Ginkgo trees, stone walls and red brick.
Encompassing Deoksugung Palace and its surrounding neighborhood, the historic Jeong-dong area is Seoul’s old legation quarter. At the turn of the 20th century, it was virtually a city within a city, not unlike Beijing’s famous Legation Quarter, home to Western legations, Christian churches and missionary compounds that included some of Korea’s first modern schools. More importantly, it was also the heart of the Daehan Empire (1897—1910), a dramatic and ultimately tragic period of belated modernization efforts and imperial intrigue that would end with Korea’s annexation by Japan.
Like elsewhere in Seoul, much of Jeong-dong’s historic architecture has disappeared thanks to war and urban redevelopment, but the neighborhood is still home to Seoul’s best collection of Western-style buildings, and zoning restrictions have allowed it to maintain its quiet, leafy atmosphere. For good measure, several nations still maintain diplomatic facilities in the area, lending a nice sense of historical continuity.
* Much of the information in this post comes from Mokwon University architecture professor Kim Jeong-dong’s invaluable book, “고종황제 사랑한 정동과 덕수궁” and the Korea Creative Content Agency’s website “구한말 외국인 공간 정동.”
You’ll recall that we’ve visited Deoksugung once before, at night.
Originally called Gyeongungung Palace, Deoksugung is the heart of Jeong-dong. In fact, much of what is today Jeong-dong used to be part of the palace, which at the peak of its glory was three times its current size.
Deoksugung became the center of Korea’s political world in February of 1897, when King Gojong emerged from the Russian Legation — where he had spent the previous year following the assassination of his queen by the Japanese — and made the residence his main palace. Gojong’s choice was largely due to the palace’s proximity to the Western legations, which he felt could offer greater protection from increasingly aggressive Japanese interference. On Oct 13 of that year, King Gojong declared the Daehan Empire, and himself the Gwangmu Emperor.
Work soon began to turn the residence into a palace worthy of the name. Sadly, most of the effort went up in smoke, quite literally, in 1904, when a massive fire destroyed almost the entire palace.
Most of the palace was reconstructed by 1906. Reflecting both advice from influential foreigners like Antoinette Sontag and the Korean government’s desire to modernize, the palace also included a number of Western-style buildings, including the grand neo-classical Seokjojeon Hall (completed in 1910), designed by a Briton by the name of G. R. Harding, and the Jeonggwanheon Hall (built around 1900), designed by the Russian architect Aleksey Seredin-Sabatin. That the few Western-style structures on the palace grounds managed to survive the 1904 fire pretty much unscathed, too, also helped endear the imperial government to stone and brick.
While he ruled from Deoksugung, the Gwangmu Emperor strove to modernize his empire, bringing foreign technicians and experts to Korea while sending Korean students overseas. Seoul began to take on the look of a modern city, with electricity, trains and trams, waterworks, cinemas and modern schools and hospitals. Foreign military advisors, too, were brought in to train a modern army.
It was too little, too late, however. In 1905, Japan, fresh off its victory over the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War, strong-armed Korea to conclude the Eulsa Treaty, which turned Korea into a Japanese protectorate. In 1907, the Gwangmu Emperor — who never signed the Eulsa Treaty — sent a secret delegation to Second Hague Conference to argue against Japanese moves in Korea. The delegation was refused entry into the meeting hall, but for his troubles, the emperor was forced by the Japanese to abdicate in favor of his son, who transferred his residence to Changdeokgung Palace. Three years later, in 1910, the Japanese would bring the Daehan Empire to a close when it annexed Korea outright, marking the start of 35 years of Japanese colonial rule.
Even after his abdication, the Gwangmu Emperor continued to reside at Deoksugung until his death in 1919.
Early in the Joseon era, the area that is now Jeong-dong was the site of a queen’s tomb and Buddhist temple, but these were later removed and the area populated with royal villas and detached palaces. In the late 19th century, however, Western diplomats and missionaries began to settle in the area, turning it into a little piece of the West in Seoul. Where once there were hanok, now there were Western-style legations, churches, schools and missionary compounds.
Although much of Jeong-dong’s historic architecture has been lost, a good deal still remains, lending the neighborhood an exotic charm. The “exotic” feel is accentuated by the fact that several nations, including the British, Americans, Russians and Canadians, still maintain embassies and/or ambassadorial residences in the area.
In the photo above, you can see Chung-dong First Methodist Church and, atop a hill on the distance to the right, the tower of the old Russian Legation.
The doldam-gil (stone wall road) of running along the southern and western sides of Deoksugung Palace is one of Seoul’s most popular strolling courses, especially in autumn, when the trees turn color. Picturesque it certainly is, but it is worth noting that the road and the walls were built in the 1920s as part of a process that resulted in the destruction of much of the palace.
It’s an incredibly popular dating spot (and has been since at least the 1930s, I’ve read), which is sort of ironic, considering the legend associated with the road. It is said that couples who walk to the end of the path will soon split up. There are two theories as to the origin of this tale. One is that the jealousy of the ghosts of the royal concubines who were unable to win the King’s affection infect the couples who stroll along the palace wall. The other theory — and the one I’ve heard (and told) most frequently — is that Seoul Family Court, where couples go to get divorced, used to be located at the end of the path (in what is now Seoul Museum of Art).
Seoul Museum of Art (Formerly Supreme Court of Korea)
Now the Seoul Museum of Art, this imposing grey building was built in 1928 as Keijo Courthouse. After Liberation, it became the Supreme Court of Korea, a role it served until 1995, when the court moved to a new complex in Seocho-dong. The court was then radically remodelled — and by radically remodelled, I mean completely destroyed save for the facade — for use as the Seoul Museum of Art, which opened in 2002.
Architecturally, it is built in a medieval Gothic style, albeit with more rounded windows. Or that’s what they say. I would have guessed Romanesque, but I’m not a scholar of architecture. Although you can’t see it in the photo above, the porch above the entrance is really quite impressive: see this photo, which I took in summer of 2009:
I believe that’s what they call a Norman arch. Of course, I’m ready to be corrected.
As mentioned above, the building is now used as the Seoul Museum of Art, which houses an extensive collection of work by Korean and international artists, including a permanent collection by renowned Korean painter Chun Kyung-ja. It also holds frequent special exhibits featuring work by the biggest names in the art world.
Chung-dong First Methodist Church
Both historically and architecturally, Chung-dong First Methodist Church is a priceless piece of Seoul’s cultural heritage. A Jeong-dong landmark, the current church building was completed in October of 1898 as Korea’s first Western-style Protestant church (for those keeping score, Korea’s first Western-style Catholic church, Yakhyeon Catholic Church, was completed in 1892). The church itself was founded in 1885, and was, in fact, Korea’s first Methodist church.
A simple yet beautiful example of Victorian Gothic church architecture, Chung-dong First Methodist Church was designed by Japanese architect Yoshizawa Tomotaro with the help of Korean architect Sim Ui-seok (1854—1924). Sim was a fascinating figure. A lifelong resident of Jeong-dong, Sim never received a modern education, and was by training a “woodcutter” (dopyeonsu: a term better translated as an architect of Korean traditional buildings), but through his interactions with Jeong-dong’s foreign community, Sim learned to work in brick and stone as well as wood. A surprisingly large number of projects he worked on — both Western and Korean traditional — are still standing, including Chung-dong First Methodist Church and Pai Chai Hakdang (see next page), Independence Gate, Deoksugung’s Seokjojeon Hall, the Wongudan Shrine, Gwanghwamun’s Bigak and Pakgakjeong Pavilion in Pagoda Park. Along with figures like Namgung Eok and Sir John McLeavy Brown, he also played a role in urban planning, helping transform Seoul from a medieval city into a modern capital.
Chung-dong First Methodist Church, along with Pai Chai Hakdong and Ewha Hakdang (both of which we’ll be coming to), formed the heart of Jeong-dong’s large Methodist mission station. In 1884, Rev. Robert Samuel Maclay — a pioneering Methodist missionary in China and Japan — visited Seoul to set up a mission station in the city. He got permission from King Gojong, reserved a piece of land near the US Legation, and returned to Japan. Soon after he left, however, US Minister to Korea General Lucius H. Foote gave the spot Maclay reserved to Presbyterian medical missionary (and future US Minister to Korea) Horace Allen. As Korea was still regarded as a dangerous place, Allen encouraged other missionaries to live near the US. In this manner, the area around the US Legation, north of what is today’s main drag of Jeong-dong, became a Presbyterian compound. The Methodists, meanwhile, set up shop south of today’s main drag, along what was then Seoul’s fortress wall.
As far as I know, none of the original missionary homes still exist in Jeong-dong. This is a pity, as they are said to have been quite extraordinary. The missionaries — mostly American — typically purchased from local elites large hanok homes, which they renovated in accordance with their needs and preferences. As these properties usually had plenty of land, their new Western owners frequently spruced them up with grass lawns and even tennis courts. The home of one Presbyterian missionary, Dr. Horace G. Underwood, was so nice that King Gojong reportedly wanted to buy it.
Anyway, back to Chung-dong First Methodist Church. As noted above, it was founded in 1885 by Pennsylvanian missionary and educator Rev. Henry Gerhard Appenzeller (see next page). Originally a small hanok prayer room called Bethel Chapel, the church was rebuilt in Victorian Gothic fashion 1898, and so became Korea’s first “high church” (a characteristic that extended to its faithful, who were largely well-to-do yangban). In 1918, it got Korea’s first pipe organ, allowing it to play a role in the development of Korean church music. In 1889, it also began publication of Korea’s first monthly magazine, “Gyohoe” (“Church”).
It’s a lovely place… but might be even lovelier if the Russian Embassy wasn’t blighting the skyline above it. And to think the Russians used to have such a beautiful legation…
Pai Chai Hakdang
Korea’s first modern intermediate school, Pai Chai Hakdang (“Academy for the Rearing of Useful Men”) was founded in 1885, and opened for classes in June 1886. Like Chung-dong First Methodist Church, it was founded by Rev. Henry Gerhard Appenzeller, and the school played a leading role in introducing modern educational, political and social ideas into Korea.
Born in Souderton, Pennsylvania in 1858 and educated at Franklin and Marshall College and Drew Theological Seminary, Henry Appenzeller was ordained a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1885 and arrived in Korea on May 3 of that year, arriving with his wife and fellow Methodist missionaries Mary and William Scranton. Now, in 1885, foreign missionaries were not allowed to actually preach, but King Gojong thought their schools and hospitals were pretty neat, so the missionaries often covered their spiritual activities by opening said schools and hospitals.
Not that the missionaries didn’t take their educational and medical activities seriously, of course. Pai Chai Hak Dang not only introduced singyoyuk — “new education” — to Korea, but also played a major role in promoting progressive political and social ideas in Korea. University of Maryland: Korea Branch professor Daniel M. Davies wrote:
Appenzeller, and the rest of the small American community in Korea during the late nineteenth century, brought along the partially articulated, partially unconscious agenda to build the late nineteenth-century American evangelical Protestant vision of the City on a Hill. Appenzeller attempted to create a Christian Korea in a manner similar to late nineteenth-century Protestant efforts to create a Christian America. Appenzeller’s concept of a City on a Hill provides the key to understanding his commitment to independence, democracy, and modernization in Korea. Citizens had to hold the evangelical Protestant faith. They had to have Anglo-Saxon manners and customs. They had to live morally. The nation had to maintain independence from foreign powers, maintain a democratic form of government, and enjoy the benefits of modernization.
Not surprisingly, the school became closely associated with nationalist progressives such as the Independence Club. Independence Club founder (and the first Korean-American) Philip Jaisohn lectured and spoke at the school, and one of its most notable students was a bright, young nationalist firebrand named Rhee Syngman.
The school was also a symbol of American cultural influence in early modern Korea. In English, the school was called “The American School”: the curriculum was American, and classes were in English. One of Korea’s first newspapers, the Independent — founded by Philip Jaisohn but published by Appenzeller and Yun Chi-ho after the Korean government disbanded the Independence Club and asked Jaisohn to leave the country, — ran in 1896 a story documenting the 4th of July celebrations at the school. Seoul’s Americans and Europeans gathered at the school for the festivities; in the evening, a banquet was held, attended by the head of the US Legation. John M.B. Sill. The banquet was proceeding pretty quietly when suddenly there was a bang. This threw the party into confusion. An investigation turned up that the two sons of Horace Allen had let off some firecrackers as a prank. The thing was, civilians were forbidden to use gun powder, as the Korean government was deathly afraid of a coup. In fact, not only did the prank spook the guests at the party, but it also scared the crap out of the Korean royal family, who lived at nearby Deoksugung Palace. US Minister Sill was not pleased, and reportedly scolded Allen like a school boy. Interestingly, Allen succeeded Sill as US Minister to Korea.
Pai Chai Hak Dang lives on today into the form of Pai Chai Middle and High School and Pai Chai University in Daejeon. While most of the old school has long since disappeared, its East Hall, built in 1916, still stands and is in excellent shape. It is now used as a museum dedicated to Appenzeller, fellow Methodist missionary (and Pennsylvanian) William Noble and the school’s history, and is well worth checking out. Architecturally, it’s very typical of US mission school architecture: with its red brick and dormer windows, it wouldn’t look out of place in the United States.
The old photos, meanwhile, were taken by Rev. Corwin Taylor and his wife Nellie Blood-Taylor of Fort Dodge, Iowa, Methodist missionaries to Korea from 1908 to about 1922. There photos were donated to Korean Heritage Library at the University Park Campus of the University Of Southern California, and can be viewed online here.
Ewha Hak Dang
The last part of the old Methodist compound in Jeong-dong is Ewha Hak Dang (“Pear Blossom Academy”), or what is today Ewha Girls High School. The venerable school was Korea’s first modern educational institution for girls, and one of its descendants, Ewha Womans University, is the world’s largest female educational institute. Founded in 1886, it was given its name by Myeongseong Hwangu (a.k.a. Queen Min), referring to the flower that was the symbol of the royal family.
The school was founded by Methodist missionary Mary F. Scranton (1832—1909), who came arrived in Korea in 1885 at the age of 52 with her son, the medical missionary Dr. W.B. Scranton. It took some time and effort to get the school going, though. It was a year before Mrs. Scranton got her first student, the concubine of a high government official who wanted to learn English to become a translator for the Queen. She came to Mrs. Scranton on May 30, 1886, but eventually quit. A month later, she got another student, a 12 year old girl. Her mother, worried that the evil round eyes might take her daughter overseas, came to the school to take her away, but Scranton calmed her down, promising in writing that she wouldn’t take her daughter 10 miles without her mother’s permission.
Over time, though, Ewha Hak Dang grew into Korea’s premier school for girls: many if not most of Korea’s female firsts came through the school. It also has a special place in Korean nationalist history: one of Korea’s most famous nationalist martyrs, Yu Gwan-sun, was a student at Ewha Hak Dang when she was tortured to death in Seodaemun Prison following the March 1, 1919 independence protests.
Suzanne Crowder Han did a piece on the history of Ewha Womans University (.pdf) for the Autumn 1988 issue of Koreana magazine.
Ewha Hak Dang’s old campus was quite beautiful, but unfortunately, all but the old front gate (restored in 1999) and the Simpson Memorial Hall have disappeared. Completed in 1915, the Simpson Memorial Hall was named for Sarah J. Simpson, an American who left money for the school when she passed away. With its red brick, arches and keystones, it’s typical of American mission school architecture. Since 2008, it has been undergoing extensive restoration to look like the diagram to the right.
Well, it’ll look real nice when it’s done… which will hopefully be soon. It serves as a museum, and I understand it has quite a few interesting displays and photographs.
Old Sontag Hotel
Also on campus is a small marker marking the location of the old Sontag Hotel, Seoul’s first international class hotel. It was founded in 1895 by Antoinette Sontag (1845—1925), the sister-in-law of Russian Minister to Korea Karl Weber and chef and receptionist to King Gojong. She was also a master networker: see this JoongAng Ilbo piece:
According to some historians, Sontag introduced coffee to Gojong and often baked cookies and other homemade dishes for Queen Min, Gojong’s wife. She became very close to the royal family.
“She had good diplomacy skills,” Lee said, based on his research. “After she was granted royal permission to open the first modern hotel in Seoul in 1902, she gained the trust of Queen Min, who gave [Sontag] access to political circles.”
Gojong granted Sontag land to build a private house near Deoksu Palace in 1895. The residence was used as a clubhouse until it turned into a two-storied Western hotel.
Korea was undergoing a political, social and economic transition at the tail-end of the 19th century, and the Sontag Hotel was a gathering place for intellectuals and diplomats. People like American diplomat John Sill, French consul Victor Collin de Plancy and American missionaries Horace Underwood and Henry Appenzeller would have visited the hotel.
Government officials like Min Young-hwan, Lee Wan-yong, Yoon Chi-ho and Lee Sang-jae were also visitors. Min Young-hwan, the queen’s nephew, committed suicide in 1905 a few days after Korea signed the Eulsa Treaty with Japan. The treaty made Korea a protectorate of Japan.
Even Winston Churchill stayed a night there after the Russo-Japanese War.
It was a beautiful place, designed by Russian architect Aleksey Seredin Sabatin. Sadly, it was sold in 1917 to Ewha Hak Dang, which used it as a dormitory for several years before they tore it down. If there’s something Seoul really lacks, it’s a historic hotel of the like you can find in some of Asia’s other major cities.
Ginkgo Trees & Old ShinA Ilbo Building
In autumn, Jeong-dong’s ginkgo trees turn a beautiful golden color. The best spot to check them out is the stone wall in front of Ewha Girls’ High School.
Across from Ewha Girls High School is another historic building that’s rarely appreciated.
The old ShinA Ilbo was built in the 1930s as the Korea office of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. Constructed of reinforced concrete, a rarity for privately owned buildings of the day, the building was quite advanced for its day. The building was acquired by the newspaper ShinA Ilbo in 1969 and used as its office until the paper was merged with the Kyunghyang Shinmun in 1980 as part Chun Doo-hwan’s “media massacre” of forced media mergers.
Originally the centerpiece of a much larger wing of Deoksugung Palace, Jungmyeongjeon Hall was constructed between 1897 and 1901 as a royal library. It was built in 1896 and designed by Russian architect Aleksey Seredin Sabatin, who designed many of Jeong-dong’s other historic buildings. This blog has visited the site previously, when it first opened after a major restoration.
Historically, Jungmyeongjeon Hall has played host to a number of momentous events in Korean history. After the great fire that destroyed most of Deoksugung in 1904, the Gwangmu Emperor (King Gojong) used the building as his residence. On Nov 17, 1905, the Eulsa Treaty — which stripped away Korea’s diplomatic sovereignty and turned the country into a Japanese protectorate — was signed here under Japanese coercion. In 1907, the Emperor came here to give credentials to three secret emissaries dispatched to the Second Peace Conference at The Hague to argue against the Eulsa Treaty, a move that so outraged the Japanese that they forced the Emperor to abdicate in favor of the Crown Prince.
After the Japanese annexed Korea in 1910, Jungmyeongjeon Hall was turned over to Seoul Club, which continued to use it as a foreigners’ club until the 1960s. Seoul Club’s history goes back to 1904, and was itself preceded by a couple of foreign gentlemen’s clubs. Robert Neff documents the, ahem, troubles these early foreign clubs ran into in Jeong-dong’s rather prudish social circle of the 1890s:
For the Western bachelors, there were few, if any, places that they could go and partake in the activities of men: drinking, smoking, playing cards, and later, billiards. This was even more of a problem for the married men who needed a place to escape the watchful eyes of their wives and the disapproving glares of the missionaries.
Thus the first gentleman’s club in Seoul, sometimes called the German Club or Seoul Club, was established in late June or early July 1889. This club was located in a building owned by Carl Andreas Wolter, a German businessman, just inside the Small West Gate. It isn’t clear how many or who the members were but undoubtedly ― as the name implies ― they were the handful of Germans residing in Seoul and some of the Western diplomats and their staff. Most certainly there were no missionaries. The alcohol, smoke and coarse language used amongst these worldly men would probably have disturbed their puritan sensibilities, but, even more than that, the likely president of the club and German representative to Korea ― Dr. Ferdinand Krien ― probably offended them the most.
Krien, the previous year, had fallen into disfavor amongst the pious missionaries for a rumor that circulated like wildfire throughout the small community claiming that Krien was having sexual orgies in the German legation. These rumors were later found to be untrue and the subsequent investigation indicated that the wife of the Russian representative to Korea, Karl Waeber, had maliciously started them because of her hard feelings towards Krien. Mrs. Waeber seems to have had problems with some of the younger Germans and Russians in Seoul and wasn’t above a dirty trick or two to drive them out of the country. This is also an indication of the atmosphere of the small Western community ― full of backstabbing and Machiavellian intrigue.
Ah, the days before Itaewon…
Former British Consulate-General
The Americans weren’t the only foreigners in Jeong-dong, of course. The British, Russians, French, Germans, Italians and Belgians also maintained diplomatic compounds in the area. To this day, the British presence in Jeong-dong is particularly pronounced, thanks to the British Embassy compound (including the historic former British Consulate-General), the Salvation Army Central Hall and Seoul Anglican Cathedral, all of which we’ll take a look at now.
Prior to 1876, when Japan opened Korean ports with the Treaty of Ganghwa, Great Britain took little interest in Korea, preferring instead to address Korean affairs through China, which viewed Korea as a vassal. With the Great Game in full swing, however, and London unsure that Chinese sovereignty claims could keep the Russians out of Korea, Britain began to undertake efforts to forge an independent relationship with Korea. On June 6, 1882, Admiral Sir George O. Willes, the commander of the British China Squadron, and William George Aston, the British consul in Nagasaki, Japan, paid a visit to Jemulpo (a.k.a. Incheon) to ink a diplomatic relations and trade treaty. The British side, however, failed to ratify the deal, as it was not as far reaching as similar treaties signed between Korea and Japan and China, so Sir Harry Smith Parkes, the British minister in Beijing, renegotiated it. The two sides signed the resulting Treaties of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation on Nov 26, 1883 (coincidentally, the same day Korea signed a trade and relations treaty with Germany). This was ratified in April the following year. As Anglo-Korean negotiations had been going on for some time, the British were able to establish a presence in Korea almost immediately, with Parkes serving as minister plenipotentiary from China, and William George Aston — who apparently knew enough Korean to serve as Parkes’ interpreter — as consul-general in Seoul. That the British Empire, then the world’s mightiest nation, had recognized Korea was a major diplomatic coup for Seoul, but it angered the Chinese, who regarded Korea as a vassal state and were displeased that Parkes had negotiated with Korea behind their back.
The British set up shop to the north of Deoksugung Palace, opening their consulate almost as soon as the diplomatic relations treaty was ratified. Like the American Legation (now the US Ambassador’s Residence), the original British Consulate-General was a renovated hanok. On July 19, 1890, however, work got underway on a new, Western-style consulate building, as recorded on perhaps the coolest cornerstone in all of Korea:
Completed in 1891, the lovely Number One House, built in a Georgian colonial style that was common in British diplomatic compounds in the Far East, was designed by J. Marshall, an architect with Her Britannic Majesty’s Office of Works in Shanghai, and built by a workforce of Koreans, Chinese and Japanese laborers (supervised by a very linguistically talented consulate staff). It is, in my humble and very non-professional opinion, the most beautiful piece of early modern architecture in Korea. This is an opinion that was not, it would seem, universally shared: British soldier and Royal Geographical Society fellow Capt. A.E.J. Cavendish, visiting Korea in the summer of 1891 to climb Mt. Baekdusan, wrote:
On Monday morning we visited the new Consulate-General, designed with the usual want of taste shown in British official edifices in the Far East. The Consul-General’s house stands on the top of a slight eminence, and is comfortable inside as far as the size and arrangement of rooms go ; the offices are a little farther down the slope, separated from the house by a terrace and lawn-tennis ground. Mr. Hillier, who is an enthusiastic botanist, had many lovely plants and flowers in a small greenhouse, and had laid out the ground already available with much taste and care ; his fruit-trees were promising well, and the previous season he had had a large crop of strawberries.
Well, I think it’s got plenty of taste. The tennis ground, incidentally, amused the royals at nearby Deoksugung Palace, who wondered why in the world the consul-general and other high-ranking foreigners would engage in such a physically demanding activity when they could get servants to do it for them.
The prime mover behind the new consulate was Consul-General Walter C. Hillier (1849—1927), one of those fascinating figures the Victorian Era so often produced. A diplomat, scholar and writer, Hong Kong-born Hillier was veteran British diplomat in China and a respected Sinologist: his Chinese was so good that as an assistant to Sir Harry Smith Parkes, he drew up the Treaties of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation — written in Chinese — himself. He came to Korea in May of 1889, not long after the Port Hamilton Incident, in which the Royal Navy pre-emptively occupied the southern island of Geomun-do to prevent its occupation by the Russians. Hillier served as the British consul-general in Seoul until 1896. Two years late, following the establishment of the Daehan Empire, the compound would be upgraded from a consulate-general into a full legation. Today it serves as the ambassador’s residence.
Number Two House, seen above, was completed in 1892. As some of the finest pieces of Western architecture in Jeong-dong, they served as the inspiration for Deoksugung Palace’s own Western-style architecture, most clearly seen in the Jungmyeongjeon Hall.
In almost continuous use since the day it was built, the old British Consul-General compound is in gorgeous shape, and proof of the adage that the best way to preserve a building is to use it.
* Much thanks go to the British Embassy for allowing me the opportunity to photograph the historic old legation.
Salvation Army Central Hall
The Salvation Army first came to Korea in 1908, when Colonel and Mrs Robert and Annie Hoggard arrived in Seoul from Great Britain. Just 100 years later, there were over 40,000 senior soldiers (full Salvation Army members) in Korea, more than in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
From London Korean Links:
“The Salvation Army in Korea” by Peter H. Chang (Seoul, 2007) tells how the Hoggards travelled the back roads of Korea on the back of a pony, staying in the homes of local people as there were few inns.
“We walked from place to place, holding two or three meetings a day – ‘by the wayside’ or in any place available – to proclaim simple gospel truths and try to bring people to an immediate decision for Christ,” Hoggard is quoted as saying.
“Both Hoggard and his indefatigable wife, itinerated constantly. Mrs. Hoggard frequently struck out on her own with a missionary assistant and a translator,” the book adds.
The funny thing is, according to Prof. Kim Jeong-dong, the spot in Jeong-dong where Hoggard set up the Salvation Army’s first meeting hall was, in fact, something akin to a red-light district just to the north of the British Consulate-General (in fact, an old American map of Jeong-dong marks the spot as such). According to Kim, one of the Salvation Army’s first projects in Korea was to conduct an anti-prostitution campaign in their neighborhood.
The spot is now occupied by the Salvation Army Central Hall, completed in 1928 to commemorate the 70th birthday of General Bramwell Booth, the second General of The Salvation Army (Note: Booth had actually visited Korea just prior to the Hoggards’ arrival). The funds for the building were raised from Salvation Army soldiers in the United States.
A handsome neoclassical structure with a portico and colonnade, the Central Hall was modelled on Clapton Congress Hall (formerly London Orphan Asylum) in London. Until 1985, it was used as the Salvation Army’s Officer Training College. It is now being renovated for use as a cultural space — one of the wings, in fact, is now an art gallery.
Due to its location — it’s sort of “hidden” on the very quiet road that passes in front of the US Ambassador’s Residence — it doesn’t get that many visitors. At the time of its construction, however, it was one of the ten biggest buildings in Seoul.
Seoul Anglican Cathedral
Anglicanism arrived on Korean shores on Sept 29, 1890, when Royal Navy chaplain Charles John Corfe arrived in Incheon as Korea’s first Anglican diocesan bishop. The Anglican Church established a presence in Jeong-dong in 1892, opening a hanok church and later a hospital.
Work on the current Anglican Cathedral began in 1922. Mark Napier Trollope, Korea’s third Anglican bishop (and, incidentally, president of the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society for 13 years) hired fellow Birmingham native Arthur Dixon to design the church. Dixon was a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), and I’m guessing the same man who designed the beautiful New Guild House in Birmingham.
The construction of the cathedral came after a decade’s worth of planning and fund-raising. Unfortunately, the later endeavor came up short: 6,000 won was raised in Korea and 8,000 in Britain, which fell far short of the 30,000 won projected construction costs. Accordingly, Dixon’s plan could not be completed as originally conceived. A very truncated version of the church was concentrated in 1926 as the Anglican Cathedral Church of Sts. Mary and Nicholas.
Dixon himself came to Korea in 1927 to make some alterations to the church, adjusting it to reflect the completion of just part of the original plan, as well as working on the interior and landscaping.
The result was a beautiful (albeit only 50% complete) Romanesque cathedral with elements of Korean traditional architecture, best seen in the windows and roof. Many consider it to be the most beautiful piece of Western-style architecture in Korea, and one of the most beautiful churches in East Asia. It’s definitely captivating, and despite its very exotic features, it still harmonizes well with nearby Deoksugung Palace, a tribute to the care that went into its design.
For 70 years, the cathedral stood in half-completed shape. In 1991, plans were made to expand it, but nobody could find Dixon’s original plan. In 1993, however, a British tourist visiting the cathedral noted that he’d seen Dixon’s original plans at the library at which he worked back in Old Blighty. Dixon’s plans so rediscovered, work was undertaken to complete the cathedral as originally intended. The expansion, which gave the church its current Latin Cross shape, was completed in 1996.
The interior is just as beautiful as the exterior. The mosaic in the apse was designed by George Jack, a Scottish (but Long Island-born!) designer and architect associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement. It took several years to complete.
I think this pretty much speaks for itself. Some 87,000 Britons fought in the Korean War: 1,109 were killed and 2,674 wounded. British and Commonwealth forces fought in some of the most important battles of the war, including the Battle of Imjin River and the Battle of Gapyeong.
There is also a memorial for the Anglican clergy martyred during the war, including an elderly Irish-born nun who died on the Tiger Death March of November 1950.
There is a crypt chapel, too, where English services are held (photo taken a couple of years ago). Buried in the crypt is Bishop Trollope, who died in 1930 of a heart attack “brought about by shock when the ship on which he was returning from Europe after attending the Lambeth Conference collided with another vessel while entering harbour in Japan.” The copperplate, engraved by Francis Cooper, was completed in 1932.
Also quite lovely is the cathedral rectory, built of Western red brick but with a hanok roof. The Anglican church proved itself very adept at “Koreanizing” itself from an early stage: many of Korea’s historic Anglican churches are, in fact, hanok churches. There’s also a small marker in front of the rectory commemorating the role the cathedral played in the June 1987 protests that led to Korea’s transformation from a military dictatorship to a democracy.
Old Russian Legation
The tower of the old Russian Legation — all that remains of the once grand compound — is a major Jeong-dong landmark and a symbol of the Korea’s tragic past.
Korea and Russian established diplomatic relations in 1884, in no small part thanks to the efforts of Paul Georg von Möllendorff, King Gojong’s fascinating Prussian-born deputy foreign minister (and founder of the Korean Customs Service), and Karl Ivanovich Weber, Russia’s first consul-general to Korea. Möllendorff, recommended to Gojong by the equally fascinating Chinese statesman Li Hongzhang, favoured an alliance between Korea and Russia as a counterweight to Chinese and Japanese influence. Relations with Russia took on an even greater importance in 1885, when the British — without obtaining permission or even granting prior notice — occupied Geomun-do (Port Hamilton), a fine harbor just off Korea’s southern coast. With a strategic location sitting astride Russian shipping lanes out of the East Sea, the British move alarmed Moscow, not to mention Korea, which was understandably unhappy with foreign powers just slicing off pieces of Korean territory whenever they felt like it.
An excellent write-up of the diplomatic shenanigans behind the Port Hamilton Incident can be found here: it’s well worth the read, so please do.
The Russian set up shop in Jeong-dong in 1885. Atop a hill overlooking Deoksugung Palace they built a grand legation complex in Russian Renaissance style, entrusting their design to Aleksey Seredin Sabatin. Sadly, most of the complex was destroyed during the Korean War, with the central tower all that remains. There are plenty of old photos of the place, though, including the one to the right, which shows the complex and its entrance, the imposing “Russian Arch,” which was also designed by Sabatin. Another great view of it can be found here, from Isabella Bird Bishop’s book, “Korea and her Neighbors.”
It’s probably at this point that I should mention a bit about Sabatin’s life. I don’t know if we can call him the “Josiah Conder of Korea,” but he was, nonetheless, the most important figure in the early history of Korean modern architecture. Born around 1860, Sabatin — a Russian of Swiss descent (just like Yul Bryner) — worked as an architect in China before coming to Korea in 1883. He worked in Korea for no fewer than 23 years, leaving behind a prodigious architectural legacy in both Incheon and Seoul. He was an important historical figure, too, as one of the key witnesses to the assassination of Queen Min by the Japanese in October of 1895. Unfortunately, Sabatin and his family, along with many other Russians living in Korea, would have to flee the country aboard a French warship to Shanghai at the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. From there, the Sabatins made their way via Port Said to Odessa, and from there to Vladivostok, but they would never step foot in Korea again. His property in Incheon, meanwhile, was transferred to his son, who worked in Nagasaki for the British trading company Holme Ringer & Co, according to “Jeong-dong and Deoksugung” by Prof. Kim Jeong-dong.
Once it was complete, the Russian Legation became one of the most prominent buildings in Seoul. “The Russian Legation has taken another and a higher [hill], and its lofty tower and fine facade are the most conspicuous objects in the city,” wrote Isabella Bird Bishop. There is some disagreement about when it was completed, although Horace Allen said its cornerstone read “August 30, 1890.” It’s most important moment came in the morning of Feb 11, 1896, when King Gojong and the Crown Prince — frightened by the assassination of his queen by the Japanese and fearful of a coup — fled Gyeongbokgung for the Russian Legation:
According to Russian foreign policy documents dated Jan. 10, 1896, just over three months after the queen’s death, Gojong made an official inquiry to the Russian legation asking for asylum.
Gojong and the crown prince left Gyeongbok Palace early in the morning of Feb. 11 and arrived at the Russian Legation in a covert operation that involved a high level of security. The day before, about 120 soldiers had been summoned from the port of Incheon to participate in the operation.
“The whole Far East was electrified by a sensational telegram – ‘The King of Korea has escaped from his Palace, and is at the Russian Legation,’” wrote Isabella Lucy Bird in “Korea and Her Neighbours” (1898). “On that morning the King and Crown Prince in the dim daybreak left the Kyeng-pok Palace in closed box chairs, such as are used by the Palace waiting-women, passed through the gates without being suspected by the sentries, and reached the Russian legation, the King pale and trembling as he entered the spacious suite of apartments which for more than a year afterwards offered him a secure asylum.”
Gojong and the Crown Prince lived for over a year on the second floor of the Russian Legation, safely guarded by the legation’s detachment of Cossacks. There he got a real experience of Western life, but the Russians used the situation to their advantage, too. The reformist, pro-Japanese cabinet of Kim Hong-jip collapsed, with Kim and other officials killed in mob violence. In their place, a pro-Russian cabinet was formed (led by none other than Yi Wan-yong, about whom it could at least be said he know how to pick the winning side), which set about providing Russia with advantageous concessions:
A Korean delegation headed by Min Yeong-hwan and Yun Chi-ho also attended the tsar’s coronation ceremonies in May 1896. After several meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Aleksei Lobanov-Rostovsky, the two men concluded an agreement with Russia that set forth the following terms: Russia would protect King Kojong and, if required, send additional troops to Korea; Russian officers would train the Korean army and Russian financial experts would be brought to Seoul under the guidance of the Russian foreign minister to advise the Yi government; Korea and Russia would enter into a loan agreement if Korea needed economic aid, and; Russia would be allowed to connect its telegraph lines with Korea’s telegraph network. Russia wasted little time implementing the more aggressive terms of this agreement.
Meanwhile, Russia and Japan signed the Yamagata–Lobanov Agreement, which essentially divided Korea into Russian and Japanese spheres of influence. King Gojong was not consulted prior to the agreement. The fortunes of Kim Hong-nuik, the legation’s interpreter, are symbolic of the times:
As an interpreter, Kim Hong-nuik’s power grew in step with the increased importance of Russia in Korea. While King Kojong lived in the legation, Kim served as the direct liaison between the king and Russian Minister Karl Waeber. He used his position to amass a huge personal fortune and put family members and friends in powerful positions. He soon became on the most powerful men in the Korean government. At the height of his power, Kim held the title of Governor of Seoul, Chief of Nobility and the Vice Minister of Education, all while still maintaining his position of Russian interpreter at the legation.
Not that everything went so well for Kim:
In politics, power breeds enemies and Kim Hong-nuik, the interpreter at the Russian Legation, had more than his share. Most of them were Korean. While walking home on February 22, 1898, Kim was attacked by three assassins who tried to stab him in the back. A group of British and Korean soldiers saved Kim’s life by running off the attackers. Afterwards, British Minister John Jordan noted that the only regret expressed by Korean citizens was that the assassination attempt failed.
Russian Minister Alexis de Speyer demanded that the Korean government capture and persecute the would-be assassins. Wild rumors in Seoul that a royal prince had offered a reward of $10,000 to anyone who killed Kim only aggravated the situation. The Seoul police quickly arrested the prince, which triggered a new crisis. As a member of the royal household, the prince could not be arrested without the emperor’s personal approval. The unfortunate police commissioner lost his post. With demands flying about that he be executed for abusing his office, the police commissioner fled to the safety of the Russian Legation.
Infuriated, Minister de Speyer demanded justice. He saw the incident as yet another attempt to weaken Russia’s position in Korea and took the attack on the commissioner as a personal attack. He wanted Emperor Kojong to come to the Russian Legation and personally apologize to him for insulting Russia. To emphasize his point, de Speyer brought 42 sailors and a naval officer from the gunboat Gremiashchii to Seoul, which raised the Russian Legation staff to about 100 men. He even threatened to shut down the legation and leave Seoul unless his interpreter received justice for the attack against him. Minister de Speyer, wholly unimpressed with Emperor Kojong, expressed his opinion to Yun Chi-ho, a leading Korean reformer; “There is no King yet in Corea. He is only a weak man who is scared at the least noise for his personal safety.”
Kim’s service at the Russian Legation was terminated in 1898. He was immediately arrested and exiled to an island off the coast of Jeollanam-do, but rather than go quietly, he paid the royal butler to spike Gojong’s coffee with poison. Gojong didn’t drink it, but the Crown Prince did, falling violently ill. The Crown Prince lived, which is more that could be said for Kim, who was executed with the royal butler and another former member of the court. The bodies were tied together and handed over to the citizenry of Seoul, who dragged them through the streets. Such was life as the 500-year-old Joseon Dynasty came to a close.
With Russian influence growing, calls grew louder for King Gojong to leave the Russian Legation. These calls were led by the Independence Club, led by Seo Jae-pil (Philip Jaisohn); also participating was a vocal young member, Rhee Syngman. Gojong left the Russian Legation on Feb 20, 1897, moving to nearby Deoksugung Palace, which was close enough to the Russian Legation to make it easier to flee again should the need arise.
Russian influence would come to a rude end in 1905, when Russia was defeated by Japan in the Russo-Japanese War. The staff of the Russian Legation had pulled out the year before when war was declared, and the Korean government, under Japanese pressure, severed ties with Russia.
The Russians would return in 1906, although this time, the Legation was reduced to the status of a consulate, as Korea was now a Japanese protectorate with no diplomatic power of its own. After the Russian Revolution, the consulate remained in the hands of the White Russians until 1925, when Japan established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, much to the the chagrin of Korea’s then-sizable Russian exile community:
Meanwhile, the defunct czarist regime’s representative in Seoul, Maximilian Hefftler, continued to occupy the consulate in Chŏngdong, benefiting from Japan’s refusal to recognize the Bolshevik government. Hefftler and his vice consul, Aleksander Troitzki, were not forced out until February 1925, when Japan finally recognized the Soviet Union.s The new Red consul, Basil Charmanoff, set himself apart from the cultured Hefftler by his boisterous behavior upon arrival at the Chosen Hotel. In fact, his entourage was involved in a shooting incident on their first night in town. A secretary who was playing with Charmanoff’s revolver while the consul was in the bathtub accidentally fired it into the wall, damaging the woodwork and upsetting the Japanese police and hotel staff.
One of Charmanoff’s first acts was to announce an amnesty for the White Russians in his jurisdiction, offering Soviet citizenship and travel papers to any Russian resident who came in to apply before 1 May 1926. There were virtually no takers. The Whites hated the Reds, and for the next twenty years there was icy distance between the small consular staff and other Seoul Russians, even those across the wall in the church compound. People thought it silly that the consulate set up loudspeakers to blare martial music across the Chŏngdong landscape on Soviet holidays.
If you’ve seen the current Russian embassy in Jeong-dong, that last line probably doesn’t surprise you.
The Soviets kept their consulate through the war years; the staff was not arrested even after the Soviets declared war on the Japanese. After the war, however, Seoul fell under American occupation, and with it, the consulate came under suspicion. And not without reason:
But the Americans were sceptical about [Soviet Consul-General] Poliansky from the beginning. He seemed too sure of things at a time when everything else was chaos and confusion. Though he got all the courtesies that the Americans offered other Allied delegations—the PX, the army mail facility, and even a plane to take him to Japan to get more money from the Soviet Embassy in Tokyo when his funds ran low—U.S. counterintelligence reported that he and his staff were busy undermining the American occupation government by keeping surreptitious contact with leftist groups in South Korea. Since the U.S. Army was dealing with Soviet Army authorities in North Korea and had no use for Poliansky’s diplomatic channels, there was really no reason for him to remain in Seoul. Nor did it make sense to have a Russian consul in a place that was not technically a sovereign country. The fact that the Americans were not allowed any corresponding consular facility in Pyongyang made his presence in South Korea all the more anomalous and irritating.
As a representative of the Soviet Union in South Korea, one of Poliansky’s jobs was disseminating favourable information about the Soviet Union. This included showing movies to Korean audiences, something that the Military Government allowed until it was discovered that the movies were being used as recruiting tools for the left. The Americans were also galled by films that exaggerated the role of the Russians in winning the war against Japan. Friction increased until the Americans caught Poliansky’s staff showing films commercially. In diplomatic practice, films imported by embassies and consulates via the pouch were not to be used commercially, and the distribution of Poliansky’s films to theatres was ruled a violation. Poliansky apologized, then repeated the offence, at which point the American authorities called him on the carpet and presented him with an ultimatum: either allow the Americans to open a consulate in Pyongyang or leave South Korea. In Moscow, Foreign Minister Valentijn Molotov lodged a protest that was rejected by the Americans there, and on 2 July 1946, Poliansky closed the consulate, loaded his staff and dependents into vehicles, drove up to the 38th parallel, and disappeared into Soviet-occupied North Korea.
Most of the historic compound was destroyed during the Korean War; only the tower survived. Even this came close to being destroyed in 1969, when there was controversy over whether the historic landmark — a symbol of a shameful past that was now associated with the then-hostile Soviet Union — should be preserved. Fortunately, those arguing for its preservation won the day, and today it stands watch over Jeong-dong, much as it did in those fateful days of the Daehan Empire.
Former Site of Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres Nunnery
In the little park area in front of the old Russia Consulate is a small monument that marks the site of the first home of the Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres in Seoul. The Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres came to Korea in 1888. They stayed in Jeong-dong for about a month before moving to what is now Myeong-dong, behind Myeong-dong Cathedral.
The reason I include this here is that it’s pretty much all that remains of the French presence in Jeong-dong. Unlike the other Western powers, France entered into negotiations with Korea with some significant baggage owing to the persecution of Catholics in Korea. When they finally signed a diplomatic relations deal with Korea in 1886, however, they became a prominent presence in Seoul’s diplomatic community. They also built on of the most beautiful legations in Jeong-dong, which you can see in the photos here.
While there isn’t much left in Jeong-dong from the French, the French cultural influence in Korea still lives on in Korea’s many historic Catholic churches, most built by French missionaries of the Paris Foreign Missions Society in the late 19th/early 20th century.
Encore: Old Belgian Consulate
Far from Jeong-dong, near Sadang Station on the south side of the Hangang River, stands a stately Renaissance-style building that new serves as the southern annex of Seoul Metropolitan Museum of Art. Originally the Belgian Consulate, the building, completed in 1905, originally stood in Hoehyeong-dong (near what is today Namdaemun Market), but due to urban development, it was moved to its current location in 1982. It was designed by a Japanese architect named Kodama, and built by a Japanese construction company.
This beautiful old building is included in this photo essay because the original Belgian Consulate was located in Jeong-dong. Korea and Belgium established diplomatic ties in 1901. For those with an interest in these things, the Korean name of the treaty was the 한비수호통상조약. Why this, you might ask? Well:
기록에 따르면 양국간에 수호통상조약이 체결된 것은 1901년 3월 23일의 일이었다. 우리 나라는 외부대신 박제순(外部大臣 朴齊純)에 특명전권대사로 나섰고, 벨기에는 레온 방카르트(Leon Vincart, 方葛)가 진작에 1900년 11월 5일부터 서울에 도착하여 교섭에 임하였던 것으로 알려진다. 그 시절에 가장 흔하게는 벨기에를 백이의(白耳義)로 부르곤 하였으나 그에 못지않게 비리시(比利時), 비국(比國), 대비리시국(大比利時國)으로도 표기하였으므로, 이 당시의 조약은 한비수호통상조약(韓比修好通商條約)이라는 명칭으로 정리되었다.
For those keeping score at home, 11 nations signed relations and trade treaties with Korea during the late Joseon and Daehan Empire periods: Japan (1876), the United States (1882), Great Britain (1883), Germany (1883), Italy (1884), Russia (1884), France (1886), Austria-Hungary (1892), Qing China (1899), Belgium (1902) and Denmark (1902). Austria-Hungary and Denmark never set up legations or consulates in Korea, which makes the Belgian Consulate the last foreign consulate to be established in Korea prior to the Korea’s colonisation by Japan.
MAP: Jeong-dong, the Heart of the Daehan Empire
View Jeong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul in a larger map