[KS] Koreans in pre-Revolutionary Odessa/Bessarabia, Korean Studies in post WWII Chicago

Owen Miller om4 at soas.ac.uk
Thu Nov 13 06:45:23 EST 2014

Hi Adam,

I see this was sent a while ago so it's possible that someone has already
replied and I've missed it. I can't answer your first question exactly but
I can offer a clue that might send you in the right direction. During WWI
there were obviously huge problems of labour shortages in Europe and the
story of the Chinese Labour Corps in Britain and France is fairly well
known. I also found out recently that quite a large number of Koreans (c.
3,000) went to Eastern Ukraine to work in the coal mines of the Donbas. I
have no idea if anyone has written their story (perhaps Vladimir Tikhonov
would know?). However I came across this fact because I had the opportunity
to look through the registration forms of Korean attendees at the Congress
of the Toilers of the East held in Moscow in early 1922. One of the Korean
attendees was a member of the Ukraine Communist Party and a representative
of the Koreans of Donbas called Ri YOngsOn. There is some more info about
this here: https://search.i815.or.kr/Degae/DegaeView.jsp?nid=1457
It seems possible that the Korean population at the other end of Ukraine
could have originated with these coal miners. Or perhaps the Donbas coal
miners were not the only group of Koreans to be recruited to work in
Ukraine/Southern Russia during WWI? Is Bessarabia a mining area?

Best wishes,

On Sat, Oct 25, 2014 at 7:09 AM, Adam Bohnet <abohnet at uwo.ca> wrote:

> Dear all:
> Frank Hoffman's Prussian soldier uncle y moves my mind in the direction of
> nostalgia, and reminds me of two other subjects that have been on mind for
> some time.
> 1. Twice I have been told by people of the presence of a Korean community
> in pre-Revolutionary Bessarabia. Once my informant was a flighty diplomat
> whose words I did not trust, but the second time the informant was a
> Russian-Canadian mathematician of Bessarabian origin who was quite certain
> of the significant presence of Koreans in Bessarabia. My father does not
> remember any stories of Koreans in his parents' Swabian community in what
> is the now the Transnistria Republic, but nobody then was terrible cautious
> about ethnic names, and in fact he does remember a story of men from China
> (Kitai) who seemingly were simply assimilated into the Swabian community.
> Has anybody else heard of Koreans in pre-Revolutionary Bessarabia? Is
> there perhaps some scholarship on the subject? Perhaps this is known to all.
> 2. My mother's godmother, Mary Winspear, who was born during the Boer War,
> grew up in rural community near Calgary, was a rural Albertan
> school-teacher during the 1920s, a graduate student in the 1930s, a
> professor in the 1940s, and a female academic displaced to make room for
> returning men post-1945. She died in 1998 or 1999, and somehow I didn't
> think to quiz her for more accurate details concerning the following story
> which she told me shortly before her death: She says that she was in
> Chicago, possibly immediately after the Korean War, possibly before it,
> involved in some academic matter, when they encountered a man, who she
> suggested was from a rough background, who had learned Korean as a soldier
> and who was then directed to an academic career. She may well have
> exaggerated the rough background (I think she suggested uncertain paternity
> as well), mostly because scholars from rough backgrounds with uncertain
> paternity were the sort of people she liked. It is possible that the young
> man in question had a comfortable background but used occasionally rough
> language, and she gave him  more exciting antecedents.  Her own paternity
> was pretty certain, I think, but she was very proud of her own rough
> background in rural Alberta.  I cannot say that she exaggerated her own
> role in the matter, because it was just an informal discussion with me when
> I was starting my own academic studies in Korea, and obviously it was her
> own role that she mentioned, but it is possible that she was simply beside
> somebody more significant who was meeting the young man. In terms of dates,
> I assume she would have been in Chicago before her older brother, Alban D.
> Winspear, was kicked out of the US for his membership in the communist
> party, and after she was pushed aside be returning Canadian soldiers, so I
> think it would have been between 1945 and 1955.
> Mostly self-indulgence on my part, but perhaps this could be a footnote to
> the history of Korean Studies in the US.
> Yours,
> Adam

Dr Owen Miller
Lecturer in Korean Studies
Department of Japan and Korea
School of Oriental and African Studies
tel:  +44 (0) 20 7898 4363
mobile: +44 (0) 7780 009338
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