The pioneering generation of Korean students in Central Europe


Three examples and suggestions for further research


Andreas Schirmer
University of Vienna


The number of Koreans in Europe even before 1945 is, if taken all together, surprisingly big. In 1923 there is even a call for a “Big meeting of Koreans in Germany” . Considering that in 1925 at least 258 Koreans could be found all over Europe, such a call for a “big meeting” does not sound ridiculous at all. In what was the heyday, in 1925, one could count 53 Koreans in Germany and among them 32 were students.  If one bears in mind that in 1925 Korea’s first acknowledged (acknowledged by the authorities) university was just freshly established and that for the year 1925 only 214 Korean university students were registered in (mainland or “inner”) Japan, one has to admit that these 32 students in Germany represent quite a big number.  In France there lived even 150 Koreans, they were mostly blue-collar workers. Germany in those days was, in comparison, attractive for students not only because of its prestigious and, at the same time, non-elitist universities but also for a very simple reason: study fees were comparatively low (Hong 2006:210).
Word spread easily among those willing and fortunate enough to try their luck going abroad. An Pong-Gŭn, a relative of Ito Hirobumi’s assassin An Chung-Gŭn, had gone to Germany from Shanghai, a haven for Koreans in exile. He did not stay for long but back in Shanghai it was him who gave Yi Ŭi-Kyŏng the advice to profit from the conditions in Germany.  Yi Ŭi-Kyŏng (李儀景) alias Yiking Li or, eventually, Mirok Li eventually became the most famous Korean in Germany (maybe along with Yun Yisang). And among Koreans it was well known that somewhere around Würzburg there would be a monastery providing Koreans with free meals and accommodation (K 2000:44). Li Mirok also trusted this information. With a Chinese passport he boarded a cheap ship to Marseille to go to Würzburg.
Many of the Koreans we know about spent just one or several semesters, but some stayed to earn a PhD , and some even stayed longer, making a modest living on their own. Some even financed their studies partly via working. Some married German women and went home to Korea with them or emigrated elsewhere.
Demographically, Koreans who advanced to university studies constituted a very small group during the times of Japanese rule in Korea. Not even a fifth got primary education in 1930, and only an even far smaller, miniscule minority of those who finished the six years of primary school (the dropout rate was significant) made it to the secondary level.
The reason why these Korean students who went abroad are so remarkable is linked with this very fact that the opportunities for studying were that much limited. This also implies that a Korean studying abroad was a “multiplicator” of much bigger responsibility (whether perceived or not). But sadly, the number of studies done about these early intellectual ambassadors of a, at that time, politically inexistent nation is very small.

I offer three examples of Koreans who studied in Central Europe during the 30s and give reasons for my belief that studies on these Koreans are a subject worth our attention.

The first is Kim Chewon [Kim Chae-Wŏn (金載元, 1909-1990); hereinafter: KCW]. He was a rather independent man, from a wealthy family but practically orphaned since his father had died and his young mother had run away when KCW was six or seven in order to – most probably  – remarry. KCWs education become important to the point that his uncle took a second wife who had to take care of the nephew, establishing a kind of individual boarding house just for him, in the vicinity of the school he attended. A relative of KCW was a Korean who had, aged 16, gone to Germany in order to study music in Hannover and who eventually married a German. When this violinist, Kim Chae-Hun (金載勳, 1903-1951) , came to Korea in 1928, the blueeyed woman caused a sensation. KCW disliked this “tokkaebi” (goblet) who did not put her shoes off in house and feasted on meat everyday. He later on wrote to her husband a recommendation to divorce which was not appreciated.  But somehow the example of this relative was an inspiration anyway.
In his memoirs KCW quotes the Korean Declaration of Independence (March 1st, 1919) to describe the feelings he had when, in June 1929, he started the journey via the Sibirian railway to Europe: “A new world unfolds before our eyes” (우리 앞에 이제 신천지가 전개된다; K 2000:33).
He visits Moscow on the way and arrives in Berlin, shortly joining a small illustrious circle of Koreans who use to meet in a Chinese restaurant or in a park, and than decides to go to “smaller town” because Berlin feels too large for him. Another reason he goes to Munich is the German teacher he had had in Korea, the monk and missionary in Korea P. Placidus Neugirg, whose sister lives in Munich and welcomes him in the train station. And there is still another reason: In Munich lives Yi Ŭi-Kyŏng (李儀景) alias Yiking Li or, eventually, Mirok Li, who had earned a PhD in Zoology and had come to Germany almost a decade earlier. Those days Mirok Li, who eventually became the most famous Korean in Germany (along with Yun Yisang), and KCW were, according to the latter’s testimony, the only Koreans in Munich, and KCW met his older friend and mentor during the first months of his stay every day for lunch and for being taught German. Maybe the well-off KCW paid for the services of Mirok Li but anyway they became close friends. Later on, KCW is not sent money anymore – provision had been made by KCW that somebody sends interests from the money he had made by selling land – and subsequently suffers many hardships.  In 1934 he submits his PhD-thesis (K 1934). On the first page he acknowledges the help of a Belgian woman and dedicates his thesis to her. In his memoirs KCW often mentions this woman, Elsa van der Stucken. This lady, significantly older than KCW, is a kind of Maecenas who also sponsors Carl Hentze, the Belgian-German sinologist teaching in Gent whose assistant KCW eventually becomes. While Else is supportive in financial terms and practical advice there is somebody else helping KCW a lot with his thesis and his preparations for the final exam. Her name is Anne. In 1931 KCW makes the acquaintance of her, a young student he often refers to in his memoirs as “miss A”. She will put him into some emotional turmoil later on when he faces the question of staying in Germany or not. Letters and a diary  hint at a very tender relationship between KCW and Anne. Photographs give the impression of a romantic couple. But given frames of mind (as to mating) at the time differed from those some decades later and Anne’s reported religiousness (KCW was unreligious), one does not have to assume that their relation went beyond the confines of a platonic and “innocent” relationship. KCW does not give any clear hint at a full-fledged romance, although some reminiscences, like a week together in Paris, in 1936, leave the reader puzzled by KCW way of reporting pieces of the puzzle without caring to answer questions that just suggest themselves. There is another story that shows how close the two were: In 1934 Mussolini invites students and professors for a “Christmas in Rome”-week. Since this is announced on short notice KCW is at a loss what to do because he had planned to spend Christmas with Anne. He finally opts for going to Rome and returning back early enough on Christmas eve. In other words, KCW leaves Rome two days earlier than scheduled in order not to disappoint Anne. Anne awaits him on the platform of the train station in Munich.
One reason for KCW’s decision not to marry her was, according to the testimony of his daughters that Anne could not get children (indeed she married but remained childless). According to KCW’s memoirs Anne had diabetes and was – maybe this was a point linked to contemporary notions about hereditary deseases – supposed not to give birth to children. Her parents had therefore considered her only daughter unfit for marriage and decided to secure her future by sending her to university, as the only one among six children. The prospect of not having children was something that seemed to big an obstacle for KCW who had lost a brother and, despite all his preference for European ways, was still a Korean in the sense that he felt a responsibility to pass on his genes.
1935 KCW moves to Antwerp to assist Carl Hentze. There he gets the education that pays off for him later on: archeology. At the University of Munich he had, as a matter of fact, studied education. Maybe this is the reason why the title of this dissertation is never mentioned in KCW’s curricula vitae and bibliographies. Even his major is seldom stated correctly. Rather it is left out. However, there is a simpler reason. KCW himself states on various occasions that in the years in Munich he had just studied to get his grade whereas in Antwerp he got what he himself considered as his real academic education.  Carl Hentze’s library was, according to KCW, very well equipped and he even used to get new books from Japan at least twice a year. Apparently it was KCW who read these books and briefed his master who was not able to decipher his study objects independently nor any Chinese or Japanese books (2000:54) and who was not professionally trained anyway, although he later, in 1942, was appointed the first chair of Chinese studies in Frankfurt. KCW, despite being fond of his master and host recalls him as amateurish in the good and lesser good sense of the word.
The last day of 1936 KCW embarks on a journey home. What he really intended is somewhat unclear. In 1937 Mirok Li tells a friend in a contemporary letter that KCW returned home. (Li 1984 : 97) In one of his memoirs KCW recalls that he went home in order to prepare for a permanent stay in Europe (K 2005:92). Another text among his memoirs gives rather the picture that KCW checked the situation and had been prepared to stay in case of a job offer (K 2000:62-66). He also has arranged meeting with potential brides. During his stay he feels stressed and disoriented. Being a europeanized Korean he feels compassion with the hero of a brand new movie he watches in Tokyo (K 2000:64), a very popular production by Arnold Fanck, a Swiss regisseur who had been contracted by the Japanese ministry for culture. In this movie, Atarashiki tsuchi (Die Tochter des Samurai in the German version), the hero who had studied in Germany comes back to Japan and is torn between the Japanese woman he had been promised to and the German girl-friend he has brought with him. KCW does not recall this specific conflict in his memoirs but only an agony (komin) of general alienation. One may wonder whether the sympathy KCW felt was just due to his own feeling of estrangement from his original upbringings or whether this sympathy was rather related to the more specific conflict of the film (between love and duty, new identity and old bonds). Besides from his memoirs he describes his journey in an unpublished diary . From his memoirs we learn that KCW was also introduced to a number of potential brides, constantly pondering on whether marry a Korean at all or rather taking a German wife. Examples from others lead him to pity German women who purportedly endured hardships in Korea that are unknown to them.
On his way to Korea KCW visits Shanghai and arrives in Japan. Since his interests have been shaped by the work he did for Hentze he is eager to visit the relics of the past and tours Japan for the first time in his life. Having spent three weeks to study relics in Kyoto he eventually sets his foot on the Korean peninsula again. On his way north he visits the Silla-relics in Kyongju. He is appalled at the backwardness of Korea and recalls in his memoirs the blood from smashed bugs on the walls, the bad food and the poverty that leads inn-owners to make their guests share a bulb between their rooms. One problem he faced was that he originally had applied for study in Germany by stating “music” as his intended major. According to his memoirs he could never read any “soybean-sprouts” (i.e. music notes).  Back in Korea he manages to change his status, however, without any trouble, to “archeologist” (K 2005:164). In Europe he is welcomed again by the person who had seen him off in Paris, Anne, and in Antwerp the childless Hentzes are glad to have him back. He finally leaves Belgium for Korea in 1940 but is so unsure about whether this was the right decision to the point that he tries to get a job in Berlin (in one the national museums) shortly before his departure.

To Yu-Ho, 도유호 (都宥浩, hereinafter: TYH), was a close compatriot of Kim Chewon, since he was from from Hamhŭng, and in some sense he was, as to his later career, a North-Korean counterpart of or antipode to KCW. Born in 1905, he left his country in 1929, studying at Yenching University (燕京大學校) in Peking for one year, then he embarked for Europe. 1931 he registered at the University of Frankfurt am Main majoring in Social Philosophy, 1933 he moved to Vienna, earning there his PhD as a historian in 1935. TYH married a German woman  and did not leave Vienna before the end of 1939. He first returned to Hamhŭng, where he reportedly did not find an employment. However, he published a number of articles. 1942 he went to Tokyo, in order to work together with a good friend from his Viennese days, i.e. Oka Masao (岡正雄), according to some sources on a translation of Oswald Menghin’s Weltgeschichte der Steinzeit [World History of the Stone Age]. In 1933 Oka, who is called the “Founder of Japanese Völkerkunde”, had earned his PhD in Vienna. (About Oka Masao cf. Kreiner 1984.) Oka, holder of important positions, served as a mentor and “patron” for To (Chŏn 1999:97). After Korea’s liberation TYH went to North-Korea, where he began to rise, in short time, to the North’s leading archeologist, excavator, folklore scholar and researcher on Korean antiquity.  In 1963 his star, however, began to sink. He was not attacked because of ideological reasons but rather because of his position as to the size and strength of the ancient state Kojosŏn. The communist party followed the opinion of his opponenents. 1965 was the last year TYH could publish a paper, thereafter there is no trace of his. (Cf. Yi KL 1990) Rumors say that he was banned to a middle school just below the Paektusan, where he died in 1982. His PhD-thesis Probleme der koreanischen Geschichte in kulturellem Zusammenhang [Problems of Korean History in the context of culture], the author’s name written as “Cyong-Ho Do”, originally contained two chapters which are (in both copies that are preserved) just ripped out of the book (and in the contents page these two chapters are crossed out). Unfortunately these chapters would have been the most interesting ones: “Tong-Hak and the Tonghak-Revolution” and “Until 1919”. This is a loss for the early history of Korean Studies in German language which obviously is only surpassed by the total loss of the PhD-thesis of Andre(as) Eckardt (cf. Schirmer 2010:106-108). The Chinese Studies section of the library of the Department for East Asian Studies at the University of Vienna keeps a manuscript (dated “ca. 1938”) by TYH – “von [by] Dr. Cyong-Ho Do (alias Toh Yuho)” – that bears the title Proto-Schang und chinesische Zivilisation. Under the name of “Cyong-Ho Do (Toh Yuho)” TYH published an article in German (!) language in the otherwise Korean scholarly journal Chindan Hakpo 진단학보 (Vol. 8, 1937, pp. 326-351), its title being “Confucius and Laotse in the light of Chinese social history” (Konfuzius und Laotse im Lichte der chinesischen Sozialgeschichte). A “postscript” explains, that this would be the improved version of a presentation that the author had held “in the evening of december 21st, 1936, in front of the »Historical-Sociological Working Community [Arbeitsgemeinschaft]« (Wien I, Rotenturmstr. 13)”. This offers a glimpse to activities of maybe even broader range. The polemical and bold style  of HHS’s German writings is, moreover, an interesting matter in itself.

Han Hŭng-Su (Han Hung-Soo, hereinafter: HHS) was born in 1909 and arrived one year after To Yu-Ho, in 1936, in Vienna. Some years HHS and To Yu-Ho obviously shared the same urban environment. HHS earned his PhD, however, not in Vienna but in Freiburg in Switzerland, obviously following his teacher Wilhelm Schmidt. The Bibliothèque cantonale & universitaire Fribourg stores the only copy of HHS’s thesis, and the only solid information as to the year of its approbation is a handwritten note, put in brackets, probably by a librarian, on the first page (the author of this paper tried in vain to find any more hints via the archiv of the University of Freiburg in Switzerland, but hopefully something can be done about this). The Japanese association of anthropologists in Tokyo registered HHS in 1935 under an adress in Seoul (i.e. Kyŏngsŏng or Keijō), but in the year 1936 his adress is given as: “Wien, Austria”. In the course of the following years he claims specificly the following Viennese adresses: Rossauerlände 52/18, then Seegasse 16/7 and finally Siebensterngasse 20. (Cf. Chŏn 1999:96) Already before his departure for Vienna, HHS manages to publish two articles in a leading Korean scholarly magazine of those days, the Chindan hakpo (震壇学報). The first one deals with Korean megalithic culture (1935, Nr. 3, pp. 132-147), the other one provides an outline of stone-tool-culture in Korea (1935, Nr. 4, pp. 127-144). In 1936 HHS publishes again in the Chindan hakpo (Nr. 6, S. 157-160; cf. Yi MH 2007: 498) but this time it is about a visit of Warsaw and Krakow. During the almost one and a half decades he spent in Central Europe, HHS published quite a considerable (considerable indeed, given he was a Korean who had arrived in Europe when he was already in his later twenties) number of articles and books, and this not only in German  but also in Czech. When HHS went, in the early 1940s, to Prague, there was, due to well-known reasons, no language barrier for him, i.e. no obvious need to learn Czech. After the restauration of Czechoslovakia and the expulsion of the German population HHS obviously managed to publish in Czech with the help of friends and students. The manuscript for Korea včera a dnes (Prague: Svoboda 1949) reportedly was written in German (and maybe partly in Japanese) and was translated into Czech by the Japanese Studies scholar Miroslav Novák (Klöslová 2000 : 143). It would be interesting to excavate the German original which might still exist. Together with his “disciple” Alois Pultr (1906-1992), the pioneering Korean Studies scholar of former Czechoslavakia, HHS published a translation of a Korean novel, Taeha (大河 Great River) by Kim Nam-Ch’ŏn (金南天, 1911-1953), the original having been published just 8 years ago. There was even a second edition.  We have knowledge of various articles and even radio programs he contributed to (Pucek 2007:527). HHS finally went to North-Korea and was bestowed a professorship and the presidency of a commission for preservation of cultural property. But soon after the end of the Korean war his traces get lost. Most probably he fell victim to a purge. However, a man of letters like HHS who had lived in Europe for about one and a half decades might have left this and that as to manuscripts and materials. It may be futile to hope for discoveries in North Korea, but as to “legacies” in the sense of letters or manuscripts that were kept by friends or disciples and passed on to inheritants of these persons one might hope for discoveries. 

As said, this paper attempted to give, “bottom-up”, an idea why research on early Korean students in Europe is useful and needs a boost. Extracting a “top-down” approach from this one might outline the following guidelines for research: First of all, it seems urgent to save materials from getting lost. These materials are, above all, letters, manuscripts and photographs from these students themselves as well as from their acquaintances, the European acquaintances (close friends, families of spouses, colleagues and professors) being of the utmost interest in this context. Then the files from universities could be consulted similar to the way Rudolf Hartmann did in the case of Japanese students in Germany (Hartmann 2000). Last not least, the relevant Korean research, even though it is scarce, has to be reviewed through Western eyes. Recently an important contribution to this research came from Hong Sŏn-P’yo (Hong 2006, 2008). Since knowledge and research about various relevant individuals (i.e. Koreans who stayed in Central Europe during the time in question) is scattered here and there, this knowledge should be collected and linked up with the overall issue.
Now as various anniversaries of relations between Korea and other countries are celebrated there is the chance to raise awareness of a neglected piece of this celebrated history, i.e. the early stage of specific and intensive individual contact between Europeans and Koreans, and to retrieve lost memories. Special awareness can be created by evaluating the impact these students made a) during their time in Europe, in Europe itself (e.g. there are some Koreans who published during their time in Europe in European newspapers or magazines or gave lectures and the like) as well as at home (some sent articles to Korean newspapers or magazines) b) when they went back (provided that the impact can be related to their education in Europe). Memoirs and reminiscences of some of these students exist in published form. Be it articles or books, these memoirs have to be evaluated as a most valuable primary source. However, the most important task is, as said in the first place, to prevent a loss of documents and memories that are still preserved and treasured or at least still extant but on the verge of getting lost.

Chŏn 1999 = Chŏn, Kyŏng-Su ([Chun Kyung-soo] 全京秀): Han’guk illyuhak paengnyŏn [한국인류학 백년].- Seoul: Iljisa [일지사] 1999.
Han 1940 = Han, Heung-Su [Han, Hŭng-Su]: Die Stellung der Megalithkultur in der koreanischen Urgeschichte.- [Diss.] Freiburg (Schweiz) 1940.
Hartmann 2000 = Hartmann, Rudolf: Japanische Studenten an der Berliner Universität. 1870 – 1914. 2., überarb. und ergänzte Auflage.- Mori-Ôgai-Gedenkstatte der Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin 2000 [].
Hong 2006 = Hong, Sun-Pyo [Hong, Sŏn-P’yo 홍선표]: 1920-nyŏndae yurŏb-esŏ-ŭi han’guk tongnip undong (1920년대 유럽에서의 한국독립운동 / Korea’s Independence Movement in Europe in 1920s).- In: Yurŏp chiyŏg-esŏ-ŭi asia singminji haebang undong 유럽지역에서의 아시아 식민지 해방운동 / Asian Ex-colonial Countries’ Independence Movement in Europe. 광복 61주년 및 독립기념관 개관 19주년 기념 국제학술심포지엄 / International Academic Symposium in commemoration of the 61st anniversary of the restoration of Independence and the 19th anniversary of the opening of the Independence Hall of Korea [Aug. 11, 2006].- Chʼŏnan: Tongnip kinyŏmgwan 독립기념관 Hanʼguk tongnip undongsa yŏnʼguso 한국독립운동사연구소 2006, pp. 197-238. [Hong, Sŏn-P’yo: 1920-nyŏndae yurŏb-esŏ-ŭi han’guk tongnip undong.- In: Hanʼguk tongnip undongsa yŏnʼgu 27집 (2006. 12), pp. 421-474.]
Hong 2008 = Hong, Sŏn-P’yo [et. al.]: Sam-il undong chikhu mujang t’ujaeng-gwa oegyo hwaltong [3•1운동 직후 무장투쟁과 외교활동] = (The) Armed campaigns and diplomatic activities after the march first (3•1) movement. 황민호, 홍선표 [공저].- Ch’ŏnan 천안: Tongnip kinyŏmgwan 독립기념관 Han’guk tongnip undongsa yŏnʼguso 한국독립운동사연구소 2008.
K 1934 = Kim, Chewon [Chae-Wŏn]: Die Volksschule in Korea. Die japanische Assimilationserziehung. Inaugural-Dissertation zur Erlangung der Doktorwürde der Philosophischen Fakultät (I. Sektion) der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität zu München. Vorgelegt von Chewon Kim aus Hamhung.- Antwerpen: De Sikkel 1934.
K 2000 = Kim, Chae-Wŏn [金載元]: Pangmulgwan-gwa hanp’yŏngsaeng [博物館과 한평생].- Seoul: Tʼamgudang [探求堂] 2000 [1992].
K 2005 = Kim, Chae-Wŏn [金載元]: Tongsŏ-rŭl nŏmnadŭlmyŏ. Ch’odae kungnip pangmulgwanjang Kim Chae-wŏn sup’iljip [東西를 넘나들며. 초대국립박물관장 金載元 수필집].- Seoul: Tʼamgudang [探求堂] 2005.
Klöslová 2000 = Klöslová, Zdenka: Introducing Korea in Bohemia and Czechoslovakia: From the Mid-19th Century to the 1950s.- In: Mélanges offerts à Li Ogg et Daniel Bouchez. Cahiers d’études coréennes 7. Collége de France 2000, pp. 133-145.
Kreiner 1984 = Kreiner, Josef: Betrachtungen zu 60 Jahren japanischer Völkerkunde. In memoriam Masao Oka.- In: Anthropos 79 (1984), pp. 65-76.
Li 1924 = Li, Kolu: Unabhängigkeitsbewegung Koreas und japanische Eroberungspolitik.- Berlin [no publisher] 1924.
Li 1984 = Li, Miruk: Der andere Dialekt. Hrsg. v. Kyu-Hwa Chung.- Seoul: Sungshin Women’s Univ. Press 1984.
Pucek 2007 = Pucek, Vladimír: Chekʼo-ŭi hanʼgukhak yŏnʼgu palchŏn-gwa kŭ hyŏnhwang [체코의 한국학 연구발전과 그 현황].- In: 한국국제교류재단 / Korea Foundation (Ed.): 해외한국학백서/White Paper on Korea Studies Overseas.- Seoul: Korea Foundation, pp. 524-540 [].
Schirmer 2010 = Schirmer, Andreas: Verschwiegene Dissertation ‒ Zu Text und Kontext der Dissertation (München 1934) des späteren Direktors des südkoreanischen Nationalmuseums über die japanische Assimilationserziehung in Korea [A dissertation kept as a secret – The PhD Thesis of the later director of the National Museum of Korea on the Japanese education for assimilation].- In: Wiener Beiträge zur Koreaforschung / Viennese Contributions to Korean Studies.- Wien Präsens 2010, pp. 9-124.
To 1935 = Do, Cyong-Ho [To, Yu-Ho]: Probleme der koreanischen Geschichte in kulturellem Zusammenhang.- Diss., Wien 1935.
Yi MH 2007 = Yi, Min-Hŭi (李民熙): Pʼollandŭ hanʼgukhak yŏnʼgu mit kyoyug-ŭi kwagŏ-wa mirae. Parŭsyaba taehakkyo Han’gugŏ Munhakkwa-rŭl chungsim-ŭro [폴란드 한국학 연구 및 교육의 과거와 미래 - 바르샤바대학교 한국어문학과를 중심으로].- In: Hanʼguk kukche kyoryu chaedan 한국국제교류재단 / Korea Foundation (Ed.): 해외한국학백서 / White Paper on Korea Studies Overseas.- Seoul: Korea Foundation, pp. 495-523. []
Yi KL 1990 = Yi, Kwang-Nin [이광린]: Pukhan-ŭi kogohak. T’ŭkhi To Yu-Ho-ŭi yŏn’gu-rŭl chungsim-ŭro [北韓의 考古學. 특히 都宥浩의 硏究를 中心으로].- In: Tong-a yŏn’gu 동아연구 [서강대학교 동아연구소] 20 (1990.5), pp. 105-136.