Yonsei University

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Group.png Yonsei University  
(University, Deep state milieuWebsiteRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
MottoThe truth will set you free.
(John 8:32)
HeadquartersSeoul, South Korea
Admission is widely regarded as determining one's career and social status in life
Jejungwon (Gwanghyewon) inside Yonsei University campus, restored to its current form in the 1980s

Yonsei University (연세대학교|延世大學校; jʌn.seː) is a private research university in Seoul, South Korea. It is one of Korea's three "SKY" universities, which are the most prestigious in the country, with the other members being Seoul National University and Korea University. Admission of these "SKY" universities is extremely competitive. Acceptance rate of Yonsei University in early admission(수시) is below 5%. In general, exhibiting 1% of academic achievement (Korean SAT) is needed to apply for Yonsei regular admission(정시).

Inside Korea, admission to a SKY university is widely considered as a determination of one's career and social status.

The student body consists of 26,731 undergraduate students, 11,994 graduate students, 4,518 faculty members, 6,788 staff, and 257,931 alumni. Yonsei operates its main campus in Seoul and offers graduate, postgraduate and doctoral programs in Korean and English.


Beginnings (1885–1916)

The Yonsei University Medical School dates to April 10, 1885, when the first modern hospital to practice Western medicine in Korea, Gwanghyewon, was established.

The hospital was founded by Horace Newton Allen, the American protestant missionary appointed to Korea by the Presbyterian Church in the USA. The hospital was renamed Jejungwon (제중원 濟衆院, House of Universal Helpfulness) on April 26.[1] As there appeared difficulties, the church appointed Canadian Oliver R. Avison to run Jejungwon on July 16, 1893. Gwanghyewon was financed at first by the Korean government, while the medical staff was provided by the church. However, by 1894 when the First Sino-Japanese War and Gabo reforms (갑오개혁) took place, the government was not able to continue its financial support, thus management of Jejungwon came fully under the church. In 1899, Avison returned to the US and attended a conference of missionaries in New York City where he elaborated on the medical project in Korea. Louis Severance, a businessman and philanthropist from Cleveland, Ohio, was present and was deeply moved. He later paid for the major portion of the construction costs of new buildings for the medical facility. Jejungwon (제중원) was renamed Severance Hospital after him.[2]

Jejungwon (later Severance Hospital) was primarily a hospital, but it also performed medical education as an attachment. The hospital admitted its first class of 16 medical students selected through examinations in 1886, one year after its establishment. By 1899, Jejungwon Medical School was independently recognized. Following the increase of diversity in missionary denominations in Korea, collaboration began to form. Jejungwon began to receive medical staff, school faculty, and financial support from the Union Council of Korean Missionaries (한국연합선교협의회; 韓國聯合宣敎協議會) in 1912. Accordingly, the medical school was renamed as Severance Union Medical College in 1913.

The rest of Yonsei University traces its origins to Chosun Christian College, which was founded on March 5, 1915, by an American Protestant missionary, Horace Grant Underwood sent by the church. Underwood became the first president, and Avison became the vice president. It was located at the YMCA. Courses began in April with 60 students and 18 faculty members.

Underwood died of illness on October 12, 1916, and Avison took over as president.

During World War II

Statue of Underwood

On August 22, 1910, Japan annexed Korea with the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910. The first Governor-General of Korea, Terauchi Masatake, introduced the Ordinance on Chosun Education (조선교육령; 朝鮮敎育令) in 1911, and subsequently Regulations on Professional Schools (전문학교 규칙) and Revised Regulations on Private Schools (개정사립학교 규칙) in March, 1915. These were intended to stifle private education in Korea; any establishment of schools, any change in school regulations, location, purpose, coursework, or textbooks must all be reported to and authorized by the governor-general, and all courses must be in Japanese.

Severance Union College struggled to meet these requirements; school regulations and coursework were altered, faculty evaluated and enlarged, its foundation and its board clarified. It received its recognition as a professional medical school on May 14, 1917.[3] In 1922 the governor-general Makoto Saito issued Revised Ordinance on Chosun Education (개정조선교육령). It called for stricter qualifications for the faculty, and Severance reacted obediently and further recruited more members with degrees from accredited institutions in North America and Europe. Japan did not completely ignore the competence of this institution; in 1923, Severance recovered its right to give medical licenses to its graduates without state examination, a right which had been lost since 1912. Moreover, in March 1934, the Japanese Ministry of Education and Culture further recognized Severance in allowing its graduates the right to practice medicine anywhere in Japanese sovereignty.

Oh Geung Seon (오긍선; 吳兢善) became the first Korean president of Severance in 1934.

Underwood Hall, which houses administrative offices

Ordinances in 1915 and 1922 also affected the fate of Chosun Christian College. Intended as a college, it was not legally recognized as such, since the Ordinance of 1915 did not allow the establishment of Korean private colleges. Hence, Chosun Christian College, now renamed Yonhi College, was accepted only as a "professional school" on April 17, 1917, then a joint project from diverse missionary denominations. However, Yonhi had formed the organization and faculty becoming a university. It consisted of six departments: humanities, agriculture, commerce, theology (this department did not open due to differences among the founding denominations), mathematics and physics, and applied chemistry. The ordinances, furthermore, prohibited coursework in Korean history, its geography, or in the Bible outside the department of theology. The council of missionaries reacted with A Resolution on the Revised Educational Ordinance (개정교육령에 관한 결의문)[4] which carefully pointed out that Japan did not apply such rigorous absurdities to its private schools in mainland Japan.

After the March First Independence Movement swept the peninsula in 1919, Japan somewhat relaxed its grip on Korea, and this is reflected in the Ordinance of 1922. It ceased the arbitrary control of governor-general over the coursework and the qualification of faculty members, and altered its stance on strict separation of religion from all education. It also recognized Yonhi as a professional school equal to its counterparts in Japan, and permitted the Christian programs and the Bible in its coursework. Nevertheless, Japanese literature became mandatory.[5] Under Japanese intervention, Korean history was taught under the name Eastern History, and the Korean language was taught whenever possible.[6]

The department of agriculture was closed after 1922 when its first graduates left Yonhi. Efforts were made to revive this department, without much success. However, Yonhi installed a training center for agricultural leaders on campus, with impressive results.[7]

Yonhi was liberal in its admission of non-Christians. Its policy was to admit non-Christians relatively freely and allow the majority Christian students to gradually influence and assimilate them.

In the late 1930s, Japan again shifted its policy towards Korea to incorporate it to its scheme of expansionism. In August 1936, the new Japanese Governor-General Jirō Minami began the assimilation of Koreans, to exploit them for military purposes; The governor-general enforced Sōshi-kaimei and Shintoism on Koreans, and began to recruit Koreans for Japanese war efforts. In April 1938, the third Ordinance on Chosun Education ordered the acceptance of Shintoism, voluntary removal of Korean language in coursework, and further intensification of Japanese and Japanese history education. Yonhi Professional School did not follow suit and opened courses on the study of the Korean language in November 1938. This was not tolerated for long: In March 1940, Yonhi was forced to open courses in Japanese studies for each department and each year. In 1938, English classes began to come under pressure following a deterioration of relations between Japan and United States; coursework in English was forbidden and texts of English writers were censored. In 1938, President H.H. Underwood accepted the practice of Shintoism to avoid Yonhi's potential closure. Governors-General pushed Yonhi to refuse financial support from United States and financial difficulties mounted.

On an individual level, Yonhi faculty members and its students were apprehended or investigated during this period for their involvement in real and alleged resistance movements.[8]

In 1939, the United States government recalled all its citizens and missionaries in Korea; Underwood and some of the faculty refused to leave Korea until forced to in 1941–1942 following the outbreak of the Pacific War. Japanese military officers were dispatched to Yonhi for military training of its students in 1940 and forced labor began in 1941. Scientific equipment, building parts, and even the Underwood statue were seized. The school yard was turned into a drill ground. Due to their value in the war, medical students of Severance were not a target of "voluntary recruitment", but Severance faced Sōshi-kaimei, military training, and constant surveillance by the Japanese authorities. Severance was coerced into changing its name to Asahi (旭) in 1942.

On August 17, 1942, the board was dismissed and Yonhi was designated as enemy property, and thus appropriated and managed directly by an appointee of the governor-general. Yonhi ceased to be a place of education and was converted into a tool for assimilation of Koreans and exploitation of manpower. By October 1943, students were practically being conscripted. In 1944, dormitories were converted into barracks and the campus was occupied by the Japanese air force. Finally, on May 10, 1944, the Governors-General closed Yonhi and replaced it with Kyungsung Industrial Management School (경성공업경영학교), the primary purpose of which was to train engineers required to continue the war.

Both Severance and Yonhi were closely involved in Korean independence movements. Many faculty members were directly involved in the March First Independence Movement, as were their students. Severance continued its contribution by printing The Independence in the basement of one of its buildings, and Yonhi was as active as any other school. By the end of the movement, only 17 students were left. Yonhi students were active participants in the Chosun Student Council for Scientific Research (조선학생과학연구회), which was one of the leading groups in the Mansei Movement of June 10, 1926. The Yonhi Student Council and many faculty members belonging to the clandestine New Stem Association (신간회; 新幹會) gave full support to the Gwangju Student Independence Movement (광주학생독립운동). In the aftermath, students were apprehended, and the Shin Gan Society was exposed. Later on, students actively participated in V Narod movement (브나로드운동) and Student Enlightenment Movement (학생계몽운동) during 1929–1930.

Under Japanese oppression in the 1940s, the Yonhi School kept producing Koreans who fought for independence. In 1942, the Japanese Colonial Government of Korea arrested 33 Korean students of the Korean language, including three faculty members of Yonhi and prominent Korean language scholars, Choi Hyun Bae (최현배; 崔鉉培), Lee Yun Jae (이윤재; 李允宰), and Kim Do Yeon (金度演; 김도연), as well as other graduates of the school including Jung Tae Jin (정태진; 丁泰鎭) and Kim Yoon Kyung (김윤경; 金允經). They were charged with organizing the Joseon Language Society (조선어학회; 朝鮮語學會; now Korean Language Society; 한글학회; 한글學會), studying the Korean language, and attempting to publish a Korean-language dictionary. Lee Yun Jae died in jail in 1942 from torture and harsh treatment, eleven of the others were found guilty, and five including Choi Hyun Bae were imprisoned. The Japanese Colonial Court found them guilty because "behaviors such as publishing of a Korean-language dictionary is a form of nationality movement to maintain the spirit of Joseon."[9]

Yun Dong-ju (윤동주; 尹東柱), a 1941 graduate of Yonhi School who joined the Korean independence movement, left many poems about patriotism and self-reflection. He was imprisoned by the Japanese, and died from torture and harsh treatment in 1945.

As tributes to their efforts, Yonsei University has constructed a monument called "Yonsei Hangultap" (A Monument for Korean Language by Yonsei; 연세 한글탑; 延世 한글塔), a monument for Yun Dong Ju (윤동주 시비; 尹東柱 詩碑), and bust statues of Choi Hyun Bae and Kim Yoon Kyung on its Seoul campus.

During the Korean War (1946–1952)

Severance was approved as a college by the liberated Korean government in 1947. Since most medical institutions in Korea were run by the Japanese, medical staff and faculty were in short supply after their departure. Thus, many members of Severance staff and faculty left to assist other institutions. Severance took up the role of student leadership and was outspoken against US-Soviet occupation. In 1950, during the outbreak of the Korean War, Severance functioned as a field hospital until Seoul was overrun. Severance fled hurriedly, but some faculty members and students were unable to leave in time; some were killed and others were captured then exploited by the advancing North Koreans. Severance seniors joined the military as army surgeons. Although Severance returned to Seoul for a while after its recapture, it had to flee again in December on a LST in Incheon.

When Severance arrived in Busan, its medical school joined the wartime college, a temporary body. Meanwhile, the Severance facility in Seoul received heavy damage, as it was in the center of the city near Seoul Station. Severance Hospital again returned on April 1, 1952, and its medical college on June 12, 1952.

The US military neglected the restitution of Yonhi and held other plans to use it as a military hospital or judiciary training center. With time, nevertheless, Yonhi came to be viewed as a missionary institution that was dispossessed by the governor-general.

Yonhi was able to open its doors again on January 21, 1946, and, on August 15, 1946, was recognized as a university. Baek Nak Jun became president. It was a period of transition, and Yonhi University faced obstacles including financial ones; after 1947, things settled down. At the time, Korea lacked teachers, and Yonhi was asked to provide education and training; the Temporary Training Center for Secondary School Teachers in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry (임시 수물화학과 중등교원양성소) was established. In December 1948, plans for unification of Yonhi and Severance began to take form.[10] The Graduate School was formed in July 1950.

At this point, all progress came to a halt due to the Korean War. The university suspended all courses on June 27 and recruited student soldiers. The North Korean military advanced into the Yonhi campus and established its headquarters there. This was a cause of severe damage to the campus when the US military recaptured Seoul in September. The university reopened following the recapture of Seoul, but it was once more on the run to Busan in December. In February 1951, Yonhi joined the wartime college; however, it kept an independent body and opened its own courses on October 3, 1951. On April 15, 1953, Yonhi began its work on restoration; Yonhi returned to its campus in the fall.


Yonsei University is founded on Christian principles[11] and purporting to "produce Christian leaders with the spirits of freedom and truth".[12] The Christian character of the university is well illustrated by its history as a school founded by American Protestant missionaries and by its school motto from the Bible, "The truth will set you free" (John 8:32). As of 2007, the Board of Directors of Yonsei University should include a member from four Korean Christian organizations: The Presbyterian Church of Korea (대한예수교장로회), the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (한국기독교장로회), the Korean Methodist Church (기독교대한감리회), and the Anglican Church of Korea (대한성공회).[13] In Korea and Japan, Christian schools founded by Christian organizations or individuals, especially by Western missionaries, such as Yonsei University, are commonly called mission schools.

A school's founding ideology and a student's freedom of religion has been debated in South Korean society for some time. As of 2009, a student does not have to be an active Christian to be admitted to Yonsei University.

In Yonsei University entered an agreement with The United Methodist Church, in which the university will serve as the regional office for the Methodist Global Education Fund for Leadership Development.[14]

Notable alumni


Literature and arts

Politics, government, and public service





An Alumnus on Wikispooks

Choi Kyung-hwan22 June 1955


  1. http://news.kukinews.com/article/view.asp?page=1&gCode=kmi&arcid=0005074174&cp=nv
  2. http://www.pressian.com/article/article.asp?article_num=60090724112148
  3. Oshima (大島正健) was a Japanese Severance faculty member teaching ethics who made considerable contributions to this outcome. See Severance Bulletin No. 12, 1929, S.U.M.C. Catalogue 1917-18
  4. H.H. Underwood, Modern Education in Korea, p. 202.
  5. The Ordinance (1922) was commonly viewed to have an ulterior political motive, not as genuine effort to improve education. 동아일보사설 Donga Daily Editorial, February 10, 1922.
  6. Faculty members including Choi Hyun Bae, Lee Yun Jae, Jung In Seo, Yu Eok Kyum, and Baek Nak Jun contributed to this end.
  7. 연세대학교백년사 One Hundred Years of Yonsei University History, Yonsei University Press, p.183
  8. 백낙준, 이묘묵, 하경덕, 갈홍기, 조병옥, 김윤경, 이용설 and others in June 1937; three students and 이순탁, 백남운, 노동규 apprehended and 60 Yonhi alumni investigated in October 1937; 유억겸, 이춘호, 최현배 in September 1938; student study group members 임종배, 김창식, 김규상 in October 1937 and 이순복, 김삼불, 송몽규 in 1938; 최현배 and others resigned after apprehension of linguists in 1942
  9. Doosan Encyclopedia
  10. This included Ewha University. Ewha University fell out asserting its independent goal in the education of women.
  11. Vision and founding ideology of Yonsei University, from Yonsei University web site
  12. Founding ideology of Yonsei University Board of Trustees, from Yonsei University Web site
  13. ko:연세대학교 Korean Wikipedia article
  14. https://web.archive.org/web/20101227055647/http://www.gbhem.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lsKSL3POLvF&b=5719867&ct=8804423&printmode=1