|Fruit picking circa 1920-1930|
By Robert Neff
It isn't clear when apples were first introduced into Korea but we do know that in the late 19th century Americans residing in the country imported apples from the United States. Some of the earliest apples imported were Red Astrachans (also known as Abe Lincolns), yellow Early Harvests and Red Junes. Some of the best apples were grown in Wonsan and apples grown there were sold in Vladivostok for $25 a barrel ― a princely sum considering the average Korean laborer only earned about 25 cents a day.
Pyongyang also had a small apple orchard that was a frequent target for the adventurous Korean neighborhood children who often slipped in to pilfer a few apples, an activity not unknown to this writer in his own youth.
In summer 1925, C. A. Haysmeir, a Seventh Day Adventist medical missionary from Minnesota, decided to put an end to this petty thievery. On July 15, while walking through the orchard, he encountered 12-year-old Kim Myoung-sup, a Korean boy living in the neighborhood. Haysmeir later claimed the boy was stealing apples but Korean newspapers reported the boy was merely in the orchard without permission and ran because he was afraid of the American missionary.
What followed next was a horrendous act that marred not only the image of missionaries in Korea but also the face of the young boy.
According to Ransford S. Miller, the American Consul-General in Seoul, after Haysmeir caught the boy, he summoned the boy's mother, Yoon, to the orchard. She begged Haysmeir not to summon the Japanese authorities, and he agreed not to but was insistent that the boy had to be taught a lesson. He had one of the nurses bring him some caustic soda (acid) and then used it to write ‘dojeok' (thief) on the boy's cheeks. He then proceeded to lecture the boy for over an hour and cautioned the crying boy to never steal again.
But that is not how it was reported in the Korean newspapers. According to the DongA Ilbo: Kim fled into the orchard but was quickly caught by the missionary who brought him back to the compound and hung the boy [from the arms?] high from a peach tree and then branded him as a thief with the acid on his cheeks. The boy remained for some time hanging from the tree before he was allowed to leave. The following day, his parents, horrified and angered at the abuse the boy had received, sought out the missionary who calmly instructed them that he had done so to teach the boy a lesson. The parents could do nothing and returned home.
As time passed, the scars on the boy's cheek became more prominent and resulted in him no longer being able to attend school. The American newspapers claimed that it was the result of the teasing he received from his peers but the DongA Ilbo claimed he was expelled because the word ‘thief' was too visible.
When the Korean public became aware of the nefarious act, protests were held. The Japanese authorities made it clear that if any attack was made on the Americans there would be repercussions. A Korean delegation was sent to meet with the missionary board and formal complaints and demands were made.
Amongst the demands were for Haysmeir to offer compensation so that the scars could be corrected and that he publish an apology in every newspaper. According to historian Donald N. Clark, "the Seventh Day Adventist Mission put up a weak defense of Dr. Haysmeir, pointing to his otherwise spotless record as a doer of good." Korean newspapers, however, reported that the Mission agreed to the demands and offered to provide the boy with free education including secondary school. It also assured the representatives that Haysmeir would be sent back to the United States if the Korean community desired.
According to DongA Ilbo, just after midnight on July 1, 1926, Haysmeir went to the boy's house and tried to negotiate a settlement with his mother. She suggested that she would consider the matter closed for a sum of 10,000 yen ($5,000) but Haysmeir refused and countered with an offer of 420 yen as compensation and 200 yen for treatment for a total of 620 yen ($310).
Eventually Haysmeir did pay the 620 yen and offered an apology in the newspapers in which he claimed that he thought the boy would suffer no permanent damage and that the scar would fade after a few weeks.
Haysmeir was found guilty and ordered to pay the 620 yen to the family and was sentenced to a three-year prison term. There were probably a number of Koreas who thought he got off to lightly. After all, he was a missionary from a "civilized country" who had treated a poor boy so inhumanely.
As Prof. Donald N. Clark noted in his book ― Living Dangerously in Korea ― the Western community was not only outraged over Haysmeir's self-righteousness and disproportionate punishment of the young boy but also surprised that he was prosecuted and punished in Korea.
That surprise was probably short-lived. The sentence was appealed which allowed the Seventh Day Adventist Mission to "hustle Dr. Haysmeir out of the country."
Robert Neff is a historian and columnist for The Korea Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.