Seo Jae-pil

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Seo Jae-pil
Young Philip Jaisohn.jpg
Korean name
Hangul 서재필
Hanja 徐載弼
Revised Romanization Seo Jaepil
McCune–Reischauer Sŏ Chaep'il
Pen name
Hangul 송재, 쌍경
Hanja 松齋, 雙慶
Revised Romanization Songjae, Ssanggyeong
McCune–Reischauer Songjae, Ssanggyŏng
Courtesy name
Hangul 윤경
Hanja 允卿
Revised Romanization Yungyeong
McCune–Reischauer Yungyŏng

Philip Jaisohn (January 7, 1864 – January 5, 1951) was the anglicized name used by Seo Jae-pil(서재필;徐載弼), a noted champion for Korea's independence, journalist, the first Korean to become a naturalized citizen of the United States, and the founder of the first Korean newspaper in Hangul, the Independent News.[1]

He was one of the organizers of the Gapsin Coup in 1884 as well as the 1896 to 1898 Civil rights movement and other suffrage movements. However when the Gapsin Coup failed, he took refuge in the United States, where he became a medical doctor. During his time in the United States he became the first Korean to gain American citizenship. From 1895 to 1898 he returned to Korea as chief adviser to the Joseon dynasty government and returned from 1945 to 1948 as chief adviser to the American occupation forces in the south. His nicknames were Songjae (송재;松齋) and Ssanggyeong (쌍경;雙慶), his courtesy name was Yun Kyung(윤경;允卿) and he wrote under the pen name N.H. Osia.

Life[edit]

Early years[edit]

Seo Jae-pil was born in Boseong County, Korea. His family was one of the Joseon Dynasty's noble families. He was the second son of a Seo Kwang-hyo(also known as Seo Kwang-ha), who was a local magistrate in Boseong County. He was raised by one of his relatives in Seoul. At eight years of age, he was adopted by Seo Kwang-ha, the second cousin of his biological father Seo Kwang-hyo.[2]

Seo's family was from the upper echelons of Joseon Society. He was the eight generation descendant of Seo Jong-je, a daughter to Queen Jeongseong. She was the wife to the 21st King Yeongjo. Seo Kwang-bum, who shared similar ideological beliefs was also from his family.

During his adolescence Seo studied at Kim Seong-geun and Park Kyu-su's private school. When Seo was a teenager, he was already had already been exposed to the reformist ideals of Kim Ok-gyun.

Political activist[edit]

He passed the civil service exam at the age of 18, becoming one of the youngest people to ever pass this exam. As a result he became a junior officer in 1882. Thereafter he was appointed to Gyoseokwan Bujeongja(교서관 부정자;校書館 副正字) and Seungmunwon Gajuseo(승문원 가주서;承文院假主書). In 1883 he was appointed to Seungmunwon Bujeongja(승문원 부정자;承文院 副正字) and Hunryunwon Bubongsa(훈련원 부봉사;訓鍊院 副奉事). In the following year, he was sent to Japan where he studied both at the Keio Gijuku (the forerunner of the Keio University) and the Toyama Army Academy. In July 1884, his adoptive mother died, but he quickly returned to public service under special orders.

In his reports to the king, Seo explained that in the new world Korea's armed forces were useless and obsolete. This annoyed powerful conservatives, but it made Seo widely known and respected among like-minded young intellectuals. By that time, a small but growing number of young intellectuals understood that fundamental reform had to occur or Korea would fall victim to the imperialist powers.[3] that he was appointed to Jorynguk Sagwanjang(조련국 사관장;操鍊局 士官長).

In December 1884, Seo, following Kim Ok-gyun, was involved in the Gapsin Coup, a radical attempt to overturn the old regime and establish equality among people. Seo and Kim Ok-gyun, Park Yeong-hyo, Yun Chi-ho, Hong Yeong-shik, and others had planned a coup for seven months, from July to December 1884. He was appointed the Vice-Minister of Defense. The coup was defeated in three days, as China intervened by sending military troops. As a result, his two younger brothers were killed and his biological father Seo Kwang-ha and biological mother Lady Lee of Seongju were executed under a guilt-by-association system. His first wife Lady Kim was sold into slavery, but committed suicide. Convicted of treason, Seo Jae-Pil lost his whole family and had to flee Korea to save his life.

The majority of the 1884 revolutionaries fled to Japan. Unlike them, Seo moved to the United States. He saw Japan as essentially a conduit for Western knowledge and ideas, but preferred to deal with what he saw as the source itself.[3]

Exile in the United States[edit]

Graduation to Columbia University (1892)

In 1885, early in his stay in America Seo worked part-time jobs. In 1886, Seo lived in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and attended the Harry Hillman Academy (Wilkes-Barre, PA) thanks to the help of John Welles Hollenback. He began to use the name "Philip Jaisohn" at that time. In 1890, he became the first Korean American to acquire United States citizenship. He studied medicine at George Washington University, and was the first Korean to receive an American medical degree in 1892.

In 1890, he became a U.S. citizen and from then he was often referred to by his American name Philip Jaisohn.

In 1894, he married Muriel Armstrong, a niece of the former president of the United States, James Buchanan, and daughter to the U.S. Postmaster General. He had two daughters later—Stephanie and Muriel.[citation needed] In 1895, he was reinstated to the Joseon Dynasty, but he flatly refused to return.

The Independent News[edit]

The Independent

In 1894, Japan defeated China in the First Sino-Japanese war which occurred on the Korean Peninsula. The Korean cabinet was filled with reformists. Along with these political changes, the treason of the Kapsin Coup was pardoned enabling Jaisohn's return in 1895. In December 1895, he went to Incheon. The Joseon government wanted to appoint him to Foreign Secretary but he refused to take the position. In Korea, he endeavored to politically educate people. Jaisohn published a newspaper, The Independent (독립신문), to transform the Korean population into an informed citizenry. He was the first to print his newspaper entirely in Hangul to extend readership to lower classes and women.

Sowing the ideals of independence and democracy[edit]

In the 1896 to 1898 Civil rights movement and suffrage movements. Seo’s goal was to ensure that Korea would drift away from the Chinese sphere of influence but without falling too heavily under the influence of Russia or Japan. He was also behind the construction of the Independence Gate, which was initially meant to symbolize the end of Korea’s ritual subordination to China.[3] Apart from his journalistic and political activities, he delivered regular lectures on modern politics and the principles of democracy.[3]

He promoted national independence as the principal political ideal and emphasized neutral diplomatic approaches to protect Korea from China, Russia and Japan. He also underscored the importance of public education, modernized industry and public hygiene. The Independence was particularly critical of misconduct by government officials, which caused strong reactions by the conservatives. Under the aegis of the Independence Club(독립협회;獨立協會), Jaisohn organized the All People's Congress, an open public forum to debate over political issues. The Congress was hailed by young reformers and began to establish nationwide chapters.

In November 1897, Seo enabled the construction of the Independence Gate(독립문;獨立門).[4] At this time he also ended the policy of Yeongeunmun(영은문;迎恩門).[5] Yeongeunmun was the Korean policy of welcoming the Chinese envoys, Yeongeun roughly translates from Korean to English as "Welcome to beneficent Envoys of suzerain's."

In 1898, conservatives accused Jaisohn and the Club of seeking to replace the monarchy with a republic, and the Korean government requested Jaisohn to return to the US. After his return, Korean government ordered the Club to disband and arrested 17 leaders including Rhee Syngman.

Clerk and Company manage[edit]

In April to August 1898, he accompanied an army to the Spanish–American War. In 1899 he found employment as clerk for the University of Pennsylvania Hospital.

In 1904, worked with Harold Deemer, who was a year younger, to create the "Deemer and Jaisohn shop." It was a stationery and printing industry store. In 1915,the shop became called the Philip Jaisohn Company, and specialized in the printing industry.

Independence movements[edit]

Seo Jae-pil and his daughter Muriel, Kim Kyu-sik, in Incheon(1947)
Philip Jaisohn and Muriel Armstrong, 1930s

In the United States, Jaisohn conducted medical research at the University of Pennsylvania and later became a successful printer in Philadelphia. When he heard the news of the March 1st Movement (1919), a nationwide protest against Japanese rule in Korea, Jaisohn convened the "First Korean Congress", which was held in Philadelphia for three days. After the Congress, Jaisohn devoted his energies and private property to the freedom of Korea. He organized the League of Friends of Korea in 26 cities with the help of Rev. Floyd Tomkins, and established the "Korean Information Bureau." He published a political journal "Korea Review" to inform the American public of the situation in Korea, and to persuade the U.S. government to support the freedom for Koreans.

In the 1920s, Seo, who had just turned 60, returned to research and spent his 60s and 70s working as a specialist doctor and micro-biologist, as well as occasionally publishing in peer-review academic journals.[3]

Five years later in 1924, Jaisohn went legally bankrupt due to his political engagement and had to resume practicing medicine to make a living. At age 62, he became a student again at the University of Pennsylvania to renew his medical knowledge. After this, he published five research articles in the medical journals specializing in pathology. During World War II, he volunteered as a physical examination officer with the belief that the victory of the U.S. would bring freedom to Korea.

Last days in Korea[edit]

Jaisohn returned to Korea once again after Japan's defeat in World War II. The U.S. Army Military Government in control of the southern part of Korea invited him to serve as chief adviser. In December 1946, he was elected to the Interim Legislative Assembly (남조선과도입법의원의원;南朝鮮過渡立法議院議員). In May 1945, liberal and moderate socialist intellectuals selected him as candidate for presidency, but he declined. When the date of the first presidential election was confirmed by the United Nations, Jaisohn was petitioned to run for presidency by 3,000 people including a young Kim Dae-jung, but he refused in the end.

Jaisohn felt that political unity was needed for a new nation despite his uneasy relationship with the president elect Syngman Rhee. He decided to return to the United States in 1948. Suffering a heart attack a week earlier on December 29, Jaisohn died on January 5, 1951 during the Korean War, just two days before his 87th birthday.

His body was cremated, and his ashes were buried in Bib church in Philadelphia. In 1994 his remains were repatriated to South Korea. His ashes was buried in the National Cemetery of South Korea in Seoul.

Book[edit]

  • Hansu's Journey
  • My Days in Korea and other Essays
  • My compatriots in the homeland(고국에 계신 동포에게)

Awarded[edit]

  • Order of Merit for National Foundation, Republic of Korea Medal(1970)

Timeline[edit]

  • 1864 (January 7): Born in Bosung, Korea as the second son of Seo Kwang-Hyo.
  • 1871: Adopted to Seo Kwang-Ha, Seo Kwang-Hyo's second cousin.
  • 1882: Passed the Civil Service Examination.
  • 1883~1884: Attended the Toyama Army Academy in Japan.
  • 1884 (December 4): Staged the Kapsin coup with Kim Ok-gyun. The attempt was aborted in three days and Jaisohn had to emigrate to Japan.
  • 1885: Arrived in San Francisco with Park Young-hyo and Soh Kwang Bum and worked at a furniture store.
  • 1886~1889: Attended the Harry Hillman Academy (Wilkes Barre, PA). John W. Hollenback supported Jaisohn’s living and tuition in entirety. Anglicized his name from 'Seo Jae-Pil' to 'Philip Jaisohn'.
  • 1889: Worked at the Army Surgeon General’s Library in Washington D.C translating Chinese and Japanese medical books into English. Entered the Medical School at Columbian University (now George Washington University).
  • 1890 (January 19): Obtained American citizenship.
  • 1892: Earned a medical degree and opened a private medical office in 1894.
  • 1894 (June 20): Married Muriel Armstrong, daughter of George Buchanan Armstrong. Jaisohn later had two daughters (Stephanie and Muriel).
  • 1895: Left Washington D.C. at the request of the Korean government.
  • 1896 (April 7): Started to publish The Independent.
  • 1896 (June 2): Founded the Independence Club.
  • 1897 (May 23): Built the Independence Hall.
  • 1897 (August 8): Began a public forum called 'All People's Congress'.
  • 1897: Erected the Independence Gate.
  • 1898: Proposed the constitution of Congress. Russia and Japan pressed the Korean government to dispel Jaisohn.
  • 1899~1903: Worked at the Wistar Institute, University of Pennsylvania.
  • 1904~1913: Operated a publishing and stationary business in Philadelphia with his friend, Harold Deemer.
  • 1914~1924: Operated the Philip Jaisohn & Co. in Philadelphia.
  • 1919 (April 14~16): Convened the First Korean Congress in Philadelphia after receiving the news of nationwide resistance in Korea.
  • 1919 (April 22): Established the Korea Information Bureau.
  • 1919 (May 16): Founded the League of Friends of Korea in Philadelphia with Rev. Floyd Tomkins. The League thereafter established 24 chapters in U.S., and one each in London and Paris.
  • 1921 (September 29): Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai appointed Jaisohn as the vice-representative to the Washington Naval Conference.
  • 1922~1935: Contributed a number of articles to Dong-A Ilbo, Chosun Ilbo, Shin Min, New Korea (Shin Han Min Bo), Peace & Liberty.
  • 1924: Philip Jaisohn & Co. went bankrupt.
  • 1925: With Yu Ilhan, Jaisohn founded the New-Ilhan & Co., but the business was not successful.
  • 1925: Attended the Pan-Pacific Conference in Hawaii as a Korean delegate.
  • 1926: Entered the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania.
  • 1927~1936: Worked at the Jeans Hospital, St. Joseph Hospital, Charleston General Hospital and Chester Hospital.
  • 1929~1934: Published five research articles in pathology journals.
  • 1936: Opened a private medical office in Chester, PA.
  • 1937~1940: Contributed various columns such as "My Days in Korea" and "Random Thoughts" to the New Korea.
  • 1941: His wife, Muriel Armstrong died.
  • 1942~1945: Volunteered as a physical examination officer for the US Army during World War II.
  • 1945: Awarded a medal from the US Congress in honor of contribution to the US Army.
  • 1947 (July 1): Returned to Korea as the Chief Advisor to the US Military Government and as a member of the Korean Interim Legislative Assembly. Jaisohn made strenuous efforts toward democracy and the unification of Korea.
  • 1948: Petitioned to run for presidency.
  • 1948 (September 11): Returned to the U.S.
  • 1951 (January 5): Died at the Montgomery Hospital, PA during the Korean War (1950~1953).
  • 1975 (January 15): The Philip Jaisohn Memorial Foundation was established in Philadelphia, PA.
  • 1977: The National Foundation Medal was awarded posthumously to Jaisohn by the Korean government. A memorial monument was erected at Rose Tree Park, Media, PA.
  • 1994: His remains were exhumed from West Laurel Cemetery to Korea and buried at the National Cemetery in Seoul.

Philip Jaisohn Memorial House[edit]

Jaisohn House

The Philip Jaisohn Memorial House in Media, Pennsylvania was Dr. Jaisohn's home from 1925 to 1951. This house was bought when Dr. Jaisohn was in great financial difficulties, while his house in Philadelphia was pledged due to his devotion to the Korean independence. This house was acquired by the Philip Jaisohn Memorial Foundation in 1987 and opened to the public in 1990. Since then, the Jaisohn House has been visited by many students and politicians from Korea such as former South Korean president and Nobel peace laureate Kim Dae-jung as well as Korean American immigrants and community neighbors.

On May 21, 1994, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the Philip Jaisohn Memorial Foundation dedicated a historical marker for Dr. Jaisohn, stating:

American-educated medical doctor who sowed seeds of democracy in Korea, published its first modern newspaper (1896-98), and popularized its written language. The first Korean to earn a Western medical degree and become a U.S. citizen. He worked for Korean independence during the Japanese occupation, 1910-45. Chief Advisor to the U.S. Military Government in Korea, 1947-1948. This was his home for 25 years.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Oh Se-ung, Dr. Philip Jaisohn's Reform Movement, 1896-1898: A Critical Appraisal of the Independence Club, University Press of America, 1995, ISBN 0819199141

References[edit]

External links[edit]