Conservative Pyongyang vs. Liberal Seoul

New missionaries learned many of their most useful lessons about Korea from their seniors within the mission rather than from Koreans. The seniority system had its advantages. The senior missionaries in P’yôngyang were gifted leaders and planners whose skills had everything to do with the spectacular success of the Presbyterians as a mission. Their character and commitment inspired fierce loyalty in their understudies….

The P’yôngyang “team’s” strict conservatism, however, sometimes led to conflicts with other missionaries. A prime area of disagreement was the Presbyterian Mission’s educational policy. A working document entitled “Our Educational Policy” had been adopted by a majority vote of the mission in 1890, defining the purpose of missionary education as “the gospel for the heathen and education for the Christians.” The mission agreed to support schools for the children of Christian parents, to train them as the church’s next generation of leaders and to give them the social advantage of a modern education. The policy explicitly rejected “general education” as a means of attracting non-Christians to the atmosphere of Christian schools. As the paper’s author put it, “The missionary teacher should be primarily a manufacturer of evangelists, and in so far as he has failed to do this he has failed as a missionary teacher, however successful he may be as an educator.”

This was the policy that was challenged in 1915 when the Government-General of Chosen excluded religious instruction from the curriculum of any school that wanted its graduates’ diplomas recognized by the government for purposes of future employment. At that time, the Northern Presbyterians had voted to close their schools rather than give up religious instruction (a step that turned out to be unnecessary because of the subsequent liberalization of the rule under Governor-General Saito). The vote came in the midst of a bitter dispute between “conservatives” in P’yôngyang and “liberals” in Seoul over what kind of postsecondary education was appropriate in the mission’s program of Christian schooling….

The Seoul faction, led by Horace G. Underwood (Won Du-woo), argued that by maintaining a single college exclusively for pastoral training in P’yôngyang, the mission was neglecting its responsibility to reach the Korean upper crust in the capital. If the brightest young Koreans were so hungry for a modem education that they were willing to leave home, where there was as yet no college, in order to study in Japan, then the church in Korea should take the opportunity to offer instruction in modern subjects under a Christian faculty in the context of Christian college life. If these were to be Korea’s future leaders in secular occupations, Underwood argued, it was important that they be offered Christian college educations. Severance Union Medical College, an institution that taught science, had already succeeded in attracting top Korean students to study medicine in preparation for careers in the Christian occupation of healing. Why not a college to train Korea’s future Christian professionals in other areas as well?

The Seoul college proposal threatened the P’yôngyang missionaries for political reasons as well. As a union institution run by a combination of the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Canadian missions, the new college would be beyond their control. This was clear from the way Horace Underwood was going about promoting his project. His brother John was a member of the Board of Foreign Missions in New York, and between them the Underwood brothers had many powerful friends in the homeland’s church hierarchy: Having made a fortune in the typewriter business, John Underwood was dangling before the Board a designated gift of $25,000 of his own money to purchase the college campus in the Seoul suburb of Yônhi Village. He had recruited allies on the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Canadian mission boards in North America to form an interdenominational consortium that would oversee the Seoul college through an interdenominational Field Board of Managers would answer to New York and not to the missions in Korea.

SOURCE: Living Dangerously in Korea: The Western Experience 1900-1950, by Donald N. Clark (Eastbridge, 2003), pp. 128-132

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