Brief History about early German-Korean Relations up to 1910:

Part II

The list of German nationals in Korea until 1910 is relatively long and - as far as can be verified to date - consists of over 300 people. As can already be assumed by the number, certainly not all of them were of great significance, especially since their motivations for a stay in Korea were of different nature. Their origins were also different. If the list is arranged according to groups of people or professions, the following categories can be found: diplomats, Germans in Korean services, military and nobility, merchants, scientists, glergymen as well as travel writers and globetrotters. Even if a longer stay or shorter visit of most of them had no lasting effect on German-Korean relations, special attention must be paied to the few who have not only promoted German prestige in Korea through their influential posts, but rather shaped it up to the present day.

Aside from Paul Georg von Möllendorff and Carl Andreas Wolter who were already mentioned in part 1, the next in this series was Johannes Bolljahn, a middle school teacher from Usedom in Pomerania. As part of a school reform initiated by Paul Georg von Möllendorff, the first foreign language school was founded in Korea in 1883. As teacher, Möllendorff personally hired the British T. E. Hallifax, who started work in the summer of the same year. After the fall of the German adviser at the Korean court, however, this school was closed again, but the foundation stone was laid for the opening of a purely English language school in November 1894. Consul Ferdinand Krien, the longest serving representative of the German Reich in Seoul from 1889 to 1900, took the founding of this school as an opportunity to support a German language school at the Korean Ministry of Education. As a result of his efforts, on 15th September 1898 the inauguration of the Imperial German Language School took place in Seoul in the presence of Emperor Gojong. After the Korean Minister of Education pointed out the importance of the German language, Consul Krien emphasized in his opening speech that "every year thousands of foreigners go to Germany to study the arts and sciences, that every educated foreigner is familiar with German" and "that one in ten of all the inhabitants of the world speaks German."

On the evening of 26th November 1883, the imposing German naval band of the corvette "Leipzig", which had taken Consul General Eduard Zappe from Japan to Korea, gave a musical interlude on the occasion of a banquet for the conclusion of the German-Korean treaty. It should be left open whether this performance left an impression on the Korean officials. What is certain, however, is that after deciding to hold a western-style music band at the court, the Korean government chose the German military music band master Franz Eckert. Eckert had already been successful in Japan from 1879 to 1899 as director of both the naval and military as well as the imperial court band. In 1882, he had the Japanese national anthem, Kimigayo, played at the court of the Tenno for the first time, which he had previously arranged for European instruments; a fact that is almost entirely forgotten in Japan today. Given his 20 years of activity in Japan, it doesn't come as a surprise that his reputation has also reached Korea. After Eckert resigned from his position in the Ministry of Imperial Court and Household for health reasons in 1899 and returned to Germany, the Korean government hurried to offer the Royal Prussian Music Director the opportunity to build a European court band in their country. Eckert accepted the offer and travelled to Korea soon after his recovery to take up his new post in February 1901. However, his task was by no means easy, since he encountered the same musical understanding in Korea as he did in Tokyo at the time. Based on his Japanese experience, he soon set up a court band of two dozen men and trained them on European instruments. In the following years he was able to temporarily increase the number of his musicians to 70. His success was so great that he not only performed regularly at court on official occasions, but also held concerts every Thursday in Pagoda Park in Seoul, to the delight of all resident Europeans.

The next in the list of meritorious Germans in Korea is the Silesian Dr. Richard Wunsch, who served as the personal physician of the Korean Emperor in Seoul from November 1901 to April 1905. All too often, only those explorers, travelers or scientists in the western world who became the first to bring home information about new foreign and distant worlds have become famous. It is no different with the German physicians in East Asia. Because of his stay in Japan from 1690 to 1692, Engelbert Kämpfer, for example, had shaped the image of this East Asian state in Germany until the 19th century. Philipp Franz von Siebold (and after him his sons Heinrich and Alexander), physician and polyhistor from Würzburg, was also active in Japan from 1823 to 1830 and from 1859 to 1862. Through his extensive work "Nippon" and other scientific works, he left behind a detailed study of this part of the world with regard to its countries, cultures, customs, flora and fauna, language and much more.

The medical doctor Erwin Otto Eduard von Bälz fom Württemberg, who worked as imperial personal physician in Tokyo from 1876 to 1905, left a lasting impact on the development of Japanese medicine and dedicated himself to groundbreaking research in the field of anthropology in East Asia.

Richard Wunsch is one of the many German doctors of medicine who followed these pioneers to East Asia and who were all too quickly forgotten. Through his diaries and notes that his daughter, Gertrud Claussen-Wunsch, partially published (in German) in 1976 entitled "Dr. med. Richard Wunsch. Physician in East Asia", posterity, however, was left with a historical document of particular value, which vividly describes the history of East Asia in its transition phase from the 19th to the 20th century. Richard Wunsch worked in Korea, Japan and China from 1901 until his death in 1911 and must therefore also be counted among those who have strengthened German medicine in East Asia to this day.

The undisputedly most influential German lady, not only within the foreign community, but also at the Korean court, was the Alsatian Marie Antoinette Sontag. In October 1885, she accompanied her distant relative, the Russian representative Carl von Waeber, to Korea to manage the housekeeping of the newly established Russian legation in Seoul.

After the Sino-Japanese War of 1894/95, from which the Japanese emerged victorious, Beijing had finally lost its influence in Korea, leaving the way open for the two remaining opponents, Russia and Japan, to dominate the peninsula. The Korean court, too, was divided into two camps. The pro-Japanese party faced the pro-Russian group around Queen Min. After hearing rumors of a conspiracy against her, the queen managed to drive the opposing party out of its positions. In this situation, the Japanese, who did everything possible to prevent Russia's ever-expanding influence, took a measure that could not even be justified in history as a kind of "desperate act": They authorized an assassination attempt on the queen that occurred on 8th October 1895. Shortly after the queen's murder, the king managed to escape to the Russian legation unrecognized in the guise of a court lady. There he spent a year until the turmoil weared off and he returned to his palace.

During this time, Gojong learned to appreciate the care of Antoinette Sontag, generally known as "Miss Sontag", so that he appointed her court ceremonial mistress after he returned to the palace. In this role, she was not only responsible for the entire household of the court, but was also responsible for receptions and banquets that were held in honor of foreign diplomats and dignitaries. Not to mention King Gojong himself, her influence was not only limited to administrative matters relating to the royal and later imperial household, but also to a lesser extent to the architecture of Seoul and various customs in the capital. Diplomats from all nations often sought the help of Miss Sontag, to achieve their goals with the government so that the intrigue at court flourished. As an extremely capable businesswoman and owner of three houses, she also ran a hotel in Seoul that bore her name and welcomed dignitaries from all over the world. When a final occupation of Korea by Japan became apparent, Miss Sontag, after having spent 25 years in Korea, finally returned to Europe in September 1909, where she spent her retirement as a wealthy woman on the French Riviera.

Another place in the series of meritorious Germans is due not least to the Benedictine monks from St. Ottilien in Upper Bavaria, who started their work in Seoul in 1909, and still maintain a monastery in Waegwan, near Daegu, as a mission center, which was raised to an abbey in February 1964 by a Roman rescript.

The beginning of their extensive missionary work in Korea came at the request of the Vicar Apostolic in Seoul, Bishop Gustav Mutel, who, after an initial cancellation, went personally to the Benedictine Missionary Society of St. Ottilien in 1908 for the help of the brothers and fathers of his work in Korea. In the spring of 1909, Bonifatius Sauer and Dominikus Enshoff travelled to Seoul as vanguards to build a small monastery and a handicraft school on the northeastern edge of the capital, today's Hyehwa-dong. The large pulpit of the Seoul Cathedral in Myeongdong, built in the neo-Gothic style, still bears testimony to Korean carpenters who had been trained by the Benedictines in their carpenter's workshop.

In December 1909, Bonifatius Sauer, who was made abbot of the first German monastery, was supported by other fathers and brothers from Germany. Among them was Father Andre Eckardt, who devoted himself to intensive Korean studies during his almost 20 years in Korea. At the turn of 1928/29, Eckardt returned to his homeland and soon left the order to devote himself exclusively to the extensive material collected in Korea and to process it in numerous works. In 1930, he earned his PhD in Würzburg on the subject "The school system in Korea" and in 1950 took up a teaching position for Chinese literature and philosophy at the East Asian Seminar at the University of Munich. He worked there until shortly before his death in January 1974. Andre Eckardt is undoubtedly one of those personalities who have made great contributions to the propagation of knowledge about Korean culture not only in Germany itself, but in the West in general. In addition to the Japanese and Chinese culture, he always tried to make Korean known as the third large and independent culture of East Asia, and is therefore considered the founding father of Korean studies in Germany.

After the two northeastern provinces of Korea were appointed Apostolic Vicariate, Bonifatius Sauer, who had already been ordained bishop in May 1921, was appointed Rome's first vicar. At the end of 1927, the Benedictine monastery was relocated to Deokwon, a small town near the North Korean port city of Wonsan.

With the proclamation of the Republic of Korea in the south on 15th August 1948 and the foundation of the Korean Democratic People's Republic in the north on 2nd September the same year, it was already the end of the Benedictines in Deokwon in sight. After the Russian occupation forces, with which the German fathers and sisters had a relatively good relationship, withdrew from Korea, they were all arrested by North Korean soldiers in May 1949, put in front of a court in Pyeongyang and sentenced to years of forced labor for anti-communist sabotage. While most of them were deported to a concentration camp at the Yalu river in Oksadeok, the founder of the German Benedictine Mission to Korea, Abbot Bishop Bonifatius Sauer, died on 7th February 1950 in a penitentiary in Pyeongyang.


The initial German-Korean relation was relatively good on both sides. Most of the correspondence between the German representation and the Korean court in Seoul referred only to matters of any kind concerning German citizens in Korea. Land acquisitions, salary increases, medals, audience requests and correspondence relating to German commercial interests were the order of the day. Occasionally, trustworthy political inquiries from the Korean government were generally received friendly and benevolent but dismissively by the German official. When, for example, the English, fearing the advance of their arch-rival Russia in Korea, occupied the small island of Gomun-do (Port Hamilton) in April 1885, the Korean government applied to the foreign representatives with a request for mediation. In his statement, Consul General Otto Zembsch confirmed that Korea was right against Great Britain, but acted arbitrarily and was put in its place by the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin. Bismarck again emphasized on this matter that there was no German interest to take notice of the Korean application at all. This attitude towards Korea did not change even when the German Reich declared colonial interests in the course of its political change at the beginning of the 1990s and also extended its arm to East Asia. In this regard, Germany's efforts have only focused on acquisitions in China.

After the Tonghak Uprising, which had spread across the country as a religious-social reform movement, threatening the continued existence of the government, was suppressed, the Japanese-Chinese rivalry for supremacy in Korea peaked after both states refused to withdraw their troops. This time the Korean leadership again asked for the mediation of foreign nations in June 1894. Although Berlin initially categorically refused to interfere in this matter, it indicated its willingness to mediate when England and China repeatedly appealed for German participation. The German envoys in Beijing and Tokyo were instructed accordingly to join in a joint action by the West. Consul Krien in Seoul, however, received no instructions to participate in the diplomatic mediation, especially since his Position did not correspond to that of his counterparts.

However, international efforts failed due to the arbitrary act of the Japanese military, which on 25th July 1894 sank the British steamer "Kowshing" on its way to Korea with Chinese troops on board. After Japan's declaration of war on China on 1st August 1894, England initiated a joint western intervention, but Germany remained neutral this time. Germany's previously friendly relationship with Japan, however, changed when the Japanese, after their victory, dictated extensive demands to the Chinese government in Beijing, some of which met with French and Russian claims. Germany had significant economic interests in China and was therefore afraid of a commercial loss due to a Japanese dominance. In addition, Berlin faced a certain danger in the event of a possible Franco-Russian brotherhood in arms in the heart of Europe. In order to draw Russia's attention to the east and thus to ensure the security of its own country, Berlin accepted the Russian-French-German intervention initiated by Petersburg. Germany's sudden abandonment of neutrality in the Far East left some scars in Japan and should therefore have an impact on German-Korean relations some time later, which resulted from the steady increase in Japanese influence in Korea.

Japan's victory over China also initiated a regrouping of powers in East Asia. England, so far leaning towards the Chinese, switched to the Japanese side to protect its own economic interests, since China was not even able to protect itself. Because of their mutual opposition to Japan, China and Russia concluded a pact in 1896, which was also motivated by the Russian side due to its rivalry with Great Britain. However, this treaty could not prevent the tsarist empire from adopting the strategically important Liaodong peninsula with its ports of Port Arthur and Dairen as part of its expansion efforts in 1897/98. France, England and the German Empire also enforced cession of land or territorial leases from China. Germany had finally taken an active part in the Far East policy through the violent possession of Kiautschou with its capital city Tsingtao and had stationed its East Asian fleet in the new German colony.

The Japanese-Chinese war distracted both Japan and Russia from Korea for a period of time, but the struggle for supremacy flared up again after China's departure. The murder of Queen Min initially weakened the Japanese position at the Korean court. The Russians took advantage of this situation to strengthen their own position. In February 1897, King Gojong took the title of Emperor to emphasize the constitutional equality of his country with China and Japan. At the same time, the previous state name "Choson" was changed to "Taehan'guk".

In Germany, the acceptance of the imperial title was greeted with great irony. Kaiser Wilhelm II noted on the corresponding telegram from Seoul; "Oh honor, a new colleague" and "always better than a president of a republic". The new titularies were applied at the Federal Foreign Office in accordance with Russian practice, which also signaled to Russia that Korea was included in the Russian sphere of influence.

After the British-Japanese alliance of January 1902, the German Reich maintained a policy of neutrality and rejected the Russian proposal to renew its three-power agreement of 1895 as a countermeasure. Berlin secretly represented the hope of being able to profit commercially from a Japanese-Russian conflict in East Asia and at the same time keep the Russian-English aggressions away from Europe. Germany maintained its neutrality even during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/05, but the sympathies were clearly on the side of Russia. This was due not only to the fact that Kaiser Wilhelm II had a friendly relationship with the Tsar, but also to the fact that he had now developed the fixed idea of a "yellow danger", with which he was largely alone in Germany.

The recognition of Japanese privileges in Korea by America and England in the summer and the Russo-Japanese peace treaty of 5th September 1905 in Portsmouth (USA), Japan finally guaranteed a free hand in Korea. Despite the fact that the war was happening outside of Korea, the Japanese occupied the capital before the armed conflict broke out, despite the neutrality of Korea, which marked the end of Korean independence. On 17th November 1905, a contract was finally imposed on the Korean cabinet that officially made Korea a Japanese protectorate. From then on, Korean foreign relations were regulated by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo, and the country's domestic policy was in the hands of a Japanese general president in Seoul.

Japan's assumption of Korea's diplomatic relations abroad also prompted the German Reich to transfer its diplomatic business to the embassy in Tokyo on 2nd December 1905. At the same time, the legation in Seoul was replaced by a vice consulate. Under Article I of the Protectorate Treaty, all Korean envoys and consuls abroad were withdrawn and their official duties transferred to appropriate Japanese representatives. This also affected the Korean Honorary Consul H. C. Eduard Meyer in Hamburg, who was commissioned to represent Korean interests in Germany. His consulate was closed with effect from 15th December 1905.

This marked the end of the first phase of diplomatic relations between Germany and Korea after 22 years, which was essentially characterized by Germany's neutrality and passive political reticence towards Korea. In the existence of a single German trading house, Berlin also saw no need to engage excessively commercially, although various attempts in this direction had been made, but failed. Germany's interest in the Far East focused solely on China and its potential market. International events in and around Korea have always been closely followed, since one wanted to know one's own security in Europe. In this sense, Korea was a welcome object for Germany to deflect the conflicting forces of Europe towards the east.

On 22nd August 1910, the annexation treaty was signed in Seoul, which finally incorporated Korea into the Japanese Empire, and which marked the end of the Joseon Dynasty, which had existed for 419 years. With the entry into force of this treaty on 29th August, Tokyo considered all contracts Seoul had concluded with other countries to be void. No objection was raised by Berlin, especially since the policy makers in the German capital held the opinion that German trade interests would hardly be compromised due to the low German-Korean trade volume. However, Germany did not formally recognize Japan's annexation of Korea.

Copyright © by Hans-Alexander Kneider
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