Spanish flu's impact in Korea in 1918


The disease also had an impact on society and politics. According to Lim and others, the misery caused by the Spanish flu outbreak was "a catalyst for social agitation that led to active Korean participation in the March 1st Independence Movement and the subsequent changes in the Japanese colonial policy in the 1920s."




1918 influenza pandemic in Korea: a review on Dr. Schofield' article]

The article "Pandemic influenza in Korea with special references to its etiology," published in JAMA in April, 1919 by Dr. Frank William Schofield, is a valuable material reflecting the influenza pandemic situation in 1918 in Korea. It contains the case reports of influenza infected patients and the results of the bacteriological experiments. Dr. Schofield worked as a bacteriology professor in Severance Union Medical College in Seoul from 1916 to 1920. His academic activities are lesser-known than the role of contributor of Korean independent movement. However, he was a remarkable veterinarian and scientist. According to Dr. Schofield, the number of Influenza infected population in Korea in 1918 was supposed to be 4,000,000 to 8,000,000, which corresponds with other resources (6.7 per 1,000 in Gangwon province). Considering the cases which were not registered as influenza infection by misdiagnosis of pneumonia complication the sum should be higher. However, the estimated crude influenza death rate from the reports by the Japanese colonial government was only 2.38 (per 1,000). Dr. Schofield and his colleague tried to culture "Pfeiffer Bacillus" from the sputum and blood specimens of patients showing typical influenza symptoms. The bacterium was mistakenly considered as the influenza agent till the virological nature of influenza was discovered in the 1930s. From the results of his study he seemed to agree that "filterable virus" was the influenza agent and the secondary infection of the bacillus caused respiratory symptoms. He also reported on the influenza vaccination during the epidemics. Dr. Schofield's article confirms that the damage caused by the influenza outbreak in Korea was as great as in other Asian countries or even worse. It also gives information about the researches and education on the etiology and vaccination of influenza based on the germ theory in the medical colleges in Korea, which adopted the western medical educational system in the early 20th century.



The present study sheds light on the structural aspect of disease and death in colonial Korea by examining the whole picture of the Spanish influenza, which was pandemic during 1918-1921, and exploring its socioeconomic effects. The Spanish influenza likewise emerged in colonial Korea through the process of presymptoms in spring, with the first epidemic characterized by high morbidity rates and low death rates, and the second epidemic characterized by low morbidity rates and high death rates. Consequently, nearly half of the population fell ill, over 200,000 from among them losing their lives. While the morbidity rate per ethnic group was similar for ethnic Koreans and Japanese or higher for the latter group, the fatality rates revealed salient disparities. Indeed, the structure of disease and death where the Japanese showed low death rates, which surfaced throughout the colonial period, emerged in this case, too. Regarding the pandemic of the influenza, the Government-General of Korea (GGK), the Japanese colonial ruling organ, devised measures through the police hygiene system but failed to be effective. As a result, not only did many inevitably lose their lives but also the socioeconomic effects were considerable, including a drastic rise in rice prices and the temporary closures of schools and offices. This led to discontent with the colonial ruling system and to the March 1 Independence Movement, as a result of which Japan's colonial policy changed into one based on "culture" and "development." In the process, demographic transitions such as a decrease in the death rates appeared during the 1920s.

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