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Fri 3 December 2021 | 21:36
Little-known independence activist
Posted: 04/04/2019 16:57
Updated: 2019-04-05 09:18
By Choe Chong-dae
Seo Young-hae (1902-56) had been forgotten. He is better known to scholars who study French literature and the history of diplomacy than to his compatriots. His exceptional dedication to the Korean independence movement was revealed in a recent book titled “Seo Young-hae, Activist for Independence in Paris”, written by Jung Sang-chun, an official of the Presidential Committee for Balanced National Development.
Seo was an independence activist, novelist, journalist and diplomat who dedicated himself to the restoration of Korean sovereignty against Japanese colonial rule through remarkable diplomacy in Europe. Driven by patriotism, Seo participated in the independence movement on March 1 in 1919 at the age of 17. Fearing arrest by Japanese police, Seo went into exile in China and joined the Republic of Korea Provisional Government’s establishment in Shanghai as its youngest member. He went to Paris in 1920 to continue his future studies. A graduate of the Ecole Supérieure de Journalisme de Paris, a higher education institution, he established “Agence Korea” (News Agency) in 1929 and was appointed representative of the Liaison Office of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai in 1936, later promoted to Ambassador to Paris.
During his 27-year stay in Paris, Seo made remarkable efforts to restore Korean sovereignty and devoted time to reporting and writing extensively on the brutal Japanese colonial rule to European media. Remarkably, Seo’s life was exposed to the world through his novel “La vie d’un Coréen” (Around a Korean Life) published in French in 1929, followed by other sensational novels. Her first novel describes the oppression suffered by Koreans under Japanese imperialism as well as Korean history, culture and customs that have helped raise awareness of the plight of Koreans and aspects of Europe.
Two years after Korea’s liberation, he finally returned to Korea in 1947. He was sent to Pyongyang with Kim Koo to join the South and North Korean Conference in 1948. He was one of the two iconic figures. who played a central role in the pursuit of Korean independence abroad. ; one was Seo Young-hae in France, the other was Syngman Rhee in the United States
Although Seo maintained a close friendship with Rhee who became Korea’s first president in 1948, he opposed Rhee’s policy of creating a separate state in the South, while supporting Kim Koo who wanted to establish a unified government for all of Korea. As a result, his life in Korea was unstable. He worked at the Korean Provisional Government Affiliate School for Personality Education for Korean Residents in Shanghai until 1956 without contacting his family in South Korea. After that, his traces are not known.
Seo’s remarkable diplomacy for Korean independence in Europe has had a profound impact on my mind and reminds me of the quote “the pen is mightier than the sword”.
Author Jung Sang-chun compares him to Philippe Aries (1914-84), the French pioneer historian. He called himself a “Sunday historian,” proud to write outside of college in his spare time. Jung devoted himself to studying during the holidays to avoid official influence.
Jung went to Paris to study on a state scholarship in 1994-96 and in 2000 while working at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as a diplomat. During his stay in Paris, he immersed himself in the search for Seo who dreamed of Korean independence.
Coincidentally, Jung’s father Jung Il-yeong, a former journalist, taught English at Gyeongju High School in the early 1960s, where he had a close relationship with my family. Currently, Jung’s studies are focused on researching the history of Korea’s independence movement with my brother Choe Chong-kan, a ceramic artist.
Seo’s extraordinary dedication to the Korean independence movement as a pioneering diplomat in Paris would most likely have remained in the shadows had it not been for author Jung’s outstanding research into Seo’s life.
Choe Chong-dae ([email protected]) is a guest columnist for the Korea Times. He is president of Dae-kwang International Co. and director of the Korean-Swedish Association.