Gender and Mission Encounters in Korea: New Women, Old Ways

Gender and Mission Encounters in Korea: New Women, Old Ways

Gender and Mission Encounters in Korea: New Women, Old Ways

Gender and Mission Encounters in Korea: New Women, Old Ways

Synopsis

This book vividly traces the genealogy of modern womanhood in the encounters between Koreans and American Protestant missionaries in the early twentieth century, during Korea's colonization by Japan. Hyaeweol Choi shows that what it meant to be a "modern" Korean woman was deeply bound up in such diverse themes as Korean nationalism, Confucian gender practices, images of the West and Christianity, and growing desires for selfhood. Her historically specific, textured analysis sheds new light on the interplay between local and global politics of gender and modernity.

Excerpt

In 1938, to celebrate the fiftieth year of the Korea mission, the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church published a book entitled Fifty Years of Light. J. S. Ryang, the Korean general superintendent of the Korean Methodist Church, contributed the foreword, in which he stated:

It was Mrs. Scranton’s pleasure to establish the first modern school
for girls in all Korea. It was the pleasure of her followers to establish
the first school for the blind, the first kindergarten for children, and
the first women’s hospital. It was the Woman’s Foreign Missionary
Society that gave to Korea the first Korean woman M.D., the first
Korean woman Ph.D.; as well as the first trained nurse and the
first trained kindergarten teacher. … the work of the ladies of the
Missionary Society over a period of fifty years has helped to bring
Korean womanhood into a new world. It has dignified the wife and
raised the mother to a higher plane. Personality has been liberated
and womanhood has been permitted to look out upon a new world.
And best of all we are permitted to see the establishment of true
Christian homes.

Ryang, as a male leader in the Korean church, congratulates the women missionaries for bringing Korean women to “a new world,” noting that Korean women were able to pursue higher education and professional careers in the public realm because of the missionaries’ efforts. His praise, together with the metaphor of light used in the book’s title, represents the public image of American women missionaries as pioneers of Korean mod ern womanhood. Significantly, his foreword is accompanied by a painting of a Korean woman dressed in traditional clothes [hanbok] holding her child to her bosom, standing next to a beautiful garden with trees and flowers and a Korean-style pavilion in the background (figure 1). This . . .

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