Yi Han-eung, Diplomat (1874.10.30 – 1905.05.12)
Mr. Yi Han-eung was born on October 30, 1874, as the second of three brothers in Hwasan-ri, Idong-myeon, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do.
In 1878, when he was five years old, he began to learn Chinese characters.
In 1889, at the age of 16, he entered the Yukyoung Gongwon1. There, he studied modern subjects such as English, history, and political science, and gained knowledge of Western civilization. He graduated in 1891.
On March 14, 1901, he was appointed as a third-class attaché to the British Consulate General, and in August of the same year, he was stationed in London, England, along with Min Young-don, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Great Britain and Italy.
When Min Young-don returned to Korea in early 1904, Yi Han-eung was appointed acting ambassador, and from this time onward, he actively engaged in diplomacy with the British.
On January 13, 1904, he visited the British Foreign Office and handed over a memorandum with a note stating that ‘Britain and France should act as mediators in the Russian-Japanese conflict on the Korean Peninsula’.
He followed this up with a further memorandum on February 19, 1904, requesting that ‘war will soon break out between Russia and Japan,’ and that ‘the British Government should give renewed guarantees for the preservation of the independence, sovereignty, territory and privileges of Korea, irrespective of the outcome of the war.’ However, the memo was rejected by the British government.
Seeing Korea’s sovereignty constrained by the forced signing of the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1904 that same month, and Korea’s diplomatic sovereignty effectively stripped away by the Japan-Korea Agreement of August 1904, Yi visited the British Foreign Office in October to request for assistance by the appointment of a Korean diplomatic official in London.
In February of the following year, he shared his views on the issue of securing Korea’s independence with a high-ranking official in Britain’s East Asia bureau and requested that the Anglo-Japanese alliance preserve Korea’s independence.
Despite his efforts to keep the British government informed of the situation in Korea, on May 10, 1905, he received a draft of the treaty from the Japanese foreign minister stating that “Japan will protect Korea and will be guaranteed the necessary political privileges in Korea.
Two days later, on May 12, 1905, Yi passed away a martyred by taking his own life at the British Consulate in London, England.
Yi Han-eung worked tirelessly as a diplomat for the Korean Empire to protect Korea’s territory and sovereignty!
Now it’s up to you to be the 21st century version of Yi Han-eung and build the Korea he dreamed of!
1 Yukyoung Gongwon: Royal English School, the first modern educational institution in Korea, established in 1886 by the Joseon government with the goal of modernizing the country through contact with the West; the name of the school means ‘a public school that nurtures young talents’