Sunday, July 18, 2010

" Mr.Hulbert" the hidden hero of Korea’s independence

The whole article is taken out from the Korea times " arts and living" section: Assometime we need to understand the Korean history as well as the foreign sympathiser's who plays an important role in shaping the Korean society.

If a foreigner can be a patriot in the cause of another nation, American missionary, journalist and activist Homer B. Hulbert (1863-1949) was a true believer for Korea.

The American missionary, journalist and activist Homer B. Hulbert (1863-1949) devoted his life to Korea’s liberationand modernization. The book “Crusader for Korea, Homer B. Hulbert” sheds light on his life, contributionsto and affection for Korea.

Hulbert, who shed tears over the sufferings of Koreans under Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945), devoted his youth to help modernize Korea and liberate it from the occupation. He was also a pioneer in establishing modern educational system in the belief that this would save Koreans from Japan's imperialistic rule.

His contribution to Korea's modernization and great affection for Koreans ― often overshadowed by Korean patriots ― comes into the spotlight in a new book "Crusader for Korea, Homer B. Hulbert" written by Kim Dong-jin and published by The True Friend.

The book sheds light on unknown facts about the American hero who was a special envoy of King Gojong and helped fight for Korean liberation behind the scenes.

Hulbert was born in New Haven, Vermont to a devout Christian family in 1863 and studied at Dartmouth College before attending the Union Theological Seminary.

He first stepped on Korean soil at the age of 23 in 1886 along with Delzell A. Bunker and George W. Gilmore to teach Korean students English at the Royal English College set up by King Gojong. Designed to nurture Korean youngsters with a Western education, the school opened in 1886 with 35 students mostly from the noble class.

Hulbert laid the foundation for Western education in Korea by setting up the rules, regulations and curriculum in the school's early days. He introduced academic fields such as English, history, natural science, geography and mathematics.

While teaching Korean students, he realized there was a severe lack of textbooks. So he published "Saminpilchi" (Knowledge Necessary for All) in 1889 in hangeul (Korean alphabet), the first of its kind. The 161-page textbook covered world geography, governments, industry, education and the military to enlighten Korean people about the outside world.

He had a good command of Korean and highly appreciated the excellence of hangeul. Hulbert often lamented the situation in which hangeul was not used as often as Chinese characters.
The American missionary contributed an article about the excellence of hangeul to the New York Tribune, describing it as "true alphabet." Hulbert was one of few foreigners who intensively studied and appraised the writing system. He posted articles on hangeul several times in the first English monthly magazine "The Korean Repository." Also he introduced his studies on hangeul in the annual report of the Smithsonian Institution in 1903, saying "Korean surpasses English as a medium for public speaking." It was the first thesis about the excellence of the Korean language internationally.

Starting with "Saminpilchi," he went on to publish 15 textbooks between 1906 and 1908. As a historian, he wrote the masterful history books, "The History of Korea" (1905) and "The Passing of Korea" (1906).

The "History of Korea" is the extraordinary result of his Korean studies in English consisting of two volumes of 409 and 398 pages, respectively, covering ancient and medieval times to modern Korea.

The cover of the book “Crusader for Korea, Homer B. Hulbert” written by Kim Dong-jin and published by The True Friend, 464 pp., 18,800 won
"The Passing of Korea" is a compilation of Korea's history, culture, traditions, customs, industry and social systems that carries his opinions about the doomed destiny of the country and also a criticism of the United States. The book was a comprehensive guide to understand the country for both the Korean elite and foreigners. It was seen as an attempt to tell the world about the Korean situation and was published in London. In fact, after its publication, many international newspapers such as The New York Times and The New York Tribune began paying
attention to the Korean issue.

As a trusted aid and special envoy of Gojong, Hulbert was sent to Washington to meet the administration of Theodore Roosevelt to deliver the king's letter to win the help of the U.S. in stopping the Japanese move to strip Korea of its sovereignty through the illegitimate use of force and coercion. But Hulbert was denied a meeting with the President and other government figures. Despite his efforts, the Japanese imperialists forced the signing of the Eulsa Treaty in 1905 that stripped Korea of its sovereign rights.

Hulbert publicly condemned the U.S. over the Taft-Katsura Agreement that hinted at U.S. recognitions of Japan's sphere of influence on Korea in 1905 by violating the Korean-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce that was signed in 1882. Also, he strongly denounced the agreement because it led to recognition of Japanese interest in Korea as later stated in the Treaty of Portsmouth that assured the Japanese annexation of Korea.
In a desperate attempt, Hulbert once again went to Hague as a special envoy with credentials from Gojong, along with other envoys ― Lee Jun, Lee Sang-seol and Lee Wi-jong ― in 1907 to inform on Japanese brutality.
But under Japan's dominance, Hulbert had no choice but to return to the U.S. Even after arriving there, he continued to preach for the independence of Korea through lectures and columns in newspapers.

At the same time, he touted Gojong's efforts to keep the sovereignty from Japan to the world. "The King of Korea never surrendered to the Japanese. Never did he soil the sanctity of his regal office by voluntary consent … At the risk of his life, he approached the Peace Conference at the Hague without effect. At the risk of his life, he sent appeals to every chancellery in Europe, but enforced abdication prevented their delivery. He was marooned upon a throne," he said in a speech in Washington in 1942.

One of the wishes he tried to make true during his lifetime was the recovery of the king's money from Japan. Gojong deposited 510,000 marks (worth 2 trillion won at current rates) in the Deutsch Asiatische Bank in Shanghai in 1903 and 1904 and the receipt reads, "To be kept at the disposal of His Majesty the Emperor of Korea." But Hulbert found out that Japan took the money in 1908. To reclaim the money, Hulbert spent 40 years obtaining legal proof of the deposit and the process of Japan's illegal seizure of the money.

Hulbert once again trod on Korean soil in 1949 when President Syngman Rhee invited him to the country to commemorate his contribution to the nation's independence. But the 86-year-old Hulbert passed away one week after he arrived. His body was put to rest in the Foreigners' Cemetery in Seoul as he always said "I would rather be buried in Korea than in Westminster Abbey."

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