When Ann Kim, an independent political fund raiser in Los Angeles, decided to write a biography of Emory alumnus Yun Ch’i-Ho–a Korean diplomat, political activist, and Christian missionary–she had a personal incentive for learning more about his life: Yun was her maternal great-grandfather.

“Our whole family spoke of him,” says twenty-three-year-old Kim. “We grew up hearing about how he had accomplished so much and was such a pioneer and a Renaissance man, in terms of all the languages he spoke, and that he had written the lyrics to the Korean national anthem.”

She also knew of Yun’s tempestuous relationship with the Korean government, including time spent in jail and accusations that he had been disloyal to his country by aligning himself with Japan during Korea’s colonization.

“History is so hard to sort out, it gets altered over time,” Kim said. “I knew all these pieces of his life, but I wanted to learn the truth.”

During her research, Kim pulled from several of Yun’s writings, including diary entries from the years 1891 to 1893, when he was a student at Emory College in Oxford. He was especially close to Warren A. Candler, then president of the University and Yun’s sponsor.

“He grew fond of his peers and professors, who often invited him over to their homes for dinner, particularly Dr. Candler,” says Kim. “This was the man that Yun later went on to name one of his children after and to whom he entrusted his earnings from missionary work in order to build a Methodist church in Korea.”

When Yun arrived in the United States in 1888, he was a twenty-four-year-old political exile. His career in the Korean foreign service had come to an abrupt end after friends of Yun’s who were radical reformers staged a bloody but unsuccessful coup in Seoul. Although Yun hadn’t taken part in the coup, many assumed him to be guilty by association, and he left the country.

Emory alumnus Young J. Allen 1858C, a Methodist missionary, had met Yun in Shanghai, where he was a student at the Anglo-Chinese College and, recognizing his abilities, arranged for him to travel to America for study as a theology student–first at Vanderbilt University, then at Emory.

An Emory Magazine article written about Yun in 1976, “A Korean at Oxford,” recounts Yun’s two years at the University and captures the personality “of one of Emory’s most remarkable alumni . . . a diplomat, educator, journalist, patriot, and Christian statesman. Among the accomplishments of this distinguished alumnus was to be a major role in founding the Methodist Church in his native land, thus repaying abundantly Emory College and its president, Warren Candler, for their faith in the potential of a remarkable young man.”

In diary entries from those years, Yun frets over algebra exams, sloshes through mud and sleet to get to chapel, and eats grits and biscuits with twenty-five boys at one table in Marvin Hall. He grows close enough to the Candler family to write that:

Dr. Candler is laboring under a debt of $700
. . . . Mrs. Candler told me that Dr. Candler is so much in the habit of begging for the University that he often cries out in sleep, ‘Who will give me $10 or $5?’

During Yun’s summers in the United States, he toured rural Georgia and Tennessee. Although sometimes taunted as a “Chinaman,” he regularly visited churches of all denominations and in Nashville taught Sunday School at the local prison. On campus, he was an exemplary student and an active participant in clubs and the baseball team. He felt guilt over enjoying these privileges, as evidenced by this entry from November 6, 1892:

Here I am, I am enjoying blessings that millions of my countrymen know nothing of. I am in the light of pure religion, intellectual freedom, political liberty. They are groping in the darkness of superstition, ignorance, political slavery. Heaven grant me the way to spread my measure of light among them!

After graduation, Yun returned to Shanghai, where he was married. In 1895, a change in government let Yun and his family return to Korea, where he was appointed to the reform cabinet. He also helped establish the mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in Korea, and wrote the poem “Aegukka,” now the words to the Korean national anthem. He became editor of the Korean newspaper the Independent and led demonstrations in front of the royal palace, angering conservative officials and narrowly escaping assassination.

In 1899, he was moved to a port town as magistrate and remarried after his wife died, fathering eight more children, among them Kisun Yun, the famous concert pianist, and Jang Sun Yun, Ann Kim’s grandfather.

Yun returned to Seoul in 1904, becoming acting minister of foreign affairs. After Japan established its protectorate over Korea a few years later, he devoted his time to religious and educational work. In 1908, Emory College awarded Yun an honorary doctorate. Then, in 1911, Yun was one of more than a hundred men jailed on suspicion of the murder of the Japanese governor-general of Korea. Yun and five friends spent four years in prison. After his release, he worked with the YMCA, which he established in Korea, until his retirement in 1925. Less than four months after Korea was freed from Japanese rule by the allied victory in World War II, Yun died–on December 6, 1945.

Kim, who received her bachelor’s degree in political science at UCLA, began reading everything she could find that had been written by and about Yun, including his correspondence with Candler, which is included in the Warren Candler papers at Woodruff Library.

“I thought I’d do an independent research paper for my own curiosity, working with [UCLA] Professor Namhee Lee, who has been a mentor in my studies as well as my career,” Kim says.

“Yun Ch’i-Ho was always revered by our family members. He had been born into the aristocracy, but did revolutionary work that rebuked the government and corruption.”

Kim was especially captivated by diary entries written when Yun was in his twenties, near her own age. “A lot of the passages spoke directly to situations in my life. As I was reading, I kind of thought, he’s speaking to me. It was very meaningful,” she says. “And his mastery of the language was so impressive–he writes as if he were born here.”

The more Kim read, the more she became convinced that Yun was indeed courageous and loyal, and wanted only what he thought was best for his country. “I tried to do my research being neutral as much as possible. I went into it without a preconceived notion–if you only have one perspective, you don’t get the whole picture. But as I came across writings, they were really in favor of Yun Ch’i-Ho and the work he had been doing. That seemed to be a general consensus,” she said. “At first he admired Japan, but not to the point that he wanted Korea to be subdued to that country. His attitude changed as Japan itself changed.”

Yun’s time at Emory, Kim found, was “probably the most enlightening that he had. When he was met with such warmth by Dr. Candler . . . and he learned first-hand about the Western experience. He was the second Korean to study in America. His conscience was telling him he had to spread the missionary work to the East. He felt he couldn’t conscientiously stay in the West, but must return to work for the good of his fellow men.”

Another young relative is also following in Yun’s path: Twenty-one-year-old Ilyoung Yun, whose grandfather, Posun Yun, was Yun Ch’i-Ho’s nephew, is now a sophomore at Oxford College of Emory.

“One reason [I came to Oxford] was that I knew Yun Ch’i-Ho had attended here,” says Yun, who plans to proceed to Emory College next year and major in economics. “Another is that my father was friends with [former Emory president] Dr. James Laney when he was ambassador of South Korea.”

Ilyoung Yun was born in California but has lived for most of his life in Seoul. When he came to Oxford, he discovered what his great-great-uncle had found more than a hundred years ago: “Here, community is very important. It’s easy to make friends.”

Kim is herself interested in Korean politics, especially the North Korea-South Korea divide and the talks occurring in China.

She completed “Yun Ch’i-Ho: A short biography,” which places Yun’s life in the context of Korean history, in February 2003 and is hoping it will be published.

“I was seeking the honest truth of his life, which is something that is still misunderstood today,” she says. “For his great-granddaughter to go out and do her own research, and to come to the conclusion that he was hard-working and honest in all his endeavors–I think he would be proud. This is something I had always heard from my family, but I wanted to find out for myself.”



© 2004 Emory University