In the course of the modern and contemporary history of Korea, some foreigners have made remarkable contributions to our society and culture in different ways by undertaking a wide range of Korean studies and literature.
Starting with the 17th century, Dutchman Hendrick Hamel published “Hamel’s Journal and a Description of the Kingdom of Korea 1653-1666” in 1668. They were the first accounts of Korea by a Westerner.
One hundred and fifty years after Hamel’s writing, another impressive travelogue on Korea, “Voyage of Discovery to the West Coast of Corea, and the Great Loo-Choo Island” was written by Basil Hall, a British naval captain, in 1818.
Since Korea opened its door to the outside world in 1876, a variety of books have been published by foreigners.
Recently, I read a book series titled “World writers who loved Korea: the modern and contemporary of Korea blossomed in the world books” with fervor. The three-book series was written by Choi Chong-ko, professor emeritus of Seoul National University School of Law. It portrays 117 foreign writers ranging from travelers, missionaries, diplomats, journalists, doctors and artists to scholars, as well as experts on Korean studies, who stayed in Korea from the late 19th to the 20th century. They displayed more love for and interest in Korea than Koreans did. Their affection for Korea led to many precious writings with colorful memories on a wide range of Korean aspects such as literature, culture, customs, travelogues and religion.
My interest in world writers who loved Korea has led me to write some related columns in this paper: “Pearl S. Buck’s Contribution in Korea” in 2001; “The Indian Poet Tagore, and Pagoda Park” in 2002; “Handerson’s Collection of Korean Artworks” in 2002; “Last Crown Princess of Korea” (Lee Bang-ja) in 2004; “Pioneering Korean War Correspondents” (Marguerite Higgins) in 2010; “M. Courant, Pioneer of Korean Studies” in 2012; “In memory of Alan C. Heyman” in 2014; “Passion for Korean Art” (Yanagi Muneyoshi) in 2019 and “Legacy of Dilkusha” (Tailor) in 2019. Coincidently, these writers were included in professor Choi’s book.
Others in the book, Jon Carter Covell (1910-1996), an American scholar and a pioneer of Oriental art history; the American educator Edward Adams; and Boudewijn Walraven, a Dutch expert of Korean studies and professor emeritus at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, have been good friends of mine.
Particularly, I have very fond memories of Dr. Covell who stayed in Korea from 1986 to 1987 as a Fulbright Senior Scholar. She shared with me a great deal of knowledge on Korea’s cultural history as well as Western culture. She has authored many books and numerous articles in The Korea Times on Korean art history. I am proud to have had these autographed books presented to me in 1984: “Under the seal of Sesshu,” “Korean Colorful Heritage,” “Korea’s Cultural Roots” and “On Center of Stage for Seventy Years” (Westin Chosun Hotel).
These writers who loved Korea displayed great courage in pursuing their research and studies, which combined with other scholarly efforts made them stand out within the legacy of Korean studies. They would most likely have remained in the shadows if it were not for the outstanding research by Professor Choi.