Although Homer B. Hulbert (1863-1949) is a household name in Korea, he's still underappreciated when considering everything he did for the country.
As Korea's first modern educator, Hulbert studied Korean language extensively and wrote about it academically within and outside Korea. He lamented the writing system of Hangeul was not in widespread use and made a textbook for Koreans.
The missionary also gave the song "Arirang" its Western musical notation and shared it with the outside world for the first time. He published the musical notes in the English periodical, "Korean Repository" published in Korea in 1896, and helped it make into the History of Foreign Music, a paper published in New York in 1908. He praised a turtle ship invented by Admiral Yi Sun-sin during the war against Japan in the late 1500s and attempted to showcase it at an international expo in the U.S.
As Joseon fell under Japanese rule, Hulbert helped Emperor Gojong reach out to the world to protest Japan's taking control of the Korean Empire. He advocated Korea's stance in many writings he contributed to U.S. newspapers.
Kim Dong-jin's biography "Homer B. Hulbert: Joseon Must Blossom!" narrates Hulbert's life-long efforts as an advocate of Korea supported by historical documents Kim had collected over the years. The biography is an updated version of his previous book published in 2010. This year marks the 70th anniversary of Hulbert's death.
"I included more original documents and new facts about Hulbert's dedication to Korea," the author told The Korea Times.
Hulbert was born in 1863 in New Haven, Vermont, to a Christian family and studied at Dartmouth College and Union Theological Seminary.
Hulbert first arrived in Korea in 1886. In 1891, he returned to the States and came back to Korea in 1893 as a Methodist missionary. In 1907, he left again under fear of Japanese persecution. From then until 1945, he wrote extensively and spoke for Korean independence in the United States.
In a Portland lecture in 1909, he reaffirmed his determination to fight for Korea, "I stand for Korean people, now and always. Despoiled of rights and possessions, my voice shall go out for them until I die."
The number of articles and speaking engagements Kim wrote is countless.
"The number of verified articles he contributed to media outside Korea was 75, but I guess the real number could be at least 100. The number of public lectures about Korea between 1907 and 1945 was more than 1,000."
Hulbert had always wanted to come back to Korea.
"I would rather be buried in Korea than in Westminster Abbey!" is one of his most famous quotes. Syngman Rhee, the first president of Korea, invited him and he finally accepted the invitation in 1949. "He was 86 years old. His family members all knew very well that he would not make it back home."
Before leaving for Korea, he gave an interview with the local Springfield Union newspaper and said, "Koreans are among the world's most remarkable people."
On July 29, 1949, he arrived at the Incheon port. "He kissed the soil as he got off the military ship and cried." One week later, he passed away.
The book is a result of Kim's decades of work. As a former banker, he continued research in his spare time and raised funds to carry on the project.
"Early on in my research, my heart was filled with admiration for Hulbert ― a stranger doing so much for Korea. However, over the years, the admiration was replaced with sympathy for him ― how hard it would have been for him to carry on the independence movement alone and how lonely he would have felt all along. These thoughts make me feel deeply for him."
On the topic of Hubert's sincere fondness for Korea, Kim wrote: "I would say his innately strong sense of humanity was a basis. Meeting with the sincerity and amicability of Korean people sparked the affection in him and the research on Korean culture and language nurtured the affection."
The book is 22,000 won and available in bookstores.