Contact With Western Culture and English
This is the second in a series of articles about history of English education in Korea ― ED.
By Kim Eun-gyong
Prior to the conclusion of the Korean-American Treaty in 1882, Koreans' contacts with western culture and the English language were limited and indirect. One type of contact was established by English language Protestant missionaries in Manchuria and Japan and by European Catholic priests. Another type of contact came about because of western vessels that appeared on Korean shores and attempted to open commercial relations with Koreans, or by westerners' accidental arrivals after shipwrecks.
The third source of contact was diplomatic missions sent to China and Japan by the Korean government or by those who studied in Japan during the last period of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910).
A Portuguese priest, Gregorio de Cespedes, was the first confirmed European to arrive in Joseon. He followed the Japanese army to Gomgae (presently near Busan) in 1594 during the Japanese invasion and stayed over one year, but did not establish any contact with Koreans during his stay.
A captive during the Manchurian Invasion, Crown Prince So-hyeon developed a friendship with Johann Adam Schall von Bell, a German priest, and returned to Korea with Catholic literature and statues in 1644. the importation of Catholicism was strengthened through diplomatic missions sent to Beijing. Yi Seung-hun became the first Korean who received baptism, on his trip to Beijing in 1784, and actively proselytized after his return.
The entry of French priests in the 1830s gave momentum to the propagation of Catholicism, but the xenophobic government oppression ensued and resulted in severe persecution.
The first arrival of Protestant missionaries in Korea dates back to 1832, when Karl Gutzlaff, a missionary from the Netherlands, landed and stayed over one month on Godae Island and distributed the Chinese edition of the Bible.
For the next 50 years, until the Korean-American Treaty of 1882, Protestant missionaries' efforts to reach Koreans were made by individuals and limited to indirect contact outside of the kingdom, with Korean merchants and students in Manchuria and Japan. An important outcome of Koreans' contact with Anglophone missionaries during this time the Bible was translated into Korean.
John McIntyre and John Ross of the Scotland United Presbyterians met Korean merchants in Manchuria and worked together on a translation of the Bible into Korean. Beginning with the publication of the Gospel of Luke in 1882, they continued to translate, and a complete Korean version of the New Testament was published in 1887.
Koreans in Japan also established contact with Protestant missionaries, this time with American missionaries. In his 1883 letter to the mission headquarters, George W. Knox, a Presbyterian missionary, reported that there were at least 30 Koreans studying Japanese, English, and other subjects in Tokyo and that two of them were already baptized. Knox, who himself had friendly relations with Korean students in Tokyo, urged the mission's involvement in the opening of Korea.
Western sailors who drifted to Korean shores were the first direct source of western culture and knowledge for Koreans within the peninsula. In 1627, a Dutch sailor, John Weltevree and his company landed on the shores of Jeolla Province due to rough seas encountered en route to Japan.
Weltevree permanently settled in Korea, taking a Korean name, Bak Yeon, living with a Korean woman and serving in the Joseon military. In 1653, Dutchman Hendrik Hamel and 35 others drifted to Jeju Island. They were caught and brought to Seoul and served in the Joseon military under Weltevree's supervision.
Thirteen years later, eight of them including Hamel escaped and returned to their native country. Hamel wrote a book on his adventure, which was published in French, English and German. Early in the nineteenth century, western powers, including Britain, France, the United States, and Russia, made attempts to open relations with the obstinate Joseon. Foreign merchant ships and warships repeatedly appeared on Korean shores, but the dynasty held onto a strict exclusion policy.
Korean and American relations began in 1866 under unfortunate circumstances where an armed trade ship, the General Sherman, entered Korean waters and made forceful attempts to interact with secluded locals. In response outraged locals burned the ship and killed those aboard. The U.S. government decided to use the incident to compel Korea's opening and sent ships on a survey assignment in 1871.
Reaching Ganghwa Island, the Americans battled fierce but poorly armed Koreans. Eventually, they departed without realizing their intention of opening trading relations with Koreans, leaving over two hundred Korean and three American casualties.
Joseon's early exposure to Western culture mainly came about through contacts with Ming and Ch'ing China. Koreans who visited Ming or Ch'ing came into contact with Westerners in China and returned with some knowledge of western civilization and modern science. In 1881, after the conclusion of the Korean-Japanese Treaty of 1876, the Korean government dispatched a sinsa yuramdan, or gentlemen's sightseeing group, to Japan for an inspection of administration, military, industries, and education.
Among the educational institutions that they visited were foreign language schools. Four of the entourage members, including Yu Gil-jun and Yun Chi-ho, volunteered to remain in Japan for further studies and learned English from foreigners and American missionaries. A group of trainees and students were dispatched to China in November 1880. Some of the students were assigned to learn foreign letters and languages, especially the English language.
In brief, Koreans' early contact with westerners and their cultures and languages was through Catholic priests or those who entered Korea with mercantile intent or by accident and Koreans traveling or living abroad for diplomatic or commercial reasons. This contact set the stage for the entrance of the English language and its education into Korean society in 1883.
Kim Eun-gyong is an associate professor of applied linguistics and Associate Dean of the Center for International Affairs, Information and Communications University (ICU) in Daejeon. She can be reached at email@example.com