Han Hŭng-su: a multi-talented but forgotten Korean scholar in Europe

Jaroslav Olša, jr.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013 -
7:30pm to 9:00pm
Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace
7,000 won (non-member); free for members

The name of the Korean scholar Han Hŭng-su (1909-?) is known to few. Until very recently, many biographical facts as well as the achievements of this capable and hard-working Korean scholar, who in different historical circumstances could have become a noted historian and the leading archaeologist of his nation, were lost in mist as he criss-crossed continents and countries, but everywhere he left traces - in Japan, occupied Korea, Austria, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia and North Korea.
His life and work made a lasting impact on South and North Korean archeology as well as on the study of Korean history and literature in Czechoslovakia and the knowledge of Korean literature in German-speaking countries in Europe. Multi-talented scholar, polyglot speaking at least six languages and author of numerous books and articles published in Korean, German, Czech, Polish and English, he is now being slowly rediscovered.
Han Hung-su arrived in Vienna at the age of 27, and he had turned 39 when he was welcomed back to his home country. After two years in Vienna and one in Bern he earned his PhD at Fribourg (Switzerland). He was hired by the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna but soon started to commute between Vienna and Prague. From 1945 onwards his sole place of residence was Prague where he became a catalyst for the creation of Korean studies in Czechoslovakia. He authored, in German, a history of Korea which was published in Czech; he translated and edited hundreds of pages of Korean literature into German and Czech and vice versa; and he wrote numerous articles for the general public in support of the Korean independence and the emerging separate North Korean state, as well as academic papers on Korean and East Asian history and culture.
As Han Hŭng-su belonged to the numerous Korean intellectuals who supported North Korea, he returned to Pyongyang. During the subsequent four years he managed to become the highest ranking person in charge of all North Korean museums and historical sights. But just like many others who opted for the North his swift rise turned into a sudden fall when he was purged near the end of the Korean War. And despite all his former activities and his considerable bulk of publications, he ended up a “forgotten man”, not only in both Koreas but also in Central Europe.

Jaroslav Olša, jr. has served as Czech ambassador in Seoul since 2008. He graduated in Asian and African Studies from Charles University in Prague and has worked in the diplomatic service for almost two decades. He served as his country‘s ambassador to Zimbabwe (2000–2006). He has published on African art and history, most notably the book Dějiny Zimbabwe, Zambie a Malawi (History of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, 2008, with Otakar Hulec). One of these was published in Korean as 짐바브웨 현대미술전″ (2010). Most recently he prepared an exhibition and edited a book 1901 photographs of Seoul by Enrique Stanko Vráz and other early Czech travellers´ views of Korea – 1901년 체코인 브라즈의 서울 방문. 체코 여행기들의 서울 이야기 (2011, with Kang Hong Bin).

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Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch
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[03129] 서울시 종로구 대학로 19 (연지동) 한국기독교회관 611호

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