Seen in Jeonju

The Independent: Introduction

26th November 2011


When you think about English newspapers in Korea, names like The Korea Times, The Korea Herald or the Joongang Daily probably leap to mind if you live in Korea. After all, they are the largest English newspapers in the country. In fact, a quick trip over to The Korea Times website reveals that they are the oldest English daily newspaper in Korea. It might surprise you to learn that they started publiction back in 1950. It might also surprise you to learn that, while the Korea Times is the oldest daily English paper, it is not the oldest English newspaper in Korea. That honor goes to The Independent.

The Independent started publication on April 7th, 1896 in conjuction with the start of the Dokrib Shinmun, the first newspaper written in Korean rather than Chinese. Both of these papers were started and edited by Dr. Seo (Phillip Jaisohn) Jae-pil. Born in South Jeolla Province, Dr. Seo was educated in America, graduating from the Columbian Medical College in Washington DC in 1892. He married Josephine Armstrong, the daughter of George Buchanan Armstrong, founder of the US Railway Mail Service. The pair moved to Seoul in 1895, a place, as you will see, very different than what we know today. Inspired by an English Missionary monthly magazine that started in March of that year called the Korean Repository, the visionary Seo realized the usefulness of having news available to the international community and to the masses and he founded The Independent and the Dokrib Shinmun. He shared editing duties with a Mr. H.G. Appenzeller. The newspaper was published three times a week; Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and sold for either 10 cents an issue or $1.30 a year. 

So what does this have to do with Korean movies? I think I have mentioned how I dig through old newspapers in the library to find images of old movies for the plates I am making in the Korean film index I am working on. At one point I had found a few issues of the Independent and thought that it might have a report about when the first movie was shown in Korea. The first public screening is generally recognized as 1903, but there are reports of private screenings as early as 1897. I have now been able to locate all of the original run of the Independent which starts in 1896 and continues for several years. I do not know if I will find what I am looking for, but I have found many other interesting things.. a report of the first phonograph in Pyeongyang, the origins of the trains, the poisoning of the king’s coffee, a murder mystery and trial among the foreign community, the meltdown of the Minister of Education and the growing insurgency.

I want to share these articles in full with readers once a week. They often a fascinating look at history unfolding from the perspective of the foreign residents in Seoul who manage to keep a stiff upper lip throughout the growing chaos of the times. The early editions of the paper are simply one page and I will be able to reproduce it in full editing out only the list of government appointments and dismissals.  I do want to stress however, opinions of the newspaper articles written 120+ years ago are NOT mine. In fact, I am more than a little horrified by some of what is printed and what the newspaper was promoting such as the witchhunt against the shamans and fortunetellers and the terms used to define certain classes and races living in Seoul. I will add a short explanation at the end where I can and comments and analysis are welcome.

I plan to make this a mid-week feature, but I will post the Volume 1, Issue 1 later this weekend.

(I need to somehow find The Korean Repository — The Independent mentions it has art and society pages which might reveal something about the early showing of films)

One Response to “The Independent: Introduction”

  1. Adam Hartzell Says:

    What a great find, Tom! I looked forward to the beginning of this series.