In 1950, after the beginning of the Korean war, the president of the Republic of Korea Dr Rhee Syngman, his cabinet, and the national assembly fled to Busan. Most of the peninsula was conquered by the Korean People’s Army of North Korea. President Rhee took up residence in this lovely old 1920s era home, once the official residence of the Japanese colonial governor of Gyeongsangnam-do (South Gyeongsang Province). The president and government would remain here for most of the war. After General Douglas Macarthur’s victorious landing at Incheon, President Rhee and the government returned to Seoul, only to have to flee the onslaught of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
One of the national symbols of Korea is the mugunghwa, or rose of sharon. Many Korean government agencies use the flower in their official logos, with the name of the agency printed in the middle in either hangeul (Korean alphabetic script), or in the case of the National Assembly and City Councils, Chinese characters. This logo informs us that we are in the vicinity of the provisional capital.
Here is the presidential residence itself. It is a lovely old home that has been restored by the Busan Metropolitan City.
Here’s a wax statue of Dr Rhee at his desk. Dr Rhee was an active participant in Korea’s liberation from Japan. However, when he came to power, he turned out to be rather heavy handed. Had he gracefully bowed out at an earlier time in his administration, he might have been better remembered. His administration was pretty corrupt. In 1961, he fled to the United States where he lived in exile in Hawai’i.
Here is the dining room in the presidential mansion.
Because his pro-independence activities landed him in trouble with the Japanese, Dr Rhee sought exile in the USA. He studied at Princeton where he obtained his Ph.D. While in exile in the West, he met and married Franziska Donner. Thus, Korea’s first first lady wasn’t an ethnic Korean. She was Austrian by birth. Here are the women’s quarters in the residence.
The kitchen of the residence is nearby. Instead of the traditional low tables where you sit on the floor, there are western tables.
There’s even a restroom with an authentic 1920s style urinal!
At one time, President Rhee’s government tried to do away with hanja, or Chinese characters, in favour of hangeul, the alphabetic script devised by King Sejong the Great. Here’s a declaration of President Rhee’s done in hangeul with the Chinese characters in parenthesis to clear up understanding.
Finally, we see the beautiful back yard of the residence. The house isn’t very large, but it provided for the president’s needs at the time. In Seoul, you can visit his home, something I’ve never done.