Syngman Rhee

Eumenis Megalopoulos | May 13, 2023

Table of Content


Lee Seung Man (also known in English as Syngman Rhee, March 26, 1875, Hwanghae-do, Korea - July 19, 1965, Honolulu, USA) was a South Korean statesman and politician, the first head of the Korean Provisional Government in exile and the first President of the Republic of Korea (South Korea). His three presidential terms from August 1948 to April 1960 took place against the backdrop of the division of Korea into a pro-American South and a pro-Soviet North, the Korean War, and subsequent tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Lee Seung-Man was a hardline anti-communist and authoritarian ruler whose rule ended after mass protests caused by rigged election results. In 1949, he was awarded the Order of Merit for the Establishment of the State of Korea and the Grand Order of Mugunhwa.

He was born into a peasant family of modest means in Hwanghae-do Province, Kingdom of Korea. He was the youngest of five siblings, although his older brothers died prematurely. Manu's family could trace their lineage back to King Taejong. When Seung Manu was two years old, the family moved to Seoul. Having received the traditional Korean education of the time, which consisted primarily of the study of classical Chinese literature, Lee Seung Man tried several times to pass the examination for entry into the civil service, but without success. When the traditional education system was abolished, he enrolled in the Paejae School, opened by an American missionary, where he learned English and contributed to the school newspaper, Maeil Sinmun, among other things.

In 1896 Lee Seung-man joined the political reform movement of the Independence Club. After the Japanese-Chinese War of 1894-1895, Korea fell under the protectorate of Japan. Lee Seung Man participated in the movement against Japanese domination of the Korean Peninsula, for which he was arrested and accused of participating in the January 9, 1899 mutiny. He unsuccessfully tried to escape, for which he was tortured and sentenced to life imprisonment. While imprisoned, Man read books secretly delivered by his friends and diplomats. Lee Seung Man later said that he became a Christian while in prison and also initiated other inmates into the Bible. He also wrote newspaper columns and started a prison library (which eventually grew to 500 books). Furthermore, while in prison, Lee Seung Man began to write the political manifesto The Spirit of Independence.

After the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Lee Seung-Man was released from prison. Later he went to the United States. In December 1904 he was received by U.S. Secretary of State John Hay and President Theodore Roosevelt, unsuccessfully asking the United States to guarantee Korea's "complete independence" from becoming a colony of Japan From 1905 he studied at U.S. universities on missionary grants. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from George Washington University in 1907, became a Master of Arts from Harvard University in 1910, and received his Ph.D. from Princeton University the same year. Lee Seung-Man's research concerned politics, history, international relations, Christian theology, and law. It was then that he began to write his name in the Western manner, putting his first name before his last.

Lee Seung-man returned to Korea in late 1910 and became general secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in Seoul. That same year Japan annexed Korea and began to persecute local Christians. Lee Seung Man, after living in Korea for 15 months, left again for the United States under the pretext of attending a Methodist conference. In March 1912, he arrived in Hawaii, where he founded a Christian school for Korean immigrants and became involved in the local Korean-American community, which had greatly increased in number because of political unrest in the country.

On April 13, 1919, the March 1 Movement formed the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai, which was recognized by all major pro-independence Korean forces. Lee Seung-Man was elected as the first president (head of government). In 1925, he was removed from office by the Provisional Assembly after being impeached for abusing his power.

After his retirement, Lee Seung-Man lived in the United States, in New York, Washington, D.C., and Hawaii. In New York, he was involved in the Korean Methodist Church and Institute, an organization that played an important role both in the Korean diaspora in the United States and in the independence movement. He married for the second time in 1934 an Austrian woman, Franziska Donner, who followed him to the United States where she worked as a secretary to her husband, notably helping to prepare the book Japan Inside Out (1940).

After Japan's defeat in World War II, Lee Seung Man is flown to Tokyo aboard an American air force plane. After a secret meeting with General MacArthur, the commander-in-chief of the Allied occupation forces in Japan, Lee Seung-man arrives in Seoul in mid-October 1945 on the general's private plane.

After the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule, the United States refused to recognize the legitimacy of both the authorities of the People's Republic of Korea, established in August 1945 with the consent of the Japanese authorities, and the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in exile. To manage the American zone of influence on the Korean Peninsula, the American Military Government in Korea, headed by Archibald Arnold, commander of the 7th Infantry Division, 24th Corps, was established on September 8. The U.S. administration was faced with a number of serious problems from the outset, with the result that as early as September 15, Merrell Benninghoff (the State Department political advisor to Lieutenant General Hodge, commander of the U.S. Army in Korea) described Korea in his reports to Washington as a powder cellar that could explode with the slightest spark. It became necessary to bring in people who were competent in Korean affairs and who could gain credibility among the population. The bet was placed on Lee Seung-Man.

Thanks to U.S. support, Lee Seung-man returned to Seoul before other Korean political émigrés. He and Kim Gyusik took part in the formation of an interim legislative body and an interim government in the south. From the very outset, Man and his supporters were committed to establishing an independent Korean state free from Communist and Soviet influence in the U.S. zone, which he announced at a speech in Chonip County on June 3, 1946. In December 1946, Lee Seung-Man went to the United States to convince the American government that he was right. Thanks to the U.S. turn toward the Cold War, Man gains support for his idea and returns to Seoul in April 1947.

In 1948, the Parliament of the Republic of Korea nominated Kim Gu, President of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, as the first president of the young state, but this election was won by a wide margin by Lee Seung-Man, the first president of the Provisional Government. Kim Gu also lost the election for vice president to Lee Si-young.

At the beginning of 1948, Lee Seung-man succeeded Kim Gyusik as President of the Provisional Legislative Assembly. On May 10 of the same year, he was elected to the Constitutional Assembly, whose elections had been boycotted by the leftist parties. On May 31, Man became Speaker of the Assembly, but not for long. On July 20, the first presidential election in the history of South Korea was held. The National Alliance for the Early Independence of Korea, Lee Seung-Man, won a landslide victory. He received the votes of 180 electors from among the members of the Constitutional Assembly (91.8 percent). On August 15, Lee Seung-Man officially assumed power from the hands of the U.S. military administration. The U.S. recognized him and the Provisional Government.

Soon after taking office, Lee Seung-man begins a campaign against communism, but it is clear from his later speeches that he often equated all his political opponents with communists. A series of laws against the opposition are passed, many leftist politicians have been arrested and some killed. It becomes apparent that Lee Seung Man chose an authoritarian style of government. He allowed the domestic security forces, headed by his right-hand man, Kim Chang-ryong, to detain and torture suspected communists and North Korean agents. His government is also responsible for a number of massacres, including the Jeju Island massacre, where 14,373 people died in the 1948-1951 communist uprising, according to the South Korean Presidential Truth Commission, 86% of whom were victims of security forces and only 13.9% were killed by communist insurgents.

In 1949, Ahn Doo-hee, a South Korean army officer, murdered Kim Gu, former President of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, in his office. It was suspected that the assassination was organized by President Lee Seung-Man, but the details of the assassination are unknown. Moreover, Ahn Doo-hee himself was killed by one of Kim Gu's supporters in 1956 after the latter testified that Kim Chang-ryong had ordered the assassination.

Both Lee Seung-Man and North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung made no secret of their intentions: both regimes sought to unify the peninsula under their rule. The constitutions of both Korean states, adopted in 1948, unambiguously declared that the goal of each of the two governments was to extend their authority over the entire country. By 1949, both Soviet and U.S. troops had withdrawn from Korean territory. The U.S. refused to provide heavy weapons to South Korea, while the USSR and the PRC continued to provide massive military assistance to North Korea, enabling the DPRK to rapidly build up its military strength. Thus, by early 1950, the Korean People's Army outnumbered the armed forces of the Republic of Korea in all key components. Tensions between the two Koreas escalated, leading to massive riots and armed hostilities in South Korea and border clashes at the thirty-eighth parallel, in which some 100,000 people were killed.

On June 25, 1950, North Korean troops crossed the border under the cover of artillery. The South Korean army, far inferior to the North in heavy weapons, could not offer serious resistance. Lee Seung-Man, fearing an uprising in Seoul, forbade the military to disclose the situation, and on June 27 himself left the city with most of his government, ordering a bridge over the Hangang River to be blown up. As early as June 28, Seoul was taken. By mid-August, the DPRK army controlled up to 90% of South Korea, but there was no lightning victory. Nor was there the mass uprising that the North Korean leadership had hoped for. Lee Seung-Man managed to relocate the government to Busan and, together with U.S. troops, set up a defensive perimeter along the Nakdong River. On August 20, the North Korean offensive was halted.

On September 15, 1950, UN and South Korean troops began their offensive. Already on September 23, Seoul was repulsed. In October, the attackers reached the 38th parallel, after a series of battles crossed it and in the same month captured Pyongyang. Realizing that the defeat and elimination of the DPRK was imminent, the USSR and the PRC decided to enter the war. While the Soviet leadership limited itself to supplying weapons and sending its pilots and advisers to the front, Beijing decided to take a direct part in the fighting. On October 25, 1950, an offensive by the 270,000-strong "Chinese People's Volunteer Force" under General Peng Dehui began, resulting in another turning point in the war. On December 5, the North Koreans, with the help of the Chinese, retook Pyongyang, and on January 4, 1951, they retook Seoul. The Americans eventually succeeded in stopping the Sino-North Korean offensive and then launched a counteroffensive. In mid-March, Seoul was returned to southern coalition control.

In May 1951 the front finally stabilized. As a result, in the summer of 1951 the warring sides found themselves in almost the same positions as they had occupied before the outbreak of the war. The fighting was at a stalemate, with neither side having a decisive advantage. On July 8, 1951, peace talks began in Kaesong. Both sides were ready to restore the status quo, agreeing to partition of Korea on prewar terms, but despite this, the negotiations dragged on for almost two years and were accompanied by bloody fighting. The final period of the war was characterized by relatively few changes in the front lines and protracted discussions about a possible end to the conflict. On July 27, 1953, a peace treaty was signed, but South Koreans refused to sign it. In spite of this, the treaty is still in force today. It fixed the front line at the 38th parallel and declared a demilitarized zone around it, running slightly north of the 38th parallel in its eastern part and slightly south of it in the west.

Despite the war, South Korean political life continued. In 1951, Lee Seung-Man formed the Liberal Party (ސ유당) based on the Young Nationalist League of Joseon, which also included the Korean Civil Council, the Korean Labor Federation, the Peasants' Union and the Korean Women's Council. The second presidential election of the Republic of Korea was to be held in the summer of 1952, in the midst of the Korean War. The widespread dissatisfaction with political repression and corruption made it unlikely that Lee Seung-Man could be reelected by the votes of members of the National Assembly. To get around this, it was decided to amend the constitution to allow the president to be elected by direct popular vote. When the assembly rejected the amendment, Lee Seung Man ordered the mass arrest of opposition politicians and secured the desired amendment in July 1952. On August 5, Lee Seung Man was re-elected for a second term with 5,238,769 votes (74.6 percent).

At the end of the war, which caused enormous material and economic damage, the country found itself in dire straits and dependent on U.S. aid. The next presidential election in South Korea was held on May 15, 1956. Even this time Lee Seung-Man won a landslide victory, receiving 5,046,437 votes (70.0 percent). His only rival, leftist politician Cho Bong Am, campaigned under the slogan of peaceful reunification of Korea and won 30 percent of the vote, more than the expected result. Notably, three years later, in 1959, Cho Bong Am was accused of violating the National Security Law and executed. The third term was supposed to be Lee Seung Man's last, since the 1948 constitution limited the president's tenure to three consecutive terms. But an amendment was passed at Lee Seung-Man's initiative that allowed him to run for an unlimited number of terms.

In June 1954, Lee Seung-Man initiated the creation of the Asian Anti-Communist League.

On March 15, 1960, South Korea held another presidential election. Eighty-four-year-old Lee Seung-man ran for president for the fourth time. His opponent was supposed to be the candidate of the Democratic Party, Cho Byung Ok, but he passed away shortly before the election. As a result, Lee Seung-Man was elected president as the only candidate with 9,633,376 votes or 100 percent of the valid ballots. The number of spoiled ballots in this election was 1,228,896 or 11.3 percent of those who voted.

Since the president was elected on a non-alternative basis, the opposition to the Lee Seung-Man regime staked on the election of the vice president. The candidate of the opposition Democratic Party was incumbent Vice President Jang Myung, who had served as Korean ambassador to the United States during the Korean War. But according to the official election results, the official candidate of the Liberal Party, Lee Ki-Boon, was elected vice president with 8,337,059 votes (79.2%), while Jang Myung was counted at 1,843,758 votes (17.5%). In this regard, the opposition claimed that the election results were completely fabricated by the Ministry of the Interior.

Already on the day of the election, there were spontaneous riots in Masan due to electoral irregularities. The police, using weapons, were able to stop the protests. However, on April 11, a student of the Masan High School of Commerce who had disappeared during the riots was found dead. When it became known that he had not drowned, as officially announced, but had been killed by a tear gas grenade that penetrated his skull, mass protests for a review of the presidential election results began on April 19 in Seoul. As a result of clashes between protesters and police and the army, 125 people were killed. However, the protests continued under the slogan of the immediate resignation of Lee Seung-Man. After the troops refused to shoot, all of Seoul was under the control of the protesters. The country's parliament urgently passed a resolution resigning the president and calling for new presidential elections. On April 26, Lee Seung-man signed a letter of voluntary resignation. On April 28, as protesters seized the Blue House, the official presidential residence, Lee Seung Man left the country in a Douglas DC-4 aircraft belonging to the CIA and went into exile. The former president settled in Honolulu, Hawaii, with his wife, Francisca Donner, and adopted son.

As a result of these events, which have gone down in South Korean history as the April Revolution, the regime of the First Republic fell and the Second Republic was established in the country.

Lee Seung-man died of a stroke on July 19, 1965, at the age of 90. A week after his death, his body was taken to Seoul and buried in the Seoul National Cemetery.

From September 21, 1957, following the death of King Haakon VII of Norway until April 26, 1960 (before his resignation as president of South Korea), he was the oldest serving head of state on the planet.

The former Seoul residence of Lee Seung-Man now houses the Presidential Memorial Museum. The Woo-Nam Presidential Preservation Foundation was established to preserve and study the legacy of the first president of the Republic of Korea.


  1. Syngman Rhee
  2. Ли Сын Ман
  3. ^ Further information: North–South differences in the Korean language § Consonants
  4. ^ In 1910, the Korean Peninsula was officially annexed by the Empire of Japan.
  5. ^ He did participate in the meeting as the Korean representative.
  6. Ли Сын Ман // Большая советская энциклопедия: [в 30 т.] / под ред. А. М. Прохоров — 3-е изд. — М.: Советская энциклопедия, 1969.
  7. польская Википедия (польск.) — 2001.
  8. Rhee, Syngman. The Spirit of Independence: A Primer for Korean Modernization and Reform, p. 1. 2001, Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 978-0-8248-2349-8 Rhee 2001, p. 1
  9. 1 2 3 Rhee 2001, p. 2
  10. 유영익 (1996). 이승만의 삶과 꿈. Seoul, South Korea: Joong Ang Ilbo Press. pp. 40-44. ISBN 89-461-0345-0.
  11. a b c d e f g h i j Syngman Rhee Encyclopaedia Britannica. Viitattu 19.5.2019. (englanniksi)
  12. Vesterinen, Janhunen ja Huotari 2000, s. 147-149
  13. a b c d „KOREA: The Walnut”, Time, 1953. március 9.. [2013. május 21-i dátummal az eredetiből archiválva] (Hozzáférés ideje: 2010. március 20.)
  14. OH. 261., KN. 488.
  15. a b c d e Selden, Mark & So, Alvin Y.. War and State Terrorism: The United States, Japan and the Asia-Pacific in the Long Twentieth Century. Rowman & Littlefield, 108. o. (2003)

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