Rhee, Syngman (sĭngˈmən rē) [key], 1875–1965, Korean statesman, president of the Republic of Korea (1948–60). Early an advocate of Korean independence, he led a demonstration against the Japanese in 1897 and was condemned to life imprisonment but was released (1904) under an amnesty. Rhee went to the United States, where he studied at Harvard and Princeton (Ph.D., 1910), and after returning to Korea went to Hawaii for a time. In 1919 a group of conspirators for Korean independence made him president of a government in exile, and he never ceased working for the cause. After World War II he became a leader in South Korea under the U.S. occupation, and in 1948 he became first president of the Republic of Korea, which claimed the right to rule over all Korea. When, on July 27, 1953, a truce was reached in the Korean War, Rhee maintained that all Korea should be united. Reelected to his fourth term in 1960, Rhee was accused of rigging the election. Student-led demonstrations protesting the election and government corruption soon led to riots and in May, 1960, Rhee was forced out of office and into exile in Hawaii.
See biography by R. C. Allen (1960).