History

Zoologist Won Hong Gu

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On display in the Korean Stamp Museum is a piece of portrait stamp, stealing the limelight of visitors.

The portrait depicts a Korean zoologist named Won Hong Gu (1888-1970) who is heartily laughing at the sight of gray-backed starling.

This stamp was issued in Juche 81 (1992) in recognition of his achievements for the development of zoology in Korea.

Pak Rae Bon, his discipline and a zoologist, recollects that he was a scholar who loved his motherland more than anyone else.

Won was born into a peasant family in a mountainous village in Sakju County, North Phyongan Province.

His father died of heart failure after his birth and, a few days later, his mother, too, lost her life from acute hemorrhage.

The new-born baby was orphaned all of a sudden, and brought up by his maternal grandmother.

He began to get specially interested in the animals from the age of 7 when he started his study at a village school.

Whenever he discovered a nest in forests while playing with his friends, he would sit in front of it all day long to observe the movements of birds. And when he saw a roe deer or a hare he would wander about mountains to find out their dens. The beautiful landscape of his mountain village made the little boy cherish patriotism.

“What will you do in the future?”

“I want to be a bird flying all over the country.”

This was what he said to his maternal grandma when he was seven.

Since then, he made painstaking efforts to realize his dream in spite of difficult living conditions.

During the Japanese military occupation of Korea (1905-1945), he once gave up his research, lamenting over the sorrow of a ruined nation. But he set down to his studies with the spirit of resistance to the Japanese colonial rule and went round all over the country with an aspiration to find out more species of animals of the country.

In the course of this, he completed “List of Korean birds” involving over 200 species.

But he was detained by the Japanese police for a mere reason that he had written the word of Korea on the list.

He keenly experienced the sorrow of a ruined nation in which he could not study the natural resources of his own country at his will. After Korea’s liberation (August 1945), he realized the preciousness of the country and devoted himself for the building of the country.

From 1946, he began to engage in the education of the rising generations and research of zoology at Kim Il Sung University.

He always told his students of his distress-torn life before Korea’s liberation and stressed that a scientist could find the worth of life only in the embrace of his country.

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Some of his fellow researchers vacillated in the face of difficult conditions after the Fatherland Liberation War (June 1950–July 1953). At that time he encouraged them in the following vein: The present condition is nothing when compared to the situation before national liberation. Now we have our country which takes care of us. A man, who turns a blind eye to the country experiencing hardships, cannot be called a true scientist.

He wrote many books, including “Distribution of Korean birds and their economic significance”. He classified and systematized amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals and presented treatises on them, thus making a tangible contribution to developing the zoology of the country.

He was a candidate academician, professor and doctor of biology. He worked as a deputy to the Supreme People’s Assembly from 1948 to the last moment of his life.

His remains are buried at the Patriotic Martyrs Cemetery in Sinmi-ri.

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