Book Talk: William Franklin Sands in Late Choson Korea: At the Deathbed of Empire, 1896-1904

Key information

5:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Russell Square: College Buildings

About this event

This event has been cancelled due to strike action.


William Franklin Sands was the highest-ranking foreign adviser in the Korean government in the twilight years of the Choson dynasty. His book, entitled Undiplomatic Memories, first published in 1930 and now nearly a century old, has been the seemingly definitive account of his life and career in Seoul. However, his Papers in the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary outside Philadelphia paint a much different, more complex, and more complete picture of the events in Korea that Sands participated in leading up to the Russo-Japanese War.

Sands had an inside view of these events, first as Secretary to the American Legation and then as adviser to both the Kungnaebu [Imperial Household Department] and the Oebu [Foreign Office]. In those roles, he regularly interacted with Emperor Kojong, providing an intimate look at the years encompassing the decline and fall of the dynasty and the efforts of Japan and Russia to dominate Korea.

In the process, those two powers maneuvered to engineer the dismissal of Sands whose advocacy of reforms domestically and neutrality internationally interfered with their plans, aided ironically, by the American Minister to Korea, Dr. Horace Allen. Sands' unsuccessful efforts ended with the Japanese takeover of Korea in 1905.

William Franklin Sands in Late Choson Korea

Speaker biography

Professor Wayne Patterson received his undergraduate degree in History from Swarthmore College and his graduate degrees (two MAs and a PhD) in History and International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania. He taught modern East Asian history at St. Norbert College for more than four decades.

He has also been a visiting professor at a number of universities. In the United States they include Harvard University, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the University of California at Berkeley, Vanderbilt University, the University of Kansas, the University of Maryland, and the University of South Carolina.  He has also been a visiting professor abroad, including two as a Fulbrighter.

In Korea they include Ewha University, Yonsei University, Chonnam National University, Sogang University, Korea University, and Seoul National University. He has also been a visiting professor at the University of the Philippines-Diliman and at Hang Seng University in Hong Kong. His books include The Korean Frontier in America: Immigration to Hawaii, 1896-1910The Ilse:  First-Generation Korean Immigrants in Hawaii, 1903-1973In the Service of His Korean Majesty: William Nelson Lovatt, the Pusan Customs, and Sino-Korean Relations, 1876-1888; and William Nelson Lovatt in Late Qing China: War, Maritime Customs, and Treaty Ports, 1860-1904.


  • SOAS Centre of Korean Studies