Dr. Syngman Rhee

Dr. Syngman Rhee: He was a Korean national leader who had walked with Korean independence by diplomacy.


Dr. Syngman Rhee’s life is truly full of vicissitudes. He entered Pai Chai school in Seoul. He got involved with an anti-government plot and was imprisoned for seven years. As a member of Dok Lip Hyup Hoe, he advocated that the Korean king must abdicate for his son as he was too old. He authored “The Spirit of Independence” while in prison. This book reflected the Korean spirit  of nationalism through Protestant inspiration. The importance of this book cannot be underestimated. It must be carefully read against a proper Korean perspective to be rightly appreciated. This essential book breathes the spirit of Korean independence in that Protestant climate of the late  19th century. He argued six points: Communication with the rest of the world, new law covering new order and pursuit of new life style, competent diplomacy, respect of national sovereignty, integrity and respect for freedom. After his release, he came to America and graduated a prestigious school and maintained his independent diplomacy doctrine. However, he had disputes and bickering with many Korean national activists. He was elected as the president of the Korean Provisional Government and was impeached, too. He had on-going conflicts with Korean National Association and founded his own Dong Ji Hoe. When he was installed as the President of the Republic of Korea, he was anti-communist. However, tragedy was that he was forced to step down with his dictatorial rule. Syngman Rhee sacrificed his entire life for Korea. His whole life was dedicated to regain the sovereignty of Korea. Syngman Rhee’s national independence movement attracted America’s main stream as his strategy in gaining Korean sovereignty through diplomacy and political means. On June 14, 1919, Syngman Rhee sent a letter to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson: “I am honored and privileged to tell you that a complete and autonomous democratic nation was born in the month of April 1919 in Seoul.” His political philosophy was once again to gain the Korean independence only through diplomacy. He was hugely encouraged by Wil- son’s self-determination declaration, and later in Washington D.C. and in Geneva in 1933, he underscored an illegal and colonial occupation by Japan in Korea. For the sake of independence and political development of Korea, he advocated three tenets:

  1. People’s new core value must be utilized to reform their thought through Christian faith;
  2. A systematic political system must be adopted to reform an implementation by  Christian nations and,
  3. The guarantee of independence must be se- cured by fair and just international agreement and diplomacy.

When  the  Korean  Provisional  Government was   established  in   Shanghai,  he   installed a  U.S.  Diplomacy  Committee  to  represent such government in Washington D.C. The Committee was in full swing when the Pacific War erupted in 1941. He stayed in China for the next 17 months after he was elected as president there. The situation of the Provisional Government was in confusion due to the lack of funds. With constant conflicts with the Korean National Association, Rhee set up Dong Ji Hoe with offices in Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and San Francisco. In 1920, he published a weekly journal “The Pacific.” As a graduate of America’s prestigious schools from George Washington, Harvard and Princeton Universities, Syngman Rhee was able to watch from the perspectives of the Western eyes, while maintaining rapport with U.S. President Wilson with his leading the path for Korean national independence. He  was  highly  acclaimed  as the best national leader by the international community. He married an Austrian Francesca Donner in 1934. When he returned to Korea on October 16, 1945, Dr. Syngman Rhee famously said,  United, we stand. Divided, we fall.” He was installed as the first President of the Republic of Korea in 1948. He passed away on July 19, 1965 in Hawaii. He is buried at Dong Jak Dong National Cemetery in Seoul, Korea. In 1949, the South Korean government recognized him with the Order of Merit of National Foundation / Republic of Korea Award for his life-long contribution and unwavering sacrifice with dedication to the Korea’s independence movement and service to the first Republic of Korea.


◀ Dr. Syngman Rhee and Francesca returned from their honeymoon in Honolulu.(Jan. 24, 1935)

▲ Syngman Rhee, President of the Provisional Government and Kim Kiu-sik of U.S. Committee.

▲ Dr. Syngman Rhee delivers his inaugural address as the first president of the Republic of Korea on July 24, 1948.