By Dae-Han Song
“Leaving behind neither love, glory, nor one’s name,
We vow to march together in our lifetimes.
Comrades can’t be found, but our banner still flutters.
Let us not falter ‘till the new day comes.
Time passes, but the mountains and streams remember
The ardent cry of those awakened
‘I will march ahead, so follow me, you that live’
‘I will march ahead, so follow me, you that live'”
“March for the Beloved” was written by Ki-wan Park and composed by Jong-ryul Kim in 1981 for the posthumous wedding between Sang Won Yoon — the spokesperson for the Gwangju Uprising Civilian’s Army and one of those who was killed in the last stand at the City Hall — and his partner Ki Sun Park — a labor activist who passed away a year earlier while running a worker’s night school.
Since then, “March for the Beloved” has become an anthem for the social movement; a hymn for fallen comrades, leaders, and heroes; and a vow to continue for those that remain. All Korean social movement rallies begin with a moment of silence and remembrance for fallen comrades marked by the pre-recorded blaring of a horn. This is followed by singing “March of the Beloved” while pumping fists in the air: a moment of silence followed by a moment of singing; a remembrance of the sacrifices of those who came before; and a pledge to honor them through 투쟁 (toojeng = struggle).
While its lyrics have no doubt earned “March of the Beloved” its place as a social movement anthem, it is also its birth out of the Gwangju Uprising that makes it such a central song. The unfinished Gwangju Uprising was the politicizing event of the 386* generation, who brought an end to the military dictatorship and who comprise much of the social movement today. The lessons that the Gwangju Uprising and its repression taught us about US intervention, the unfulfilled promises of democratization, and the need for reunification and self-determination remain relevant and central today. That is why the social movement and much of the public protested the Park Administration’s decision to retire the song from the official 5.18 Gwangju Uprising Commemoration.
Occupation in front of the 5.18 National Memorial Park
in protest of the retiring of the “March for the Beloved”
The song is sung not only to remember a past, but to also fill its singers with the spirit of the Gwangju Uprising. It is meant to fuel and remind us — the masses that will change history but may never leave a name behind nor earn glory — of the tasks and the road ahead to that new day: Comrades may have passed, but those that live must march ahead.
*That generation that were college students in the 80s, were born in the 60s, and were in their thirties (now 40-50s).