Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Making of the First Korean President

The Making of the First Korean President: Syngman Rhee's Quest for Independence, 1875-1948

YOUNG ICK LEW
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 472
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wqwch
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Making of the First Korean President
    Book Description:

    The only full-scale history of Syngman Rhee's (1875-1965) early career in English was published nearly six decades ago. Now, inThe Making of the First Korean President,Young Ick Lew uncovers little-known aspects of Rhee's leadership roles prior to 1948, when he became the Republic of Korea's first president. In this richly illustrated volume, Lew delves into Rhee's background, investigates his abortive diplomatic missions, and explains how and why he was impeached as the head of the Korean Provisional Government in 1925. He analyzes the numerous personal conflicts between Rhee and other prominent Korean leaders, including some close friends and supporters who eventually denounced him as an autocrat.Rhee is portrayed as a fallible yet charismatic leader who spent his life fighting in the diplomatic and propaganda arena for the independence of his beleaguered nation-a struggle that would have consumed and defeated lesser men. Based on exhaustive research that incorporates archival records as well as secondary sources in Korean, English, and Japanese,The Making of the First Korean Presidentmeticulously lays out the key developments of Rhee's pre-presidential career, including his early schooling in Korea, involvement in the reform movement against the Taehan ("Great Korean") Empire, and his six-year incarceration in Seoul Prison for a coup attempt on Emperor Kojong. Rhee's life in the U.S. is also examined in detail: his education at George Washington, Harvard, and Princeton universities; his evangelical work at the Seoul YMCA; his extensive activities in Hawai'i and attempts to maintain prestige and power among Koreans in the U.S. Lew concludes that, despite the manifold shortcomings in Rhee's authoritarian leadership, he was undoubtedly best prepared to assume the presidency of South Korea after the onset of the Cold War in the Korean Peninsula.Essential reading for anyone with an interest in modern Korean history, this work will serve as a lasting portrait of one of the pivotal figures in the evolution of Korea as it journeyed from colonial suppression to freedom and security.Young Ick Lewis a former Chair Professor of Korean Studies, Graduate School of International Studies, Yonsei University in Seoul. Currently, he is T. H. Elema Chair Professor of Korean history at Handong Global University in P'ohang and a senior counselor to the Syngman Rhee Institute, Yonsei University.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3914-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Young Ick Lew
  5. Note on Romanization and Photos
    (pp. xix-xx)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  7. List of Korean Names
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  8. CHAPTER ONE Birth of a Christian Reformer
    (pp. 1-17)

    Syngman Rhee (Yi Sŭng-man) was born in 1875 in P’yŏngsan County, Hwanghae Province, in what is now part of North Korea—the year post–Meiji Restoration Japan first revealed its imperialistic ambition toward the Korean Peninsula by dispatching a naval vessel, theUnyō, to the mouth of the Han River. “Rhee” is a variation of Yi that Syngman Rhee adopted in early 1905 when he arrived in the United States for diplomatic and academic purposes. His father, Yi Kyŏng-sŏn (1837–1912), was a remote royal descendant (Fig. 1.1). His mother (1833–1896)—whose given name, in accordance with tradition, is...

  9. CHAPTER 2 Diplomacy with a U.S. President and Ivy League Education in America
    (pp. 18-40)

    Syngman Rhee spent much of his life living outside of the country of his birth, and while abroad was often embroiled in diplomatic efforts to promote Korea’s independence—efforts that brought him into direct contact with powerful political leaders and various heads of state in the United States, Europe, A sia, and elsewhere for more than five decades. Students of the early Cold War period will remember that Rhee worked with—and sometimes butted heads with—Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower to ensure that South Korea (ROK) remained a bastion of democracy in East Asia and an...

  10. CHAPTER 3 Christian Education and Evangelism in Korea and Japan
    (pp. 41-63)

    While Rhee was busy working on his doctorate in the United States, Korea was in the last stages of being swallowed up by its bigger island neighbor. Japan’s earlier success against Russia had further emboldened the government’s ambition to extend its power north through Korea and into a significantly weakened China. By the time Rhee finally obtained his PhD and set his sights back on his homeland, he technically no longer had a homeland to return to. Korea in 1910 was officially a Japanese colony, so Rhee’s earlier plan of working to protect Korea’s sovereignty was necessarily adjusted to working...

  11. CHAPTER 4 Early Life in Hawai‘i
    (pp. 64-88)

    Syngman Rhee arrived in Hawai‘i in 1913. The islands served as the base for his nationalist activities for more than a quarter of a century, until 1939, six years before the liberation of Korea from Japanese colonial rule. Hawai‘i was where Rhee first assumed leadership as an established Christian educator-politician unencumbered by the old personal associations and social rivalries of Korea. He landed in Hawai‘i as a major figure known not only to the 4,500 ethnic Koreans living there but also to the Caucasian elites because of his impressive academic credentials and his well-chronicled association with public figures in the...

  12. CHAPTER 5 President of the Korean Provisional Governments
    (pp. 89-130)

    The March First Movement of 1919 was a historic event that helped define a nation in a time of need. The mass demonstrations not only forced Korea’s Japanese rulers to rethink their colonial policies on the peninsula, but it also proved to be a catalyst in bringing about a significant increase in organized resistance by Koreans within the country as well as abroad. Despite being far removed from the geographical epicenter of the uprising, Syngman Rhee was directly affected by the aftershocks that rippled outward, and in a dramatically short period of time was transformed from an educator-in-exile into the...

  13. CHAPTER 6 Fall from Power in Shanghai and Hawai‘i
    (pp. 131-177)

    Syngman Rhee decided to hold firm as president of the Korean Provisional Government (KPG) rather than give in to calls for his resignation, a decision that preserved much-needed constancy in the government’s leadership, but only at the cost of continued challenges to Rhee’s authority. For the most part, these challenges originated from four political adversaries, each of whom labored in one way or another to have Rhee ousted from the presidency during his stay in China from December 1920 to May 1921. As Rhee may well have expected before setting foot on Chinese soil, his longtime friend turned political nemesis,...

  14. CHAPTER 7 Solo Drive for Korean Independence in Europe and Marriage to Francesca Donner
    (pp. 178-202)

    On March 9, 1932, Japanese military officials proclaimed the establishment of Manchukuo, with Henry Pu-yi (1906–1967), the “last emperor of China [Emperor Xuan-tong],” as its nominal head of state. This promulgation of a new political entity was little more than a diplomatic follow-up to the successful invasion and occupation of Manchuria by Japan’s Guandong Army, which had begun on September 18, 1931. Indeed, the Guandong Army kept a firm hold on the reins of power; its commanding officer was also appointed the Japanese ambassador to Manchukuo, a post that gave him veto power over the passive Pu-yi.

    Japanese rhetoric...

  15. CHAPTER 8 In Pursuit of Diplomatic Recognition during the Pacific War
    (pp. 203-234)

    Syngman Rhee was a devoted observer of East Asian geopolitical developments in the 1930s, and he was also quite confident in his ability to interpret the myriad Japanese diplomatic and military activities unfolding in the region. To Rhee, as to a great many others, the tumultuous final years of the decade seemed particularly foreboding. July 1937 saw Japan’s actions on the Chinese mainland escalate from minor skirmishes into a full-blown conflict when the Marco Polo Bridge Incident triggered the Second Sino-Japanese War. An enfeebled League of Nations could offer little response. England and other European powers favored appeasement over endangering...

  16. CHAPTER 9 New Rivals and Detractors
    (pp. 235-266)

    During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Koreans in the United States saw the outbreaks of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937 and the Pacific War between Japan and the United States in 1941 as opportunities to end Japanese imperialism in their own native land. A fever of independence arose among them in tandem with the resurgent Korean independence movement in China. Many of these Koreans openly expressed antipathy toward Rhee, labeling him “old and cranky”¹—and therefore hopelessly outdated. They included an array of ambitious younger-generation Koreans who had been educated in the United States, where they had acquired political...

  17. CHAPTER 10 Becoming the President of the Republic of Korea
    (pp. 267-280)

    Syngman Rhee heard the news of Japan’s surrender on the radio at his home in Washington, D.C., at 11:00 p.m. on August 14, 1945. He reportedly told his friends who gathered there the following day that he was worried about “what the Soviets would do.” Presciently, he warned that “unless the United States acts wisely and quickly, there could be bloodshed between the nationalists and communists” in Korea.¹ With the help of his friend Col. M. Preston Goodfellow of the OSS, he tried to rush home to Korea, but the State Department, still wary of Rhee, dragged its feet about...

  18. Conclusion
    (pp. 281-294)

    Syngman Rhee was a freedom fighter. He was, however, unlike other Korean freedom fighters of his day. Rhee had a low estimate of the efficacy of military or terroristic resistance against an aggressive Japanese colonial agenda. Tactics such as bombings and assassination attempts did not appeal to him, not just because of their inability to yield the necessary political results but because condoning and supporting terrorist activities would have betrayed the values on which he founded his entire political career. Rhee did not reside in the company of soldiers, nor did he desire to build an armed force to do...

  19. Chronology of Syngman Rhee’s Career to 1948
    (pp. 295-304)
  20. Appendix A An English Summary of Syngman Rhee’s The Spirit of Independence
    (pp. 305-308)
    P. K. YOON
  21. Appendix B Petition from the Koreans of Hawaii to President Theodore Roosevelt, July 12, 1905
    (pp. 309-310)
  22. Appendix C James S. Gale’s Letter of Recommendation on Behalf of Syngman Rhee, November 2, 1904
    (pp. 311-312)
    Jas. S. Gale
  23. Appendix D Petition of Syngman Rhee and Henry Chung to President Woodrow Wilson, February 25, 1919
    (pp. 313-315)
  24. Appendix E A Petition to the President of the United States and the Peace Conference in Paris: Submitted by the Participants of the First Korean Congress in Philadelphia, April 14–16, 1919
    (pp. 316-316)
  25. Appendix F Letter from President Syngman Rhee to the Emperor of Japan, June 18, 1919
    (pp. 317-318)
  26. Appendix G President Syngman Rhee’s “Executive Order Creating the Korean Commission” and “Rules Governing the Commission,” September 1919
    (pp. 319-320)
  27. Appendix H The Revenue of the Korean Commission, September 1919–April 1922 (Unit: U.S. dollars)
    (pp. 321-321)
  28. Appendix I The Expenditures of the Korean Commission, December 1919–August 1921 (Unit: U.S. dollars)
    (pp. 322-322)
  29. Appendix J Korea’s Appeal to the Conference on the Limitation of Armament, December 1, 1921
    (pp. 323-328)
  30. Appendix K Syngman Rhee, “Statement of the Koreans in Manchuria,” February 18, 1933
    (pp. 329-331)
  31. Appendix L Translation of a Korean Speech by Dr. Syngman Rhee Short-waved to the Far East, June 13, 1942
    (pp. 332-334)
  32. Notes
    (pp. 335-394)
  33. Glossary
    (pp. 395-402)
  34. Bibliography
    (pp. 403-436)
  35. Index
    (pp. 437-444)
  36. Back Matter
    (pp. 445-447)