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When Christianity Came to Korea

Photographic telltales from a missionary moment, and movement

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In the slide show above, Professor Chai-Sik Chung previews his gallery lecture about the BUAG exhibition Missionary Photography in Korea: Encountering the West Through Christianity.

American missionary children dressed in traditional Korean costumes stare out from a faded black-and-white photo. The portrait is a rare glimpse of Korea in the 19th century, when the entire nation was isolated from foreign contact.

The transformation from the “hermit country” of the Chosun Dynasty to its 20th-century persona is reflected in an exhibition at the Boston University Art Gallery at the Stone Gallery: Missionary Photography in Korea: Encountering the West Through Christianity, which runs through October 25. Chai-sik Chung, the Walter G. Muelder Professor of Social Ethics at the Boston University School of Theology, discusses Korea’s encounter with Christianity and how it affected the formation of modern Korea in a talk at 1 p.m. today, October 7, at the BUAG.

Korea’s introduction to Christianity and its entrance into the modern world are conjoined, says Chung.

“In Korea, we don’t have many pictures prior to the 20th century,” he says. “These pictures that the missionaries captured of premodern Korea are very important.”

As he walks around the gallery, Chung points to examples of the temperance movement and to sports introduced for all classes, as well as to the prominence of women. “In traditional society, women were subservient to their patriarch,” he says. “These photos reveal the emancipation of women in a Christian society. That would not have been possible before this time.”

As part of the exhibition Missionary Photography in Korea: Encountering the West Through Christianity, Chai-Sik Chung will speak today, October 7, at 1 p.m. at the BUAG at the Stone Gallery, 855 Commonwealth Ave. Admission is free. For more information, contact Michael Carroll, center administrator, BU Center for the Study of Asia, 617-358-4648. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m., closed Mondays and holidays.

Kimberly Cornuelle can be reached at kcornuel@bu.edu.

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