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The Early Years of the RASKB--The First Beginnings

By Brother Anthony of Taizé

1. The First Beginnings

The Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch was born at 4:30 pm on June 16, 1900, when a founding meeting attended by seventeen men (all but four of them missionaries) was held in the Reading Room of the Seoul Union Club. On that day officers were elected and a constitution (based on that of the London RAS) was adopted. Among those present were the acting British Chargé d’affaires, J. H. Gubbins, and the missionaries James S. Gale, Homer B. Hulbert, George Heber Jones, Horace G. Underwood, H. G. Appenzeller, D. A. Bunker and William B. Scranton. Other missionaries who were members of the RASKB from the very start included H. N. Allen, O. R. Avison and M. N. Trollope.

The first paper presented to the Society, on “The Influence of China upon Korea,” was given by James Scarth Gale on October 24, 1900 and it was the first paper published in Volume One of Transactions a few months later. It stressed the overwhelming influence of Chinese culture on Korea. The second paper, by Homer B. Hulbert, on “Korean Survivals,” sought to contradict it and stress the role of native Korean traditions and values. In the two years that followed, seven more lectures were given and 2 more volumes of Transactions were published. But, after a final lecture about Ginseng at the end of 1902 and the publication of Volume 3 of Transactions soon after, everything stopped. The RASKB seemed to be dead.

The foundation of the RASKB in 1900 came at the end of two decades in which Korea had experienced almost unimaginable changes, in the course of traumatic events of which the most dramatic included the Gapsin Coup, the 1894 Donghak Rebellion and the resulting Sino-Japanese War, the Gapo Reforms with the royal decree ordering the cutting off of men’s topknots and the abolition of the Gwageo exam in 1895, the assassination of the Queen in 1895, and the proclamation of the Daehan Empire in 1897.

Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, a series of remarkable Protestant missionaries, mostly from North America, came to settle in Korea. They founded schools and hospitals, set up a printing press, studied Korean, set about translating the Bible, and began to explore the very unfamiliar culture in which they were plunged. They began to publish books, reviews, even newspapers. Their activity went far beyond founding churches, it was essentially designed to transform Korea by contact with the modern world-at-large into something very different from what it had been hitherto.

Outwardly, at least, their program of modernization linked in with the long-standing wish of the Korean intellectuals of the the reformist Silhak (practical learning) and Gaehwapa (enlightenment) schools. Equally importantly, it echoed many of the most positive aspects of Japan’s Meiji reforms.

More information about the early history of the RASKB can be found here.

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RASKB Activities in August and September, 2012

Dear members and friends of RASKB,

I hope you are enjoying a restful summer? Here in Seoul the heatwave seems set to continue. The RAS does not organize lectures in August, since many are away from Seoul if not Korea. Please note that our first lecture in September (by Prof. Robert Provine on early recordings of Korean music) will be held on Wednesday September 12, and not on Tuesday Sept. 11 as previously announced. The room is not available on the Tuesday. Prof. Province has just retired as Professor in the School of Music at the University of Maryland. Traditional Korean music is one of his major areas of interest.

Our other September lecture will be:

The Decision, or War in Korea: Revelations from the Russian Archives
Lecturer: Kathryn Weathersby.
Date: Tuesday, September 25, 2012, 7:30pm
Dr. Weathersby was the first Western historian to examine Soviet documents on Korea, and she will describe what Russian archives reveal about when and why Kim Il Sung, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong decided to use military force to bring all of Korea under communist control.

The few summer tours that we organize are mostly designed to take you to cooler places with the whole family. See below for the detailed program.

For fuller details, please consult our home page.
I look forward to seeing you all in September.
With all my best wishes,

Brother Anthony
President, RASKB

Our forthcoming excursions:

Danyang, Gosu Caves and Chungju Lake
Sunday, August 5
Leader: Sue Bae

Seoul Museum of History and the Agricultural Museum
Saturday, August 18
Leader: F. Jeremy Seligson

Dong-gang river rafting
Sunday, August 26
Leader: Sue Bae

Cheongpyeong Lake
Saturday, September 1,
Leader: Sue Bae

South Jeolla Province: Land of tea and exile
Saturday-Sunday September 8-9
Leader: Brother Anthony

Saturday, September 15
Leader: Tobias Lehmann

Daehang-no walking tour
Saturday, September 22
Leader; Robert Fouser

Suwon walking tour
Sunday, September 23
Leader: Peter Bartholomew

Seochon walking tour
Saturday September 29
Leader: Bob Fouser

Andong & Hahoe Village
Saturday-Sunday, October 6-7
Leader: Jennifer Flinn

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RASKB 2012 Garden Party Pictures on Facebook

Pictures from the June 9th, 2012 RASKB Garden Party have just been posted to Facebook. All of the pictures were taken by RASKB member Henry Hwang. You can follow this link to find the pictures. If you have not already done so, please like the Facebook page and check out some of our other pictures and stories there.

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Royal Asiatic Society explores Korea’s hidden depths by Korea.net

Here is a nice write-up about the Royal Asiatic Society from Korea.net. There is a lot of great information about the history of the organization and many RAS members are quoted.

Please share this article with your friends so more people can learn about RAS and become members.

For over a century, the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch has gathered
various foreign residents of Korea -- missionaries, diplomats, Peace
Corps volunteers, and various other adventurers.

Today, the RASKB offers a variety of activities to its members and the general public,
including Korean Studies lectures, excursions within the city or to the
far reaches of the Korean Peninsula, and special interest groups in
photography and Korean literature.

“At heart, the RASKB is dedicated to sharing Korea's culture and history,”
says Jennifer Flinn, RASKB secretary. “We work to help bring greater
public knowledge of this country's amazing past and present so that more
people will learn about and enjoy all Korea has to offer.”

To continue reading, please click here.

American’s lifelong love of Korean music

A very intersting account of RAS member Alan Heyman's love of Korean music and how he came know it. Be sure to read the article fro the Korea Herald if you already haven't done so.


Join RAS on Facebook

I just wanted to let everyone know that there is an RASKB Facebook Group and an RASKB Facebook page. Both are updated regularly and there is a lot of good information. The Facebook group will give you a great way to interact with fellow members and the page will be updated with important news and pictures.

Please join both and be part of the discussion and the action. Here is the link and please tell other people as well:



RAS Lecture Video: Rewriting Korean History by Professor In-ho Lee

Rewriting Korean History by Professor In-ho Lee
Filmed by Korea.com

In this 2006 lecture, which looks at Korean history from the late nineteenth century to the present, Dr. In-ho Lee discusses the attempts by leftist historians to re-write Korean history from their point of view, one in which the U.S. is to blame for Korea's post-liberation trials. She places much blame for this on the anti-communist education of the Park Chung-hee government and its refusal to intellectually engage with communism, which she argues made a generation of young people susceptible to romanticized views of North Korea and communism.

Born and raised in Korea, Professor In-ho Lee received a B.A. in history from Wellesley, an A.M. in Soviet Union Regional Studies from Radcliffe, and a Ph.D. in history from Harvard. She taught history at Barnard, Columbia, and Rutgers before returning to Korea in 1972. She continued her teaching career at Korea University and then at Seoul National University, and laid the foundation for Russian and Soviet studies in Korea by launching the Korean Association for Russian Studies and founding the Russian Studies Institute at Seoul National University.

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Interested in Korean History During Late 19th Century? Check This Out!

RAS’s Robert Fouser just posted an excellent collection of letters by Yu Kil-jun to his teacher Edward Sylvester Morse on the RAS Facebook page. I really enjoyed reading all of the letters and wanted to bring them to the attention of everyone else not on Facebook.

While reading history, it is easy to forget that real people—people like us— actually lived through those events and fought for the changes that we now take for granted. These letters give the reader a personal glimpse into late nineteenth century Korea (Joseon) and the political and social changes taking place there.

Specifically, I found Yu Kil-jun’s letters after his return home in 1885 to be the most interesting. These letters included a list of reforms of the government as well as frank descriptions of the leadership and political environment.

Please check out the letters and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.



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RAS Lecture Video: What does China want with North Korea and what can be done about it?

If you missed the popular lecture on North Korea by Professor Andrei Lankov, you now have a chance to watch it. The lecture is posted as a video and audio only file.

Don’t forget to browse through the upcoming lectures and tours. You never know what you will learn or who you will meet at a Royal Asiatic Society event.

Audio only

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Upcoming excursions: Geumsan-sa temple and Shaman ritual for good fishing and safety at sea

Here is some information about two upcoming excursions: one to Geumsan-sa temple, and one to the sea off Incheon to witness a Shaman ritual for good fishing and safety at sea; note that the deadline for registration is today.

Geumsan-sa temple and its surroundings
Date: Saturday, June 23, 2012 - 8:00am to 7:30pm
Destination: Gimje, North Jeolla Province
Cost: W70,000 for members and W84,000 for nonmembers
Tour Leader: Brother Anthony

This excursion will take us to Geumsan-sa temple near Gimje, where there is a lot to see; then we will visit the last remaining maker of “onggi” pottery in a nearby village where Catholics hid and made onggi during the persecutions of the 19th century. An Si-seong is still young and his onggi are brilliant combinations of tradition and innovation. Finally, on the way back, we will visit the site of a destroyed temple, Mireuk-sa, which was the largest temple in the Baekje kingdom and the ruined pagoda of which is still the oldest and tallest pagoda surviving in Korea.

For more information about the locations we will be visiting and how to register, see here.

Tour to Shaman Ritual for Good Fishing and Safety at Sea
Date: Sunday, June 24, 2012 - 7:30am to 6:30pm
Destination: Off the coast of Incheon
Cost: W55,000 for members, W66,000 for non-members
Tour Leader: Fred Jeremy Seligson and Sue Bae

On June 24th, RAS members will have the unique opportunity of seeing a Shaman ritual for good fishing and safety at sea performed annually by Madame Kim, Kum-hwa, one of Korea’s most famous shamans, who as been designated by the Korean government as a Human Cultural Treasure. Known for her especial charm and charisma, her performance of the rite is regarded as being the most traditionally authentic in the Hwanghae Province style, the province where she was born and where she came from during the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950.

The tour will be conducted by FJ Seligson who is writing a book on Korean Dragon Dreams and another including Shaman Dreams, and Sue Bae who has helped lead this tour several times with the original leader Mr. Alan Heyman. Sue will be available to help translate questions for the shaman staff.

Tour members will be taken by bus from Seoul to Yonan Wharf in Incheon where they will board the boat and head out to sea for some hours where the rite will be held.

To take advantage of this unique opportunity, and to learn more about the Bae Yeonshin Gut (Rite for Good Fishing and Safety at Sea), see here.

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Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch
Room 611, Korean Christian Building, Daehak-ro 19 (Yeonji-dong), Jongno-gu, Seoul 03129
[03129] 서울시 종로구 대학로 19 (연지동) 한국기독교회관 611호

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