The Catholic Beginning

  • Around 1770, a Korean envoy to China, Chung Tu-won (), brought back to Korea Matteo Ricci’s
    Tianzhu [The True Doctrine of the Lord of Heaven].
  • In 1783, the Shilhak scholars sent Yi Seung-hun () to visit the Catholic missionaries in China to learn
    about the Western religion.
  • Yi Seung-hun () was baptized by Chinese priest and in 1784 brought back books and articles on
    Christian doctrine, which were distributed to Shilhak scholars.
  • These Catholic Shilhak scholars abandoned all “pagan” rites, and preached Catholicism openly, converting
    people and baptizing them.  
  • By 1795 there were 4,000 Catholics in Korea.  By 1801 about 10,000.
  • King Chongjo died in 1799 and the persecution of the Catholics began.  In 1801 there were about 300 Catholic
    martyrs and more than 1,000 arrests.  Other great persecutions followed: Ulhae persecution of 1815; and
    Chonghae persecution of 1827.
  • In 1831, Chinese priest, Father Liu Fangchi was sent to Korea.  In the next five year, several French priests
    joined Liu’s ministry.  During this time, Kim Tae-gon and Ch’oe Yang-op became the first two Korean priests.
  • In Kihae persecution of 1839 over 200 Catholic Christians died, including a French bishop, two French priests,
    and numerous church leaders.
  • King Ch’oljong began his rule in 1849 and tolerated Catholicism.  
  • In 1857, the Bishop in Beijing reported to the Vatican that there were 15,206 Catholics in Korea.
  • King Ch’oljong died in 1863; and Taewon’gun began his rule.  Another wave of persecution began.
  • In 1866 the French Bishop was executed along with more than 8,000 martyrs.  About half of the Catholic
    population was martyred.  
  • In 1873 King Kojong began his rule; and the Korean Catholic churches enjoyed relative freedom.  
  • In 1888, the printed Bible, prayer books and missals were transferred from Nagasaki, Japan, to Seoul.  4
    women joined the sisters of the Communaute Saint Paul de Chartres, becoming the first Korean nuns.  In 1900
    ten Korean priests were ordained.
  • By 1910, there were 69 churches, 71 priests including 15 indigenous clergy, 41 seminarians, 59 sisters and
    more than 73,000 Catholic believers.

The Protestant Beginning

  • In June of 1883, Nagasaka, a Japanese Christian, landed in Pusan, Korea, as an agent for the National Bible
    Society of Scotland in Tokyo. He distributed bibles written in Chinese and Japanese, as well as portions of the
    Gospel and other religious tracts written in Korean.
  • In 1884, the Presbyterian Church appointed Dr. Horace N. Allen as the first missionary to Korea.  In the same
    year, the Methodist Episcopal Church sent Dr. and Mrs. W.B. Scranton; and Rev. and Mrs. Henry Appenzeller
    as the first missionaries to Korea.  
  • Dr. Allen arrived in Seoul in 1884 and gained an immediate trust by curing the Prince Min, who was brutally
    slashed during Kapshin Chongbyon (Coup d’Etat of 1884).  In April 1885, Dr. Allen opened the first general
    hospital in Korea, Kwanghyewon.
  • From 1884 to 1896, many more missionaries arrived, sent by different churches in America and other
    countries including Prebsyterian church, Methodist Epistopal church, Canadian Baptists church, Church of
    England, Canadian Presbyterian church.
  • In 1886, Mr. Appenzeller, the Methodist missionary, founded the first boy school, the Paejae Haktang.  The
    Presbyterian missionaries followed suit, establishing many schools.  The Severance Union Medical College was
    established in Seoul in 1904.  By 1910, missionaries had founded about 800 schools of various grades,
    educating over 41,000 students.  
  • In 1887, Rev. John Ross and , a missionary to Manchuria (Scotland Presbyterian Church), and Yi Ung-chan,
    an educated merchant of herbal medicines, produced the first Korean translation of the New Testament.
  • In 1907 and in 1909-1910, there were two Great Revivals in Korea.  One in 1909-10 was called the “Million
  • In 1910, Japan annexed Korea.
  • In 1911, 124 Koreans were arrested for the outlandish claim by Japanese that they were plotting to
    assassinate the Japanese Governor-General in Korea.  Of the 124, 98 were Christians.  
  • On September 1, 1912, the first Synod of Korean Presbyterian Church was held in Pyung Yang with Horace G.
    Underwood as the president and Rev. Gil Sun Joo (吉 善 宙)as the vice president.
  • In March 1, 1919, there arose the Independence Movement in Korea.  15 of 33 signers of the Declaration of
    Independence were Christians.  Over 22% of the total (2,087 of 9,458) who were arrested were Christians,
    while Christians consisted of only 1.3% of the total population (16 million) at the time.  47 churches were
    burned down and hundreds of Christians perished in the demonstration.  
  • In 1935, Japanese government ordered all educational establishments to participate in Shinto shrine
    ceremonies; and Shinto shrines were instituted in every town.  
  • Shintoism consists of worshiping the Japanese emperor as the divine descendant of Amaterasu, the sun-
    goddess.  Koreans were required to bow before the Shinto shrine.  Many Koreans, including Joo Gee Chul (
    基 撤), Han Sang Dong (韓 相 東), Joo Nam Sun (朱 南 善), Lee Gee Sun (李 基 宣), Cho Soo Ok (趙 壽 玉),
    Ahn Yi Sook, and Lee In Jae (李 仁 宰), refused to participate in the Shinto worship, citing the fist three
    Commandments. (Prison release photo)
  • In 1937, Japan declared a total war against China; and the “Japanization” of Korea began.  The use of
    Japanese language was strictly enforced while prohibiting the use of Korean language.  All Korean last names
    were changed to Japanese names.  By 1940, about 80% of Koreans changed their family names into
    Japanese names.
  • In 1935, after strong protests, the Methodists and the Presbyterians decided to involuntarily comply with the
    Japanese government order to participate in the Shinto worship.  Few Christians resisted and campaigned
    hard to oppose the order, risking imprisonment and death.
  • In 1941, the Japanese and Korean Methodist churches became united; and the teaching of Shinto and military
    instruction were required in the seminaries.
  • In 1942, a Methodist church in Seoul was refurbished as a Shinto shrine.
  • In 1940, nearly 90% of missionaries had to leave Korea.  By 1942, all missionaries were expelled.
  • In 1942-43, 3,000 Christians leaders were imprisoned for professing faith that was considered anti-Japanese;
    and as many as fifty of them suffered martyrdom, primarily through mistreatment in prisons.  
  • On July 29, 1945, all the Protestant churches were given an order to eliminate denominational distinctions and
    to create the united Korean Japanese Christian Church.  
  • On August 15, 1945 Japanese surrendered to the United States.
  • On August 18, 1945 the imprisoned Christians were scheduled to be executed—out of fear that they may aide
    the allies in an attack on Korea.  Instead, they were released on August 17, 1945 amid celebration of Korean
    independence. (the photo after release from prison).

  • In 1950, the Communist government of North Korea massacred Christians in masses.
  • During the Korean War (June 25, 1950-1953) tens of thousands of Christians perished at the hands of the
    Communists.  (Photo of Easter Sunday service in Seoul after the war)

    Sources: Andrew E. Kim (
Brief Early Korean Church History