Lee Eo-ryeong, 89, South Korea’s Leading Public Intellectual

Lee was a literary critic and writer who directed the opening ceremony of the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Lee Eo-ryeong, 89, South Korea’s Leading Public Intellectual

Photo: Lee Eo-ryeong c. 2012.  Credit: Korea.net

Literary critic and journalist Lee Eo-ryeong 이어령, who was often billed as the greatest public intellectual of his generation, passed away on February 26 from cancer.

Born in 1933 in Asan, Chungcheongnam-do Province 충청남도 아산, Lee first made his name as a student at the Seoul National University 국립서울대학교 by publishing a groundbreaking analysis of poetry by Yi Sang 이상, one of Korea’s best known poets who until then was considered to be a raving mad man. Lee then began a career as a newspaper columnist in 1960, writing numerous bestselling books with penetrating insights of the culture of Korea, Japan and Asia writ large.

Lee directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and served as the Minister of Culture 문화부장관 from 1990 to 1991 when the ministry was first established under the Roh Tae-woo 노태우 presidency.

In 2007, Lee made a surprising and highly public conversion to Christianity after having been a lifelong atheist, publishing another bestseller titled From Intellectualism to Spirituality 지성에서 영성으로 that chronicled his experience.

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