Foreigner graves to be disinterred: MUST READ!!!

Robert Neff has a special report in the Korea Herald warning that the supposed caretaker of Seoul’s historic Foreigners’ Cemetery may have other things in mind for its deceased residents:

The Latin expression “requiescat in pace” or “rest in peace” is a prayer for the repose of the dead, but for many of those buried at the Foreigners’ Cemetery in Mapo-gu, their continued peaceful rest is uncertain.

There is mounting concern among members of the foreign community about the future sanctity and security of certain graves at the Yangwhajin Foreigners’ Cemetery. Those not classified as missionaries face the possibility of being disinterred, or possibly even worse, having the grave markers removed and the ground put to other use.

At the center of the controversy is the 100th Anniversary Church (HAC), which claims to be the caretaker of the almost 550 graves containing the remains of missionaries, diplomats, soldiers, businesspeople and expats from 16 nations.

Just to give you an idea of what we’re talking about:

In an interview with The Korea Herald, Kim Yong-nam, who identified himself as administrator to the Church and Yangwhajin, supported the claim that those who were unsuitable for the cemetery such as Koreans, a foreigner he described as an “Itaewon pool player,” and members of the U.S. military – who chose to be buried at the cemetery along with their families – would be removed at some time in the future.

In a separate interview, general secretary of the Committee for the HAC, Kim Kyoung-rae stated, “This is nonsense. We are here to protect all the tombs. We will never move the bodies until Jesus comes!”

However, not all in the committee or the church seem as confident or determined as Kim Kyoung-rae.

The director of information of HAC, Yosep Jung professed, “We want to protect the missionaries’ graves for eternity, but as to the other graves (foreigners) maybe after 60 years we will not be able to protect them.”

Disgusting.  Read the rest on your own.

  • seouldout

    HAC’s Yosep Jung added:

  • Mizar5

    Korea expert at Trinity University in Texas, Professor Donald Clark summed up the cemetery and what it means to Korean history in his book The Seoul Foreigners’ Cemetery at Yanghawjin: “A walk along the cemetery paths is a tour back through the entire century of the Western impact on Korean life. Yanghwajin represent the life of the foreign community in Korea, its purposes, its diverse people, the contributions they made, and the hardships they suffered.”

    It appears the hardships of foreigners in Korea are eternal…

  • montclaire

    Can a Christian explain to me the Christian fuss about human remains which are (according to my understanding of Christianity) nothing of value once the soul has left it?

  • michael

    “We will never move the bodies until Jesus comes!”
    He must have meant Kim Ye-su from Hyundai Construction.

  • sewing

    Here’s my question: are there other Western-style cemeteries in Korea? If a non-Korean chooses to live in Korea long term, and ultimately to be buried on Korean soil, what choices does he or she have? Let’s say I chose to live there until a ripe old age. I’ve read in a number of places that Koreans have more respect for foreigners who don’t go entirely “native,” and retain some of their foreignness (only the parts that are acceptable to Koreans, of course =P ). So going by that logic, being buried in a traditional hillside mudţm—or its modern equivalent, a plot in a myoji—is out of the question, and only a good ol’ Western-style, 6-feet-under cemetery will do. But if Yanghwajin is off limits (the article mentions that Horace Underwood III’s recent interment there is considered against the rules), are there other alternatives? If there aren’t, does the HAC board really feel right in setting out or at the even just mulling rules on who may or may not be buried there?

    Rambling question, but you get the gist of it….

  • sewing

    And what is this church’s history? What is the connection between them and Yanghwajin? How did they become its custodians? Is the cemetery on church property?

  • sewing

    Hmmm, my questions brings to mind further question: are Korean christians buried in myoji, or in more Western-style cemeteries? Is there a difference between the burial practices of Korean Protestants and Catholics? (These questions are probably better for another forum, but I’ll toss them out here.)

    Also, in #5, that should have been mudŏm, not mudţm.

  • montclaire

    Good one Michael.

  • michael

    Thanks Montclaire, if I have to work on a Saturday, might as well work on my standup routine at the same time :) :) :) :)

  • bluejives

    Can a Christian explain to me the Christian fuss about human remains…

    Non-Christians fuss about dead bodies too, in case you didnt know.

  • montclaire

    Ah, bluejives.
    Other religions are either not as deprecatory as Christians are about the physical body (flesh = inherently impure) or more consequent about their deprecation of it, e.g. the Buddhists, who reduce corpses to ash.
    My question was actuated (as the question itself makes clear to any literate person) by the contradiction in the Christians’ behavior.
    And I was wondering why everyone in here is always so hard on you.

  • bluejives

    Well, Montclaire, in order have an intelligent discussion about the issue you raised, it would help if you didnt regurgitate apocryphal misconceptions in the first place.

    The idea that the physical body is impure, believe it or not, is actually not a scriptural correct Christian doctrine. Rather, it has it’s roots in ancient Greek philosophy. The Greek philosophers were the ones who originated the idea that matter is corrupt or impure. (If matter is so bad then why did God create it then?) During the 1st and 2nd centuries, there was a lot of syncretism going on between the ancient pagan beliefs and the new Christian religion. Gnosticism (gnosis = Greek for “knowledge”) was a heretical sect (heretical meaning straying from the officially ordained Christian doctrine) usurped the Greek idea of the impurity of matter and integrated it along with Christianity into their belief system. Furthermore, there was a Jewish sect called the Essenes who believed in a similar idea. Gnosticism was opposed by the early Church fathers as being apocryphal. But unfortunately, the wrongheaded idea that the spirit is superior to the flesh has stuck, much like Christmas tree, or the Easter bunny (other European pagan traditions) persists to this day.

    If you actually read the Bible, you would know that the dead would be resurrected, not in spirit form, but possessing actual bodies.

  • sanshinseon

    > Can a Christian explain to me the Christian
    > fuss about human remains which are (according
    > to my understanding of Christianity) nothing
    > of value once the soul has left it?

    I’m not one, but am educated in World Religions at least… Christians do NOT consider the dead body of no value, they regard it with great respect and believe it has future utility. Take a good look at the famous painting of Christ’s return (“The Last Judgment”) in the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican by Michelangelo; it pretty well sums up the classical Christian view of what’s going to happen — Jesus will cause the graves and tombs of those faithful to him to open, the bodies will be reanimated with their souls, the decayed flesh restored, and they will rise to Heaven to be with him forevermore (while the wicked are condemned and cast down to Hell).

    Therefore Christians developed (or improved upon Egyptian and other Middle Eastern techniques of) enbalming the dead bodies, and burying them in strong coffins, so that they will be as fresh as possible when that Glorious Day comes (it’s at least 1900 years overdue compared to their original expectations; but whenever).

    This is also the reason why Christians are always buried with a cross as the grave-marker or on the headstone, with the persons name on it if possible, so that Jesus will have an easy time finding the good Christians and knowing who they are… This is why in Westerns or war movies when a guy dies out in nowhere and his buddies have to bury him out there, it’s real important for them to put a cross on the grave, even if it’s just two sticks tied together, so that Jesus will find it as he sweeps on through.

    As I understand it, various modern Protestant Church groups have developed variations on this doctrine, including the belief by some that their soul goes to Heaven immediately after death, and they are given an entirely new body there, perhaps an idealized excellent version of the one they into earth — everyone gets to be 19 again, i guess… There are many different concepts now.

  • sanshinseon

    “the one they had on earth”, that should be

  • ul

    Wow this is pretty disturbing to read about. If this happens to end up becoming true, the symbolic long-term effect would be hard to turn. Talk about anti-foreigner sentiment to the max.

  • ul

    Wow this is pretty disturbing to read about. If this happens to end up becoming true, the symbolic long-term effect would be hard to reverse. Talk about anti-foreigner sentiment to the max.

  • bluejives

    RTFA (That means “Read The Fucking Article”).

    Those not classified as missionaries face the possibility of being disinterred, or possibly even worse, having the grave markers removed and the ground put to other use.

    Unless you think historical missionaries to Korea were Koreans themselves, I fail to see how this is an anti-foreigner thing.

  • bluejives

    It also stated Koreans are not to be buried in cemetary as well.

    In an interview with The Korea Herald, Kim Yong-nam, who identified himself as administrator to the Church and Yangwhajin, supported the claim that those who were unsuitable for the cemetery such as Koreans…


  • montclaire

    And verily I say unto thee, Bluejives: for dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return. (Genesis). Burial seems to be recommended as a way for hastening that process, no? So is one clump of dust, a hundred years or so on, to be considered holy or different from another one? If so,where does the Bible say that? Isn’t that the final authority for Christians? All I’m asking.
    As for things being scripturally incorrect if they come from Greek sources – the crucifixion/resurrection legends themselves were imported from Hellenic sources. Does that make them incorrect?

  • bluejives


    1 Corinthians 15:35-40

    But someone may ask: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come? How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another…so it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable.

    46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.

    I have never heard the notion that the Christian conception of resurrection was Hellenistic in origin. Where are you getting that from?

  • montclaire

    Ah right, I forgot that God contradicts himself non-stop in that book of his. As in the very description of the resurrection and who was present…
    But you really never heard about the Greek resurrection myths? The fundamentalists are always prepping their missionaries to respond to the obvious similarity of Jesus’ resurrection legend to earlier resurrection legends from Greece, Egypt etc. Tammuz too. (That Easter bunny and egg didn’t come around by accident – when you take the same story, you can’t be surprised when all the accoutrements pop up with it.) For a while the Catholic Church, seeing the obvious problem, claimed that the devil had gone back in time to create these myths in order to undermine the Bible. Ingenious!
    This is straying too far from the post I suppose. I agree with you, in any case, that this disinterment doesn’t look like an anti-foreigner thing.

  • iwshim


    To add, graves should face the east. It saves the newly resurrected the embarrassment of having their ass face the lord when the time comes. The foreign cemetery is quite interesting to visit and it gives a lot of perspective on the way Seoul and the country has changed. A hundred years ago or so that hill would have had a perfect view of the east and I am sure that was important in choosing the location. At that time it was not blocked by apartments and other buildings. From a historical perspective it has a lot to offer in the way of looking at things the way they were then. Ironic but you do find a living history at that cemetery.
    I believe that actual location had to be authorized by the king at that time. It was not regarded as special and the missionaries got what they wanted. To me it is an interesting look into how determined the missionaries were.
    If you go the UN cemetery in Pusan and pull out a compass you will find it faces the east. This is not only for the Christians but also the Muslims (Turks) who await the messiah.
    To me the story is not about the bodies but the location.
    I think Sanshinseon could write a much better story than my feeble attempt about the importance of location for Korean graves. But for now in short, the Korean national cemetery is of special importance as it has three mountains to the back (turtle, dragon and tiger) and the Han River in front. It keeps the energy of nature (gi) focused. It the location that is important in this story as much for Koreans as for others.
    Anyways this is a distinct Korean problem. I know of no Korean soldiers or missionaries buried in foreign countries that face the need for reburial. There probably is a good reason for this but I cannot think of it now :).

  • sanshinseon

    Right you are, I.W. Shim — and as for

    > I believe that actual location had to be
    > authorized by the king at that time. It
    > was not regarded as special

    Yup it was officially authorized, and not only a “not-
    special” location, it was regarded as having especially
    BAD pungsu-jiri factors — a site swarming with bad-fortune spirits and no protection at all against them — that’s exactly why it was given as the cemetary for foreign Christians, as a malign joke. That it faces east was a good factor for those missionaries as you say, but to the Neo-Confucians it was an entirely rotten site…

  • sewing

    Wow, this has turned into a very interesting discussion. Bluejives, I never knew you had this angle to you. And Sanshinseon, interesting about the bad 풍수지리.

    Now, could anyone answer my questions? I’m really curious about this, now that the issue has been raised. Obviously, I’m refining my first question to refer to non-missionary westerners, which is what I meant all along (I read the article).

  • Charlie

    Can a Christian explain to me the Christian fuss about human remains…

    Yeah. It’s so simple I can’t believe that no one got it yet. It’s a big deal for Christians because it’s some thing they only do once. Contrast that with Buddhists who can be born and die thousands of times, death isn’t so special anymore. I think that economists refer to it as “diminishing marginal returns”.

    As a child a piece of candy is wonderful. Immediately follow that with another piece of candy and it’s still pretty good. At about the fifth piece the child starts to get a sugar rush and starts shaking. At about the 30th piece the child will start to get sick. It’s the same with death and dying. After a couple hundred times the whole process must get mind numbingly tedious.

    And from reliable sources, the only way to stop this endless cycle is to make Andie MacDowell fall in love with you. So the chances for me are pretty slim, since I can’t do ice sculpture.

  • Zonath

    or possibly even worse, having the grave markers removed and the ground put to other use.

    Geez. Haven’t the curators of that graveyard seen enough scholck 80’s horror films to know what a hideously-bad idea that is? THEY MOVED THE HEADSTONES, BUT THEY DIDN’T MOVE THE GRAVES!!

    Ahem. Anyhow, while I’ve simply never gotten the whole ‘fetishizing the dead’ thing, I do think it’s a bit of a shame that the church isn’t a bit more committed to living up to the expectations of the people who chose to be interred in their graveyard, no matter what those peoples’ social status. All I know is that when I go, I wanna be burned up and have my ashes ground into as fine a powder as is possible before I’m scattered to the winds. I want people to inhale me. 😀

  • robert neff

    First of all – I would like to thank the Marmot for posting this. Marmot and I got together nearly a month ago to look over some of the documents and information that I have and we reviewed options. Considering the nature of the material and the chances of running into some serious trouble i.e., libel laws, we were relunctant to post the material on this blog for legal reasons.

    Sewing – if I might address some of your questions. There are a couple of foreigners cemeteries in Korea. Obviously there is the large one at Pusan which, to my understanding, will not accept the remains unless you were actually in combat in Korea during the Korean War. There is the Incheon (Chemulpo) Cemetery – small – and it has been moved at least once already – to be honest I think twice. It is very historical and has older graves than the one at Yanghwajin – but again – it was moved and is almost never visited by anyone. The only exception would be the Italian Embassy – every month they visit their graves and Yanghwajin and Incheon and lay flowers as rememberance. The Italian Embassy also repaired their stones and enclosure at Incheon earlier this year. Many of the smaller cemeteries throughout Korea (many had no names and were unknown – even Donald Clark’s book does not list some of them) have since fallen due to development. Many of the Western remains from those cemeteries were moved to Yanghwajin in 2000-2002. What is surprising is that a large number of them were Scandanavian and were members of the Salvation Army.

    As to the history of the church? Not sure which church we are talking about. There are two churches at the site – one is the Hundred Anniversary Church which now claims that they own the cemetery (questions beg to be answered but will not get into that here – perhaps if the Herald agrees we can do it in another article), and the historic Seoul Union Church (if Marmot would like – I could do another article for the Marmot on the SU Church history).

    The remains of the Western Catholics are scattered throughout Korea – some are buried at Chuldusan – which is right next to the Yanghwajin Foreigners’ Cemetery – and they are very well protected and honored. There are (I need to check this – but it is 6 in the morning) I believe some buried at Myoungdong’s Cathedral – I believe Turner – but I don’t remember so well in the morning.

    I think one thing that does need to be addressed is the systematic removal of the true name of this cemetery (which has had this name for about 114 years). The cemetery has always been known as the Foreigners’ Cemetery (sometimes Seoul’s and other times Yanghwajin). Recently there has been a move to call it the Missionaries’ Cemetery, although now I understand they have backed away from that and are calling it the Foreign Missionaries’ Cemetery. What needs to be remembered is the Mapu Government has not authorized this change – which brings even more questions to the ownership of this land. If it is truly owned by the church then why should Mapu Government have a say in its naming? Too many issues (legal) to even try and address that here – I can merely say that hopefully Korea Herald will be willing to pursue the next level of this investigation.

    It might help if some of Marmot’s Hole readers voice their own feelings of outrage, approval, or disapproval on this blog and also to the newspapers – Herald and the others.

    It is a shame that so many of the embassies (14/16) did not know that they had countrymen buried at the cemetery. There are soldiers and their families (not just American – but British, Russian and American) several diplomats, businessmen from all walks, people who fought for Korea’s early independence (1919), and unfortunately – some rogues. It is truly as Don Clark stated – a walk through Korea’s past. It is in danger now because no one cared in the recent past – hopefully it can be saved.

  • bluejives

    Wow, this has turned into a very interesting discussion. Bluejives

    My sister was a student at a theological seminary. I read her old textbooks when I’m bored. I’m also learning Hebrew.

  • sewing

    Thanks for the reply, Robert (Neff). Yeah, Bluejives, I never thought I’d see the day when you’d be arguing with someone here on the topic of…theology!

  • Sonagi

    Bluejeeves does seem to be softening up a bit these days. Will he come in from the cold of trolldom?

  • dogbertt

    At least he’s crediting the Bible now when he quotes it.

    It’s a step up.

  • Yeoletoaste

    The reasoning behind moving them is obviously so their formaldehyde soaked corpses don’t rise up and steal their women while terrorizing the city with violence and drugs.

  • Mark

    Don’t do it, Korea. Not unless you want to see a lot of the cute little happy mounds in Gyeonggi-bukbu accidentally leveled by a pivot steer.

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