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Yun Posun (1897 – 1990)

Archaeology graduate and former President of South Korea.

Yun Posun

When the University began its Yun Posun Memorial Symposium in March 2013, the intention was clear: to foster new partnerships between the UK and Korea, promoting longer-term understanding and the growth of contemporary Korean studies and culture in Scotland. With such admirable goals, it was appropriate that the series of events should be named after an eminent graduate and the father of the modern democratic movement in Korea.

Belief in democracy

When Yun Posun arrived in Edinburgh in 1925, he was already a rebel of sorts, having rejected the Japanese colonial rule in Korea that permeated through all aspects of Korean life, including education. Fleeing to China, he became the youngest member of the National Assembly of the exiled Korean government, which had based itself there.

It was with this background that Yun Posun made the decision to study Archaeology, a subject he believed offered insight into the evolution of political ideologies and what can dictate the rise and fall of nations. And he studied under Professor Gorden Childe, today regarded as one of the most important archaeologists and prehistorians of his generation.

Yun Posun’s time in Scotland is credited with developing his belief in democracy, especially in terms of moral decency, equality and social responsibility - principles that would have a huge bearing on his later political life.

President and prisoner

When Korea was finally liberated from Japan after the Second World War, Yun Posun re-engaged with politics in his homeland, becoming an advisor to the Department of Agriculture and Industry of the American Military Government of Korea and an advisor to the governor of Kyungki province, and eventually serving in the government of President Rhee Seung-man.

However, an increasing dissatisfaction with the President’s authoritarian rule and an eventual student-led uprising in 1960, allowed Yun Posun to win the presidential election in August of that year, quickly becoming the country’s symbol of democracy.

His tenure as President, however, was short-lived after a military coup d’etat by General Park Jeong-hee in 1961. Although initially remaining as President, despite his disdain for the coup, Yun Posun eventually resigned while strongly advocating that the military leaders cede power to a democratically elected government. Thus began years of active government protest, including two failed attempts at regaining the presidency in a climate of assumed electoral fraud.

Throughout the 1970s he was also placed under house arrest and imprisoned on three separate occasions. Nonetheless, Yun Posun became something of a spiritual President for the people of South Korea, forever grateful for his determination to lead the country into democracy.

Affection for Edinburgh

After retiring from political life and by then in his 80s, Yun Posun returned to Scotland in 1982, paying a visit to his alma mater. His affection for the University was clear as he explained to a press conference that his time there as a young man instilled within him his strong belief in democracy.

Today the University of Edinburgh is proud to have influenced such an important figure in political history.