Witnessing Gwangju

Paul Courtright
Tuesday, May 12, 2020 -
7:30pm to 9:00pm
Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace
W10,000 for non-members; W5,000 student non-members (with student ID); free for members

Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch lecture series

이미지: 사람 1명 이상, 텍스트

Witnessing Gwangju


As a young Peace Corps volunteer, Paul Courtright was helping leprosy patients in the countryside of South Korea in 1980. He enjoyed cooking eggs and listening to music. On his way back home from a medical checkup, he got caught up in the middle of the Gwangju massacre. Between Peace Corps policy and frustration, he decided to act. He escaped from Gwangju to tell the US embassy what was going on there.

He couldn't stop writing notes about what he was witnessing. It was the only way he could process what he was seeing. He has now, at long last, published a book, “Witnessing Gwangju,” based on his massive amount of notes. This memoir is not only the record of Gwangju uprising but also a great story of how the incident changed a young man's life in a very short period of time: He quotes an old woman’s words: “‘We have no voice. You have to be our voice. You have to tell people outside our country what they’re doing to us.’ She glanced around the street, then returned her fearless gaze to me. I was rooted to the spot. I was to be the “witness” and she had given me a clear task. I failed the halmeoni. I was given a responsibility that only now, forty years later, I can finally face. I hope I’m not too late.”

Tonight’s lecture introduces the book, published by Hollym in both Korean and English, with photos by the famed photographer Robin Moyer. Copies will be for sale and there will be a book-signing after the lecture.


Paul Courtright was a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Jeonnam Province of Korea from 1979-81. He completed his Masters and Doctorate in Public Health focusing on eye diseases and neglected tropical diseases. For 20 years he lived and worked in Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Tanzania establishing, with his wife, the Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology in Moshi, Tanzania. He has published over 250 scientific articles and has received awards from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Premio Vision Mundi de Lucha Contra la Cuguera, and the Antonio Champalimaud Vision Award.  He is a professor (adjunct) at the University of Cape Town and currently he is the Trachoma Technical Lead, consulting for Sightsavers, a UK based non-governmental organization. He is married with two sons and currently lives in San Diego. Since 1981 he had continued his relationship with Korea conducting research there with Korean colleagues and a summer epidemiology course at Yonsei University with his wife. His work in Africa has been recognized by the Queen and got invited to England.

Venue:          Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace,

                      Gwanghwamun (near Anguk Station, across street from Japanese Embassy)

                      * Free parking is available for the attendees of the lecture.


Contact Us

Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch
Room 611, Korean Christian Building, Daehak-ro 19 (Yeonji-dong), Jongno-gu, Seoul 03129
[03129] 서울시 종로구 대학로 19 (연지동) 한국기독교회관 611호

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