Gallery – Images of the Korean Diaspora

Note: There are a number of sources of public domain images related to the Korean diaspora. Our archiving efforts focus on collecting, cataloguing and presenting them in one place for your review and enjoyment. While we do our best to confirm the public domain status of the images, the presence of images on our website does not guarantee that all of the images are in the public domain. Based upon the current copyright law, all works published in the United States before 1924 are in the public domain. Works published after 1923, but before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication. Even for images in the public domain, we provided attribution wherever possible. If you have questions about the copyright status of any images, please contact us and let us know. And remember, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Thank you for your interest and support.

Soh Jaipil (January 7, 1864 – January 5, 1951), also known as Philip Jaisohn. Soh “moved” to the United States in 1884 and is known to be the first Korean naturalized citizen of the United States. Watch documentary on his legacy: Life of Soh Jaipil, the First Korean American
Jeon Bongjun, the leader of the Donghak Peasant Revolution (1894). Aggrieved peasants led an armed rebellion calling for social reforms toward the end of the Joseon Dynasty. Japan used this uprising as a pretext for a direct military intervention in the affairs of Korea and start of the Sino-Japanese War, which ended in Japan’s favor. Japan’s intervention in Korea is significant because much of the Korean diaspora can be traced back to the earlier relations between the two countries.
Flag of Donghak Peasant Revolution.  Flag is written in Hanja and translates to “We start a revolution for anti-Wae (Japan) and anti-western”
(Attribution: Original author was Samhanin at commons.wikipedia – 독립기념관(The Independence Hall of Korea), 동학농민혁명기념재단(
Kim Gu, Commander in the Donghak Army. He became a profound nationalist and one of the most respected Korean leaders.
(Attribution: the Association for Asian Research, Korea WebWeekly 1/2/2004. Uncited photo)
File:First Sino-Japanese War.svg
Map of battles during the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). In April 1894, the Chinese government, at the request of the Korean king (Gojong), sent troops to aid in ending the Donghak peasant revolt. In response, Japanese leaders decided upon military intervention in Korea to challenge China, producing the Sino-Japanese War, which ended in Japan’s favor. (Attribution: Created August 16, 2013 by Hoodinski)

Japanese soldiers of the First Sino-Japanese War, 1895. By defeating China, Japan had succeeded in eliminating Chinese influence over Korea. Korea proclaimed itself the Korean Empire and announced its independence from the Qing Empire of China.
(Attribution: anonymous – Musee de I’Armee, Pa
Korean soldiers and Chinese captives in First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895)
Attribution: Original author was jjok on commons.wikipedia – 映像が語る「日韓併合」史 : 1875年–1945年 / Eizō ga kataru “Nikkan heigō” shi : 1875-nen–1945-nen by Ki-su Sin; p.41 ISBN 9784947585295

King Gojong (1852-1919) was the last king of the Joseon Dynasty and the first Emperor of Korea. He declared Korea an empire in October of 1897, in part to justify the country’s ending of its traditional tributary subordination to China. In 1902, Gojong granted Koreans the right to leave Korea to live and work abroad, which was “illegal” before that time. Watch The Untold Story – “The Korean Empire”
Dr. Horace N. Allen (1858–1932), a medical missionary from the United States, served as US minister and consul general in Korea at the end of the Joseon Dynasty and had a close connection with King Gojong, who frequently called upon Allen, as one of the earliest westerners in Korea, to advise and inform him about matters relating to the western world. Allen is credited with paving the way for Koreans to move abroad (Hawaii). Prior to that, it was illegal for Koreans to live and work abroad. Watch Korean Immigration to the United States (1903-1905) – Dr. Wayne Patterson (published February 6, 2014)

The Hawaiian Star, dated January 13, 1903, chronicling the arrival of the first Koreans aboard the S.S. Gaelic, the first ship to bring Korean immigrants carrying 56 men, 21 women, and 25 children (102 people). Following that, hundreds and soon thousands of Koreans were lured to Hawaii, where the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association courted Asians of various ethnicities (so that solidarity and strikes by one group would be difficult) to work on their plantations.
Attribution: The Hawaiian star. (Honolulu [Oahu]), 13 Jan. 1903. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. Image provided by: University of Hawaii at Manoa; Honolulu, HI).  Watch
A Portrait of the Korean American Experience
RMS Gaelic was a passenger and cargo liner that transported the first 102 Korean immigrants to Hawaii in 1903. The passage to Hawaii began on 29 December 1902 in Nagasaki, Japan, and ended on 13 January 1903, when the ship arrived in Honolulu.
Koreans came to Hawaii as plantation workers.
The first Korean Methodist Church established by Korean sugar plantation workers shortly after arriving in Honolulu, 1905. That group of Korean immigrants established the first Korean Methodist Church in Honolulu, receiving regular church status by the Hawaii Methodist Mission in April of 1905.
(Attribution: Honolulu Star-Bulletin)
(Attribution: Christ United Methodist Church, 1903-2003: A Pictorial History)
Please watch Making the World Their Parish
Korean members in front of the church at Punchbowl in 1906. The church served as the center of their lives, functioning as a cultural and religious asylum where the immigrants, isolated due to their language and cultural barriers, found comfort.
Attribution: Christ United Methodist Church, 1903-2003: A Pictorial History)

Chemulpo (today’s Incheon, Korea) was the principal port during the Joseon Dynasty, from where all Koreans left for abroad. Incheon was home to just 4,700 people when it became an international port in 1883. Today, about 3 million people live in the city, making it South Korea’s third most-populous city after Seoul and Busan. Incheon’s sea port is the second largest port in Korea after Busan’s sea port.
Image result for koreans in hawaii
After 1910, Korean passports were issued by the Japanese Imperial Government. The Japanese occupation of their homeland meant that Koreans in Hawaii had to carry Japanese passports.
(Attribution: University of Hawaii)
Korean immigrant Won Soo Lee works in a pineapple field in 1915.
(Attribution: Center for Korean Studies, which opened at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa in 1973).

These Korean women got the name picture brides because the Korean men in Hawaii sent pictures back home in order to find a bride.
(Attribution: William Lee photo)
Korean picture brides came to Hawaii in greatest numbers from 1913 to 1919.
Bok Dok Sur and sister arrived in Hawaii as picture brides in 1924.
The Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).
(Attribution: Original uploader and author was Dustandshadow at en.wikipedia – Русско-японская война (8 февраля 1904 — 27 июля 1905)
Russian (outer) Manchuria at the time of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) is the lighter red region to the upper right.
Russia suffered multiple defeats, resulting in the Treaty of Portsmouth, which President Theodore Roosevelt mediated. One outcome of the Treaty was that Russia recognized Korea as part of the Japanese sphere of influence and agreed to evacuate Manchuria and ceded the southern half of Sakhalin Island to Japan. In the early 1940s, tens of thousands of Koreans were brought to Sakhalin as laborers by the Japanese.
Watch A Forgotten People. The Sakhalin Koreans
(Attribution: CIA – The World Fact Book)

The Treaty of Portsmouth, which President Theodore Roosevelt mediated, ended the Russo-Japanese War on September 5, 1905 and marked the rise of the Japanese military and its dominance over China and the rest of Asia. Roosevelt approved the Japanese annexation of Korea and decided to cut off relations with Korea. Roosevelt earned the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
(Attribution: Encyclopædia Britannica)
Read: What’s President Theodore Roosevelt got to do with the Korean diaspora?

Dawn of an era: The front-page headline of this special edition of The Japan Times on Monday, Aug. 29, 1910, describes that day’s promulgation of the Treaty of Annexation signed on Aug. 22 between Japan and Korea. In the vernacular of the day, the sub-title refers to Korea as Chosen.
General power of attorney to Lee Wan-Yong signed and sealed by Sunjong.jpg
The Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910, also known as the Japan–Korea Annexation Treaty. The legality of the treaty was later disputed by the Korean government. While the treaty was affixed with the national seal of the Korean Empire, Emperor Sunjong of Korea refused to sign the treaty as required under Korean law. The treaty was instead signed by Prime Minister Ye Wanyong of the Korean Empire. The date the Treaty is signed (August 22, 1910) came to be known as National Humiliation Day in Korea.
Japanese infantry during the occupation of Seoul, Korea in 1904
(Attribution: Hare, James H., 1856-1946. ed – Russo-Japanese war, 1904-1905 Publisher: New York, P. F. Collier & son 1905 p.39)
Kuniaki Koiso, Japanese Governor-General of Korea, implemented a draft of Koreans for wartime labor.
(Attribution:  This image is available from the website of the National Diet Library, Japan).
From 1939, labor shortages as a result of conscription of Japanese males for the military efforts of World War II led to organized official recruitment of Koreans to work in mainland Japan. About 670,000 Koreans were taken to mainland Japan (including Karafuto Prefecture, present-day Sakhalin, now part of Russia) for civilian labor. The 43,000 ethnic Koreans in Sakhalin were refused repatriation to either mainland Japan or the the Korean Peninsula, and were thus trapped in Sakhalin, stateless; they became the ancestors of the Sakhalin Koreans.
Watch A Forgotten People. The Sakhalin Koreans

Korean coal miners forced into labor in Sakhalin during WWII

Korean workers at a Mexican hacienda (plantation). In 1905, 1,033 Koreans got on a British merchant ship named Ilford. After 40 days, they arrived at Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Watch Yo Soy Coreana

Image result for koreans in merida
Among the 1,033 Koreans boarded the SS Ilford to Mexico were farmers, military men, aristocrats and beggars. 
A typical ad that ran throughout Incheon, Korea calling for workers to head for jobs in Mexico: ‘Located near the United States of America, Mexico is a civilized and rich country. It has warm weather, clean water and fertile soil. The world knows it is a place where no diseases exist. In Mexico there are many wealthy people, but few poor people, so it is very difficult to find laborers. Like many Japanese and Chinese who went to Mexico and profited a lot last year, Chosun (Korean) people too will benefit much when they go there. Farmers will have free access to medicine. And you will work 9 hours a day and will be paid from a minimum ‘2 Won 60 Jun’ up to ‘6 Won’.’
The sign on the corner of Calle 72 and 57 (Merida, Mexico) shows a picture of a boat and the words El Chemulpo.
Early Korean immigrants to Mexico worked on henequen plantations.  They were treated as slaves, like the Maya people along whose side they found themselves working. The Koreans worked from dawn to dusk in the excruciatingly hot and humid Yucatan climate, cutting and processing the spiky henequen. Those that survived a four or five-year contract generally did not even make enough money to fund their return to Korea.
(Attribution: Popular Science 1922)
a Korean immigrant to the Yucatan
The passports held by the Korean immigrants to Mexico, issued by the Imperial Korean Foreign Office, were no longer valid when the Japanese took over Korea in 1910. With Japan’s annexation of Korea, Korea was deprived of the administration of internal affairs and international recognitions as a sovereign nation.
File:Monumento a la inmigracíon coreana en Yucatán (02).JPG
Monument in Merida, Yucatan, commemorating 100 years of Korean immigration
Location Tumen-River.png
The Tumen River, a 324 mile long river that serves as part of the boundary between China, Korea, and Russia, was crossed by hundreds of thousands of Koreans escaping Japanese rule. Rather than living under the Japanese, Korean peasants who lost their lands and persecuted made their way to North. By 1910, approximately 100,000 Koreans had crossed the Tumen River. By 1930, approximately 600,000, and by 1940, 1,500,000 Koreans had crossed the River.
Korean village near Vladivostok, Russia, at the beginning of the 20th century. Courtesy of Victoria Kim.
Korean village near Vladivostok, Russia, at the beginning of the 20th century. (Attribution: courtesy of Victoria Kim).

Korean soldiers in Far East Russia, fighting alongside the Russians in the armed struggle against Japanese encroachment into Russian territory

Soviet Koreans while being deported from the Far East to Central Asia in 1937.
Starting around 1930, almost the entire Soviet population of ethnic Koreans (by then nearly 170,000) were forcefully moved from the Russian Far East to unpopulated and remote areas (now  countries of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan).  The official reason for the deportation was due to the fact that Koreans, at the time, were subjects of the Empire of Japan, which was hostile to Russia.  Fear of disobedience and Japanese threat together created a deep distrust of Asian minorities within Soviet Union including the Koreans because of their ties with the Japanese empire, though Stalin was well aware that Koreans too resisted and fought against Japanese expansion.  Deportees were forced on to cattle carts in terrible, cramped, disease infested, and horrid conditions with no water, heat or food. It is estimated that more than 40,000 deported Koreans died around that time due to starvation, exposure and difficulties adapting to their new environment.  

The 4000 mile route of the deportation from Far East Russia to Central Asia

A first-generation Korean-Cuban harvesting henequen
Koreans in Cuba harvesting henequen

Koreans in Kazakhstan

Koreans in Uzbekistan

Korea gained its independence (which was lost for 36 years under Japanese rule) on August 15, 1945
Surrender of Japanese Forces in southern Korea in September of 1945. Pictured here is the lowering of the Japanese flag, during the surrender ceremony at Keijo (now Seoul), Chosen (now Korea), 9 September 1945.
(Attribution: Official U.S. Navy Photograph. From National Archives collection. This file is a work of a sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, it is in the public domain in the United States.)

Koreans returning to the homeland from Japan. Here they are disembarking at the port in Busan

Syngman Rhee served as the first president of the Republic of Korea from July 24, 1948 to April 26, 1960

North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, sparking the Korean War

Harry Holt with his adopted babies and aid workers in 1955. The start of adoption in South Korea is usually credited to Harry Holt in 1955. Starting in the mid-1960s with Sweden, and by the end of that decade, Holt International Children’s Services also began sending Korean orphans to Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland and Germany.

Boys awaiting transfer to a South Korean orphanage

Koreans coming to Brazil

Korean miners in West Germany.
In the early 1960s, the Korean government established an economic development plan through industrialization, but its execution was difficult due to lack of foreign capital. In 1963, a Korean delegation for foreign loan negotiations visited West Germany and reached an agreement on commercial loans worth 150 million German marks. Germany wanted these loans to be guaranteed and suggested that if Korea sent 5,000 miners and 2,000 nurses to West Germany, it would lend money on security of their wages (this was the so called “the Labor Recruitment Agreement of 1963 between the Federal Republic of Germany and South Korea). The commercial loans that Korea acquired from West Germany by this agreement were spent on the first 5-year economic plan, invested mainly in industrial sectors.
The “Miracle on the Han River” was ignited by this process. Beginning of 1960, Korea’s per capita income was $69 and it was the second poorest country in the world. Today (2019), Korea’s per capital income is approximately $33,000 and the country has the 11th largest economy in the world, surpassing that of Russia, Spain, Mexico, Australia.

Korean nurses in West Germany

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Immigration Act of 1965 at the foot of the Statue of Liberty on October 3, 1965