Korean Media Gush Over Discovery of Interview with 20th Century Hero

Edward Chang’s find of 1902 San Francisco Chronicle article about Ahn Chang Ho illuminates motives of leader of Korean independence movement

San Francisco Chronicle

Edward T. Chang’s discovery of a 1902 interview with Ahn Chang Ho illuminates why the Korean independence leader came to the United States.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — The discovery by a University of California, Riverside scholar of a century-old, San Francisco Chronicle interview with Korean patriot Ahn Chang Ho made front-page headlines in the Republic of Korea in March and helps explain what a leader in the Korean independence movement hoped to learn from the United States.

The article, “Corea the Sleeping Land: Its Queer People. Strange Customs and Coming Awakening,” was published Dec. 7, 1902, nearly two months after Ahn arrived in San Francisco with his wife, Lee Hye-ryeon, said Edward Taehan Chang, director of UCR’s Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies.

It is significant for its description of Korean geography, language and customs, and for details about how and why Ahn believed that visiting the United States would help liberate his homeland from Japanese colonial rule, Chang explained.

“He wanted to learn the English language, Western ideology and democratic ideals,” Chang told journalist Alex Jensen, host of the weekday news show “This Morning” that airs on TBS eFM in South Korea, in a March 11 interview. “He learned a great deal about democracy and democratic ideals. He wanted to implement what he learned from the U.S. to help modernize and rebuild Korea. … He felt that Korea needed education and to learn new skills to rebuild.”

Chang’s discovery of the article was a media sensation in South Korea. The Sunday Joong Ang newspaper broke the story and ran a “top news” front-page article on March 6. The next day the story was reported by Yonhap News – the equivalent of the Associated Press in Korea – and has been picked up by nearly every major news outlet in Korea. The story was also reported by the Korea Daily in the United States and ran on the front page of the newspaper on March 7.

“It is unbelievable this full-page interview was unknown to scholars until now,” Chang told Jensen in the radio interview. “… I hope (the article) will help correct inaccuracies and help create the foundation for young Korean students to learn about Korean-American history and what Ahn tried to do to rebuild and gain independence for his country.”

Edward Chang

Edward T. Chang Photo by Michael J. Elderman

Chang discovered the article during an online search of early 20th century newspapers for information about Ahn’s establishment in 1905 of the first Korean American settlement in the United States – Pachappa Camp in Riverside, California.

Historical references to Ahn’s activities in the U.S. rarely mention Riverside, focusing instead on Korean American communities in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Chang explained. But Riverside was key in the Korean independence movement, with visitors referring to the immigrant settlement as “Dosan’s Republic.” (Ahn adopted the pen name Dosan, which means island mountain, perhaps inspired by Hawaiian volcanoes he observed on a stopover from Korea to California.)

Fewer than 7,000 Korean immigrants lived in the U.S. at the beginning of the 20th century, most of them in California. It was a pivotal time for Ahn as he established numerous organizations to support Korean independence and raise money for the provisional government in Shanghai.

Key among those organizations was the Korean National Association, which held a national convention in Riverside in 1911 and continues to connect people of Korean descent around the world. A statue honoring Ahn as a patriot in the Korean independence movement stands in downtown Riverside. It is expected to be replaced in 2017 with one depicting Dosan picking oranges, a reference to the popularity of Korean immigrants as workers in the city’s citrus industry, Chang said. Longtime YOK Center supporter Myung Ki “Mike” Hong, president of Dura Coat Products Inc., is leading the fund-raising effort to replace the statue.

Ahn was fascinated by Western culture and civilization, and the San Francisco Chronicle article makes it clear that he planned to help modernize Korean education and political processes by becoming a teacher. The article quotes him as saying he believed that “We Coreans are the frogs at the bottom of the well that looking up think they see the whole world.”

Chang said his discovery of the article helps connect Korean and Korean American history in a meaningful way, and bridges cultural and historical gaps between South Korea and the United States.

Ahn died in 1938 at the age of 59 after being imprisoned and tortured by Japanese authorities.

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-7847
E-mail: bettye.miller@ucr.edu
Twitter: bettyemiller

Additional Contacts

Edward T. Chang
Tel: (951) 827-1825
E-mail: edward.chang@ucr.edu

Carol Park
Tel: (951) 827-5661
E-mail: carol.park@ucr.edu

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