I love history and I love reading. I am sort of ashamed to admit this, but I haven’t spent nearly enough time browsing through the Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch.
The Royal Asiatic Society is a British learned society which specializes in all things Asian. The Korea Branch got started back in 1900, the same year my great-grandfather Flake was born. It was founded by 17 men, missionaries and diplomats, who sought to widen their knowledge of the culture and history of Korea and the Far East. Apart from World War II and the Korean War, it has continued to meet. They sponsor lectures and excursions to various historical sites in Korea. Additionally, they publish a year journal, the Transactions.
Their back issues, going all the way back to 1900, are online for your dowloading and reading pleasure. Right now, I’m enjoying Volume XXXVI of 1960. More specifically, I am enjoying then-Father Richard Rutt’s article “The Chinese Learning and the Pleasures of the Country Scholar”. In old Korea, before the advent of public schools, Korean children were taught the old Chinese classics by village schoolmasters. Generally, only boys were taught. Unfortunately, women weren’t really educated back then, though there were exceptions, such as Shin Saimdang, the only woman to appear on South Korea’s currency. Shin Saimdang (申師任堂) was the mother of the great Confucian scholar Yi I (李珥), better known by his pen name Yulgok (栗谷). She was an accomplished poet, painter, and scholar in her own right. Anyhow, Father (later Bishop) Rutt gives a fairly thorough account of what education was like in those days. You can read it by clicking here.
Richard Rutt was an Anglican priest who worked as a missionary in Korea for many years. He eventually became the Bishop of Daejeon in 1966. In 1973, feeling that the time was right for the Koreans to take charge of their ecclesiastical affairs, he retired and eventually returned to England, where he served as a Suffragan, or assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Truro. While there, he mastered yet another language, in this case Cornish. Cornish is a Celtic language spoken in the region of Cornwall in England. He was later named Bishop of Leicester and served there until his retirement in 1990. Bishop Rutt was a High Church Anglican. After the ordination of women became practiced in the Church of England, he converted to Catholicism and was subsequently ordained a Roman Catholic priest. A couple of years before his death, Pope Benedict XVI named him a Monsignor. A monsignor is a priest who has been granted the honour of being named a member of the papal household. Most dioceses have monsignori. Usually, this honour is bestowed upon very senior churchmen, either those who hold high office in a diocese or those who have been distinguished for long service.
Another interesting back issue concerns new religions in Korea, including the first new religion, namely Ch’ŏndogyo and what is perhaps Korea’s most infamous new religion, T’ongilgyo. T’ongilgyo, better known as the Unification Church or perjoratively as the “Moonies”, was founded by the self-anointed Messiah Sun Myung Moon. Moon died this past year, but when his movement was at its height, it was very, very controversial. The Unification Church is also famous for their mass weddings. You can read that particular issue by clicking here.
The whole site may be accessed at http://www.raskb.com. I’ve been aware of their activities for quite some time. Unfortunately, I haven’t always been able to go to their lectures because of work schedules and the like. The current president, Brother Anthony of Taizé, has lived in Korea for a long, long time. He is a professor at Sogang University and teaches English literature. He also belongs to the Commuity of Taizé, an ecumenical religious community. He is now a Korean citizen. Other people associated with the RAS-KB have been in Korea for a long time as well. The membership includes Koreans as well. They’ve done quite a lot to make Korea better known and appreciated.