Competing forms of imperialism: Western teachers in the schools of the great Korean empire


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The Gabo Reforms of 1894 promulgated a full-fledged education system. The eventual outcome of these plans was meagre, as only few primary schools were created throughout the country. Instead, a high school and a set of foreign language schools acquired more prominence and turned into the governments’ landmark institutions, competing and coexisting with missionary schools. This paper focuses on the English, French, German and high school that were established in Seoul between 1894 and 1898. Each of these institutions had one foreign teacher who was a native speaker of the respective language. Based on contemporary publications and diplomatic records, this paper presents a collective biography of in total seven teachers. It will be argued that they served as interfaces for the treaty powers to influence Korean government affairs. The teachers themselves (only one of whom had received a formal teacher training) belonged to a class of highly mobile professionals whose migratory patterns often involved a prior stay in China or Japan. Moreover, they became specialists of things Korean for their home audiences. On the one hand, this included academic publications on Korean history and culture; on the other hand, at least two teachers served as Seoul correspondents for Associated Press, crucially influencing Western opinion on Korea. Finally, the teachers’ positioning towards the rise of Japanese imperialism will be analysed. Whereas one turned into a stern defender of Korean independence, others adapted to the new situation and actively made propaganda for Japanese designs in Korea. The three teachers still in service after Annexation, had to move to other jobs after the foreign language schools had been abolished in 1911. Focusing on a limited set of individuals on a micro-level during the transition period from multilateral to Japanese imperialism in Korea, this paper makes a contribution to a social history of globalization.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


Dittrich, K. (2017, March). Competing forms of imperialism: Western teachers in the schools of the great Korean empire. Paper presented at the Vietnam and Korea as "Longue Durée" Subject of Comparison: From the Pre-modern to the Early Modern Periods, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Hanoi, Vietnam.

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