Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch

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The seal-shaped emblem of the RAS-KB consists of the following Chinese characters: 槿 (top right), 域 (bottom right), 菁 (top left), 莪 (bottom left), pronounced Kŭn yŏk Ch’ŏng A in Korean. The first two characters mean the hibiscus region, referring to Korea, while the other two (luxuriant mugwort) are a metaphor inspired by Confucian commentaries on the Chinese Book of Odes, and could be translated as “enjoy encouraging erudition.”

The Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch is a learned society based in Seoul, South Korea. First established in 1900, it was founded to provide a platform for scholarly research on the history, culture and natural landscapes of the Korean Peninsula. It is thought to be the oldest English-language academic organization now existing that is devoted exclusively to the discipline known as Korean studies. Its annual journal, Transactions,[1] has been described as being "for much of the 20th century, the most important Western-language source on Korean culture."[2]

Early History[edit]

The Society was first established on June 16, 1900, when a founding meeting attended by seventeen men (all but four of them Protestant 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 Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland) was adopted. The British RAS immediately acknowledged the establishment of the Korea Branch and authorized the use of its name.[3] Among those present at the inaugural meeting were the acting British Chargé d’affaires, J. H. Gubbins, (who became the first president) and the missionaries James Scarth Gale,[4] Homer B. Hulbert,[5] George Heber Jones, Horace Grant Underwood, Henry Gerhard Appenzeller,[6] D. A. Bunker and William B. Scranton.[7] Other missionaries who were members of the RASKB from the very start included the medical doctors Horace N. Allen, Oliver R. Avison and the Anglican priest (later bishop) Mark Napier Trollope.[8][9]

From the start, the Society's main activity was the presentation and discussion of scholarly papers by members at occasional meetings. These papers were then published in an annual journal titled Transactions of the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. From 1900 until the end of 1902, the Society met regularly, papers were presented and subsequently published. From early in 1903, however, its activities ceased and did not resume until a new president and council were elected early in 1911.[10] Among the reasons for this interruption may be cited the death or departure from Korea of many of the founding members, and the troubling events of those years, including the Russo-Japanese War and the annexation of the Daehan-jeguk or Greater Korean Empire by Japan in 1910. After 1911, however, the Society continued to meet and publish Transactions regularly until the outbreak of the Pacific War at the end of 1941. Many of the papers published in Transactions continue to fascinate scholars of Korean culture even today.[11] They cover a great variety of topics, ranging from the remotest origins of Korean culture, through descriptions of ancient monuments and temples, through lists of the plants and animals found in Korea, to surveys of contemporary gold-mining and ginseng-production. During this period the Society established a moderately sized lending library. After the surrender of Japan in 1945, a few former members returned to Korea, including Horace Horton Underwood, and the Society resumed its activities. However, the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, led to the suspension of its activities. The president for 1950, the Anglican priest Charles Hunt, was among the many foreign missionaries and diplomats taken northward on the so-called Death March by the North Korean forces. He died during the journey in November 1950.[12][13]

The Modern Period[edit]

It was several years after the end of the Korean War before returning members were able to resume the Society's interrupted activities. Volume XXXII of Transactions dated 1951 and containing reports of activities in early 1950 was printed in Hong Kong in 1951, during the war. Volume XXXIII was dated 1957 and although it still had to be printed in Hong Kong, it records how the first General Meeting of the revived RASKB was held on February 23, 1956.[14] The revived Society quickly grew and flourished.[15] There were increasing numbers of foreigners living in South Korea, not only diplomats and missionaries but also military, educational and business personnel from many countries. For volunteers in the US Peace Corps program, the meetings were especially important and many retained contact with the RASKB in the following decades. For a long period, the meetings of the RASKB provided a unique chance to learn more about Korean history and culture. Very soon, the Society began to organize field trips to places of interest, sometimes far removed from Seoul. The difficulties of transportation in post-war Korea were relieved by help from the ministries and military authorities of the Republic of Korea. For a considerable period, the RASKB was alone in providing such programs and the lists of members found at the end of most volumes of Transactions soon rose to over a thousand. It was at this time, too, that the Society began to publish scholarly and also more popular books about Korea in its own name. In the last decades of the century, it also imported and sold books about Korean topics that had been published abroad. From the late 1970s, it was able to rent an office / book-store and hire a full-time Korean General Manager.[16] Leading figures in this period include the scholarly Anglican missionary Richard Rutt, Carl Ferris Miller and the third generation of the Underwood family to belong to the RASKB, Horace G. Underwood II.

The Present[edit]

Today, when South Korea is a major figure on the international stage, with hundreds of thousands of foreign residents, the RASKB continues to offer a regular program of lectures, twice each month, and field-trips each weekend. It has recently (mid-2011) published the eighty-fifth volume of Transactions. It maintains a modest library of some 1,500 volumes and has, until recently at least, continued to publish occasional scholarly books. Since 2004, the RASKB has been registered with the government of South Korea as a non-profit cultural foundation.

Presidents of the RAS-KB[edit]

1900: J. H. Gubbins
1902-03: J. N. Jordon
1911: Arthur Hyde-Lay
1912-16: J. S. Gale
1916: Arthur Hyde-Lay
1917-19: Bishop M. N. Trollope
1920: R.S. Miller
1921-25: Bishop M. N. Trollope
1926: H.D. Appenzeller
1928-1930: Bishop M. N. Trollope
1931-1933: H.H. Underwood
1934: E.W. Koons
1935: Charles Hunt
1936: Hugh Miller
1937: W. M. Clark
1938-41: H. H. Underwood
1948-1949: H. H. Underwood
1950: Charles Hunt
1957: Horace G. Underwood
1958: George L. Paik
1959: Richard Herts
1960: Richard Herts
1961-5: Roger Chambard
1966: Robert A. Kinney
1967: David Steinberg
1968: Samuel H. Moffett
1969: Carl F. Bartz
1971: Nigel C.C. Trench
1972: Prof. Kim, Jungsae
1973: Amb. Pierr Landy
1974: Rt. Rev. Richard Rutt
1975: Edward R. Wright
1976: Prof. Song, Yo-in
1977: Dr. Karl Leuteritz
1978: Mr. James Wade
1979: Ms. Helen R. Tieszen
1980: Mr. Paul G. van Weddingen
1981: Amb. Roland van den Berg
1982: Dr. James Hoyt
1983: Mrs. Barbara Mintz
1984: Dr. James E. Hoare
1985: Mr. Duane C. Davidson
1986: Mr. Phillip Wetton
1987: Mr. C. Ferris Miller
1988-9: Dr. Kim, Young-duk
1990-1: Mr. Frederick Carriere
1992-3: Dr. Horace G. Underwood
1994: Mr. Samuel H. Kidder
1995-6: Dr. Suh, Ji-moon
1997: Mr. John Nowell
1998-9: Amb. Joost Wolfswinkel
2000-1: Dr. Horace G. Underwood
2002-5: Dr. Kim, Young-duk
2006-7: Mr. Jang, Song-Hyon
2008-10: Mr. Peter Bartholomew
2011: Brother Anthony of Taizé


  1. ^
  2. ^ Korea: A Historical and Cultural Dictionary ed. Keith Pratt and Richard Rutt. (Curzon. 1999) page 390.
  3. ^ Transactions volume 1 (1900) p.1
  4. ^ For an extensive biography of James Scarth Gale see: Richard Rutt (ed), A Biography of James Scarth Gale and a New Edition of his History of the Korean People. (Seoul: RASKB. 1972, 1983.) pages 1-88. See also: the online biography at
  5. ^ A biography of Homer B. Hulbert can be found on pages ED 23-62 of the first volume of : Homer B. Hulbert, History of Korea, edited by Clarence Norwood Weems. New York: Hillary House Publishers. 1962. pages ED 23-62.
  6. ^ William Elliot Griffis, A Modern Pioneer in Korea: the Life Story of Henry G. Appenzeller. New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1912.
  7. ^ Transactions volume 1 (1900) p.71-4
  8. ^ For a full biography of Bishop Trollope see: Constance Trollope, Mark Napier Trollope: Bishop in Korea 1911-1930. London: SPCK. 1936.
  9. ^ Discovering Korea at the Start of the Twentieth Century (Seoul: Academy of Korean Studies. 2011) page 2.
  10. ^ Transactions Volume 4 (1911)
  11. ^ Discovering Korea at the Start of the Twentieth Century (Seoul: Academy of Korean Studies. 2011) page 4.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Philip Crosbie, Three Winters Cold Browne & Nolan, 1955 page 160.
  14. ^ Transactions Volume XXXIII (1957) page 73.
  15. ^ UNDERWOOD, Horace G.. The Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society: The First One Hundred Years. Transactions Volume 75 page 1 - 8. 2000.
  16. ^ UNDERWOOD, Horace G.. The Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society: The First One Hundred Years. Transactions Volume 75 page 1 - 8. 2000.

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