Well known amongst Koreans for the words written on his tombstone, Homer B. Hulbert (1863-1949) was the famous American who said, “I would rather be buried in Korea than in Westminster Abbey.”
Homer Hulbert first came to the Kingdom of Joseon (1392-1910) — today’s Korea — on the 4th day of July, 1886 (age 23) to spend 5 years an educator for the “Royal College” at Seoul. This Royal College at Seoul was the first modern day school created directly by King Gojong for the purpose of introducing an English and western-world-oriented education system. An initiative which was based upon the recommendations that came from the Korean (a.k.a. Corean) “Bobingsa” delegation — the First Korean Embassy delegation — after their trip to the United States in 1883.
Upon his arrival, he (Homer B. Hulbert) became quickly fluent in Korean, and began his life’s journey toward becoming one of the greatest Americans to have set foot on Korean soil.
After having served, in full, his five-year term (1886-1891) in Korea as a teacher (educator), Homer Hulbert returned back to the United States, and then came back once again to Korea (Kingdom of Joseon) in 1893 (age 30) as a Methodist Church missionary. During this period, Homer B. Hulbert would publish many of his landmark books written in English such as the History of Korea (1905) and the Passing of Korea (1906).
In addition to this, and on 28 October 1903, Homer Hulbert along with James S. Gale (1863-1937) and Philip L. Gillett (1874-1939) started the YMCA in Seoul located at Jongno-2-ga. Near, or shortly after the year 1905, the YMCA (Young Men’s Christen Association) in Seoul had begun to introduce the sports of baseball, basketball and ice-skating to Koreans for the first time.
After having become a witness to the injustice brought upon to the people of Korea (Joseon), Homer Hulbert later in his life became an active international figure who had helped, so vigorously, to protect, save and keep Korea’s Independence from the Japanese. In his own words, “Calumny has does its worst, and justice has suffered an eclipse” in reference to what had seen unfold in front of his very own eyes.
A few more words from his famous book, The Passing of Korea (1906), resonate as the truth today. These words are (were) . . . “when the spirit of the nation, quickened by the touch of fire, shall have proved that though sleep is the image of death, it is not death itself”.
During the early 1900s, not all Americans had supported the idea of America, in international affairs, as a nation which should ultimately seek to pursue an European-like Imperialism with respect to their overseas territories.
By the same token, Homer Hulbert was openly critical of Theodore Roosevelt’s view of approving Japan’s takeover in Korea (Source: New York Times, December 5, 2009), in order to create a crisp swap scenario for solidifying and securing the United States acquisition of the Philippines without hostile military threat from Japan.
Today, the content of the Taft-Katsura (Secret) Agreement – whether it was a simple memorandum, signed agreement, or an exchange of talk by ghosts, in nature – seem all to be approaching a level of truth.
Now, and all this time, without having first-hand knowledge of, and insights into, such clandestine war operatives (talks) happening in the background, Homer Hulbert agreed, without reservation, to serve as a special envoy for Korea’s King Gojong to represent Joseon (Korea) overseas during his trip to the United States in 1905 and months prior to the Second Hague Convention (1907) with the end-goal of communicating the truth and injustice, to the world, and the invalidity (forcefully fabricated nature) of the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1905 (a.k.a. Eulsa Treaty) which never obtained the consent nor the signature (stamp/seal) of King Gojong.
However, the Korean emissiary delegation was blocked from entry into the Convention Hall. Joseon (Korea) – whether right or wrong – had somehow already been stripped of the power to exercise diplomacy, as an independent nation, in the eyes of attending nations.
Shortly thereafter, word spread to Tokyo. Homer Hulbert was expelled — not permitted to return back to Korea and forced to go back to the United States — during May 1907 by the Japanese-resident General, and King Gojong (Emperor Gojong) was eventually forced to abdicate his throne. The Kingdom of Joseon (1392-1910) — i.e., the Yi Family Dynasty — forever ceased its existence on 29 August 1910 with the “Passing of Korea.”
Miraculously, it would take another 35 years — and the Liberation of Korea (on 15 August 1945) — before Hulbert’s prophecy in which he said, “sleep was an image of death, and not death itself” and in which he also dreamt that Korea would one day rise from its sleep soon became a “vision” that would eventually come true.
Homer Hulbert was 86 years-old when he returned back to see an independent Korea in 1949, as a honorary high-level State guest, at the invitation of South Korea’s first President Syngman Rhee. A total period of 42 years had gone by for Homer Hulbert. During this trip in 1949 to Seoul, he become ill and soon passed away.
Today, Homer Hulbert rests in external peace at the Yanghwajin Foreigner Missionary Cemetery located in Northwestern Seoul – north of, and along, the Han River.
After his death, Homer Hulbert was awarded the Republic of Korea’s (South Korea’s) Order of National Foundation (Independence Medal of Honor) on the 1st day of March 1950. His Korean name is “Hul-Bub” (흘법, 訖法), which sound very similar to his last name Hulbert, and is so inscribed in South Korea’s national registry by using his Korean Name.
More recently (last year), he was recognized once again on the 9th day of October 2014, (Hangul Day), by the Republic of Korea’s (South Korea’s) government by being awarded with the Order of Cultural Merit (Gold Crown Medal of Honor) – 64 years after receiving his Independence Medal.
As a great American in Korea (East Asia) — he, with grace and tremendous dignity, greatly represented his Republic, the nation under God, and a country which stood (stands) for liberty and justice for all.
In 1999, the Hulbert Memorial Society was formed by Professor Dong-Jin (DJ) Kim. He is still actively serving as the Society’s Chairman to help honor and remember Homer B. Hulbert. The Korea Society invited Mr. Kim to speak on April 6 (Wednesday), 2011. This 2011 presentation can be viewed by looking it up on YouTube, or by clicking HERE.
♦ Language Footnote ♦
- Homer B. Hulbert, Korean Name = 흘법 (訖法)
- Royal College at Seoul // 육영공원 // 育英公院
- Bobingsa // 보빙사 // 報聘使
- Jongro-2-ga // 종로2가 // 鍾路2街
- Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery, 양화진외국인선교사묘원 (楊花津外國人宣敎師墓園)
♦ Related Outside Stories and External Links via the World Wide Web ♦
- Hulbert, Homer Bezaleel (1863-1949), Boston University – School of Theology
- Homer Hulbert: Crusader for Korea, the Korea Society with Video
- Diplomacy That Will Live in Infamy , NY Times (December 5, 2009)
- Hulbert Memorial Society
- American Missionaries and the Korean Independence Movement in the Early 20th Century
- Home was the Land of Morning Calm, K. Connie Kang
- Korea to honor independence crusader Hulbert
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