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James Scarth Gale

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James Scarth Gale

James Scarth Gale, born in Alma, Ontario, was the first Canadian to set foot on Korean soil. On December 12, 1888, Gale arrived in Pusan and continued on to Inchon (Chemulpo) soon after. Although Gale was inspired to visit Korea as a missionary, he is primarily remembered for his work as a translator.

Gale's passion for Korea came from his early years as a missionary. Soon after arriving, Gale moved from Seoul to Sorae, in Hwanghaedo, isolating himself from other English speakers. in Sorae, Gale totally immersed himself in Korean culture, language and traditions. He lived in a Korean grass hut, ate Korean food and spoke only Korean for three months. Gale tried to learn Korean by holding conversations with the village men in the stifling atmosphere of his hut. He would struggle to understand and express himself in such a foreign language. This time in Sorae laid the foundation for the mastery of Korean language and understanding of Korean life for which Gale became noted.

James Scarth Gale

Most scholars agree that Gale was the best interpreter of the Korean mind to the Western world in the early 20th century. Gale translated over fifty documents, including a Korean-English dictionary, a history of Korea, one of the first Korean bibles, and a Korean version of Robinson Crusoe and Pilgrim's Progress. Gale's The History of Korean People became required reading for missionaries and scholars seeking to study Korea. It is regarded as a wealth of information of Korean ethnology, for and folklore and historical allusions. His dictionary was often given to recent arrivals in Korea to help make their acclimatization easier.

Gale's obvious interest in and love for Korea can easily be seen in his various translations. Gale was committed to exposing Koreans to Western works, while at the same time interpreting Korea's long-standing culture and traditions for the West. His translations, in both Korea and English, have allowed both nations to enjoy the richness and diversity of each other's culture and literature.

Gale's influence in Korea was not only limited to his translations. He was also a founding member of the YMCA in Korea, becoming its first Director in October 1903. The YMCA was responsible for starting many of the first western style schools and universities in Korea. In addition, Gale produced several newspapers for the Christian and foreign community, including Christian News, The Bible Magazine and The Korean Magazine.