Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Crusader for Korea: Homer B. Hulbert

Homer B. Hulbert (1863-1949)

·         Born in New Haven, Vermont in 1863
·         Attended Middlebury High School, St Johnsbury Academy, Dartmouth (1884) and Union Theological Seminary (2 years) before leaving for Korea in 1886
·         Parents:
o   Father – Protestant Minister, President of Middlebury College
o   Mother – Great grand-daughter of the founder of Dartmouth
·         Family spirit – Christianity/Puritanism
·         Family precept: “Character is more fundamental than victory”
·         Character: adventurous; passionate; liked reading, music, tennis
Korea – U.S. Encounter in the 19th Century (background information)
·         1866 (Jun) – The U.S. ship ‘Surprise’ wrecked and landed at SeonCheonPo, PyongAnNamDo, and returned safely
·         1866 (Aug) – The U.S. ship ‘General Sherman’ anchored at DaeDongGang, PyongYang, and demanded the opening of Korea. The ship was burned and sunk; all on board were killed
·         1866 (Dec) - Adminiral Shufeldt dispatched to investigate the ‘General Sherman’ case
·         1875 (Jun) - U.S. navy warship anchored off GangHwaDo to retaliate, and again demanded the opening of Korea. Hundreds of Koreans were killed vs. 1 U.S. soldier
·         1880 - U.S. dispatched Admiral Shufeldt to negotiate with the Korean gov’t for diplomatic ties
·         1882 (May 22) - ‘Treaty between U.S. and Korea’ signed at JeMulPo (Incheon), credited to Admiral Shufeldt, Chester Arthur and 21st U.S. President
·         1883 (May)-  Lucius Foote, U.S. Minister to legation in Seoul, arrived in Korea
·         1884 - The delegation returned and recommended modern schools/education; King GoJong approved
·         1885 - First protestant missionaries arrived (Underwood, Appenzeller)
YukYoungGongWon (Royal College) was opened
·         1st Korea  - U.S. enlightenment project was conceptualized, and so 3 teachers were to be brought from the U.S. for creating the American style school
·         U.S. education commissioner contacted Hulbert’s father, and Hulbert volunteered to go to Korea, but he had to wait for 2 years
·         Hulbert arrived at JeMulPo (Incheon) on July 4, 1886
·         The YukYoungGongWon (Royal College) was established in Sept 1886 with 35 elite students
Hulbert’s first 5 years (1886-1891) in Korea
·         Devoted to teaching and studying Korean/Korea
·         Fascinated by Korean history/cultural heritage
·         Mastered Korean (could write and read in 4 days)
·         Published ‘SaMinPilJi’ (Knowledge Necessary to All), first textbook in Korean in 1890, which is currently being registered as a Korean National Treasure
·         Laid the foundation for western-style school under GoJong’s strong patronage
·         Built trust with GoJong
Speaker Mr. DongJin Kim, holding a copy of Hulbert's 사민필지 (Knowledge Necessary to All),
which is now being registered as one of Korea's National Treasures  
Returned to America, then back to Korea
·         1891 – Contract terminated
·         1892 – Back to America via Europe
·         1892 Principal of Putnam Military School, Zanesville, Ohio
·         1893 – Returned to Korea as a Methodist Missionary to take charge of the ‘Trilingual Press’ and Baldwin (DongDaeNum) Church
Pioneer of Modern Education
·         1897-1900 – Principal, HanSeong Teacher’s College and Educational Advisor to the Korean Gov’t
·         1900-1905 – Instructor, National Middle School (currently GyeongGi High School)
·         Introduction of American-style education system
·         Establishment of textbook system with his own self-created textbook series ‘ChoHakJiJi”
·         Instilled Koreans with the importance of education “Education is only means for civilization and to win against Japan”
·         Mrs. Hulbert, principal of foreign school and taught at Ehwa
·         His 5 Children – all born in Seoul:  Helen (1891), Madeleine (1894), Sheldon (1895), William (1897), and Leonard (1901)
Hulbert, the Advocate of Korean Alphabet
·         He made the first Korean textbook
·         He wrote the first thesis on HanGeul (Korean Alphabet), Jan 1892
·         He was the first founder of the excellence of HanGeul as the most scientific language with its simplicity and phonetic power. Compared with 200 letters [sic] and concluded to be “certainly one of the finest alphabets in existence.” Contributed numerous theses on the excellence of Hangeul to international papers.
·         Strong campaign for usage of HanGeul in Korea. “HanGeul must bring emancipation from illiteracy in Korea.”
·         Linguist who studied spoken Korea. Contributed to Annual Report of Smithsonian Institution in 1903 with conclusion of “Korean surpasses English as a medium for public speaking.”
 True Missionary
·         Mediator between Methodists and Presbyterians as a friend of Underwood and Appenzeller
·         Assisted with the baptismal service for first converts to Protestantism (1887)
·         Established NoRyungJin Church (1906)
·         Chairman of and on the Founding Committee of the YMCA (1903)
·         Supported the poor and sufferers and spoke about true Christianity, “If missionaries wished to remain in Korea to teach Christianity, what then was Christianity to teach.”
Musician / Journalist / Writer
·         Made up musical notes of Arirang in 1896, the first paper-written music of Korean music, because as he put it, “Arirang equals rice to Koreans.”
·         Co-editor of Korean Repository
·         Founder and editor of Korea Review
·         Editor of English version of “The Independent”, the first newspaper in Korean
·         Writer of “Search for Siberian Klondike” (1903), “Sign of the Jumna” (1903). “The Face in the Mist” (1926), “Omjee the Wizard” (1927), and “The Mummy Bride”
·         Wrote “The History of Korea” (1905), the first comprehensive Korean history book
·         Wrote “The Passing of Korea” (1906), which is supposedly about all things related to Korea
·         Introduced Korean history, traditions, cultural heritage, etc via international media
·         Challenged on his distortion of Korean history in William Griffis (1843-1928) book “Hermit Nation”
·         Thought the translation of 朝鮮 should have been ‘morning radiance’ or ‘radiant morning’ instead of the rather incorrect but commonly accepted translation of ‘morning calm’
·         Believed that DaeMaDo (to the Japanese, Tsushima) was Korean soil and had been a dependency of Silla
Hidden Hero of Korean Independence
·         Was part of the foreigner night watch for King GoJong in 1895 after assassination of Queen Min
·         Denunciated Japan for colonization attempts via the Korea Review and international papers
·         Was a special envoy of the King KoJong to Theodore Roosevelt in 1905, and gave strong criticism concerning the U.S. policy in the Far East
·         Received a telegram from GoJong who said, “I did not sign the protectorate treaty with Japan.”
·         Special envoy to 9 treaty countries for Hague peace conference in 1907. Addressed in Peace Club in Hague, criticizing Japan
·         Ousted from Korea by Japan … so arrived back in New York in 1907
Rise for Justice
·         Hulbert could not stand the Japanese distortion and oppression. He resisted the Japanese almost to death to help the Japanese (1904-1907) [sic]
·         Koreans sold their property to Hulbert for a penny in order to keep property from being taken by the Japanese. Hulbert returned the property on request.
·         Japanese minister took a stone pagoda, one of Korea’s national treasures, to Japan (1907) and Hulbert demanded the return of the pagoda
Unwavering Fight for Korean Sovereignty
·         Settled in Springfield and fought for Korea via the media
·         Lectured on Korea in U.S. like Chautauqua Circuit [sic], calling for Korean independence
·         Supported Korean delegation for peace conference in Paris in 1919
·         Filed a statement on brutality with the U.S. Senate in 1919
·         Continued working for Korean independence together with Syngman Rhee and Phillip Jaisohn until 1945
Emperor’s Deposit Stolen
·         Emperor KoJong deposited $200,000 at Deutsche Asiatic Bank in 1903
·         Delegated Hulbert to withdraw the money from Deutsche in 1909. Dreamed of assisting independent patriots and Korean slaves in Ukatan, Mexico
·         Deutsche returned money to Japan via German legation in Seoul in 1908without Emperor Kojong knowing
·         U.S. Ambassador to Germany confirmed Deutsche gave money to Japan (1923)
·         Signed with Kimberland for recovery of money … without success
·         Hulbert, providing evidence, left a statement to Syngman Rhee, first Korean president, to demand and recover the money
·         [the presenter Mr. DongJin Kim is now trying to secure that money from Japan]
Return to Korea after 40 yaers (1949)
·         Invited by President Rhee for The Liberation Day (Aug 15th) celebrations
·         Made the statement, “I would rather be buried in Korea than in Westminster Abbey”
·         Arrival in Incheon on July 29th, but passed away on Aug 5th, before the liberation ceremonies but getting his burial wish. He was given a National Funeral Service (SaHoiJang) and buried in YangHwaJin Foreign Cemetery, HapJeongDong, MaPoPu, Seoul
·         Posthumously he was awarded the TaeGeukJang (Country Foundation Medal), Mar 1, 1950, the first foreign (and probably the only) to ever receive the honor
How Some Koreans Viewed Dr. Hulbert
·         “Most reliable person” – Emperor GoJong
·         “True friend of Korea with intelligence and character” – Syngman Rhee
·         “If you are a Korean, you should not forget his contribution to Korea even for a day.” – Ahn JungGeun (1909)
·         “Best icon of human character from educational standpoint.” – KiSeok Kim, Seoul National University
·         “If General MacArthur saved Korea from communism, Dr. Hulbert put JoSeon (Korea) on the list of civilized races.” – HyunBok Lee, Seoul National University
·         “The most respected preceptor of Koreans.” – Joag Taek Kim, Charman of HanGeul [Korean Alphabet] Association
The Hulbert Memorial Society
·         Established in 1999
·         Purpose
o   To research Dr. Hulbert’s footprints
o   To appreciate Dr. Hulbert for his contributions to Korea
o   To preserve and follow Dr. Hulbert’s spirits (justice, peace, humanity, right patriotism)
o   To make Dr. Hulbert’s life a role model for the youth
o   To record Dr. Hulbert’s accomplishments properly in Korean history
In Korea, Book of the Month, August 2010
The presentation was a close-up of Homer Hulbert’s life and contributions in Korea. The man evidently gave a lot of himself to fight not only for education but also for personal freedom and self-advancement in his surrogate country. Mr. DongJin Kim, the presenter, has obviously done a considerable amount of research on Homer Hulbert, but then he would have to as DongJin Kim is the founder and the chairman of the Hulbert Memorial Society.
A note of criticism, however, about the portrayal of Hulbert in Korea. According to the researcher Mr. Kim, Hulbert comes across as unflawed and have an impossibly impeccable education and political career in Korea. For instance, Mr. Kim could not or did not answer the question why Hulbert had to leave Korea after his initial five years of education service was up. ‘Visa was expiring’ doesn’t jive. Many, many people stayed years and years in Korea so why would Hulbert not be extended likewise. Also, there were really flexible rules about visas at that time, especially if Hulbert had his links with the Emperor as was told. 
Korean scholars, according to a contact who had just come from a discussion in Korean on Mr. Kim’s stance on Hulbert, think Mr. DongJin Kim bases a lot of his research on the hypothetical, rather than solid research data, and that DongJin Kim is too emotionally involved in his research to realize his educational dissonance. I have to admit I was impressed with DongJin’s research until he started talking about how Koreans MUST study about Hulbert and North Koreans too MUST acknowledge that Hulbert was an important personage in the educational development of Korea. Mr. DongJin Kim spoke of a trip about 3-4 years ago when it was easier to get into North Korea. On his trip he had spoken to North Korean officials about Hulbert, provided them with data about Hulbert’s historical contributions and that he would be waiting to hear from them. North Korea closed the next year and he still hasn’t heard … but I thought, “Wow, trying to force recognition of an American on the North Koreans, who refer to Americans nonchalantly all the time as “those damned Americans” and who clearly state that they don’t want either Americans or missionaries in their country, and Hulbert was both.” I was a bit shocked at this approach … But as far as the research goes, Mr. DongJin Kim really is incredibly knowledgeable about Homer Hulbert.


  1. His Research is not based on the hypothetical, many people don't have access to the same resources he has as the chairman of the society. Many Koreans don't do extensive or for that matter any research on Homer Hulbert most documents left behind are in English which in turn deters many Koreans. If you read Hulbert's Autobiography "Echoes of the Orient" you'll find that he left Korea after the first five years because he was being forcibly moved to another section of the city and worried for his family's safety so he left the country out of protest to the government. He was not at the time on personal terms with the King that came years later.

    I know this post was a while ago, but I am doing research about Hulbert right now and stumbled across you blog.

    1. Thanks for your insight. I know that HH is not much regarded by Korean researchers, or at least hasn't been in the past. Good luck with you research interest. I know of another person who was interested in HH as well because he's little known and therefore rather controversial as to the role he played in Korean history.