Plagues & Peoples in Korea, II: Behold! A New World Is Before Our Eyes
Students of Korean history are doubtless aware of the importance of March 1, 1919. But a background of public health orders meant to contain a pandemic is not the context in which the pro-independence movement is often considered. In the second installment of his ongoing series that connects the politics and society of colonial Korea and the 1918 influenza pandemic, Christopher Richardson situates the March 1st Movement amid a public health crisis. His first piece set the scene, describing the arrival of the Spanish Flu to Korea. In this one, Christopher entertains the linkages between independence politics and public health, asking some provocative but plausible questions along the way — was Kim Il-sung’s father Kim Hyong-jik ill with a strain of the 1918 flu? He also tracks the movements and impact of Drs. Frank Schofield and Cynn Hyun-chang and recalls their impact on the national(ist) history of the Koreas. — Steven Denney, Managing Editor
Plagues & Peoples in Korea, II: Behold! A New World Is Before Our Eyes
by Christopher Richardson
No longer were there individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague and the emotions shared by all. Strongest of these emotions was the sense of exile and of deprivation, with all the crosscurrents of revolt and fear set up by these.
Albert Camus, The Plague, trans. Stuart Gilbert
Dr. Frank Schofield and Dr. Cynn Hyun-chang’s restrained yet powerful indictment of the Japanese colonial administration’s mishandling of the Spanish Flu in Korea was published in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association on April 5, 1919. Just one month earlier, the March 1st Movement had erupted in Korea. Describing the role of staff and students at Severance Hospital in the March 1st Movement, Yeo In-sok records in the Yonsei Medical Journal how “faculty members Dr. Frank William Schofield, Gap Seong Lee, and Tae Young Ham, along with students Yong Seol Lee and Moon Jin Kim, were particularly important in leading campus-wide demonstrations. In addition to treating many of the injured [on March 1], the hospital was also utilized as a safe location for which to compose and store the nation’s Declaration of Independence from Japan.”1)In-Sok Yeo, “Severance Hospital: Bringing Modern Medicine to Korea,” Yonsei Medical Journal 56, no. 3 (2015): 596. Schofield was present in Pagoda (now Tapgol) Park in Seoul when the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed on March 1, 1919. He led fact finding missions to report on reprisal massacres in the aftermath of the uprising, visited Seodaemun Prison to meet gaoled dissidents, and appealed directly to the Governor-General to improve human rights in Japanese-occupied Korea.2)Kyu-hwan Sihn, “‘The 34th National Representative,’ Dr. Frank W. Schofield (石虎弼, 1889–1970),” Yonsei Medical Journal 60, no. 4 (2019): 316.
The countrywide eruption of this protest movement, in defiance of public health measures implemented to halt the spread of the pandemic, demonstrated the depth of deprivation in colonial Korea. Indeed, the two were inextricably linked. As Lim Chaisung writes, “The social frustration caused by the pandemic and the ensuing economic hardships served as a source of Korean resistance.”3)Chaisung Lim, “The Pandemic of the Spanish Influenza in Colonial Korea,” Korea Journal 51, no. 4 (2011): 85. Whilst Dr. Schofield joined the uprising in Tapgol Park in Seoul, further north, another frontline eyewitness to the March 1st Movement joined the throng that marched to the Pothong Gate in Pyongyang. He later recalled how, “whenever I heard the cheers for independence which echoed like a roll of thunder in my mind,” he “felt boundless pride in the indomitable fighting spirit and heroism of our people.”4)Kim Il-sung, Reminiscences: With The Century, Volume One (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1994), 47. He was only six years old at the time and yet recalled the day with crystalline clarity. The child was Kim Il Sung.
Third Wave & Aftermath | The third wave of the Spanish Flu pandemic was considerably less deadly, but late 1920 also brought a cholera outbreak to the beleaguered nation. The pandemic cast a long shadow over the peninsula. Writing in the Seoul Journal of Economics, Hong Sok-chul and Yun Yangkeun have outlined the long-term health consequences of the pandemic in Korea, finding that “the number of live births substantially declined from January to September in 1919, deviating from its seasonality.”5)Sok-chul Hong & Yangkeun Yun, “Fetal exposure to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Colonial Korea and Human Capital Development,” Seoul Journal of Economics 30, no. 4 (2017), 360. Hong and Yun also found that children who “spent the fetal period in provinces severely affected by the pandemic […] achieved significantly lower educational attainment. The gap between the most and least-affected birth provinces amounts to approximately 10% for years of schooling and 8% for literacy rates as a percentage of each outcome variable’s sample mean.”6)Ibid, 355. The pandemic had made clear the need for more hospitals and doctors and the newly energized Korean nationalism emphasized health and education as means to break the chains of Japanese colonial control. As Lim Chaisung writes, by 1942 “the ratio of physicians to the general population eventually became 1 to 1,302,” with locally trained Korean doctors outnumbering Japanese doctors. In 1918, the ratio had been 1 to 3,131, and most doctors had been Japanese. In the wake of the pandemic, Korean birth and death rates plummeted.7)Lim, “The Pandemic of the Spanish Influenza in Colonial Korea,” 80.
Although the March 1st Movement of 1919 had failed to achieve its aim of driving Japan from the Korean Peninsula, one week after Dr. Schofield and Dr. Cynn’s article in JAMA, the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea was declared in Shanghai under the leadership of Syngman Rhee. One day Rhee would return as the first leader of the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Meanwhile, the 1920s saw a degree of liberalization in the Japanese colonial administration. Seeking to forestall further unrest, Tokyo eased some restrictions in Korea. The first five years after the pandemic saw a flourishing of Korean newspapers, art, literature, and cinema, although many of these changes would be crushed by decade’s end.8)Caprio, Mark E. Japanese Assimilation Policies in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945. (University of Washington Press, 2011), 123-140. The nationalism unleashed on March 1, 1919 would take differing shapes in subsequent years, ultimately emerging as the twin republics born in the aftermath of Japan’s defeat at the end of the Pacific War in 1945.
History & Hagiography | Frank Schofield departed Korea in 1920 to teach at the Veterinary College of Ontario. There he contributed to the development of the lifesaving anticoagulant warfarin. After the Korean War, Dr. Schofield returned to teach in the Veterinary College of Seoul National University and remained in Korea until his death in 1970.9)Sihn, “‘The 34th National Representative,’ Dr. Frank W. Schofield,” 315-318. Dr. Cynn Hyun-chang graduated from Severance Medical College in 1918 just as the pandemic struck. Dr Cynn would go on to join the Korean Provisional Government, assume a leadership role in the Korean Red Cross, and established medical centers for Korean exiles and resistance fighters in the French Concession in Shanghai. One was called Haechun Hospital. The other was the March 1st Hospital, symbolically linking the vitality of the Korean nation with the health of its people in the aftermath of a pandemic and the birth of the new resistance. Closely allied to independence leader Ahn Chang-ho, Dr. Cynn dedicated his life to freeing Korea from Japanese imperialism. He would die in 1951, during the Korean War, and is buried in Daejeon National Cemetery alongside other leading independence activists and fighters.10)Kyu-hwan Sihn, “The Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai and Doctor’s Independence Movement: A Study on the Location of Medical Activity Sites,” Yonsei Journal of Medical History, Vol.22 (1): 119-143.
Released from a Japanese prison during the first months of the pandemic to convalesce, Kim Il-sung’s father Kim Hyong-jik had resolved to become a doctor on his sickbed. History does not record what ailed Kim Hyong-jik in late 1918, but it could easily have been Spanish Flu. Today, the preeminent teacher training college in the DPRK is the Kim Hyong-jik University of Education, an unexpected legacy of the American missionaries who had taught the Great Leader’s father at Sungsil Middle School in Pyongyang. Today, in Junggang County, Jagang Province there is a statue of Kim Hyong-jik. The state preserves key sites in Junggang County as a place for ritual veneration, including the inn where Kim Hyong-jik established a medical clinic. As Kim Il-sung recalled in his memoirs, “[my father] set up a surgery which the independence fighters could frequent and, with it as a base, wage the anti-Japanese struggle more actively.” He notes how, “the position of physician would enable [my father] to hide easily from the enemy’s surveillance.” The colonial police were soon onto the wily physician and “came to consider that all the changes in Junggang were connected with my father.”11)Kim Il-sung, Reminiscences, 58-59.
Forced to flee once more, Kim Hyong-jik crossed the river with his young family where they lived as exiles in Manchuria. As Kim Il-sung recalled, his father rented a house in Linjiang to establish another clinic, where “he hung up a diploma from the Severance Medical College.” The Great Leader wryly adds that his father “obtained the diploma from a friend of his prior to his departure from Pyongyang, I think.” A joke, perhaps, at the expense of the haughty missionary doctors and their elite medical students. Kim Il-sung recalls how his father “won fame as a physician though he began clinical practice only after reading a few books.”12)Ibid, 63 The pattern of precociousness that would define the dynasty was already set, even if, as Dae-sook Suh reminds us, “when it comes to [Kim Il Sung’s] mother and father […] none of the assertions about revolutionary activities can be verified in any Korean or other records.”13)Dae-sook Suh, Kim Il-sung: The North Korean Leader (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 5. History matters, but in North Korea mythology and hagiography matter more.
On the 5th of June 1926, Kim Hyong-jik died in exile aged only 31. The physician’s final act was to pass a gun into the hands of Kim Il-sung, the gun that would come to symbolize the hereditary transfer of power from one generation of the Kim Family to the next, a touchstone of North Korea’s revolutionary mythology even now. Breathing his last, Kim Hyong-jik uttered his final words: “I am departing without attaining my aim. But I believe in you. You must not forget that you belong to the country and the people. You must win back your country at all costs, even if your bones are broken and your bodies are torn apart.” Kim Hyong-jik would be buried on the banks of the Songhua River. The Great Leader recalled that this site was chosen as “[his father] was great friends with the villagers […] and talked with them and treated their illnesses […] my father would have wished to be among the people with whom he had been so close.” The self-taught physician who had relished anatomy and science as a student in an American mission school in Pyongyang would die a revolutionary martyr. Kim Il Sung recalled how, “when I was at a loss what to do in my inconsolable and somber grief, I drew strength from my inheritance and began to seek the path I must follow.”14)Kim Il-sung, Reminiscences, 126-129. The Great Leader’s hero’s journey had begun. In North Korea, Bildungsroman is the cornerstone of charismatic politics.15)Christopher Richardson, “Hagiography of the Kims and the Childhood of Saints,” in Change and Continuity in North Korean Politics, ed. Adam Cathcart, Robert Winstanley-Chesters and Christopher Green (New York: Routledge, 2017): 109-135.
Intimations of the Future | Just over a century after the Spanish Flu ravaged the Korean Peninsula, the world has been plunged into a new pandemic. Despite setbacks and missteps, the Republic of Korea’s Covid-19 response has been seen as one of the most effective in the world. Upholding the legacy of Dr. Frank Schofield and Dr. Cynn Hyun-chang, Severance Hospital is on the frontline once again. A century after Kim Il-sung marched to the Pothong Gate to join the March 1st Movement in protest at the barbarity of the Japanese colonial government in Korea, it is the opacity and mendacity of the DPRK that is the chief obstacle to an effective public health response to the pandemic in North Korea. Like the Japanese colonial government in 1918, the DPRK remains in denial, insisting there is no Coronavirus within its borders. In the next instalment of this series for Sino-NK, I will consider the impact of Coronavirus on the country that Kim Il-sung, the doctor’s son, would build.
|↑1||In-Sok Yeo, “Severance Hospital: Bringing Modern Medicine to Korea,” Yonsei Medical Journal 56, no. 3 (2015): 596.|
|↑2||Kyu-hwan Sihn, “‘The 34th National Representative,’ Dr. Frank W. Schofield (石虎弼, 1889–1970),” Yonsei Medical Journal 60, no. 4 (2019): 316.|
|↑3||Chaisung Lim, “The Pandemic of the Spanish Influenza in Colonial Korea,” Korea Journal 51, no. 4 (2011): 85.|
|↑4||Kim Il-sung, Reminiscences: With The Century, Volume One (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1994), 47.|
|↑5||Sok-chul Hong & Yangkeun Yun, “Fetal exposure to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic in Colonial Korea and Human Capital Development,” Seoul Journal of Economics 30, no. 4 (2017), 360.|
|↑7||Lim, “The Pandemic of the Spanish Influenza in Colonial Korea,” 80.|
|↑8||Caprio, Mark E. Japanese Assimilation Policies in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945. (University of Washington Press, 2011), 123-140.|
|↑9||Sihn, “‘The 34th National Representative,’ Dr. Frank W. Schofield,” 315-318.|
|↑10||Kyu-hwan Sihn, “The Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai and Doctor’s Independence Movement: A Study on the Location of Medical Activity Sites,” Yonsei Journal of Medical History, Vol.22 (1): 119-143.|
|↑11||Kim Il-sung, Reminiscences, 58-59.|
|↑13||Dae-sook Suh, Kim Il-sung: The North Korean Leader (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 5.|
|↑14||Kim Il-sung, Reminiscences, 126-129.|
|↑15||Christopher Richardson, “Hagiography of the Kims and the Childhood of Saints,” in Change and Continuity in North Korean Politics, ed. Adam Cathcart, Robert Winstanley-Chesters and Christopher Green (New York: Routledge, 2017): 109-135.|