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A Political Factor in the Rise of Protestantism in Korea: Protestantism and the 1919 March First Movement.

  • Timothy S. Lee (a1)

Everywhere the first impulse to social action is given as a rule by real interests, i.e., by political and economic interests. Ideal interests lend wings to these real interests, give them a spiritual meaning, and serve to justify them. Man does not live by bread alone. He wants to have a good conscience as he pursues his life-interests. And in pursuing them he develops his capacities to the highest extent only if he believes that in so doing he serves a higher rather than a purely egotistic purpose. Interests without such “spiritual wings” are lame; but on the other hand, ideas can win out in history only if and insofar as they are associated with real interest

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1. According to a survey released by South Korean government's Department of Statistics, as of December 1994, about 24.1 percent of South Koreans fifteen years or older claimed to be Christian. Of these, 18.2 percent were Protestant and 5.9 percent Roman Catholic (cited in Dong-A Ilbo [Seoul], 28 Dec. 1994). The total South Korean population for that year was about forty-five million. In a more recent survey, conducted in 1997 by Korea Survey (Gallup) Polls, the figure for the Protestants is higher, with 20.3 percent of South Koreans eighteen or older identifying themselves as Protestant, as opposed to 18.3 percent for the Buddhists, and 7.4 percent for the Roman Catholics (cited in Kurisch' an Sinmun [The Christian Press, Seoul], 22 June 1998). In Japan, according to a 1990 figure, Protestants accounted for about one-half of 1 percent of the total population. The total percentage of Japanese Christians, including Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox, was 0.88, which amounted to about 1.1 million.See Yoshinobu, Kumazawa and Swain, David L., eds., Christianity in Japan, 1971–1990 (Tokyo: Kyo Bun Kwan, 1991). Reliable statistics for Chinese Christians are hard to come by, but a figure announced by the government-sanctioned China Christian Council shows that by August 1997 there were upwards of 13.3 million Chinese Protestants. For the same year, the Chinese government estimated the number of Roman Catholics attending its sanctioned churches to be about four million. In simple numbers, therefore, Chinese Christians exceed their Korean counterparts, but in terms of the percentage of the population, they are far smaller. For since China's 1997 population was about 1.3 billion, the 17.3 million Christians comprised only about 1.3 percent of the total population. See “China Keeps Pressure on Catholic Church,” Christian Century, 5 Nov. 1997, 1,000; and Ann Martin and Myrl Byler, “What's Happening to Christians in China?” Christian Century, 24 Sept.-Oct. 1997, 837.

2. In 1807 Robert Morrison of the London Missionary Society initiated the first Protestant missionary work in China. In lapan, three denominations from America—the Protestant Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church, and the (Dutch) Reformed Church of America—did the same in 1859. The first resident missionary to arrive in Korea was Horace N. Allen, who arrived in 1884. See Latourette, Kenneth Scott, Christianity in a Revolutionary Age, vol. 3: The 19th Century Outside Europe: The Americas, the Pacific, Asia, and Africa (1961; reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1969);Fairbank, John K., ed., The Missionary Enterprise in China and America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974);Thomas, Winburn T., Protestant Beginnings in Japan (Rutland, Vt: Charles E. Turtle, 1959);and Paik, L. George, The History of Protestant Missions in Korea: 1832–1910 (1927; reprint, Seoul: Yonsei University Press, 1970).

3. Nowadays, to talk of Protestantism in Korea is to talk of Protestantism in South Korea. But this was not always the case. Indeed, prior to 1945, when the nation was divided, Protestantism was widespread all over the peninsula; moreover, it was especially strong in the north, boasting nearly three hundred thousand adherents. But since 1945, just as the Socialists and Communists were being rooted out in the south, the Protestants suffered harsh persecution in the north that forced most of them to flee to the south. As a result, North Korea now has at most ten thousand believers with two state-approved Protestant churches (there is also one Catholic church). For the purposes of this study, however, this distinction is unimportant, since all the events under discussion took place before 1945. See my “Born-Again in Korea: The Rise and Character of Revivalism in (South) Korea, 1885–1988” (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1996), 122–35;Chung-hyôn, Paek, Pukhanaedo Kyohoega Innayo? [Is There a Church in North Korea?] (Seoul: Kungmin Ilbo, 1998);and Cumings, Bruce, Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History (New York: Norton, 1997), 185298.

4. Davis, George T. B., Korea for Christ (London: Christian Workers' Depot, 1910), 14.

5. Brown, Arthur Judson, The Mastery of the Far East (New York: Scribner, 1919), 516;Clark, Charles Allen, The Korean Church and the Nevius Method (Seoul: Christian Literature Society, 1937);Palmer, Spencer, Korea and Christianity: The Problem of Identification with Tradition (Seoul: Hollym, 1967);Hunt, Everett N. Jr, Protestant Pioneers in Korea (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1980); and Lee, “Born-Again in Korea,” 165–230.

6. The epigraph, with added italics, is part of a larger quotation cited by Reinhard Bendix to characterize Max Weber's approach to socio-historical analysis. See his Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960), 4647.Here, it should be noted that by contrasting “ideas” with “real interests,” Hintze does not imply an economic determinism in which ideas are nothing but epiphenomenal projections of some material interests. Indeed, in the quotation, Hintze goes on to assert, “And this ideology is as ‘real’ as the real interests themselves, for ideology is an indispensable part of the life-process which is expressed in action” (47). Weber's classic works on the relationship between ideology and real interests are well known. They include Economy and Society, ed. Roth, Guenther and Wittich, Claus, 2 vols. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978);The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Winchester, Mass: Allen and Unwin, 1930);and The Methodology of the Social Sciences, trans, and ed. Shils, Edward A. and Finch, Henry A. (New York: Free, 1949).A more recent Weberian study along this vein—one that compares modern fundamentalism in the United States and Iran—is Martin Riesebrodt's Pious Passion: The Emergence of Modern Fundamentalism in the United States and Iran, trans. Don Reneau (Berkeley, Cal.: University of California Press, 1998).

7. Here, the difficulty of using the concept “Korean nationalism” must be acknowledged. If it were defined in terms of specific contents, then it would be more accurate to speak of it in the plural. For between the late nineteenth century and 1919, at least three specific versions of Korean nationalism surfaced: (1) that of the ultraconservative party wijông ch′ôksa (Defend Orthodoxy, Reject Heterodoxy), which sought to preserve intact the traditional order; (2) that of the Tonghaks (Eastern Learning), a peasant-based reform movement that sought to purify the state through an uprising; and (3) that of the kaehwa (Progressive) party that sought to modernize Korea along the line of Meiji Japan. Despite these complications, for the purposes of this study it is not untoward to use the word in the singular, so long as the term is taken to mean the general sentiments and representations that espoused the idea of “Korea for, by, and of Koreans,” since at least on this one important point, all these three groups agreed. See Chung, Chai-sik, A Korean Confucian Encounter with the Modern World: Yi Hang-no and the West (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of Berkeley, 1995);Lew, Young Ick, “The Conservative Character of the 1894 Tonghak Peasant Uprising: A Reappraisal with Emphasis on Chôn Pong-jun's Background and Motivation,” The Journal of Korean Studies 7 (1990): 149–77;and Ch'oe, Yong-ho, “The Kapsin Coup of 1884: A Reassessment,” Korean Studies 6 (1982): 105124.On the legitimating power of nationalism, see Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983).

8. For example, see McManners, John, ed., The Oxford History of Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 536–37: “[Christianity] became identified with patriotic anti-Japanese feeling. After annexation in 1910 this tendency increased, since church groups were virtually the only independent bodies with national organizations and international ties.” Though not entirely wrong, this is too simplistic a depiction of the relation between Protestantism and Korean nationalism—as will be shown below.

9. Here, nationalism in Japan and China is regarded in the same vein as in Korea—in terms not of its specific contents but of the general sentiments and representations that the sovereignty of China or Japan must remain in the hands of its respective denizens.

10. On nationalistic Christians in Japan, see Scheiner, Irwin, Christian Converts and Social Protest in Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970);for the same in China, see Philip West, “Christianity and Nationalism: The Career of Wu Lei-ch'uan at Yenching University,” in Fairbank, Missionary Enterprise in China and America, 226–46.On Japanese Christianity, see Reid, David, New Wine: The Cultural Shaping of Japanese Christianity (Berkeley: Asian Humanities, 1991);on Chinese Christianity, see Bays, Daniel H., ed., Christianity in China: From the Eighteenth Century to the Present (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996);and Hunter, Alan and Chan, Kim-Kwong, Protestantism in Contemporary China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

11. Varg, Paul, Missionary, Chinese, and Diplomats (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958).

12. Yip, Kap-che, Religion, Nationalism and Chinese Students: The Anti-Christian Movement of 1922–1927 (Bellingham, Wash.: Washington University Press, 1980), 2.On the conflict between missionaries and Chinese nationalism, also see Cohen, Paul, China and Christianity: The Missionary Movement and the Growth of Chinese Antiforeignism, 1860–1870 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963);and Esherick, Joseph W., The Origins of the Boxer Uprising (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).

13. The Uchimura incident occurred when he, a Christian school teacher, refused to bow before the imperial rescript on education, whose “supercharged symbolic value exceeded by far the prestige and authority of anything but the emperor himself.” As a result, “This celebrated incident became the occasion for renewed invective against Christianity as an unpatriotic, foreign religion, incompatible with ‘the Japanese Way.’ Uchimura was pilloried in the press and removed from his position by the minister of education.” See Hardacre, Helen, Shinto and the State, 1868–1988 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 122–23.

14. Thomas, Protestant Beginnings in Japan, 188.

15. On the history of Catholicism in Korea, see Hong-yôl, Yu, Han'guk Ch'ônju Kyohoesa [A History of the Korean Catholic Church], 2 vols. (Seoul: Katollic Ch'ulp'ansa, 1962).Also see Choi Suk-woo, “Korean Catholicism Yesterday and Today,” Korea Journal, Aug. 1984, 4–13.On Confucianism in Korea, see Bary, William Theodore de and Haboush, JaHyun Kim, eds., The Rise of Neo-Confucianism in Korea (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).

16. Yu Hong-nyôl, Han'guk Ch'ônju Kyohoesa, 2:44.

17. Kim, Nyung, “The Politics of Religion in South Korea, 1974–89: The Catholic Church's Political Opposition to the Authoritarian State” (Ph.D. diss., University of Washington, 1993).

18. Ch'oe, “Kapsin Coup of 1884.”

19. Paik, , History of Protestant Missions in Korea, 168.

20. Lee, , “Born-Again in Korea,” 35, 55.

21. Eckert, Carter, et al., Korea Old and New: A History (Seoul: published for the Korea Institute, Harvard University, by Ilchokak; distributed by Harvard University Press, 1990), 192.

22. Moose, J. R., “A Great Awakening,” Korea Mission Field 2 (1906): 51–52. Korea Mission Field (hereafter KMF) was an interdenominational journal dedicated to publicizing issues relative to Protestant missionary work in Korea. It ran from November 1905 to November 1941.

23. Wells, Kenneth M., New God, New Nation: Protestants and Self-Reconstruction Nationalism in Korea, 1896–1937 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1990), 44.

24. Yun Chi-ho Diary, 23 Dec. 1892, quoted in Wells, New God, New Nation, 51. Yun studied at Vanderbilt University, 1888–91, and Emory University, 1891–93.

25. Kidokkyo Taebaekhwa Sajôn [Christian Encyclopedia], s.v. “Yi Chae-myong”; and Young-je, Han, Han'guk Kidokkyo Inmul 100nyôn [Who's Who in One Hundred Years of Korean Christianity] (Seoul: Christian Literature, 1987), 132.

26. Of the first generation of missionaries to Korea, Arthur Judson Brown, secretary of the Foreign Mission Board of the Northern Presbyterian Church, wrote the following: “The typical missionary of the first quarter century after the opening of the country was a man of the Puritan type. He kept the Sabbath as our New England forefathers did a century ago. He looked upon dancing, smoking, and card-playing as sins in which no true followers of Christ should indulge. In theology and biblical criticism he was strongly conservative, and he held as a vital truth the premillenarian view of the second coming of Christ. The higher criticism and liberal theology were deemed dangerous heresies.” See his Mastery of the Far East, 540.

27. Hulbert, was an extraordinary Methodist missionary who unsuccessfully sought an audience with President Theodore Roosevelt on behalf of King Kojong to counter the Japanese encroachment in Korea.

28. KMF 3 (1907): 153–56.

29. Baird, W. M., “Pyeng Yang Academy,” KMF 2 (1906): 221–24.

30. “Editorial Notes,” KMF 14 (1918): 1–3. Despite this editorial, and other gestures of conciliation on the part of the missionaries, the Japanese continued to regard the missionary work as an impediment to their colonization of Korea. A certain amount of friction, therefore, always inhered in their relationship. After 1910, this friction surfaced with regard to mission schools, which the governor-general disapproved of for, among other things, making the Bible a mandatory subject. As a way of controlling the schools, the governor-general required pupils in mission schools to pass a series of tests before recognizing their degrees. Since a degree without the governor-general's recognition lacked utility outside the church, and since pupils in public schools—run by the governor-general—were spared such tests, the mission schools lost much of their attraction for unbelieving Koreans, thereby depriving the missionaries of a means of evangelism. The missionaries remonstrated against this double-standard policy, and requested to have the test requirement dropped. But their request was met only in the aftermath of the March First Movement in 1919. Be that as it may, the missionaries' remonstrance was in keeping with their “apolitical” stance. It was stimulated by their evangelistic concern, not out of any desire to resist Japanese domination of Korea. Also, though the test requirement may have adversely affected the missionaries' proselytization efforts, it was but a small setback compared to the impact the missionaries' opposition to Korean nationalism within the church had on the stalemating of church growth. See Yóriguhae, Han'guk Kidokkyo Yôksa [Institute for the Study of Korean Church History], Han'guk Kidokkyohoeai Yoksa [A History of the Korean Church] (Seoul: Christian Literature Press, 1990), 2:84.

31. Kyoung-bae, Min, Iljaehaûi Han'gukkidokkyo Minjok Sinang Undongsa [A History of Korean Christian National and Religious Movements under Japanese Rule] (Seoul: Taehan Kidokkyo Sôhoe, 1991), 249;Lee, Peter, ed., Sourcebook of Korean Civilization (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 2:457. In addition to Yi, others who left the church included some of the most important figures in modern Korean history: Kim Kyu-sik (a prominent leader of the Korean Provisional Government, founded in the aftermath of the March First Movement) and Yô Un-yông (who in 1945 organized Korean People's Republic). Given this, it is inaccurate—or at best simplistic—for the Oxford History of Christianity to state that Protestantism's identification with “patriotic anti-Japanese feeling” increased after 1910.

32. Church Growth in Korea (New York: International Missionary Council, 1934), 78, 96.

33. For detailed treatment of this event, see Baldwin, Jr. Frank P., “The March First Movement: Korean Challenge and Japanese Response” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1969);and “The March First Movement,” in Chong-shik, Lee, Politics of Korean Nationalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965), 101–25. There appears to be no connection between the March First Movement and the May Fourth Movement that occurred in China in the same year. The latter, also a mass movement, was sparked by the Allied victors' decision to leave in Japanese hands the German concession in Shandong.Fairbank, John K., China: A New History (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Belknap, 1992), 267.

34. “My thesis is that what we mean in naming certain texts, events, images, rituals, symbols and persons ‘classic’ is that here we recognize nothing less than the disclosure of a reality we cannot but name truth … some disclosure of reality in a moment that must be called one of ‘recognition’ which surprises, provokes, challenges, shocks and eventually transforms us; an experience that upsets conventional opinions and expands the sense of the possible; indeed a realized experience of that which is essential, that which endures.”Tracy, David, The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism (New York: Crossroad, 1986), 108.

35. Ki-baik, Lee, A New History of Korea (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984), 344.

36. See Baldwin, “March First Movement,” 2–13. Though written thirty-one years ago, Baldwin's dissertation on the March First Movement still remains the best Englishlanguage, if not Western, source on the subject. Much more is available in Korean, but the Korean interpretations do not vary much from Baldwin's. See Yôn'guhoe, Han'guk Yôksa and Yôn'guhoe, Yôksamunjae (Institute for the Study of Korean History and Institute for the Study of Historical Problems), eds., 3.1 Minjokhaebang Undong Yôn'gu [A Study of the March First National Liberation Movement] (Seoul: Ch'ôngnyônsa, 1989).

37. Baldwin, , “March First Movement,” 12.

38. On the influence of the Versailles Peace Conference on the March First Movement, see Baldwin, “March First Movement,” 14–51.

39. Baldwin, , “March First Movement,” 132.

40. Baldwin, , “March First Movement,” 39, 38. Tokyo, as the metropolis of the Japanese empire, attracted young and ambitious people from Korea (and China and elsewhere). Once there, in an atmosphere much freer than in Korea, many of them were exposed to streams of Japanese intellectual life, including communism, and, instead of studying to be loyal imperial subjects, strove to free Korea.

41. By this time, the more radical leaders of the Korean independence movement were either imprisoned or exiled, prompting the moderate religionists to step forward.

42. (New York: Abingdon, 1920), 24–25. Cynn was educated in a mission school and received a master's degree at the University of Southern California in 1911. He wrote this book while visiting the United States in May 1919 as a participant in a Methodist conference.

43. Lee, , New History of Korea, 344.

44. Baldwin, , “March First Movement,” 53.

45. Lee, , New History of Korea, 344.

46. Quoted in Cynn, Rebirth of Korea, 64.

47. “The Present Movement for Korean Independence,” State Department Record, Consular Bureau (filed 8 July 1919), 44.

48. Baldwin, Frank P. Jr, “Missionaries and the March First Movement: Can Moral Men Be Neutral?” in Nahm, Andrew C., ed., Korea Under Japanese Colonial Rule, (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Western Michigan University Press, 1973), 197. In this article, Baldwin argues that during the March First Movement the missionaries in fact remained neutral. But if neutrality required that the missionaries aid or hinder neither the Japanese nor Koreans, they failed to be so. For the missionaries, as will be seen below, hindered the Japanese by helping to turn international opinion against their suppression of Korean demonstrations.

49. The Journals of Mattie Wilcox Noble, 1892–1934 (Seoul: Han'guk Kidokkyo Yóksa Yôn'gusó [Institute of Korean Church History Study], 1993), 275.

50. Baldwin, , “Missionaries and the March First Movement,” 197.

51. Federal Council of the Churches of Christ of America (FCCCA), comp., The Korean Situation: Authentic Accounts of Recent Events by Eye Witnesses (New York: FCCCA, 1919), 3031.

52. FCCCA, “The Korean Situation,” 37.

53. FCCCA, “The Korean Situation,” 33.

54. Baldwin, , “March First Movement,” 185.

55. One of the few Westerners, perhaps the only one, who had any inkling of the March First Movement before it erupted was Dr. Frank W. Scofield. He was a veterinarian and medical missionary from Canada and was requested to take pictures of the planned rallies. As the movement proceeded, he was one of the most vigorous advocates of Korean rights, speaking out against the Japanese brutality, for example, at a conference of Far East missionaries in Tokyo in September 1919. But his most potent and lasting contribution to the movement was the numerous pictures he took of various aspects of the movement. These pictures, especially those of the Suwon and Cheamni massacres (to be discussed later), played a role in galvanizing international pressure against Japan. In 1920, Scofield was expelled from Korea by the governor-general but returned when the country was liberated. His contribution to the March First Movement was appreciated by Koreans, who affectionately referred to him as the “thirty-fourth” signer of the Declaration of Independence. In 1960, Scofield was decorated with an Order for Cultural Merits by the South Korean government. Upon his death on 20 February 1970, he was interred in the “Tongnip Yugongja” section of the Korean National Cemetery, reserved for those who had rendered distinguished services for the independence of Korea. “The Fire and Massacre at Suwôn Church: Told by Dr. Scofield,” Kurisch'an Sinmun [Christian Press], 27 Feb. 1965; and in the same newspaper, “Dr. Scofield,” 18 April 1970.

56. Kim Sung-t'ae, “Chonggyoin-ui 3.1 Undong Ch'amyô-wa Kidokkyo-ui Yôkhwar” [Religionists' Participation in the March First Movement and the Role of Christianity], Han'guk Kidokkyo Yôksa Yon'gu [Journal of the Institute for the Study of Korean Church History] 25 (1989): 17–24.

57. Kim, “Chonggyoin-ui 3.1 Undong Ch'amyô,” 39.

58. Kim, “Chonggyoin-ui 3.1 Undong Ch'amyô,” 39.

59. Kidokkyo Taebaekhwa Sajôn [Christian Encyclopedia], s.v. “Cheamni Kyohoe” [Cheamni Church].

60. Suk-jang, Hong, Yu Kwan-sun Yang'gwa Maebong Kyohoe [Yu Kwan-sun and Maebong Church] (Seoul: Toso Ch'ulp'an Amen, 1989), 92.

61. Baldwin, , “March First Movement,” 3.

62. Wasson, Alfred W., Church Growth in Korea (New York: International Missionary Council, 1934), 98.

63. Wasson, , Church Growth, 102.

64. On the difficulty Christians are having in mainland China, see Martin and Byler, “What's Happening to Christians In China?” To see how Korean Protestants parlayed their nationalistic credentials into evangelistic success, see Lee, “Born-Again in Korea,” 121.

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