Enlightenment, independence and the short life of a poetApril 28, 1916
Park Jung-bin (1891-1943) was a skeptic of this world, this universe and life. Even as a young boy his head was full of questions that no one could answer. So Mr. Park, at age 9, went into the mountains in Iksan, North Jeolla province, searching for truth, practicing asceticism.
Sixteen years later, on this date, he finally reached enlightenment, with the fundamental understanding that the universe took the form of a circle.
He descended the mountains, and, after looking at all the world’s religions, decided that the Sakyamuni Buddha was the most proper. He founded Won (circle) Buddhism, practiced by more than 1 million people today.
May 1, 1909
It was during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 when Earnest Thomas Bethell (1872-1909), first tred on Korean soil as a correspondent of the London Daily News.
Bristol-born and London-bred, Mr. Bethell paid his first visit to Asia at the age of 15, going to Japan to run a toy shop. But the business failed, and Mr. Bethell switched to journalism.
His visit to Korea in 1904 turned permanent when he took the Korean name Bae Seol and stayed until dying of heart disease in Seoul on this date.
On July 18, 1904, Mr. Bethell, together with Korea’s leading independence activist Yang Gi-tak, founded the Daehan Maeil Sinbo, or Korea Daily News. The paper was officially registered in Mr. Bethell’s name in order to avoid the censorship of the Japanese colonial government.
The Korea Daily News started as a six-page tabloid, four pages of which were in English. This elaborate dodge enabled independence movement leaders to voice their opinions freely. The Korea Daily News soon grew to be the nation’s No. 1 newspaper.
Mr. Bethell also took direct aim at Japan’s dark, colonization designs by writing columns in leading Western newspapers.
All of which made Mr. Bethell no favorite of the Japanese. The Japanese government tried to banish him from Korea several times, to no avail. He was even sent to a Shanghai prison in 1908, where he spent three weeks.
After coming back to Seoul, Mr. Bethell turned over the Korea Daily Newspaper to his secretary, but kept at his anti-Japanese journalism until the day he died.
The following year, Japan annexed Korea, and the Korea Daily Newspaper was forced out of print on Aug. 29, 1910.
May 3, 1589
Heo Nanseolheon, a poet, died on this date at the age of 27. Ms. Heo was a rare genius, but born at the wrong time ― the Joseon Dynasty was the era for the subjection of women, all in the name of Confucianism, burying Ms. Heo’s talents.
She got married in her mid-teens, the usual arranged marriage of the times, which did not work out well. Ms. Heo instead found shelter in writing poems, with her sentimental style. On the day she died, Heo performed a purification ritual, changed into new clothes and told her family, “Today, the lotus turns red, nipped by the frost.” Though she did not have a serious illness, she never woke up.
Ms. Heo was a prolific writer, but she wanted all her works cremated. Only a small number survived, the poems her younger brother, Heo Gyun, a novelist, learned by heart and later published.
by Chun Su-jin
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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