Sunday, October 3, 2010

Evil missionaries in Korea?

Over at The Marmot's Hole, Robert Neff discusses how early missionaries may have been seen in Korea. I found it interesting in part because it shows how the more things change, the more they stay the same, even in constantly reinvented Korea: the English teacher bogeymen have simply followed the GIs, who themselves had followed the missionaries. Of course, we are talking about a difference in degree and kind, and the people in question have always had a high amount of control over how they are seen (e.g., USFK personnel could stop jumping on top of taxis or English teachers could stop having marijuana mailed to them).

At any rate, Mr Neff's account of an account also shows how "telephone"-like retelling of stories can get them twisted around decades later:
There were other ugly foreign missionaries. I remember hearing during an RAS lecture (I think Donald Clark’s lecture concerning his book Living Dangerously in Korea ) that a missionary discovered a young Korean man (boy) had been stealing from his orchard and took it upon himself to brand him with a cross either on his forehead or arm.
In a 2005 post, I actually wrote about this guy, C.A. Haysmeir (허시모), in one of my reprints of decades-old Korea-related Time archives. The details are a bit different in that contemporary account from July 26, 1926, which I'll quote here in its entirety because it's relatively short:
Into the garden where clustered a whimpering lad, his pale mother, a few niched apples and a Seventh Day Adventist missionary there came a maid servant. In her hand she held a bottle of silver nitrate which the missionary, C. A. Haysmeir, had bid her fetch. The pale Korean mother glossed her son's felony with imploring tears. But Missionary Haysmeir picked up the brush portentously. He dipped it into the bottle of scarifying chemical.

The little Korean boy shrieked in bewilderment. Calmly, with delicacy, Adventist Haysmeir etched "Thief" on the boy's either cheek. It did not hurt much. What hurt was the later ridicule of playmates who jeered the little fellow out of school. Missionary Haysmeir was dismissed last week by the Far Eastern organization of Seventh Day Adventists.

Reports that mild-tempered Koreans were about to wage a Boxer massacre were ill-founded. Koreans happen to like missionaries. They evidently realized that Missionary Haysmeir was an unbalanced member of a fanatical sect.
So it was his cheeks and not his forehead or forearms, the silver nitrate application supposedly wasn't all that painful (really?), and it was the word "thief" (도적?) and not a cross. Of course, this doesn't excuse the act, but it does show how details can get muddled over time. It's conceivable that if the retold story changes too much, some of the new details will not hold water at all, which will cast doubt on whether any part of the story was ever true in the first place.

And going to the question in Mr Neff's blog post title, it's also interesting to note (according to the Time story) that "Koreans happen to like missionaries" and they realized that Missionary Hŏshimo was "an unbalanced member of a fanatical sect" (nice dig at the Seventh Day Adventists) and not necessarily representative of mainstream Protestants who were doing so much good in Korea (schools, hospitals, national pride, democratic ideals, etc.). Oh, and Koreans back then were considered "mild-tempered" by contemporary anglophones.

The above Time piece is not the only one to mention the Haysmeir incident (허시모 사건). An August 9, 1926, Time article describes the outcome of the trial and goes into detail about who the Seventh Day Adventists are ("fundamentalists of the fundamentalists"):
A Korean tribunal sentenced Missionary C. A. Haysmeir to three years in jail because he had painted "Thief" on the cheeks of a little native boy who had sinned. The painting was done with silver nitrate, permanent. All good Seventh Day Adventists deplored the work of their missionary, dismissed him from service. The incident created a great furore in Korean and Asiatic circles; even in the U. S. people noted forcibly the words: Seventh Day Adventists.

A few New Englanders, formerly devout First-Day Adventists, began in 1844 to observe the seventh day of the week (Saturday) as the Sabbath and to preach new doctrines. In 1860, at a conference in Battle Creek, Mich., the sect organized under the name "Seventh Day Adventist Denomination." In 1910 the religion had absorbed 400 ministers and 60,000 members, being more numerous in the U. S. than in Europe.

The Seventh Day Adventists have no formal or written creed. The Bible is their rule of faith and practice.

Their characteristic doctrines are: (1) The "Venerable Day of the Sun," from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday, is the Sabbath established by God's law and should be observed as such. (2) The personal, visible coming of Christ is near* at hand, and is to precede the millenium. At the close of the millenium, Christ and all His people will return to the earth; Satan and his sinners will come, will be ousted forever by the Righteous; then the earth will be made the fit abode of the people of God throughout the ages. (3) The service of washing one another's feet is observed at the quarterly meetings, the men and women meeting separately for this purpose, previous to the celebration of the Lord's Supper, when they meet together. (4) According to the Gospel, immersion is the only proper form of baptism.

Carlyle B. Waynes, militant Seventh Day Adventist, stated his creed with eloquence, in Brooklyn last week: "Doctrinally, Seventh Day Adventists are among the strongest evangelical Christians—fundamentalists of the fundamentalists . . . . The historic faith of the church is our faith, Christ the divine One, Christ the miracle worker, Christ the sacrifice for sins, Christ dead, Christ risen, Christ ascended, Christ our present high priest, Christ our present life, and Christ coming again. "Ours certainly is a full gospel. . . . We believe that it was Christ who created the world in six literal days, and rested on the seventh day; that it was Christ who gave the Ten Commandment law on Mt. Sinai, a part of which is to observe the seventh-day Sabbath."
One wonders what goes through the head of someone like Mr Haysmeir. Would he have done the same thing to a child back in North America, or did he think of Koreans as "others" for whom it was okay or even noble to use such extreme means to stop their wicked ways? Even if other missionaries — including those in his own denomination — roundly condemned him, he became a poster boy for the arrogance of foreign missionaries (the same link says missionaries were involved or implicated in "sexual molestation," 성추행), accusations still echoed today in North Korean propaganda.

Of course, my opinion is that missionaries in Korea generally behaved better than that, and I think their overall reputation reflects. In addition to the Underwoods (see the "national pride" link above), you had people speaking out in favor of Korean independence, as well as missionaries in next-door China a few years later trying to save Chinese lives and bring the atrocities in Nanking to the world's attention.


  1. i have only known a few 7th day adventists in my life (including my current landlord) and they are all pretty cool. there are always nutjobs that give a particular faith a bad name.

  2. Nice post - and I regret not having come across your earlier 2005 - a lack of research on my part and the early hour.

  3. Thanks, Robert. And no worries. If I were commenting at TMH, I would have provided a link myself.

    Theresa, I certainly hope no one gets the impression I'm trying to bash Seventh Day Adventists in any way. All the SDA I know seem like all right folks. Someone I work with back in Korea is a SDA church member and she's a little loopy, but she'd still be loopy if she were a Catholic, a Presbyterian, a Mormon, or an atheist.


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