Recalling the Master of Thinking
Professor Rhee Yeung-hui, the inspirational voice of contemporary Korean history
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Ten years have gone by since Professor Rhee Yeung-hui (Department of Media Communication) passed away. The late professor was a journalist, a scholar, and a social activist, who remains a symbolic figure of press freedom and Korea’s democracy. Evaluated as “the Teacher of Thought” for young Korean intellectuals in the ‘70s and ‘80s, what Rhee called for is still being followed today by his students, journalists, critics, and fellow scholars.
Rhee was born in 1929 at Unsan, North Pyongan Province. During the Korean War, Rhee served in the military as an interpreter officer. Rhee started off his journalism career by joining the Hapdong News Agency in 1957. He moved to the Chosun Il-bo – one of the country’s most influential newspapers – as a foreign news editor. However, Rhee was advised to resign in 1968 due to his series of articles opposing the authoritarian government. The journalist returned to the Hapdong News Agency as a foreign news editor, where he experienced his second dismissal in 1971 for a similar reason.
With a recommendation from Professor Jang Ryong (Department of Media Communication), Rhee joined Hanyang University as an assistant professor the following year. Rhee remained involved on the front lines of the pro-democracy movement since then. As a consequence, the professor was forced out of office twice and was imprisoned three times by the government during his tenure at Hanyang. After his last return, Rhee participated in the establishment of the newspaper The Hankyoreh as a non-executive director, which claimed to be "the first newspaper in the world truly independent of political power and large capital." Rhee retired in 1995 but kept on teaching as an emeritus professor at the Graduate School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He died in 2010 at the age of 81.
Rhee, in his book Idol and Reason
Rhee was renowned as a prolific writer which brought him fame as the maître à penser (the master of thinking). Rhee usually published books on social issues, and they had a sensational impact on young intellectuals in the 1970s and 1980s. Of particular note, in his book Logic for an Era of Transition, Rhee criticized the sweeping trends of reckless anti-communism which were prevalent due to the Cold War. It was a paradigm shift for journalists and collegians who experienced the Korean War in their youth. Rhee received numerous awards including the Manhae Practitioner Prize (an authoritative award held by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism in commemoration of the symbolic reformer Manhae Han Yong-un) in 2000.
Rhee was subjected to fierce criticism by his political rivals after the 1990s. The opposites criticized that Rhee came to hasty conclusions on controversial social phenomena. Besides, his adherence to antiwar sentiments aroused repulsion in people who gave priority to national interests. However, it is undeniable that Rhee provided new insights into Korean society. He was one of the first South Korean intellectuals to overcome McCarthyism with his famous quote – “A bird flies with both left and right wings.”
Posterity will remember Rhee as a great journalist and scholar. “Rhee led the new generation and contributed to the fostering of intellectuals with his publications,” said Choi Young-muk (Department of Media Communication, ’85), a professor of Sungkonghoe University and a renowned media scholar who used to be Rhee’s teaching assistant. Professor Ahn Dong-geun (Department of Media Communication), who studied under Rhee, also showed respect towards his teacher. “Regardless of criticism posed upon him, Rhee’s competence and ability as a scholar will be recognized by future generations.”
Oh Kyu-jin email@example.com
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