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The forgotten men who helped create the miracle on the Han

Keenan Fagan
Keenan Fagan

A short time ago, I received a call from Han Sang-man, voicing his disappointment that his father’s contributions to Korean development had been virtually forgotten.

Han’s father helped rebuild Seoul National University and the Korean education system.

These contributions, which started in 1954, just after the ravages of the Korean War, were so extensive that Han’s father received great recognition during his service.

On top of the Ph. D. he had already earned from the University of Minnesota, he received a further honor for which most Korean students only yearn ― a degree from Seoul National University.

In 1961, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Law from SNU “for meritorious contributions to the development of human culture and the advancement of world peace.”

His contributions to Korean development were such that President Park Chung-hee is reputed to have called him Korea’s “Father of Higher Education.”

So who is this great Korean that time and history have nearly forgotten? His name is Arthur E. Schneider. Surprised? Don’t be.

If the history of Korean development is conscientiously examined, it can be seen that the Miracle on the Han wasn’t such a miracle after all.

It also becomes apparent that it was not only Korean ingenuity, sweat, blood and tears during the “undongs,” (movements, such as the New Village Movement), that resulted in the miraculous development.

There was also a great outpouring of international assistance. This assistance provided crucial direction in the efforts to rebuild the country. Like thousands of other forgotten citizens of the world, Schneider played a critical role in South Korea’s speedy development after the horrors of war.

What constitutes modern South Korea, is not just Korean, but is also foreign, international.

A “true-blooded” Korean, if there is such a thing, Han would like this international contribution to be acknowledged. He asked me, an international university educator and long-time friend, to write about it.

To help, Han sent an old magazine. The December 1956 issue of the Minnesotan, the University of Minnesota’s staff magazine, shows a small part of the international contribution to South Korean development.

The magazine has 13 pages of articles, with photos, covering the contributions of the “many University people who have served in Korea.” These University of Minnesota people served in the Seoul National University Cooperative Project, led by Schneider, chief advisor in Korea.

The main article is titled, “How the U Helps Seoul University Rebuild after the Ravages of War … so that agricultural specialists, doctors, nurses, architects, and engineers can be trained to help strengthen the economy of Korea, to relieve hunger, sickness, and homelessness.” (To view the article, go to han-schneider.org.)

The article outlines the extensive work of the University of Minnesota’s cooperative project with SNU, which was financed with millions of 1950s dollars by the U.S. Foreign Operations Administration (later renamed the International Cooperation Administration).

The purpose of the grand project was to help develop the agricultural, engineering, and medical programs of South Korea’s premier educational institution so that the country had the basic ability to train its own experts to develop the country.

Aware that the Republic had only one doctor for every 6,000 people, University of Minnesota’s academic affairs vice president Malcolm M. Willey described the task of redevelopment as “gigantic” in the face of Korea’s “tangible misery.”

Central to tackling the task, he said, was a university that could train its own experts. To that end, Han says that Schneider brought more than 150 Korean educators to the University of Minnesota to gain greater expertise.
Han Sang-man (left) and his adoptive father Arthur Schneider, who is praised for his efforts to rebuild Seoul National University after the Korean War.
Han Sang-man (left) and his adoptive father Arthur Schneider, who is praised for his efforts to rebuild Seoul National University after the Korean War.

These educators in training were not the only people that Schneider brought to the U.S. Through a special act of the U.S. Congress, he adopted a curious, outgoing street urchin named Han Sang-man. Schneider brought Han to the United States when he returned after his work with SNU.

Han went on to some of the best schools in the country. He graduated with an MBA from Stanford University and became a successful international businessman. Yet he never forgot the international assistance that led to his own development. Several years ago he founded the Han-Schneider International Children’s Foundation. Its han-schneider.org mission statement is “to provide basic needs for orphans around the world … (and to) focus attention on the desperate plight of destitute children everywhere.”

The foundation provides food and medical supplies to orphanages in North Korea and Tanzania.

The North sometimes confiscates and redirects shipments of food from the intended orphanage.

It is for reasons like this that a recent winter saw the death of 30 percent of this orphanage’s children, some of whom can be seen on the Foundation’s homepage. Nonetheless, through the continued work of Han and others like him around the world, lives will be saved, suffering alleviated, and opportunities granted.

In thinking about this chain of history spanning the globe, it becomes apparent that what goes around comes around. It also becomes apparent that development does not come about in a nationalistic vacuum, but depends upon the international circulation of ideas, understanding, education, and people helping people.

Though Korea has suffered international injustices, like every country, it has also benefited extensively from international contributions and continues to do so. Han thinks it is high time that Korea began to understand the international contributions that constitute the nation.

It seems overdue for the country to begin acknowledging that what is Korean is not pure Korean.

Rather, that which is Korean is also made up of international elements. Only with this acknowledgement, driven again by education, can Koreans have the understanding and attitudes that make them true citizens of not only this little country, but of the world. 

By Keenan Fagan

Keenan Fagan is a university educator at Kookmin University in Seoul, where he teaches English and serves as the English Communications Adviser to the university. He has contributed to Korean development with 16 years of educational service at Korean universities, including KAIST, Sungkyunkwan and Kyung Hee. He can be contacted at keenan.p.fagan@vanderbilt.edu. ― Ed.
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