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Unknown independence activist

Tue 6 September 2022 | 10:34

Unknown independence activist

Posted: 2019-04-04 16:57

Updated: 2019-04-05 09:18

By Choe Chong-dae

Seo Young-hae (1902-56) had been forgotten. He is more familiar to academics who study French literature and the history of diplomacy than to his compatriots. His outstanding dedication to Korea’s independence movement was revealed by a recent book titled “Seo Young-hae, Independence Activist 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 seeking the restoration of Korean sovereignty against Japanese colonial rule through outstanding diplomacy in Europe. Driven by patriotism, Seo participated in the independence movement of March 1, 1919 at the age of 17. Fearing arrest by Japanese police, Seo went into exile in China and joined the Republic of Korea’s Provisional Government 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 founded “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, then promoted to the rank of ambassador in Paris.

During his 27-year stay in Paris, Seo made remarkable efforts for the restoration of Korea’s sovereignty and devoted time to reporting and writing extensively about Japan’s brutal colonial rule in European media. Remarkably, Seo’s life was exposed to the world through his novel “La vie d’un Coreen” (Around a Korean Life) published in French in 1929, followed by other sensational novels. Her first novel depicts the oppression Koreans faced under Japanese imperialism as well as Korean history, culture, and customs that 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 Korea Conference in 1948. He was one of two key figures who played a pivotal role in Korea’s quest for independence overseas. ; 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. Therefore, her life in Korea was unstable. He worked at the Korean Provisional Government’s Affiliated School for Personality Education for Korean Residents in Shanghai until 1956 without contacting his family in South Korea. After that, his steps are not known.

Seo’s remarkable diplomacy for Korean independence in Europe had a deep impact on my mind and reminds me of the quote “the pen is mightier than the sword”.

Author Jung Sang-chun compared him to Philippe Aries (1914-84), the pioneering French historian. He called himself a “Sunday historian”, proud to write outside the university during his spare time. Jung devoted himself to studying during vacations to avoid official influence.

Jung went to Paris to study on a state scholarship in 1994-96 and in 2000 while working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade as a diplomat. While 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, was an English teacher at Gyeongju High School in the early 1960s, where he had a close relationship with my family. Currently, Jung’s studies focus on researching the history of Korea’s independence movement with my brother Choe Chong-kan, a ceramic artist.

Seo’s extraordinary dedication to Korea’s independence movement as a pioneering diplomat in Paris would most likely have remained in the shadows had it not been for the outstanding research into Seo’s life by author Jung.
Choe Chong-dae ([email protected]) is a guest columnist for The Korea Times. He is chairman of Dae-kwang International Co. and director of the Korean-Swedish association.


Teresa R. Cabrera

The author Teresa R. Cabrera