The RASKB Returns to Life: 1911

Brother Anthony of Taizé

This was the context in which, on January 23, 1911, the RASKB was reborn, at a meeting attended by eight men and one woman. Only two of the original founders of the RASKB were present at the January 1911 meeting, James Gale and the Methodist missionary doctor William Benton Scranton (1856-1922). The meeting was held in Scranton’s Sanitarium.

When the RASKB was revived, the first President elected was the British consul at Chemulpo, Arthur Hyde Lay (1865 - 1934). Lay was born in China, educated in Britain and arrived in Japan in 1887 as an interpreter trainee. From 1899 until 1902 he worked in Japan as an interpreter but seems to have mastered Korean by 1904. He published Chinese Characters for the Use of Students of the Japanese Language in 1898. He served as British Consul at Chemulpo (Incheon) in 1911, then went to be consul in Hawai’i (1912) and Shimonoseki (1913). From 1914 until 1927 he was British consul-general in Seoul and seems to have developed a great affection for Korea. However, Ku Daeyeol notes that “Lay had a stereotyped view of Korea, commonly shared by almost all Western diplomats. In a report he wrote following his retirement, he recalled that the Korean political situation had been dismal before the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, and concluded that the country still lacked the ability to maintain an autonomous government.” In October 1911, Lay was obliged to resign as President of the RASKB since he was leaving Korea for Hawai’i. His son has written that he had grown so attached to Korea that he did everything to have his posting to Hawai’i cancelled. He was replaced as President by James S. Gale, who resigned in February 1916, allowing Lay, now back as British Consul-General in Seoul, to be re-elected President for another year before he was replaced by Bishop Trollope.

One other diplomat who clearly played a vital role in the 1911 RASKB revival was the American consul-general George Hawthorne Scidmore (1854-1922). A career diplomat, he first came to Yokohama (Japan) in 1881 after several years in Europe, served in Oceania 1891-4, returned to Japan, then served as consul-general in Seoul 1909-13 during the annexation, before becoming consul-general in Yokohama, where he died. Several RASKB meetings were held at his invitation in the US Consulate General. Ku Daeyeol writes: “George Scidmore, the American consul general at the time of annexation, supported Japanese policy, as he had been impressed by Japan's efficient reform drive in his previous appointments in many Japanese ports, which he deemed to contrast the corrupt Korea that lacked any reform drive.”

The first lecture given to the resurrected Society, at a meeting held on March 4, 1911, in the U.S. Consulate on the invitation of Scidmore, was titled “The Old People and the New Government.” It was given by Midori Komatsu, the Japanese Director of Foreign Affairs of the Government General of Chosen. It was the first paper published in Volume Four of Transactions a few months later. Komatsu’s paper was a formal justification for the annexation of Chosen, based on claims that Korea had “originally” been a state founded from Japan, that the two peoples were “really” one “race”, and as such it was natural and desirable for them to be reunited.

It is sometimes claimed that the Japanese imposed the paper on an unwilling Society but this is fairly clearly not the case. First of all, it must be said that in early 1911 a large majority of the foreigners living in Korea still considered the annexation in a positive light. Besides, the accounts of the Council’s meetings published in Transactions Volume IV Part 2 make it clear that it was the president, Mr. Lay, and James Gale who decided on February 8, 1911, that this should be the first paper. Then, on March 4th, the paper was given in the US Consulate on the invitation of George Scidmore with nine RASKB members present, as well as “many guests,” “including members of the local diplomatic corps and ladies.” At the end, the Chairman (Lay) proposed a “hearty vote of thanks.” Later, on April 12, the Council met and “directed” the Recording Secretary (James Gale) to ask Mr. Komatsu for a copy of his paper for publication.

Two other papers were given by Japanese speakers that same year and were published in other parts of the same volume of Transactions, after which no papers by Japanese were ever given or published. One, that by Isoh Yamagata, the editor of the Seoul Press, evokes in cheerful tones the restoration of cordial relations between Japan and Korea after the Imjin War. The Seoul Press was the only English-language newspaper allowed in Korea and its role was to express the official Japanese version of events. The other, on “Coinage of Old Korea” by Morihiro Ichihara, who had earned a Ph.D. in finance from Yale and was first governor of the Bank of Chosen (I909-I915), begins: “To find and destroy the venerable old coins of Korea and replace them with new ones . . . has been my duty for many years.” It ends: “New Chosen begins its career with new vigor and strength as a part of the Empire of Japan.”

It is hard to know what was in the minds of Lay, Scidmore and Gale in deciding to invite these very highly placed, offical Japanese speakers, or to sense what considerations, if any, led to the invitations. That the Western diplomats and missionaries were still trying to be positive about Japan’s ways of dealing with Korea and optimistic about the future seems clear. Within ten years, by the time of the March 1 1919 uprising, much had changed but it is easy to imagine that the RASKB Council of early 1911 felt that they could deal with the top members of the Japanese administration as reasonable, educated gentlemen like themselves. They might even have hoped that by bringing them into the Society they would help them better understand the concerns of the western community in Seoul, and the demands of the civilized world. They very quickly learned that they were wrong.

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