Kyung Hee University’s Founder: Dr. Young Seek Choue (1921-2012)

Young Seek Choue (1921-2012)

Dr. Young Seek Choue was one of most remarkable figures of the post-Korean War period. A man who devoted himself to a vision of peace and education in an age when most Koreans were concerned with the basic challenges of survival and economic development, Dr. Choue was above all a visionary, a man who established and built Kyung Hee University while remaining engaged in a far-sighted plan to “build a civilized world.” He started this project at a time when most Koreans were struggling to feed themselves. He imagined a global role for Korea, deeply engaged with the United Nations, that in the 1950s and 1960s seemed fantastic, but today, with Ban Ki Moon as Secretary General seems most prescient.

Dr. Choue, Chancellor of the Kyung Hee University System, passed away on February 18, 2012 at the age of 91. He had been ill for several years. He served as president of Kyung Hee University for many years.

Dr. Choue was born in North Pyeongan Province (in present-day North Korea) in 1921. He received a degree in law from Seoul National University in 1950 and found himself caught up in the chaos of the Korean War the following year. A refugee from the Communist invasion in Busan, Dr. Choue took over the Shinheung Junior College in 1951 and started to rebuild it as Kyung Hee University. “Kyung Hee” refers to the Kyung Hee Palace, the furthest West of the Imperial Palaces, and nearby the Gohwang Mountain beneath which Kyung Hee University stands today. Kyung Hee Palace, as the locus where the Korean King conducted political affairs was destroyed as part of Japanese occupation policy. The buildings for the Kyung Hee Campus in Hoegi-dong are made from rock carved from the Gohwang Mountain and form by far the most attractive campus of any university in Korea.

In 1961, a larger Kyung Hee University System was established, that provides for education from kindergarten through the Ph.D. level. Dr. Choue imagined that education should be a life-long process inseparable from other aspects of human experience.

Dr. Choue argued that “scholarship and peace” should be the central role of the university at a time when most Koreans had little interest in such abstractions. Peace and “peace studies” were critical to Dr. Choue’s vision. At a time when the term “peace studies was unfamiliar, he led the way, establishing the Graduate Institute of Peace Studies in 1984, launching a series of research projects that drew attention to the importance of peace as a field of study. Dr. Choue imagined the Graduate Institute to be a beacon for the future in an age of immense challenges. He wrote,

This global era opens a new chapter in human history, one in which peace, security and prosperity for all on earth can become a reality. Nevertheless, Mammonism and belief in the omnipotence of science and technology are still prevalent. So many people continue to indulge in egoism and to pursue blindly self-interest. In this process, human dignity has been impaired and the human spirit itself is at risk withering away. If human society is so dehumanized, human civilization and its institutions cannot properly serve humankind. They will decay, and in time dictate the rules and threaten to control human beings.

There are many critical challenges confronting humankind today. The gross imbalance between population and food, the depletion of natural resources, pollution, and the aggrandized vision of the power of science and technology have reached a level of crisis. The distortions that have formed in our social values and norms, the moral decadence that permeates society and dependency on terrorism as a solution to social problems trouble us. And the constant threat of nuclear war, though considerably diminished by the demise of communism in Eastern Europe and Russia, remains quite real. These are only a few of the global problems facing the world today.

Without solutions to these problems, the future of humankind will be in jeopardy.

Given this situation, the supreme tasks facing humankind in the 21st century are:

The reconstruction of human society so as to bring about a better world, through the restoration and invigoration of the human spirit.

The reestablishment of mankind, and the human spirit, as the proper master of civilization, through liberation from purposeless science and technology, the deification of technology, and the clinging to obsolete institutions.

The utmost exertion of our efforts to create a new civilization wherein everyone on earth can enjoy happiness and security, through good will and cooperation among nations, taking all humans to be a single family.

The piece-meal approach to solving these problems undertaken today remains insufficient To implement solutions to these problems we must find holistic approaches that take the whole, as well as the parts, into consideration.

As a graduate program international relations that emphasizes peace, philosophy and the liberal arts, and physical education, the Graduate Institute for Peace Studies remains unique in the world. The school offers full scholarships to all students, and thus allows students to focus on their ideals without financial concern.

Dr. Choue also placed emphasis on physical health, serving as a major supporter of Taekwondo. He felt that a strong body was essential part of education and made physical education, which he had training in, part of his university program.

He invested heavily to build up the best program in oriental medicine in Korea, and the only program in the world that encourages institutionally the fusion of Western and Eastern medical sciences. His vision of a “third medicine” combining the best of East and West has also proven to be remarkably prescient. Kyung Hee University has the most comprehensive medical center in Korea, covering every aspect of medicine from nursing and dentistry to rehabilitation and long-term care.

Dr. Choue placed great emphasis on the responsibility of the university to society. He envisioned the university’s role as directly linked to the United Nations and the building of a global community. He was the first educational leader to state that education and peace must be part of the same process.

In the 1950s, he started a program to educate farmers in the devastation following the Korean War. This “For a Better Life” Program, although deeply involved in the needs of the immediate post-war period, was also directly linked to Dr. Choue’s concerns with the international movement for world peace.

Dr. Choue launched another movement, the Global Common Society, in 1965 which strives to instill personal ethics and a global perspective within Korea. He also launched the “Neo-Renaissance Movement” which strove to create a life that was “spiritually beautiful, materially affluent and humanly rewarding.”

He would then launch the “Global Peace Movement” in 1981. As part of this movement, Dr. Choue proposed the establishment of the International Day of Peace at the 36th U.N. General Assembly and, with the support of Costa Rica, the United Nations adopted his proposal.  Dr. Choue was an early advocate for family reunions between North and South Korea, starting his work in 1982 as head of the “Reunion Movement.”

Dr. Choue also proposed, and co-founded, the International Association of University Presidents in 1965 to assure closer global cooperation between universities. He established Korea’s first Graduate School of NGOs and had the foresight to understand the critical role that NGOs would play in this century.

Dr. Choue wrote,

The civilization of the world passes through cyclic changes. At the moment, the dynamics of world civilization suggest a shift from m Europe and North America and new alignment around East Asia. As human civilization aligns with the Pacific Basin, civilizations coming together as one global community, a community that harmonizes the spiritual and material realms of human life. We must be keenly aware of our duty as academicians and intellectuals to usher in this new era. We will leave behind our “partial culture” that forces a choice between the spiritual and the material and move towards a new integrated culture.

Dr. Choue developed elaborate theories to undergird his activities. He saw the role of the university as being, in part, a preparation for the new realities of a world wherein information technology rendered the modern nation state untenable and a new paradigm would be required. He felt that there was a need for a fundamental restructuring of society in response to these challenges that would encompass all institutions and habits. He also argued that war was caused by the greed of rulers and that a true democracy was the best response.

Dr. Choue theorized that history would pass through a period of international coalitions and regional coalitions like the European Community, but that in the end regional coalitions would be absorbed by international coalitions.  He predicted the emergence of a global civil society based on participatory democracy and the empowerment of citizens that would involve NGOs representing civil society. He spoke of a global common society in which there flourished a global democracy one in which freedom, equality and prosperity would be extended to all.

He labeled this future global democracy as “Oughtopia,” a term he coined to describe a world that aspired to an ideal, but unlike a “utopia,” could be realized. He felt there was a moral imperative at the local and international levels, and, drawing on Immanuel Kant’s essay “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch” (Zum ewigen Frieden. Ein philosophischer Entwurf),  Dr. Choue put forth a vision for what could be accomplished He imagined a new concept of nationalism that allowed for a coexistence and prosperity based on accepted universal principles.

Dr. Choue received more than 70 awards in recognition of his dedication to the promotion of human rights, peace and welfare. His written works include “On Liberty in Democracy” (1948),  “Creating a Civilized World” (1951), “Rebuilding Human Society” (1975), “Oughtopia” (1979) and “Why Human Society has to be rebuilt?” (1993).

Dr. Choue married Ms. Oh Jeong-myung in 1943 and they have two sons Choue Jung Won, President of the World Taekwondo Federation, and Choue Inwon, President of Kyung Hee University and two daughters  Choue  Yo Won, Dean of the School of Western and Eastern Medicine, and Choue Mi Yon, Executive Director of the Kyung Hee Educational Foundation.

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