Go to Contents Go to Navigation

Book shows American missionary's attempt to spread Korean alphabet in China

All News 17:56 July 26, 2016

SEOUL, July 26 (Yonhap) -- The works of a revered American man showing his passion to replace Chinese characters with the far simpler Korean writing system of hangeul about 100 years ago have been made into a book, its publisher said Tuesday.

"The Selected Works of Homer B. Hulbert" puts together a total of 57 writing selections by U.S. missionary and journalist Homer B. Hulbert (1863-1949), Seoul-based non-profit organization the Hulbert Memorial Society said.

Of them, 30 pieces were published in English monthly periodicals "The Korean Repository" and "The Korea Review" in the peninsular country. The other works were published in international dailies and magazines.

Hulbert dedicated his life to introducing the Korean alphabet and sought international cooperation for South Korea's recovery of sovereignty from colonial Japan. Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945.

The book shows Hulbert even insisted that China and Japan, two countries that entirely or partially use Chinese characters, should use hangeul as their official language.

One of his articles, published in a U.S. paper, shows that he proposed to the Chinese government to change its existing system of ideograms, consisting of tens of thousands of different characters, into phonograms, like hangeul. Beijing positively considered the idea, according to the articles.

Hulbert's notion of Chinese characters and hangeul resonates with Lu Xun, one of the most renowned Chinese writers of Hulbert's time. The Chinese author of "The True Story of Ah Q" was known to have complained that too many Chinese characters was a national disaster.

Hulbert's advocacy of hangeul goes further in his memoir. He said hangeul is uncontestedly excellent when it is compared with over 200 different alphabetic systems.

The American argued that another strength of hangeul is its striking simplicity, saying that just four days of learning the system makes one capable of reading any books in Korean aloud.

He also alleged Japan, as well as China, could have been better off with hangeul as its official language.

Kim Dong-jin, the head of the Hulbert Memorial Society, expected that Hulbert could have stayed in touch with Yuan Shikai, a high-profile Chinese official then with an office in the Joseon government.

"There are claims that Yuan Shikai suggested his people learn hangeul to lower illiteracy after becoming the first president of the Republic of China," he said. "Hulbert was a true pioneer in exploring Korea's hangeul, literature, art and history."

The book also includes Hulbert's introduction of the Dangun founding myth of Old Joseon (2333 B.C.) and the English translation and explanation of 123 Korean idioms.

Born on Jan. 26, 1863, Herbert first set his foot on Korean soil in 1886 in the late Joseon period (1392-1910) as an English language instructor in the royal educational institute of Yugyeong Gongwon. The American scholar actively engaged himself in journalism as a correspondent of the Associated Press in one of the hardest times of Korean political turmoil. After the fall of the Joseon dynasty and the declaration of the Korean Empire in 1897, he was forced out of the country by Japanese colonialists in 1907. Three years later Japan usurped Korean sovereignty.

Hulbert was one of the biggest advocates of his time in promoting Korean culture to the Western hemisphere. In 13 of his articles published in U.S. and British papers, Hulbert introduced Korean cultural traditions and demanded that the peninsular country modernize itself independent from Japanese interference.

The U.S. scholar found himself infatuated with hangeul. He authored "Saminpilji," Korea's first textbook of the Korean alphabet. Later he published a study on the academic analysis of hangeul, presenting its excellence to international academia.

Until his death in Aug. 5, 1949, Hulbert cherished his ties with Korea.

Send Feedback
How can we improve?
Thanks for your feedback!