Missionary Correspondence in Colonial Korea: McCune – Hunt Letters

Old Korea

The three envelopes described below are small but important pieces of information about three key Presbyterian missionary families in Korea – the McCunes, the Hunts, and the Blairs. All of these families were involved in education, and became embroiled in the politics of colonial Korea under the Japanese. In particular, they and other missionaries were involved with the movement to resist the imposition of nationalistic Shinto shrine practices on the Christian community. Several were expelled from Korea.

George S. and Helen B. McCune’s eldest son George McAfee McCune together with Edwin O. Reischauer promoted the use of a system for putting Korean words into the Latin alphabet (Romanisation) which had been devised by three prominent Korean phoneticians – Ch’oe Hyŏnbae, Chŏng Insŏp and Kim Sŏn’gi. Misnamed the McCune-Reischauer System (not claimed by them), the system is not only accurate, but it is the only Romanisation system for an East Asian language (before pinyin) to be devised by indigenous phoneticians and not Westerners, and it was done at a time when the use of the Korean language was suppressed by the Japanese colonial authorities. It was an assertion of Korean national identity.

1. Letter from George S. McCune to Miss Helen B. McAfee

Although it is not stated on the envelope, I believe that this letter is from George Shannon McCune who was a Presbyterian educational missionary to Korea from 1905. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he attended Park College in Parkville, Missouri and later taught at the Park Middle School there. Parkville is within the Kansas City, Missouri urban region. McCune began missionary work in Korea in 1905. McCune’s departure for Korea coincided with the period of the Russo-Japanese War (8 February, 1904 to 5 September, 1905). As a result of the Russo-Japanese War, a Japanese protectorate was established over Korea in 1905, followed by full annexation into the Japanese Empire in 1910. McCune, during his tenure in Korea, was in conflict with the Japanese colonial authorities (1910-1945) on three occasions, most notably in 1936 when he was expelled from Korea for refusing to permit students of Union Christian College in P’yŏngyang (of which he was President) to attend Shinto shrine worship.

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