16 September 2004

Review of Living Dangerously in Korea

Korean Studies Review has posted online a review by Don Baker of Donald Clark's book Living Dangerously in Korea: The Western Experience 1900-1950 (Eastbridge, 2003), portions of which were excerpted on this blog back in June. Excerpts from the review follow.
In his title, Don Clark advertises this book as an account of the Western missionary experience in Korea over the first half of the twentieth century. He is too modest. This book is much more than that. Because he writes about how the missionaries responded to the various situations they found themselves witnessing, and sometimes caught up in, he has actually provided a history of Korea from 1900-1950, albeit one filtered through the eyes of Western residents....

Since Western missionaries, including Charlie Clark, remained in Korea after the annexation of 1910, Clark is able to provide a different view of Japanese rule than is usually found in Korean accounts. First of all, he points out that most of the missionaries (with the conspicuous exceptions of Hulbert and Allen) were at first ambivalent about the Japanese takeover, hoping that a colonial government more modern than the Confucian government it replaced would open up more space for missionary activity. However, they soon found out that the Japanese were not enthusiastic about the spread of Christianity in Korea and in fact raised barriers to it....

A more serious problem for the missionaries in the 1920s was the rise of resentment by some Korean Christians of the missionary domination of Korean Christianity. Koreans wanted control of Christian schools such as the Chosen Christian College (now Yonsei University) to be turned over to them faster than the missionaries wanted to relinquish control. Clark tells us that such prominent Korean Christians as Paek Nakchun and Yun Ch'iho resented what they considered "missionary paternalism" in this and other matters. However, such disputes paled in comparison with the issue that confronted both the missionaries and Korean Christians in the 1930s. When the Japanese demanded that Christian schools permit their students to participate in Shinto rituals, both the missionary community and the Korean Christian community were split over how to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's while remaining faithful to the laws of God. The issue was soon rendered moot for the missionaries by the rise of tension between the US and Japan which led to the expulsion of most of the missionaries in 1940. Korean Christians were left behind to resolve that moral dilemma for themselves.

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