An Unfortunate Identity

For the white, Methodist community present in the south during the late 19th century, Yun Ch’i-ho presented the ideal spokesperson to bring their religion to the Far East. Yun’s stead fast acceptance of religious principles and acute awareness of the roles that race and gender played made him a perfect fit. Despite an obsessive desire for romantic interaction, Yun understood his innate inferiority to white women in the south. He idolized their beauty as a manifestation of the perfection of western society.

Yun was infuriated with the concomitant presence of another Chinese student at Emory named George Bell. Unlike Yun, Bell did not see the perceived boundaries between their Asian heritage and that of the white southern women. His brazen sexual behavior was in stark contrast to that of Yun’s. When he renounced his admiration for Tommie Berry and her family, he suggests the “cheek and brass” Bell as a better-suited alternative.

Despite the inferiority Yun felt in the United States, his American education made him feel far superior as he returned home to Korea and throughout his work in other Asian countries. Although Yun was unwilling to try and bring a white woman back to Korea with him due to the impracticality of the matter, he felt that he was entitled to his choice once back in Korea. A Chinese Methodist student was selected to be his wife. The pressure to perform the ceremony in Methodist tradition would have been intense as it would have presented a circumstance where Asian beliefs could be conformed to meet that of westernized Christianity.

For a Christian, Korean man, his sexual role in society was acutely defined. He was too entrenched in his religious beliefs to settle for anything less than a similarly defined religious woman and too inferior in his race to dream of “the refined company of western girls”. This frustrating conundrum may have been responsible for Yun’s rare sexual deviations in which he disregards his normally conservative beliefs to frequent sexual workers in Paris and Shanghi. His identity in society, as enforced by the Methodist south where he received his education and training, provided confusing discrepancies which must have contributed to his obsession with social norms, especially those relating to sexuality.

The complex interplay of the diverse aspects of society still can turn into heated discussions. There are most certainly people today facing the same pressures that Yun felt over 100 years ago. I believe a change is under way however. Each new generation seems more open-minded than their precursor, as the ignorant hateful beliefs of the past become more diluted in a decreasing number of people. I envision a point sometime in the future where race, sexuality, religion and any other identifying factor will be so intermixed that distinct, finite groups would be unimaginable; a place when Yun would have be free to navigate social and sexual interaction happily and without worry of offending any group which he identified with. 

1 thought on “An Unfortunate Identity

  1. Kienbean: In your post you say “His identity in society, as enforced by the Methodist south where he received his education and training, provided confusing discrepancies which must have contributed to his obsession with social norms, especially those relating to sexuality.” Can you say more about the “confusing discrepancies” specifically? I don’t disagree, I am more hoping you can provide clear textual evidence for your readers who may want to follow this line of reasoning further.

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