Old Korean Legation

Introducing the Old Korean Legation

First, let’s start with history.

In the 1900s, the East was in turmoil with imperialism and a rapidly changing international environment. Emperor Gojong, the last emperor of the Korean Empire, decided that we needed help from a powerful nation like the United States to prevent Japanese aggression. Thus, Gojong signed a trade treaty with the United States (United States-Korea Treaty of 1882) and bought a building in Washington, D.C. to make diplomatic efforts.

He spent $25,000, half of the year’s royal funds. This place was used as a center of diplomatic activity from 1889 to 1905, before Eulsa Unwilling Treaty (Japan-Korea treaty of 1905) was signed. Emperor Gojong tried to inform the unfair situation of the Joseon but because of the Eulsa treaty, the Korean Empire was deprived of its diplomatic rights. Naturally, the Old Korean Legation in US became under control of Japan, and they resold the building for $10.

102 years after Korea’s liberation from Japan, the Cultural Heritage Administration and the Cultural Heritage National Trust succeeded in repurchasing it for $3.5 million in 2012. After six years of restoration work to recreate the construction site, the opening ceremony was held on May 22, 2018. It was the first time in 113 years the Korean flag flew above the building since it closed.

And now, you can visit this building for free with a reservation. You can also get a guided tour.

On the first floor is the parlor, dining room, and back Parlor. On the second floor there is a minister’s bedroom, a minister’s office, restroom and a study. The third floor, which used to be the residence of diplomatic officials, has been reconstructed into an exhibition hall that provides an insight into the history and changes of the Korea-US Exchange and the Korean Empire's diplomatic missions in Korea.

The Old Korean Legation in the US is a place that shares the history of Korea and the US, which provides a glimpse into King Gojong's efforts for independent diplomacy and the budding Korea-US friendship. It is highly valued as the only foreign legation that was in Washington, D.C. in the 1890s, with its original structure preserved intact. If you're visiting Washington, make a reservation in advance and make sure to stop by. 

~ From Heeyeon Ryu, an SAF Student Correspondent