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Sung Chul Yang headshot

Born in the southwestern region of South Korea, Sung Chul Yang was 10 years old when the Korean War erupted. Dead bodies littered the ditches. Shell casings were his toys. “We lived in a world where death and destruction were simply routine,” he recalled.

Coming to believe that war is “a tragic merry-go-round,” he has devoted his professional career to efforts toward reconciliation and peace between North and South Korea.

While pursuing his master’s degree at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa as an East-West Center grantee in 1965, he sought to understand different points of view and the cultures of his fellow grantees, skills that would later serve his as an ambassador.

Yang earned a PhD from the University of Kentucky and spent 30 years as a university professor in the United States and South Korea before his election to the Korean National Assembly.

An internationally renowned expert on Korean politics and diplomacy, he served as the Republic of Korea’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2000 to 2003.

Today Ambassador Yang lives just outside Seoul and chairs the advisory committee of the Kim Dae-Jung Peace Foundation. He continues to advocate for reconciliation and peaceful reunification, citing a Korean proverb: “In 10 years, even mountains and rivers change.” There is no better alternative, he insists, and no lasting peace for East Asia without it.

Read the 2003 Māamalama profile


Adapted from East-West Center: Fifty Years, Fifty Stories

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