On 17 November Juche 103 (2014), Jong Tae-yong, professor at the Pyongyang University of Architecture, marked his 79th birthday. His family held a celebration at the local library. Many people came and congratulated him. Most of them were his old pupils at the university. They delighted their teacher on his birthday by telling him about the successes they had achieved in the past year, some of them finally attaining a doctorate’s degree, while others chatted about developing new technical ideas or building new structures in major cities. He also received a special guest: the President of Kim Il-sung Military University, Song Ja-reeb.
Jong proudly spoke of his upbringing in the national struggle for his home. Growing up in a rural farm village in South Hamgyong Province, Jong cherished a dream to continue his father’s plot by growing rice grain and potatoes (to the astonishment of his teachers and friends). Now, Suhung-ri was not a big village. Nor was it very lively before the war. But, the Fatherland Liberation Conflict brought a dramatic difference to Jong’s life and the life of his fellow villagers. He enlisted in the war effort in July Juche 39 (1950), and went through some of the biggest battles along the 38th Parallel.
Remember his dream? Well, his dream of being a successful farmer completely changed during the liberation war when he promised a little girl, named Ju – whose family had been killed and house torched to the ground by invading forces – to come back with him and build a home for her without fail. He said that she reminded him of friends back in his village when he was a young boy. Wrapping her in his standard issue military overcoat, he handed her over to a local orphanage and commenced his fight.
In 1953, Jong was reunited with Ju and returned to his hometown and finalized the adoption of the girl as his own. Within a year of coming home, he traveled to Pyongyang to enroll in a college shortly thereafter, applying for admission to a new construction college instead of the Biology Department of Kim Il-sung Military University, which he had eagerly wished to enter prior to the conflict. It was this decision that positively impacted countless folks afterward.
At that time postwar rehabilitation work was certainly in full swing; keeping with Comrade Kim Il-sung’s active promotion of a powerful and prosperous nation, civil and building engineers were in great demand in almost every sector, in each province. But who was to teach them and guide them in this immense task of nation building? Perceiving this uncertain question, Jong had set a course for his determination. Although he was nervous for his decision, he trusted his ambition and the promise he had made for the girl during the war. After graduation from the Pyongyang School of Architecture he became an educator, abandoning his dream of becoming a famous architect in place of a more humble path. Jong claimed this was to achieve a “higher legacy for himself and his family.”
Since then, Jong Tae-yong has taught at the college for over fifty years, bringing up large numbers of talented students under his wing. His old pupils still remember what he said at the beginning of lectures: “Our hope and ambition should be oriented to the prosperity of our home, and our pride in life consists in how much we have contributed to our villages and the children inhabiting them.” With this aspiration Jong has devoted his talents, wisdom and energy to fostering the students’ spirits and education, keeping them mindful of the struggles that exist in life so tragedies from the past will not be repeated. In addition, he would give extra one hour lessons after class or sit up all night with his students to complete important research theses. He would also help out with extra tutoring for children in his courses; for this, many of his students love and cherish his presence like a dad of their own.
Indeed, Professor Jong Tae-yong is a proud man and devoted student, and professor, to not only his school but also his revolution, country and people. It is people like him that bring forth the revolutionary spirit in others, and allow his light to shine on in ways almost unimaginable just a generation prior.
He lives in the Pyongyang suburb of Kwanmundong with both his immediate and extended family, including the little girl he had saved many years prior, who is now an adult woman with a little girl of her own.