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NO.331 07.14.2017

“Myungryun House,” the Birthplace of Kyung Hee, Bequeathed to the University

Main building of Myungryun House, which is constructed in traditional Korean style, with the study seen on the left and bedroom on the right, circa 1960

The family of Miwon Young Seek Choue, the founder of Kyung Hee University, donated Myungryun House and the associated land to Kyung Hee University.
The house was the foundation upon which the university’s dedication to “Scholarship and Peace” was first built over 60 years ago, and is endowed with immense historic significance for the Kyung Hee community.

 

“In commemoration of the spirit of the founder of Kyung Hee University, Miwon Young Seek Choue, who dedicated his life to building ‘civilization for all’ and a ‘peaceful global society,’ and to support Kyung Hee’s continued scholarship, education, and practice in the creation of sustainable civilization in a new era, we donate the following estate, both the land and the building, to the Kyung Hee University System.”


On June 21, 2017, a ceremony was held in the Main Building of Kyung Hee’s Seoul Campus to look backon the history of the university. Myungryun House, where the founder of Kyung Hee University Miwon Young Seek Choue (1921-2012) had lived for 60 years after fleeing his birthplace Woonsan, North Korea as a result of the Korean War, was donated to Kyung Hee University by his family.


After receiving the pledge of gift from President Inwon Choue, Youngil Kong (Chairman, Kyung Hee University) remarked, “While Myungryun House clearly has great public significance and historic value for Kyung Hee University, on a private level it has also been the home and root of the founder’s family. We are deeply indebted by the family’s decision to donate the house to Kyung Hee University. We will make every effort to maintain the house to commemorate the founder’s spirit, and how he dedicated his life to the development of the university and the promotion of global peace.”

 

Choue’s study (mid-1960s) / Choue and his wife in the backyard (mid-1960s)

 

The house witnessed the early history of Kyung Hee

It is significant that Myungryun House, with its associated land, has been donated to Kyung Hee University, as the house bears witness to the birth of the Kyung Hee spirit and tradition. Not only was it the private living space of the founder and his family, but also served as the main headquarters for the university in its early years, and as the guest house for national and international dignitaries visiting Kyung Hee. The birthplace of Kyung Hee has now formally become part of the university.

 

Following the handover ceremony, Professor Heechan Kim of Humanitas College, who is also the director of Kyung Hee Archives, introduced the early history of Kyung Hee through pictures of Myungryun House. In 1951, during the Korean War, Kyung Hee University was founded in the spirit of “Creating a Civilized World” in Dongkwang-dong, Busan, taking over from Shinheung College (founded in 1949).

 

In January 1953, a fire destroyed the Dongkwang-dong buildings, and the university struggled to survive in a series of makeshift buildings and shelters. An armistice brought the active hostilities of the Korean War to a close the same year, which allowed universities that had relocated from Seoul during the war years to return, but the fledgling university had no prior campus in Seoul nor the financial capacity to purchase land for a new campus.

 

 

An overview of the Seoul Campus (1954)

 

The Master Plan for Seoul Campus began from virtually nothing

In the fall of 1953, Choue came north to Seoul and surveyed areas close to what is now Hongik University, but ultimately decided on a relatively undeveloped area in what is now Hoegi-dong as the ideal foundation for “creating a civilized world” through the university.


Choue had a clear, long-term vision for post-war changes. For the first time in Korea, a campus masterplan was drawn, including the main building and all major components of the current Seoul Campus, complete with provisions for future land use and reforestation.

 

Construction of the main building (circa 1955)

 

The main problems facing the university’s development were financial. With only enough cash funds for about ten days living expenses in Seoul in hand, Choue started construction of the main building. In 1956, as the first phase of the construction was nearing completion, total expenditures reached about 450 million hwan. The university was deeply in debt, and creditors were constantly clamoring for their money. In the fall of 1955, the founder sold his house in Hyewha-dong to settle some of the debt and moved into a small rented room nearby, where his family of seven lived together. Creditors continued to seek repayment, and rumors that the university had gone over temporarily halted all construction of the Seoul campus.

 

A breakthrough was urgently needed. Choue decided to leave the rented room in Hyehwa-dong and to move into a bigger house in Myungryung-dong. Although the house was in poor condition, the move helped undermine rumors of bankrupcy. However, creditors continued to press the family, and Choue’s wife Jungmyung Oh later recalled, “At that time, our mind and body were both stretched to extremes under the endless duress of serving meals to the clamoring creditors besieging the house when we had trouble feeding even ourselves and of constantly running about trying to borrow whatever money we could to pay off any part of the debt.”

 

In the end, the founder resolved the debt issue with two measures: First, he persuaded the creditors with his vision for a university that transcended mere profit as an essential institution for the future of the society, the country, and the world beyond. Secondly, on a practical level, he issued bonds to the creditors to ease their fears, which brought an end to the earliest financial worries.

 

From then on, confidence returned and construction resumed. The dilapidated Myungryun House underwent a renovation to become an important center for the incipient Kyung Hee. Not only was the house al living space for the Choue family, but also it became the offices, meeting rooms, and guest rooms of the budding university.

 

A backyard dinner meeting with faculty and student representatives (early 1960s)

 

“Let us bring in the greater future of Kyung Hee”

Myungryun House was the venue for various public meetings such as dinner parties for university presidents in Seoul, international university presidents visiting Korea, members of Kyung Hee Associations in the U.S., and countless others. Kyung Hee faculty, administrative staff, and student representatives were also frequently invited to the house for meetings with the founder.

 

Professor Kim concluded his survey of the history of the house by saying, “While the House was supposed to be a private space for the family, in the midst of hardships that accompanied the birth of Kyung Hee, every available resource had to be made ready to meet public needs. The house stands witness to the sacrifices made for the spirit of Kyung Hee that we must now carry on.”

 

 

Chairman Kong at the presentation of the pledge of gift said, “We will make every effort to transform Myungryun House into a monument to the founder’s dedication to the university and global peace.”

 

The current President Choue, representing the family, said, “Myungryun House was the second birthplace of our family, who had to flee our original home in North Korea, but it was such an integral part of the history of Kyung Hee that we felt it was right to bequeath the house to the university. Looking back upon 68 years of our history, we wish for continued challenges so that Kyung Hee can continue face a great future.”

 

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