progress in his effort to gain awareness for Young Sam Kim and to press the U.S. government to support him. On 4 June, he gathered seventy Koreans, who held pickets and placards and marched throughout Washington, D.C., from the Korean Embassy, through the U.S. State Department, and finally to White House. This gained wide attention from the press within the U.S., and drew support from American politicians—including Senator Edward Kennedy who wrote a letter in support of Young Sam Kim’s strenuous effort.

Young Sam Kim finally announced on 9 June that he would break his hunger strike. In his public speech, he said, “I am not breaking fast to live; but I am breaking it to die standing and fighting, rather than to die lying in bed powerlessly.”

Young Sam Kim restored his health and left the hospital on 30 June. By that time, it was evident that his hunger strike had succeeded in drawing national and international support, and also in bringing former political rivals and non-politicians (but prominent figures) into solidarity against the Chun’s administrations.

His hunger strike also brought to fruition the joint public statement made by Young Sam Kim and Dae Jung Kim on 15 August. Now that both politicians had publicly announced that they would work together against Chun’s DJP party, their main goal had been changed to work in concert against the Chun’s DJP in the next general election (by mid 1984, Chun administration repealed the ban on elections). While students continued nonviolent action and demonstrations for democracy, the politicians shifted their focus to work within the renewed election system.

Research Notes
Influences: 

His hunger strike enabled the joint public declaration made by Young Sam Kim and Dae Jung Kim on 15 August, which solidified the political dissidents and facilitated them to work in concert against Chun's DJP in the next general election. (2)

Sources: 
Foreign Broadcast Information Service. “Korean Affairs Report.” 21 June 1983. http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA369317

Inquirer Wire Service. “S. Koreans Seize Fasting Dissidents.” Philadelphia Inquirer. 26 May 1983

Kihl, Young Whan. “Transforming Korean Politics: Democracy, Reform, and Culture” (2005). M.E. Sharpe, Inc

Kim, James. “S. Korean Dissident Ends His 18-Day Hunger Strike.” Philadelphia Inquirer. Sunday, June 5, 1983

Kim, Jung Nam. (2005) “진실, 광장에 서다: 민주화운동 30년의 역정 [Truth Rise Up in a Square: 30 Years History of Democratization Movement].” Changbi Publication

Kristof, Nicholas D. “South Korean Ex-President, Recovering From Hunger Strike, Is Queriedon Slush Fund” January 02, 1996. http://www.nytimes.com/1996/01/02/world/south-korean-ex-president-recovering-from-hunger-strike-is-queriedon-slush-fund.html

Washington D.C. Commission on Support of Kim Young Sam “Sequence of Events Regarding Kim Young Sam’s Hunger Strike” 1983.06.04

http://archives.kdemo.or.kr/View?pRegNo=00860852&QU=%EA%B9%80%EC%98%81%EC%82%BC%20%EB%8B%A8%EC%8B%9D

*Picture of Kim's hunger strike can be found on: http://www.google.co.kr/imgres?q=%EA%B9%80%EC%98%81%EC%82%BC+%EB%8B%A8%EC%8B%9D&um=1&hl=ko&newwindow=1&tbo=d&biw=1366&bih=667&tbm=isch&tbnid=x_0CY10BNhOvjM:&imgrefurl=http://blog.daum.net/_blog/hdn/ArticleContentsView.do%3Fblogid%3D0Ekuz%26articleno%3D2563152%26looping%3D0%26longOpen%3D&docid=seYeW0UzuRZSmM&imgurl=http://photo-media.hanmail.net/200605/27/newsis/20060527174808.779.0.jpg&w=450&h=348&ei=n-DTULCOOujsiQKf7ICYDQ&zoom=1&iact=rc&dur=340&sig=117904584824610231065&page=3&tbnh=137&tbnw=177&start=73&ndsp=40&ved=1t:429,r:75,s:0,i:311&tx=109&ty=112

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Soul Han, 02/12/2012