Korea's Recent History
- One Prisoner.
One of the leaders of the reform movements was
a young man named Syngman Rhee. Rhee was imprisoned in 1896 and
stayed in prison until 1903. This is a photo of Rhee while in
prison. He was 28 years old then. He looks very confident, and was
determined to become the president of his country. He indeed became
the president in 1948 . This photo is from a
Korean daily newspaper called Hankook Ilbo.
While in prison, Rhee studied the Bible thoroughly and wanted become like Jesus. As Jesus rose from the death, he was thinking of getting out of the prison and leading the nation toward a ideal country where everybody is happy. He was in contact with the Christian missionaries from the United States. One year after he was released from the prison, he went to the United States for study. He received his PhD degree from Princeton University in 1910. His advisor was Woodrow Wilson.
- In 1910, Japan annexed Korea and imposed
a harsh colonial rule. In this photo, Korean school children are bowing toward
the Emperor of Japan.
On December 7 (1941), the Japanese navy attacked the U.S. naval base in Hawaii and started the war against the United States. The result was a disaster to Japan.
- In 1945, Korea was liberated from
Japanese rule after Japan was defeated in the Pacific War.
- Yalta. In February of 1945, Franklin
Roosevel, Winston Churchil, and Joseph Stalin met at the Livadia
Palace in Yalta overlooking the Black Sea. They talked about how
to divide up this world after the war (WWII). This historic meeting
is known as the Yalta Conference.
- Roosevelt and Stalin. During the Yalta Conference, they met without Churchill. Roosevelt asked Roosevelt asked Stalin to join the war against Japan, and open the eastern front against Japanese troops in Manchuria. The United States was planning at that time a landing operation in the main land of Japan. Roosevelt thought the Soviet intervention would weaken the Japanese opposition. He did not know that Japanese did not have any combat-capable troops in Manchuria.
- Potsdam. In July of 1945, Stalin, Truman, and Churchill got together at the Cecilenhof Palace in Potsdam near Berlin. By that time, the United States had successfully tested a nuclear bomb, but Joseph Stalin had an upper hand because the conference was held at a place under his control. In addition, he had been well informed of the U.S. nuclear project from his spies. Stalin got a large chunk of the world real estate and was thinking of eating up the Korean peninsula.
- Berlin now.
There still is a giant stature of a Soviet solder with a Mosin-Nagant
rifle (with a foldable bayonet) hanging on his right shoulder. At the
bottom of the statue, there are two T-34 tanks, and one of them is
seen in this photo. One of the two Soviet 155-mm guns is also seen.
This stature is near the Brandenburg Gate.
1945 and 1990. In 1990, during my first
trip to the Soviet Union, I spotted three Soviet soldiers on Moscow's
Arbat Street. I immediately pulled out my camera and took this photo.
I was excited to see them because I saw them fifty five years earlier.
In 1945, American and Soviet troops came to Korea to disarm the Japanese army. They came to the south and the north of the 38th parallel respectively. I was on the northern side then, but came to the South in May of 1946 because I was afraid of those Soviet troops and the communist regime being set up in Pyongyang. The Soviet soldiers I saw in the North were wearing the uniforms looking exactly like those I saw in Moscow in 1990.
- Russian Soldiers again. I met these Russian soldiers again while I was in Minsk in 1994. It was indeed a pleasure to meet them and exchange friendly greetings with them. I still wonder why we were thinking of having wars with them for so many years.
- American Soldiers came to the South, on jeeps of the same model as this car which I spotted in Sweden in June of 2002.
- Click here for a more
detalined explanation of how Korea was divided in 1945.
Wilson Park in Geneva.
In the South, a pro-American government was set up in 1948 headed by
Dr. Syngman Rhee. Rhee was Woodrow Wilson's PhD student at Princeton
University, and he served as the first president of the Korean
provisional government in Shanghai (China) while Korea was under Japanese
occupation (1910-45). Rhee went to the 1933 meeting of the League of
Nations in order to appeal Korea's independence to the world. Nobody
paid any attention to him except an Austrian lady named Francesca Donner
who shared a table with him in a crowded restaurant. She became
Mrs. Rhee in 1934 and typed thousands of letters for Dr. Rhee's cause.
The 1933 meeting of the League of Nations took place in the
red-yellow-red building seen in this photo. With me in the photo is
an Austrian student who wanted to be kind to a Korean-born professor
working in the United States. She appears to be from a conservative
family. This photo was taken in July of 1999.
- Rhee's House in Washington.
Rhee continued calling himself the President of the Republic of Korea
while living in exile in the United States until 1945. He was skilful
enough to collect "taxes" from less than one thousand Korean residents
living in the United States, and bought a luxury house on the 16th Street
in Washington, DC (about 5 km north of the White House). From this
house, Rhee staged a effective campaign for Korea's independence, and
built his political base in the U.S. before returning to Korea in 1945.
This photo was taken in 1992, and the house is still in good shape.
- Republic of Korea in the South.
According to the United Nations resolution of 1947, Korea's first general
election was held in May 10 (1948) in the South, and the Korean government
was inaugurated on August 15 (1948). Syngman Rhee became the first
president of the Repulic of Korea.
- Syngman Rhee with Harry Truman in Independence (Missouri) during his visit to Truman's house (1954). On July 20, 1965, the day after Rhee died in Hawaii, the New York Times gave a full-page coverage of Rhee's life, including this photo which presumably was the best Rhee photo the Times had at that time. When this photo was taken (1954), Dr. Rhee was 79 years old. He did not know he was becoming old until April of 1960, when Korean students brought him down. He spent the rest of his life in Hawaii.
While in the White House (1944-1953), Harry Truman made three of the most difficult decisions for the U.S. in the 20th Century. The first one was to drop nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities in 1945. The second one was to send American troops to Korea in 1950. The third and the most difficult decision was to fire Douglas MacArthur in 1951. All three played crucial roles in shaping up the modern history of Korea. I respect Harry Truman as a very honest president, and visited his house in Independence (Missouri) in 1968, even though I was not invited in. I have a photo of the Truman House which I took then somewhere in my house. I will add the photo to this web page as soon as I find it.
- Rhee's House in Washington. Rhee continued calling himself the President of the Republic of Korea while living in exile in the United States until 1945. He was skilful enough to collect "taxes" from less than one thousand Korean residents living in the United States, and bought a luxury house on the 16th Street in Washington, DC (about 5 km north of the White House). From this house, Rhee staged a effective campaign for Korea's independence, and built his political base in the U.S. before returning to Korea in 1945. This photo was taken in 1992, and the house is still in good shape.
- Kim Il-Sung in Japanese army
uniform. In the North, a Soviet-style communist government
was set up in 1948, headed by Kim Il-Sung whose real name was Kim
Sung-Ju. He was a captain of the Soviet Army when he came to Korea
in August of 1945. Kim went to the Siberian city of Khavarosk from
Manchuria in 1940 or 41, but nobody knows what he did before he
crossed the Manchu-Soviet border. This photo presumably was taken
while he was in Manchuria. He was a young man at that time. Why
was he wearing a Japanese army uniform?
- Triumph Speech. Kim Il-Sung came to Pyongyang as a captain of the Soviet Army. His real name was Kim Sung-Ju. He changed his name to Kim Il-Sung, which was the legendary name of a brave Korean general who could perform miracles while fighting against the Japanese army. Korean were thoroughly disappointed because he looked quite different from what they had expected. One of the patriotic Koreans threw a hand grenade to him, and a number of the Soviet body guards were injured. But Kim was untouched and finished his "Triumph Speech" on October 14, 1945, and ruled North Korea until his death in 1994.
- Gazza Kim Il-Sung. An article from Hankook Ilbo (one of major daily newspapers in Korea).
- Kim Il-Sung set up in the North his country called the "Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea" in September 1948, 25 days after the government of the Republic of Korea was inaugurated in the South on August 15, 1948.
- Kim Il-Sung's Christian Background.
In spite of his anti-American slogans, Kim Il-Sung in his later years
tried to align himself with Korean nationalists, such as Ahn Chang-Ho,
respected by all Koreans. Here is an article he wrote about
Rev. Sohn Jung-Do who was the paster of Seoul's Chung-Dong Methodist
Church before he fled to Manchu. There was the leader of a Korean
Christian community, and one of those devoted Korean Christians was
a lady named Kang Ban-Suk, who had a son who later became Kim Il-Sung
of North Korea. In this article, Kim Il-Sung tells his real name was
Kim Il-Sung with his Mother. This is a propaganda drawing (not photo). The caption says Kim is learning patriotism from his mother, but it is more likely that the mother was telling Bible stories to him. Very common practice in Korean Christian families at that time.
While in Seoul, before moving to Manchu, Rev. Sohn had a Christian friend named Syngman Rhee, who later became the first president of Korea in the South and Kim Il-Sung's sworn enemy. Rev. Sohn was so close to Rhee that Rhee appointed his son, Sohn Won-Il, as the first chief of staff of his Korean navy. Admiral Sohn later became the defense minister and arranged a mutual defense treaty with the United States in 1953. Rev. Sohn's widow used to come to my house often (presumably whenever turned off by her domineering daughter-in-law) to talk with my mother. His two grandsons were on my wedding party in 1963.
Admiral Sohn Won-Il (far left) at the signing ceremony of the mutual defense treaty in 1953. With him are Prime Minister Paek Doo-Jin and President Syngman Rhee. The treaty was signed by Foreign Minister Pyun Yung-Tae and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles of the United States.
- Ahn Chang-Ho. Kim Il-Sung talks about
Ahn Chang-Ho and other Koreans whose names are familiar to us.
- Gifts from the Soviet Army
in North Korea (1945-48).
- from the North.
I met these Koreans from the North in Moscow in 1990.
They were very friendly and polite to me. They also told me where
the Pyongyang Restaurant was.
- Pyongyang Restaurant,
near the Sukharepska metro station in Moscow. I went there several
times. The manager of this restaurant, known as Mr. Lee, is one
of the kindest persons I have ever met. The waiters are also very
- 50 Years after Separation.
Many Korean families were separated in 1950 during the first year of
the Korean War. In this photo, the husband from the South and his
wife in the North met in Pyongyang thanks to the South-North dialogue
(2000). After 50 years of separation, they are not able to talk to
each other. Their daughter is working hard to bring her parents to
get closer. Photo from Hankook Ilbo.
- Korean War (1950-53). Click here for the Korean page.
copyright@2000 by Y. S. Kim, unless otherwise specified.