Morning Dew is a song written by Kim Min Gi (김민기, 1951-) and sung by Yang Hee Eun (양희은, 1952-) in 1970. It is a seminal song often voted as among the few songs best loved by the Korean people in surveys conducted by the media. A beautiful song both musically and lyrically, it is also historically significant as it became one of the staple protest songs in the democracy movement of the 70s and 80s. The song as well as its author Kim and singer Yang are all fondly remembered by the Korean people today.
Kim Ming Gi had a deep interest in, and virtually dedicated his life to discovering and furthering the soul of Korea through his art. He has made tremendous contributions to this calling and receives well deserved, nearly universal respect from the people of Korea, especially the young generation.
Sung by Yang Hee Eun first and in the most popular rendition, it brims with metaphors of persevering hope in the travails of people in hardship. The humble morning dew is the agent that brings about in the mind of the narrator “I” new realizations as to his destiny. The vague sorrows in his mind crystallize to give him a new resolve, so he learns a little smile after a soul searching. He sees the grim reality, the trials and tribulations in which many of his brethren have perished. In the end he summons his courage and throws himself to the cause with a new found determination, leaving his old defeatist ways behind.
A well structured narrative in itself, it took on an even greater and more compelling meaning in conjunction with the democracy movement of the era. The 70s in Korea was a time ripe with political turmoil, with the dictatorial regime trying to tighten its screw of authoritarian rule on people. The picture was bleak and disheartening, and the most active group resisting the descending doom of darkness was the young generation spearheaded by college students. The authoritarian government, which came to power through a military coup, was tough, so the grassroots movement against it often escalated to a brutal tooth and nail fight, many losing their lives in the course. In the eyes of the democracy fighters, Morning Dew was such a fitting allegorical tale personifying their ideal as struggles of the common but noble people. The song spread like wildfire among the activists as well as their supporters and sympathizers. It was often sung at important rallies throughout the 70s and 80s and beyond, eventually becoming one of the greatest protest songs in modern Korean history.
All this is even more remarkable because the song never mentions anything that might bring any association with political protests. Expressions like Sorrows, trials, and wilderness of badlands are all there is that might suggest the turbulence of the time, and even then they are all in a setting against the foe of nature. It is quite unlike many other protest songs which often fail as an art because of their explicit and strident messages.
Kim Min Gi, who wrote the music and lyrics of this song when he was twenty, is a true genius of geniuses of our time. Undergoing a dark period during which his songs were banned outright and he himself were under surveillance by the government for so-called “subversive activities”, he went on to write countless more songs that are socially conscious and show the beauty of the Korean language. He guided many young singers and artists in their course, founded a playhouse that became an incubator of many renowned actors, and still devotes his time and energy to bettering the society through art. His whole life is much like the morning dew of his song as he has always strove to be the catalyst to shine and inspire the younger generations with no expectation of any rewards.
Yang Hee Eun has been a perennial presence in Korean music and entertainment, performing heartfelt poetic songs and continually active as a radio and TV personality ever since. She is the most important female artist to come out of the new folk generation of the 70s Korea.