Yun Pyŏnggu

Yun Pyŏnggu (윤병구), known in English sources as P. K. Yoon, was a missionary, priest, and independence activist.

Yun, the only son of Yun Sŏnghyŏng, was born on the 22nd of December 1880, in Yangju (or possibly Seoul), Korea. He studied at the Paejae School before entering a two-year program at Hansŏng Sabŏm Hakkyo in 1897. At this time Yun was moved to become Christian under the influence of Homer B. Hulbert (1863–1949), and in the same year was baptized by George H. Jones (1867–1919). After graduation he acted as a missionary interpreter, and a missionary in his own right at the Southern Methodist Church in Kaesŏng.[1]

In October 1903 Yun crossed over to Hawaii, his wife and son following him shortly after. With the support of Reverent G. L. Pearson of the First Methodist Church Yun began to proselytize amongst the local Korean residents, and became interpreter to Pearson’s successor, John W. Wadman. At the same time he continued his education to become a pastor, and became a central figure in organizations such as the New People’s Association (Sinminhoe).[2]

Yun Pyŏnggu departed Honolulu and met Syngman Rhee in Washington D.C. in July 1905. Together Yun and Rhee intended to petition the President of the United States during the Russo-Japanese negotiations at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Both Yun and Rhee had been put forward as delegates to by Koreans residing in Hawai‘i at a meeting on July 12 of that year.[3] With the help of John W. Wadman of the Methodist Episcopal Mission in Hawai‘i, Yun had obtained a letter of introduction from the secretary of war, William H. Taft, during Taft’s stopover in Honolulu. On August 4 Yun and Rhee met President Roosevelt at Oyster Bay, Long Island. The president received them cordially but said he could not receive the petition unless it came through official diplomatic channels.[4] The Korean legation refused to pass on the petition, and in any case the American government had already made a secret agreement with Japan, so Yun and Rhee’s foray into international politics ended in failure.[5] Yun’s calling card remains among Theodore Roosevelt’s papers.  [6]

Yun's Calling Card

Yun's calling card

In November Yun travelled to San Francisco prior to returning to Hawai‘i. There he joined the United Korean Association (Kongnip Hyŏphoe).[7] In December he made a statement refuting the words of Takahira Kogora, the Japanese Minister to the United States and in December also passing through San Francisco. Takahira had stated that Korea was “not fit to act as an independent country,” and that any suggestion of the use of force on the part of Japan to obtain the Japan-Korea treaty of 1905 was “ridiculous.”[8] Yun denied this, criticized Japan’s actions and stated that the Korean people “never agreed with Japan’s idea of protection.”[9] Back in Honolulu, Yun established a newspaper to raise awareness about recovering Korea’s rights amongst the Koreans living abroad.[10]

Yun attended Harvard University between 1906–1907. Newspapers at the time made note of his being the first Korean to attend the university. The New York Tribune recorded that “P. K. Yoon, the first Harvard student from Corea, is registered in the university as a special student,” and revealed that “one or two Harvard men become interested in him and persuaded him to come to this university.”[11] Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper labeled him “a brainy Korean” for being Korea’s “first representative at Harvard.”[12]

Yun did not stay at Harvard for long, however. In August of 1907 he met with Yi Sangsŏl and Yi Wijong in New York. Yi and Yi, two of the three envoys sent in secret by King Kojong to the Second Peace Conference at the Hague (the third member, Yi Chun, had died just weeks before) on the return route of their diplomatic mission. Yun joined their diplomatic efforts, and the group departed on a six-month tour of European countries.[13]

Yun returned to the United States in March the following year, eventually receiving a post at the San Fransisco Methodist Episcopal Church in December 1909, and become editor in chief of church’s publication, The Korean Evangel (Taedo). From then on Yun and his family moved around frequently: first to Oregon State in 1911, then Washington State in 1914, and central California in 1922.[14] From 1929 they resided in New York, and until 1936 Yun was the pastor at the New York Korean Church, and although he resigned from the position he remained in New York until 1939 when Yun relocated his family to California once more, this time to Los Angeles.[15]

Yun Pyŏnggu ca. 1909

Yun in Korean Evangel

All the while Yun kept up his support for expatriates, advocacy for Korean independence, and diplomatic activities. He engaged in teaching the Korean script and Korean history and promoting practical education for the local Korean residents in Washington State. In November of 1912 he became the second president of the Central Congress of the Korean National Association (Taehanin kungminhoe).[16] Following the March First movement in Korea in 1919, Yun was elected as the Korean National Association’s delegate to the Paris Peace conference, and he collaborated with Syngman Rhee and Philip Jaisohn (1864–1951) to write a petition to the Japanese and American governments.[17] In 1931 he was a central figure in the writing of “The Korean Manifesto against the Japanese Invasion in Manchuria.”[18]

Over the years Yun kept up a close relationship with Syngman Rhee. They met when Rhee landed in Hawai‘i on his way to the US continent in late 1904,[19] and henceforth supported each other in working towards Korean independence. Beyond meeting the president in 1905 and drafting the petition to the Japanese and American Governments in 1919, Yun also backed Rhee when he faced a political revolt within the Korean Provisional Government in 1921,[20] and was one of Rhee’s delegation to the United Nations Conference on International Organizations in San Francisco in April 1945.[21] Yun, along with John Haynes Holmes, jointly officiated the wedding ceremony of Rhee and Francesca Donner in 1934.[22] After the liberation of Korea and Rhee’s departure to the peninsula, Yun supported Rhee’s political activities from Los Angeles as the Public Relations Manager of the North American General Assembly of Comrades Society.[23]

Yun returned to Korea in 1949 to work in the newly formed Republic of Korea government, but passed away that same year on June 20th. He was awarded the Order of Merit for National Foundation, Independence Medal in 1977.[24]

 

[1] “8.15 haebang chŏn Hanin sŏn’gyosa 7: Yun Pyŏnggu,” Miju k’ŭrisŭch’ŏn sinmun, accessed June 15, 2020. http://www.chpress.net/news-detail.html?cate=7&id=11522; “Miju haninsahoe minjok undong ŭi yŏngwŏn han tŭngbul Yun Pyŏnggu,” Pukhan no. 450 (2009): 100–1.

[2] “8.15 haebang chŏn Hanin sŏn’gyosa 7: Yun Pyŏnggu.” Miju k’ŭrisŭch’ŏn sinmun.

[3] For the full petition, see F. A. McKenzie, The Tragedy of Korea (New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1908), pp. 311–312;  “To watch over Corea’s rights: P. K. Yoon, Oriental Minister from Honolulu, on His Way to Washington as Envoy,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 26, 1905, http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/365759281?a....

[4] “Koreans See the President: He Cannot Receive Their Memorial Except in Regular Way," New York Times, August 5, 1905, http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/96532925?ac....

[5] Yu Yŏngik, The Making of the First Korean President: Syngman Rhee's Quest for Independence, 1875–1948 (Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2014), 19–24.

[6] Calling card of P. K. Yoon, Theodore Roosevelt Papers, Library of Congress Manuscript Division. https://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Research/Digital-Library/Record?libID=o50015. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University.

[7] “8.15 haebang chŏn Hanin sŏn’gyosa 7: Yun Pyŏnggu.” Miju k’ŭrisŭch’ŏn sinmun.

[8] “Takahira Says Japan Will Insist on Corean Protectorate: Minister is Here on His Way Home, Stamps as Ridiculous the Idea that Agreement was obtained by the use of Force,” San Francisco Chronicle, Dec 15, 1905, http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/573528564?a....

[9] “Corean Representative Takes Takahira to Task: Declares that Japan Has Not Kept Faith Nor Done Anything in Way of Reform,” San Francisco Chronicle, Dec 16, 1905, http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/365574180?accountid=11311.

[10] “8.15 haebang chŏn Hanin sŏn’gyosa 7: Yun Pyŏnggu.” Miju k’ŭrisŭch’ŏn sinmun.

[11] “From Corea to Harvard: P. K. Yoon Has a Unique Distinction Amongst the University Students,” New York Tribune, Mar 31, 1907, http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/571966478?a....

[12] “A Brainy Korean,” Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, May 3, 1907,

https://books.google.com/books?id=AZZgcChlY4AC&pg=PA410&lpg=PA410&dq=%22...

[13] “8.15 haebang chŏn Hanin sŏn’gyosa 7: Yun Pyŏnggu,” Miju k’ŭrisŭch’ŏn sinmun; “Miju haninsahoe minjok undong ŭi yŏngwŏn han tŭngbul Yun Pyŏnggu,” 100–1.

[14] “8.15 haebang chŏn Hanin sŏn’gyosa 7: Yun Pyŏnggu,” Miju k’ŭrisŭch’ŏn sinmun.

[15] “Nyuyok Hanin kyohoe ŭi yŏksa,” Nyuyok Hanin kyohoe, accessed June 15, 2020. http://newyorkkoreanchurch.com/history.

[16] “8.15 haebang chŏn Hanin sŏn’gyosa 7: Yun Pyŏnggu,” Miju k’ŭrisŭch’ŏn sinmun.

[17] “8.15 haebang chŏn Hanin sŏn’gyosa 7: Yun Pyŏnggu,” Miju k’ŭrisŭch’ŏn sinmun; “Pyong Ku Yoon appointed to represent Korea at the Paris Peace Conference” [1919-03-21]; Korean American Digital Archive, University of Southern California Digital Library

Calisphere, accessed June 12, 2020. https://calisphere.org/item/fe365bde7fbfc6043977c764e3ffdd89/

[18] “8.15 haebang chŏn Hanin sŏn’gyosa 7: Yun Pyŏnggu,” Miju k’ŭrisŭch’ŏn sinmun.

[19] Yu Yŏngik, The Making of the First Korean President, 19–20.

[20] “8.15 haebang chŏn Hanin sŏn’gyosa 7: Yun Pyŏnggu,” Miju k’ŭrisŭch’ŏn sinmun.

[21] Yu Yŏngik, The Making of the First Korean President, 19.

[22] Yu Yŏngik, The Making of the First Korean President, 198.

[23] “8.15 haebang chŏn Hanin sŏn’gyosa 7: Yun Pyŏnggu,” Miju k’ŭrisŭch’ŏn sinmun.

[24] “8.15 haebang chŏn Hanin sŏn’gyosa 7: Yun Pyŏnggu,” Miju k’ŭrisŭch’ŏn sinmun.