Patching Up a Diplomatic Fissure: Reassessing Richard Wunsch, a German Physician to the Korean Court, 1901–1905* Academic Article uri icon


  • Abstract In 1901 the Korean imperial court invited Greifswald-educated medical doctor Richard Wunsch to be personal physician to Emperor Kojong, only to abandon him upon his arrival in Seoul. Previous scholarship has understood Wunsch’s wasteful four-year engagement as a typical example from an incompetent regime on the cusp of its forceful transformation into Japan’s protectorate in 1905. Based upon careful analysis of hitherto unexplored diplomatic documents from both German and Korean sides, I argue that the appointment of Wunsch needs be understood in the whirlwind of diplomatic tension between Germany and Korea that arose over the issue of a disputed mining concession in 1898. The mutually agreed arrangement to install a German doctor in the Korean court in 1901 was a symbol of the patched-up relationship, with each side harbouring a different agenda—the German government wanted to put a powerful person in the court to gain an edge in imperial politics in Korea, and Koreans wished to have a German doctor who would function as a counterweight to the more dominant presence of American and British doctors in the court. By reconstructing the impact of convoluted factors, both local and global, in the invitation of a German doctor to Korea, this article provides a detailed case study of the use of medical science by the German imperial government as a chip in the global game of influence. It also functions as an overdue corrective to a commercially inspired and prevalent image of Wunsch that has capitalized upon a self-orientalizing tendency in contemporary Korea.

altmetric score

  • 3.95

author list (cited authors)

  • Kim, H.

citation count

  • 0

publication date

  • December 2019