Syngman Rhee was born on March the 26th 1875, the son of an impoverished yangban, Rhee Kyong Sun.
An early advocate of Korean independence, he is credited with leading a demonstration against the government, for which he was condemned to life imprisonment in 1897.
However in 1904 he was released, under an amnesty and he went to America where he studied at Harvard and Princeton Universities. All the time he was here he was working for American support for Korean independence, but in vain.
In 1910, Rhee returned to Korea as a teacher at Seoul YMCA and as a Christian missionary. He stuck it out for only two years before leaving, this time to become the headmaster of a Methodist school in Hawaii.
When, in September 1919, General Yi Tong Whi took over the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai, (KPG) Rhee was elected president (in absentia).
These exiles quickly split into two main groups.
One, led by General Yi and Kim Rip which favoured military action with Soviet backing and the other which favoured diplomatic channels and working with the U.S.A.
On January the 26th 1921 these differences erupted into open hostilities with Rhee accusing both General Yi and Kim Rip of embezzling funds. Kim Rip was assassinated and General Yi was persuaded to leave.
Unfortunately Rhee was the next to go when he too was expelled from KPG 1925, and returned in disgrace to Hawaii.
For the next twenty odd years he spent constantly working for his version of independence for Korea, while supporting his family (he married an Austrian woman Francisca Donner in 1934) on contributions from other Koreans living in the U.S.A.
Then in 1948 (some say with American backing) Rhee was “democratically elected President of the First Republic of Korea”
South Korean politics throughout Rhee’s regime, which lasted from 1948 –1960, was dominated when his struggle to remain in power and the opposition’s efforts to unseat him.
This went on until, following Rhee’s re-election, in March 1960, he was accused of election rigging. Student-led riots followed, and with them came civil disorder all of which came to be known as the April 19th Students Revolution. In May Rhee resigned and retreated once more to Hawaii where he died on the 19th July 1965.
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