|Korea Pennisula: Phases of modern contemporary history
Le Dinh Chinh
Vietnam National University, Hanoi
To complete this report, I deeply express my thanks to the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies who help me very much in my studies. It cannot be denied that, during my studying and practicing in Korea, I have a lot of wide knowledge about Korean people and country. We have visited many places in Korea. This also helps me very much in my study and research on economic, society, history and culture of Korea. For example, Pusan City, SK telecom of Ulsan, Kyongju cultural heritage, Yi Sun-sin museum of Chungcheongnam- do, Ceramic museum, SK forest, and many other ancient culture heritage sites. Those heritage sites have made many strong impressions on me. By participating in these study-tours, we have received a lot of knowledge about history, society and culture of Korea. Besides, we can see that Korean traditional culture – the so-called Korean identities are maintained and strongly preserved. I can firmly say that, apart from my Mother land, where I was born, Korean people and country is also the great land of honor.
Especially, let me express my thanks to my host scholar who helps me to complete this report - Professor Chung Yong Wook, a Professor of the Department of Korean History-Seoul National University, who has made some good conditions during my staying and studying in Korea. I do hope that in the future, I will try to complete a book on “Korea History - Contemporary and Modern” with 300 pages of content. This book gives general knowledge for not only Korean University students but also private Korean Studies beyond Korea.
On this special occasion, I also would like to express my great appreciations to Seoul National University, Library of Seoul National University and Library of the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies who have provided me a lot of Korean historical and cultural documents and texts.
Seoul August 15, 2006
Dr. Le Dinh Chinh
Viet Nam and Korea are two countries that have some points of similarity about history and culture. During the contemporary and modern period, the French and the Japanese colonialists have oppressed these two countries for many decades. Since 1992, Vietnam and Korea have set up their friendship and cooperation. For more ten years, the two countries’ relation has yielded many fruitful achievements and developed prosperously. Therefore, two peoples of the country have fully understood about each other in every aspect of social and political life, especially about history and culture of two countries.
However, Korean Contemporary and Modern history have experienced some vicissitudes steps. These changes took place from the period of Western powers’ invasion to the reform policy of T’aewongun 1864 – 1873. Apart from these historical events, the Tonghak propaganda (movement), the establishment of the Independence Association in Korea, the Protectorate Treaty (1905), as well as Japan’s exploitation of Korea economy, Japan’s education and religion policy in Korea marked the crucial epoch in Korean history. These paved the way for struggling against Japan. The movement on March the first 1919 and the appearance of Korea’s Provisional Government; the progress of Korea’s national liberation movement that Korean history reached its climax in 1945 when Korea was freed from Japan’s yoke rule. In 1948, Korea peninsular divided into two halves i.e. the foundation of the Republic of Korea and Korea peninsula after the war. The Democratic revolution in April 1960 and Establishment of republic and Era of civil governments opened a new era in Korea history as South and North Korea with prospect of peace, reconciliation, cooperation and unification. Those are the important historic events of Korean history during struggle process toward independence and unification. I think that, Korean contemporary and modern history has to study thoroughly that one can comprehend about development of Korea history.
For Vietnamese peoples and Vietnamese students, Korean history is one of the new issues and has to study more. This work cannot figure out the entire Korean contemporary and modern history, but to some extent, it can help us understand some of the basis contents. Especially, in present period, Korean history and culture can help Vietnam and us to understand the mutual relationship, bilateral cooperation and development between Korean and many other countries in the world in general as well as Vietnam in particular. Therefore, this project not only filled important content about profound theology and reality, but also can use as lecture for students in the Universities and the Institutes.
This project is divided into three chapters.
Chapter I: Korea peninsula from the early 19th century to 1910
Chapter 2.Korea from 1910 to 1945
Chapter 3: Korea peninsula from 1945 until present time
In each chapter, it was include a lot small section, which dealt with some content of Korea history contemporary and modern. We hope that this project will be the useful lectures and the important reading material for researchers in Universities and Institutes of Korean tradition history of contemporary and modern period.
I. Korea Peninsula from the first years of century xix to 1910
Some feature on Choson state before western powers’s invasion.
Before Western powers knocked on the door to demand trade link opening, Korea remained a backward monarchy.
In the later century 14, on Korea peninsula, Choson state was set up. Choson state’s architect was Yi Song-gye, who crowned himself with name T’aejo and ordered to move capital from Kaesong to Hansong, Seoul nowadays. Hansong then became centre of politics, economy, and culture of Choson state.
Though being the country’s governor, the King had his powers held in hands of his assistants, “Dynastic Foundation Merit Subjects” (Kaeguk Kongsin) who were honored for supporting the King to build his rule, namely Chong To-jon, Cho Chun. Therefore, all decisions were submitted by these Dynastic Foundation Merit Subjects of the organization’s the Privy Council (Top’yongguisasa) compiled, and the King’s responsibility was to give his approval and the subjects would comply with the decisions.
However, these assistants of Meritorious Elite became more and more notoriously dominant, causing great troubles. In 1400, Yi Pang- won, fifth son of King T’aejo ascended to the throne after winning over Chong To-jon and putting aside opposite forces. Yi Pang- won (the later King T’aejong, 1400-1418) out did his father in his policy making and wise diplomacy. He soon set up good relation with China King M’ing and was assigned Korea Monarch by King M’ing. He also dissolved private armed bodyguards and sent these forces to the national army. To restrain the government officials’ domination, the King changed the Privy Council into the State Council (Uijongbu) who had less power. Ministers of the court now no longer depended on the Privy Council. They could present themselves directly to the King and decide without referring to the State Council..
In 1418, King Sejong (1418-1450) inherited the throne. To build up a strong court, the King established the Hall of Worthies (Chiphyonjon) a body to study Chinese ancient institutions. The six- volume Orthodox code (Chongjon) was composed by scholars of the Hall of Worthies. The Hall of Worthies’s power was so overwhelming that it seemed to seize the national power and dominate the royal influence.
However, the Hall of Worthies did not last long. In 1456, King Sejo (1455-1468) ordered to dissolve the Hall of Worthies immediately after he won the throne. He also dismissed officials who cherished intentions of opposition. Scientist called this event “six killed officials”: Sam Song- mun, Pak P’aeng- nyon, Ha Wi-ji, Yi Kae, Yu Ung- bu and Yu Song-won. King Sejo alos issued a new law, called the National Code (Kyongguk taejon). The law confirmed the supreme power of the King and functioned as a legal tool to maintain social order and protect benefits of the monarchical dynasty.
In Choson state, officials who had contributed to build the dynasty now were at important positions. However, at this time, a new Confucian of officials emerged. They were graduated most from private schools (Sowon) at localities. Though they had high education but they had no intention to widen their influence to the kingdom capital. After ascending to the throne, King Songjong (1469- 1494) used these scholars at important positions such as consultants so that he could restrain the domination of old officials.
The appearance of New Confucianism was the main cause of partition, making the government internal affairs became tumult. As a result, these scholars were constantly removed.
The scientists called the “literati purges” (sahwa). From 1494 to 1544, under the two dynasties of King Yonsan’gun (1494- 1506) and Chungjong (1506- 1544), there were four internal purification cases. Though Confucians were defeated heavily, they gradually recovered and gained their status in Choson’s social and political life, for they had firm ground at the private Academies (sowon) and the village Code (hyang yak). Then, the emerging of Confucians in the later half of century XVI led to a new partition, which caused internal division in Choson’s royal court. Scientists called this “factional strife” (tangjaeng).
In Korean history, the biggest “party clash” took place under the dynasty of King Sonjo in about 1575. The main cause of the event was competition a round the position of chollang- a middle position in the Department of Personnel of the court. Though it was a normal position, chollang had monopoly in nominating officials to be assigned to important positions. Moreover, the promotion way of chollang was very wide who could reach to the highest official, heading the Department or prime minister. Therefore, this position was often subject of competition for parties.
At first, Kim Hyo-won and Sim Ui-gyom were two rivals in competing for the post. However, the issue of chollang post caused clashes in the royal family and made the central government divided into two contradiction sides: Easterners (Tongin) and Westerners (Soin). At first, Easterners outplayed Westerners. In 1623, under the dynasty of King Injo (1623- 1649), Westerners took back the power and from that time to century XVII, Westerners dominated the power .
In the following time, Westerners underwent tumult in its internal affairs and it was divided into an Old Doctrine (Noron) and a Young Doctrine (Soron). In the battle to protect its benefit, Old Doctrine came to power and became major force to fight Easterners.
In the later half of century XVII, partition continued to be dominated in the court, making more troubles. At this time, a new intellectual school appeared in Korea- Practical Learning (Sirhak). The school’s major perspective was to “comprehend the reality by building national pride and social reforms for post Choson time on behalf of the people” .
. A New History of Korea; Ki-baik Lee; Translated by Edward W. Wagner Published for the Harvard-Yenching Institute by Harvard university press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England 1984, pages: 220.
. Faculty of Oriental Studies: 10 years of Korea Education and Studies in Vietnam; National Conference Report Collection on 10 years of diplomatic establishment between Vietnam and Korea; Hanoi, December 6, 2002, Hanoi national University Publisher, 2003, p. 123
To protect its purpose, the practical school criticized the present society and held opposite thoughts to trendy theories of the geomantic and portentous formulations of the Chonggam-nok, the subversive creed of Western Learning (Catholicism), and the individualist doctrines of the Wang Yang-ming school of Neo-Confucianism, anathema to the orthodox Chu Hsi philosophy .
Upon the progressive thought of the new school and upon attempt to treat partition, Choson government applied a new policy, which distributed power fairly to all sides. The new policy was called the t’angp’yongch’aek (“policy of impartiality”). The t’angp’yongch’aek was first applied by King Yongjo (1724- 1776) and then maintained by King Chongjo (1776- 1800). The policy aimed to balance powers among four sides in the court. As a result, the party partition calmed down and the court’s power and reputation improved and the political circumstance was remained stable during two dynasties.
However, the t’angp’yongch’aek could not avoid certain limitations. It not only failed to clear away the partition of sides but also increased the number of the officials quickly. Many people anticipated that the power division among sides would climb to the top.
1.2. Rule of royal relative in law families.
In 1800, King Chongjo died and ten year Sunjo royal relative ascended to the throne. The policy known as t’angp’yongch’aek of balancing powers among four factions and parties were no longer valid when royal power was transferred from the royal family to its in laws relative via marriages.
In the early time, Andong Kim royal family was control by father in law of the King Sunjo- Kim Cho-sun. When seizing the actual power, he purified the mandate mechanism and put his relatives on important posts. Therefore, from the first years of century XIX, Korea history stepped on new phase- a phase of power domination by families of relatives in laws of the royal family. The throne then played as a symbol image only.
However, Kim family’s power was interrupted when the throne passed from King Sunjo to his nephew Honjong (1834- 1849). When Honjong became King, another family of relatives in law of the royal family took power of Andong Kim family. Cho Man-yong, head of the family quickly focused his power to control the royal family. Like Kim family, he removed opposite forces and got his relatives replace in the authority apparatus. In 1849, the new family lost its foot hole and King Ch’olchong (1849- 1863) came to the throne, bringing the rule back to Kim family.
Therefore, within half of century, the actual controller of the royal family was not the Yi family itself, the throne was no more than a hollow symbol and every real power as in hand of families with marriage relations with the royal family. Many yangban of royal origin were pressed and bully by the in law relatives. The already turbulent country got more and more turbulent. And farmers suffered more and more.
. A New History of Korea; Ki- baik Lee; Translated by Edward W. Wagner Published for the Harvard-Yenching Institute by Harvard university press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England 1984, pages:272.
1.3 Invasion of Western powers and reform policy of the T’aewon gun 1864- 1873.
In the early half of century XIX, Britain, France, Russia and America arrived at Korea sea, asking for trade link opening. In 1832, a trade vessel of Britain emerged off-shore at Ch’ungch’ong province. Thirteen years later, in 1845, Britain sent its war ships into Korea waters and explored many islands between Cheju and the Southern coast.
Following Britain was France. In 1846, France deployed three war ships to Ch’ungch’ong coast. After submitting a letter to Choson government, the war ships withdrew.
After arrival Britain and France was American, in 1866, America’s war ships entered deeply into Korean waters, passing T’aejong River and landing at P’yongyang to declare war. In reaction to American hostility and brutality, the Korean people took their outrage and stood up protecting their independence and freedom. Fishermen of P’yongyang angrily fired American ships and killed all the crew members.
In 1867, America deployed war ships to deepen its entry into Korea on the pretext to seek the destroyed ship, rummaging Korean people.
Choson court realized looming risk to the country, accompanying strange ships and intentional warnings, robberies and rummaging, and decided action. In reference to lesson of Chinese when clashing with Western powers, Choson court had to decide either to block its gates or open to welcome the Western powers. Then, it was decided that Korea would block its door, rejecting any requirement from the Western power.
Of these reasons, Korean Christianity being prosperous at that time was also a reason to influence the closing door policy of Korea. Catholicism, known then as “Western learning” (Sohak) was brought to Korea in the early stages of the transmission of Western culture, which first was introduced to Korea through European Jesuit missionaries residing in M’ing of China.
Via ups and downs, being terrified and tortured, and suppressed (1801), Christianity gradually came to be accepted by Korean people, especially under King Ch’olchong’s dynasty (1849- 1863) when Christianity was on no leash . Statistics shows that in the beginning years of Kojong dynasty (1864- 1907), up to 20,000 people were converted into Christian. For the first time, the Hungson Taewon’gun professed and supported Christianity. He also aimed to use Christianity for political purpose, seeking French support to fight Russian domination. However, he did not get approval from the French. After that, a violent massacre on Christians broke out in 1866, killing nine French missionaries and many other Korean Christians.
Therefore, at the beginning of century XIX, Korea was still a backward monarchical country, weakening and was in crisis.
In confrontation to invasion of Western countries, Choson court, led by the T’aewon gun resorted to close the country door, refusing cooperation with Western countries.
. A New History of Korea; Ki-baik Lee; Translated by Edward W. Wagner Published for the Harvard-Yenching institute by Harvard university press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England 1984, pages: 257.
In 1864, King Kojong inherited the throne at his age of twelve. Then, his father, the T’aewon gun, himself assumed direction of the government and set in motion a resolute program of reform aimed at creating a strong monarchy. To put an end on the court’s troubles, T’aewon gun implemented t’angp’yongch’aek to balance power among Factions and parties. The result was that royal internal fight temporarily subsided and the domination of relative in law with the royal family was removed.
In view of economy, cloth tax was imposed on every society’s members, including yangban families, which used to be charged on farmers in previous time. T’aewon gun re- established loan system by grain, building a net of rice stores at localities and ordered regular investigation. Any official who committed rice embezzlement would be heavily punished.
To rebuild the royal image, T’aewon gun ordered to revamp Kyongbok Palace, which had been destroyed in Japanese invasion time (1591- 1593). However, it would be very difficult to have Kyongbok Palace rebuilt for it required a huge financial expenditure and immense labor force. Choson government applied a comprehensive tax policy such as additional land tax, entry tax on items transported through Seoul gate and other willingly donated things.
In view of society, the T’aewon gun decided to shut private schools (Sowon). At that time, these private schools directly supervised farms and slaves in large numbers. Private schools, used to be subject to tax exemption and compulsory labor serving and enjoy many privileges, which was a main cause of national finance’s weakening. Moreover, private schools posed great threat to the government because they were outside the state’s control boundaries and were powerful in rural areas.
In 1868, the T’aewon gun ordered to impose heavy taxes on private schools and then in 1871, he closed them. This act triggered strong sentiment and reaction of scholars and along with other causes, led to the T’aewon gun’s falling in later time.
1.4. Clashes with Western powers.
Western powers did not step back but exerted militant measures to force Korea to open its door. On pretext that nine French missionaries had been killed and in an effort to widen its influence scope, on August 18, 1886, France dispatched Admiral Pierre. G. Rose to lead three war ships, crossing Yellow Sea and entering Han river to punish Korea. Though they made initial triumphs at Kanghwa Island, they faced fierce reaction from Korean forces. Eventually, the French ships had to withdraw, leaving their target unfulfilled.
America also followed suit France, using military forces to press Choson government to open its door. Saying that an American trading ship had been destroyed by Korean people, the American government sent vice Admiral John Rodgers, who headed an armed naval fleet to enter Korean waters and realized pillage. Before this act for American ships was, Korean forces fought severely at Kwangsong-jin, Kapkot and this time, American fleet had to pull out Korean waters
Therefore, when facing Western military moves, Choson court with the leadership of the T’aewon gun was determined to protect the country.
War victories in battles with French and American fleets strengthened the T’aewon gun’s attempt to apply his policy of closing door. On main roads of the capital of Seoul and many other localities, he ordered to erect stone board stele with scriptures that: “Western forces trespassed, no fight brings concession, concession brings country to be lost” T’aewon gun paid more attention to build up and develop the army, produce weapon, being ready to fight back invasion risks, protecting his door closing policy.
The failure of French and American war fleets in Korea showed that their attacks were only simultaneous and alone, not a comprehensive invasion war. It was also not very urgent to these countries to have Korea open its door at that time, when Britain was focusing to suppress Indian people’s upsurge and France was engaged in Indochina invasion war, and American was busy solving internal issues after the civil war. These reasons made Western countries harbor no attempt to invade Korea.
Nevertheless, Japan, a neighbor of Korea, had implemented it pro- West policy. After the reform of the Meiji in 1868, Japan swiftly became a power in military and economy. Japan’s intention to invade Korea was clearly shown. The only problem for Japan was right moment to wage invasion war. In addition to refusal of cooperation with Western countries, The T’aewon gun also contemplated to prevent Japanese invasion.
1.5 Development enlightenment and interference of Japan and China in Korea.
In his years of Regent, T’aewon gun was determined to pursue a closing door policy, and refuse any cooperation with Western powers, looking to lead his country out of any invasion risk. However, when his closing door policy was put into use, new perspectives emerged in his court, which aimed to make Korea powerful country and open its door to cooperate with outside forces. These perspectives originated from Shihak campaign, which began several centuries before.
In general, Shihak campaigners did not only tend to country development mode of agriculture but also trade and handicraft industry. Pak Che-ga, a famous Shihak activist, pointed out that Korea could only become a strong nation via widening its trade door with Japan and Western nations. In 1832, when British trading vessels arrived at Chung- chong Sea, asking for permission to set up trade links, Yi Kyu gyong proposed that the government accept the British plead. Many other Shihak supporters such as Pak Kyu-su, O Kyong-sok, Yu Hong-gi, who had some understanding about Western nations, applauded foreign trade, saying that Korea should join international trade and the earlier a reform came into being, the better Korea would be. Shihak supporters’ policy of opening door therefore might have been viewed as opposition to the T’aewon gun’s policy of closing door and become the court’s threatening force.
However, the T’aewon gun’s policy of isolation soon showed its disadvantages and finally collapsed following his leaving his power in 1873. One of the important reasons of his losing authority was that Queen Min had cooperated with some Confucian officials. But “it did not mean that when court power rested in Queen Min’s hand, Choson politics at that time changed its profound basis.
Choson government remained an exploitation tool of rulers on their subjects. Queen Min’s acts aimed to serve herself, collecting powers in her hand, fighting the T’aewon gun’s closing door policy”.
When seizing the real power. Queen Min shaped a new external policy, relying on outside forces to strengthen her status, removing the door blocking policy. However, when applying the opening door policy, Queen Min did not care for the national interest, and she did not had any economic and political reform to boost the country’s development, but wheeled Korea into deeper crisis and depression. Japan took advantage of that unrest and caught the chance to invade Korea. In 1875, Japan sent Unyo ship to enter Kanghwa Sea and intentionally clashed with Korea to make pretext for an invasion war.
When Korean soldiers destroyed the ship, Japanese government condemned Korea’s act, saying Korea unreasonably attacked and destroyed the Japanese ship. In 1876, Japan used its militant press to force Korean government to sit for negotiation. As a result, Korea signed with Japan a Friendship Agreement (also called Kanghwa Agreement). According to clause by the Agreement, Japan got what it wanted though Japan and Korea shared equal rights and benefits. Korea had to open its port of Pusan and another two ports within 12 months. Japan was free to explore Korean sea and open Japanese residential areas on land of opened ports.
To Korea, Kanghwa Agreement was a milestone, marking a new phase of internationalization, and opening for Western civilization into a country blocked for centuries. However, this was a great challenge for Korea. Behind new culture were intentional ambitions of Japan and Western nations, which made Korean people to think how to absorb new things and maintain their independence at the same time.
After Kanghwa Agreement, Choson court assigned Kim Ki-su to be ambassador to Japan. At the same time, the Japanese government pointed Hanabusa yoshitada to be the Resident in Korea. Through visits to Japan and China, many Korean officials such as Kim Ki-su, arriving to Japan in 1876, Kim Koeng-jip, arriving to Japan in 1880 and Cho Chun-yong, Pak Chong-yang, O Yun-jung, and Hong Yong-Sik collected many lessons and experiences on administration, military, and education. With those experiences, Choson government took steps to run some reforms which notable was the military reform.
In 1881, Choson state’s army system had tremendous changes through a number of reform measures. King Kojong changed five traditional units into two units the Muwiyong (Palace Guards Garrison) and Changoyong (Capital Guards Garrison), each was led by a faithful general of the King. Then, to modernize the army, the King set up a new unit, called the Pyolgigun (Special Skills Force). Meanwhile the king had invited Horimoto Reizo, a lieutenant in the engineering corps of the Japanese army, to instruct about the methods of modern warfare.
. Faculty of Oriental Studies: 10 years of Korea Education and Studies in Vietnam; National Conference Report Collection on 10 years of diplomatic establishment between Vietnam and Korea; Hanoi, December 6, 2002, Hanoi national University Publisher, 2003, p. 123
The King also set up a new army force, called cadet officers, who were selected from yangban families and had them instructed in the new military arts. During this time, Korean administration system underwent new changes via the reform with the model of Ch’ing China.
The Choson government was established an overarching Office for Extraordinary State Affairs (T’ongni Kimu Amun), composing 12 departments, which aid most attention to foreign affairs, military and foreign languages education. While the Choson government carried its opening door policy, Confucianism followers vehemently opposed the court’s policy and Kanghwa Agreement. Most of them held the view that Japan and Western nations were all invaders and would invade Korea when time came. To protect the orthodox ideology, and reject the enlightenment policy, the Confucianism supporters returned to T’aewon gun, who were dethroned by their cooperation with Queen Min, and pled him to come back to politics.
Taking advantage of this situation, the T’aewon’gun now made plans to bring himself back to power. His first scheme, in 1881, was to put his eldest son Yi Chae- son, born of a secondary wife, on throne in Kojong’s stead, at the same time getting rid of the advocates of enlightenment, those who were establishing ties with the Western Power and Japan.
The plot was revealed by an informer, however, and Yi Chae-son and more than thirty of his fellow conspirators were put to death .
Following were clashes between T’aewon gun and Queen Min, which led to disputes and skirmishes between enlightenment supporters and conservatives, causing unrest in the royal family. Meanwhile, Choson government’s military reform caused bad effects. Due to maltreatment in salary and diet portion in traditional army units, a rebellion broke out in the palace in 1882. Queen Min had to flee away, Min family collapsed, the Japanese embassy was fired and the Japanese trainer was killed.
King Kojong was forced to bring back T’aewon gun. However, his every effort did not yield good results when China and Japan began their interference in Korean’s internal affairs. To Japan, the rebellion in 1882 made deep hatred and Japan insisted on revenge. Japan prepared forces and got ready to punish militantly on Korea.
However, when Japan’s intention of military punishment was about to be launched, China had its 4,500 excellent soldiers present themselves in Korea. In the name of brother country, China dispatched the command Wu Ch’ang Ch’ing to Korea under pretext that he would help Korea in internal unrest. The first act of Chinese army was to capture T’aewon- gun and held him in Tientsin City. This act made Japan change their attitude. Japan then offered to resume negotiations with Korea. Then Korea and Japan agreed to sign Chemup’o Treaty at Inch’on. The Treaty stated that leaders of the Stage a Coup d’Etat would be punished and Korea would pay Japan 500,000 yen in compensation. At the same time, Japan was permitted to send a military force to protect their embassy in Seoul.
. A New History of Korea; Ki-baik Lee; Translated by Edward W. Wagner Published for the Harvard-Yenching Institute by Harvard university press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England 1984, pages:272.
However, Japan’s prestige in Korea did not increase much after Chomup’o Treaty. In the contrast, China resumed its authority in Korea peninsular at that time. Under Chinese influences, Choson court led by Queen Min swiftly turned to the policy of pro- China and pled help from China. In response to these pleads, China sent experts to support Korea in internal and external policies.
In military field, with Chinese support, Korea set up a military force of four units (front, back, left and right wings) and a new force trained with Chinese manner under supervision of Ch’ing General Yuan Shih-k’ai.
Choson state’s dependence on China soon revealed its disadvantages and caused new contradictions, especially when too many Chinese traders in Korea harmed terribly Korea’s trade. Moreover, to protect China’s interests and benefits in Korea and set up a fence to prevent Japan’s invasion, China ordered Choson court to sign trade treaties with Western nations, for example, trade treaty with America in 1882, Britain 1884, Germany 1882 and Russia and Italy 1884.
1.6 Rebellion coup in 1884 in Korea and China’s initial victories.
Before the world’s situation, enlightenment perspective soon appeared in Korean people of different classes, especially among yang ban. Many famous politicians such as Kim Hong-jip, Kim Yun-sik, and O Yun-jung praised the enlightenment policy, saying that Korea could rely on China to carry its reform policy.
At that time, the reform policy reached young yangban officials, namely Kim Ok-kyun, Pak Yong-hyo and Hong Yong- sik, who all wished to see Korea change quickly. It may be seen that the reform view did not affect yang ban but also extended many other classes in the society. Many people thought that Korea should follow Japan’s reform way and rely on Japan to succeed in the reform. The trend then led to the appearance of a pro- Japan political organization, called Independence Party. Nevertheless, pro- Japan attitude did not get much approval from many classes of people. In the beginning, the Independence Party got King Kojong’s approval to set up an Office of Culture and Information (Pangmun’guk), weekly magazine Hansong Sunbo, which issued three editions every month. But efforts of the Independence Party did not bring much as wanted. They were boycotted by Queen Min’s supporters and rejected by Japan.
In spite of difficulties, the Independence Party pursued their reform policy, especially a Coup d’Etat plot to drive away Chinese influence from Korea. With assistance from Japan’s embassy, the Independence Party carried its Coup d’Etat on December 4, 1884. Because of wrong plan and hurried actions, the Coup d’Etat was soon extinguished by the Chinese army. The plot leaders Kim Ok-kyun, Pak Yong-hyo and the guard force of the Japanese embassy and Japanese minister Takezoe swiftly fled to Japan to avoid punishment. Other Japanese soldiers and ordinary people in Korea lost their lives. The Coup d’Etat in 1884 left critical aftermath in Korea’s international relations. At this time, Korea became battle of influence contest between China and Japan and Russia and Britain as well.
After the event, Japan knew that the involvement of minister Takezoe and its embassy would unavoidably cause critique from Korea. To settle the dust and continue the link with Korea, Japan dispatched foreign minister Inoue Koaru to Korea to be envoy and
directly negotiate with Choson state, asking for compensation for Japanese losses in the event. As a result, a new Treaty was signed between Japan and Korea, called the Treaty of Hansong (Seoul), which stated that Korea would compensate to Japan and rebuild the ambassador’s chateau, which had fired by Japanese minister Takezoe. It was clear that Choson state once again tolerated Japanese wrongdoings in the coup d’etat in 1884.
After the Coup d’Etat, Japan continued to invade Korea step by step.
At first, to weaken the China’s status in Korea, Japan proposed that China and China withdraw from Korea. At that time, the Japanese prime minister Ito Hirobumi himself arrived to China to negotiate with representative of Ch’ing China dynasty Li Hung-chang. Japan and China signed Tientsin Agreement on April 18, 1885, which stated that Japan and China pledged to withdraw from Korea within four months and in case of a side’s army entering Korea, the other side should be informed in advance.
Though Tientsin Agreement was signed, Korea was far from independence and still under the influence of China. To maintain its interests and benefits in Korea, China pointed Yuan Shih-k’ai to stay in Seoul to be representative for diplomatic and trade relations. Chinese presence in Korea facilitated conditions for Chinese traders to enter Korea to do business, putting aside Korean and Japanese traders.
Therefore, after Tientsin Agreement, Chinese influence did not fade away but continued to increase in Korea peninsular.
As mentioned above, Korea peninsular was not only battle field for China and Japan but also Russia and Britain. With diplomatic reputation, Russian minister Karl Waeber quickly won trust of Choson royal family and pro- Russia tendency began to appear among royal officials. Then, the special consultant of China, who was a German- Mollendorff, nominated by Ch’ing China dynasty, admitted that the fight between China and Japan needed a third force to play as intermediary, and he protected the presence of Russian people in Korea. Greatly concerned about the presence of Russia in Korea, China used the T’aewon gun to play off Russia and remained its influence in Korea. However, every effort of China hardly prevented Russia’s influence in this time. And in 1888, Russia and Korea signed a trade agreement, which allowed Russian people to reside in extra territorial settlement, and possess naval rights on Tumengan River.
Russian entry into Korea made the peninsula’s situation more complicated. Britain was then a big power and felt that it could no longer ignore Russian people’s moves in Korea. In 1885, Britain sent a naval force to occupy Komun-do Island at the south coast of Korea to prevent Russian advancing steps. The British presence in Korea made Russia uneasy. In response to Russia’s announcement that it would occupy Korea, China played as intermediary between Britain and Russia. After two years of negotiation, in 1887, Britain withdrew from Komun-do Island. Russia also pledged that no country would invade Korea. So, Chinese’s part has brought about certain outcomes. During this time, Korea became more and more dependent in outside powers and could not remain its independence on its own.
1.7 Tonghak propaganda and Japan’s victory in China- Japan war (1894- 1895.
1.7.1 Tonghak propaganda.
On the whole, the main cause leading to Tonghak propaganda in Korea in the end of century XIX was the greedy policy of the monarchical rulers and the penetration of Japan’s economy.
After the failure of the T’aewon gun and his policy of closing door, Queen Min exploited her power in the court, bringing the country downhill in the crisis. Special tax exemption, abandoned lands and tax dodging made the national finance weaker. Moreover, expenditures for war compensation and other expenditures also demanded huge volume of money. Therefore, every financial burden was loaded on farmers’ shoulders. To make up for the losses, the feudal government doubled tax charge, or even tripled it. Meanwhile, many local officials used dirty measures to rob money from farmers.
Another important reason leading to farmers’ rebellion was Japanese economy’s interference, eroding Korean village economy. It maybe said that Japanese economy activities in this time made other countries uncompetitive with Japan. At ports of Inchon, Pusan and Wosan of Korea, many Japanese traders’ companies were built. Statistics shows that in 1896, among 258 foreign traders in Korea, Japanese traders made up to 210. And “among 1,322 trading ships of 378,507 tons in weight entering Korean ports in 1893, up to 956 ships of total 304,224 tons in weight were from Japan”. The portion of trading between Japan and Korea accounted for 90% of Korea’s exports to Japan and 50% of imports from Japan. Korean people could not compete with Japanese traders because of their clever business skills.
Tonghak revolution broke out in the end of century XIX due to greedy policies of the court and heavily exploitative economy policy of Japan. Tonghak’s founder was Ch’oe Che-u (1824- 1864). Despite being a religious theory, Ch’oe’s thought required people of society to be equal regardless of their status, class and caste in society.
Apart from care to rural area, the revolution also called for corruption clearance of bureaucrat class. Therefore, the revolution soon won people’s trust but was considered as rebellious by the government. In 1864, Ch’oe, the revolution’s chief, was arrested and executed.
After a time of stilling, the revolution resumed under the leadership of Ch’oe Si-hyong (1829- 1898). Tonghak propaganda succeeded in publishing the holy book the Bible of Tonghak Doctrine (Tonggyong Taejon) and Hymns from Dragon Pool (Yongdam yusa) and building a number of churches. More important, the revolution admitted more and more followers from farmers, who had harbored hatred to monarchical class and foreign invaders.
. A New History of Korea; Ki-baik Lee; Translated by Edward W. Wagner Published for the Harvard- Yenching institute by Harvard university press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England 1984, pages:282.
In 1894, the propaganda grew up into a vast revolution cause of farmers. Under the leadership of Chon Pong-jun, minister of Tonghak at Kobu district, farmers stood up robbing the district’s office, weapons and took food to distribute for poor people and destroyed reservoir the Mansokpo. The government sent forces to suppress the upsurge and arrested and executed some followers, and fired religious institutions of Tonghak. Outraged at the government’s acts, the farmers gathered around Chon Pong-jun and Kim Kae-nam to make revolution. Tonghak appeals were quoted as saying that “People are roots of the nation. If the roots withered, the nation would ebb away. The mandate officials have been negligent, insistent on building luxurious castles, appropriated public funds to enrich their families... we cannot stay still to witness our country ruined. This country is unified and the people pledge to unify and sacrifice themselves to help the country” .
In response to the appeal, thousands of farmers from neighboring areas came to join Tonghak army. They armed themselves with swords and lumbers, raising the revolution flag and keeping bullet proof amulet in their body. After winning Kobu, Tonghak soldiers marched to Paeksan, where they fought back the court’s army from Chonju at Hwangt’ohyon hill in Kobu country. Then they occupied many strategic sites such as Chongup, Koch’ang, Hamp’yong. Tonghak army’s soldiers totaled at 10,000 people. The court hurriedly sent Hong Kye-hun with 800 soldiers to suppress the revolution but who was also won defeated.
Choson government pled for the Chinese army to support. However, Japan instantly sent force to Korea. When Japan and China had their forces present in Korea at the same time, the situation got very tough. Tonghak leaders thought that it was a good chance for the revolution to be successful without using force when the foreign forces came and the government proposed to negotiate.
Therefore, Tonghak leaders required the government to prevent yangban from exploiting farmers, and foreign traders from entering Korea. They also suggested a12 point reform, which was the same as previous requests from Tonghak. The reform proposal focused on main points as follows: “that the oppressive treatment of the Tonghak by the government and the yangban be stopped, that an end be put to excessive economic exploitation of the peasantry, that discriminatory treatment based on social class status be abolished, and that those guilty of collusion with the Japanese in their aggressive designs be punished .
The government’s accepting Tonghak’s requests led to the clash cease. Then, Tonghak soldiers withdrew from Chonju and stayed at their homeland. It was clear that the cease fire would not be good for Tonghak revolution.
. A New History of Korea; Ki-baik Lee; Translated by Edward W. Wagner Published for the Harvard- Yenching Institute by Harvard university press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England 1984, pages:284.
. A New History of Korea; Ki-baik Lee; Translated by Edward W. Wagner Published for the Harvard-Yenching institute by Harvard university press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England 1984, pages:287.
Tonghak revolution was upsurge of farmers in opposition to yangban rulers and Japanese traders in Korea. Under the religion flag, the revolution leaders called for people from many localities. The revolution won initial victories, making the government accept their requests on part of the Southern territory. However, the revolution then failed when many members and leaders of the revolutions were detained and killed.
Tonghak revolution fell in 1895. However, the revolution left significant mark in Korean history, and with its lessons, it became a mirror for Korea’s later independence revolutions.
1.7.2 China- Japan War (1894- 1895) and Japan’s victory
As said before, fearful about Tonghak religious force, the Choson government immediately pled for Chinese support. In response, China sent general Yeh Chih-ch’ao, who led over 3,000 soldiers landing on Asan Bay, Korea. In reference to Tientsin Agreement, when hearing about China’s deploying force to Korea, Japan sent 7,000 soldiers into Inch’on port, Korea. Then, the court agreed on requests from Tonghak force, who withdrew from Chonju. Therefore, the presence of China and Japan was no longer necessary. China proposed that Japan and China would withdraw from Korea at one time. But Japan denied China’s proposal, thinking that it was a good chance for them to clear away China’s influence in Korea peninsula.
So, Japan proposed that China stayed in Korea and cooperated with Choson government to assist its administration reform. This is only an excuse because Japan anticipated that China would reject it. China certainly refused to agree. China said that interference into another country’s affairs was not possible and China and Japan’s meetings later brought no mutual consent. Finally, China- Japan war flared up in July 1894, started with Japanese war ships at Asan Bay and finished in the early 1895, with Japan’s being winner. As stated by Shimonoseki Treaty, Japan made China confess that Korea was a totally independent country and under the protection of Japan. “But to reiterate a point made several times before, the purpose of this clause was not in fact to guarantee Korea’s independent but rather to repudiate China’s claim to suzerainty over Korea.
The treaty also called for China to cede the Liaotung Peninsula and Taiwan to Japan, thus revealing that Japan’s territorial ambitions extended even to Manchuria. Naturally Japan believed that Korea now had been brought firmly within its grasp” .
Shimonoseki Treaty proved China’s sheer defeat before Japan. Since then, China not only lost their benefits and rights in Korea but also at its homeland and consequently became prey of Western countries and Japan.
1.7.3 The reform in 1894 and Japan and Russia’s dispute in Korea
Before the China- Japan war broke out, Japan required the Korean to carry out reforms government so that Japan could exploit Korean economy, making Korea its springboard to attack China.
. A New History of Korea; Ki-baik Lee; Translated by Edward W. Wagner Published for the Harvard- Yenching institute by Harvard university press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England 1984, pages:289-290.
To realize its purpose, Japan blocked and occupied Palace Kyongbok and restored political status for the T’aewon gun. Under Japan’s hand, a new government was set up in Korea, led by Kim Hong-jip and many other Pro- Japane, before of the Independence Party, carry out the reform.
Although the Choson state tried to prevent, the reform still developed with support of Japan. The reform in 1894, directed by Japan, touched many issues in Korean society, economy and politics. In general, the reform was a good chance for Japan to enter Korean economy. However, when the reform took place, Japan tackled numerous difficulties such as national defense, tax payment in cash, financial and banking system, which were also difficulties of Korean society and economy at that time.
On the other hand, the reform program had to face rejection of T’aewon gun, when who cherished his plan of coup to replace the dynasty. However, because of Japan’s taking precautions, his efforts failed and finally Japan was rejected him put out of the political stage. Moreover, the reform of Japan in Korea could not avoid interference of powers such as Russia, France and Germany, who required Japan to return Liaotung peninsula. At that time, Korean people fiercely condemned Japan’s oppression and exploitation, saying that Japan should quickly withdraw from Korea. Seeing that Russia was very powerful, Kojong’s government, under Queen Min’s domination, decided to follow Russia and fight Japan. However, Queen Min’s intentions did not come true and Japan assassinated her on October 8, 1885.
The assassination of Queen Min stirred up deep hatred among Korean people to Japan. Many revolutions rose up at many parts of the country, rejecting Japan’s invasion. Russia took this chance, saying that it had to protect its embassy and deployed more than 100 naval soldiers to Seoul. Pro- Russia officials contacted with Russian minister Karl Waeber, convincing King Kojong to leave the palace for the Russian embassy to avoid danger from Japan for fear of his life. At that time, pro- Russia side, including Yi Pom-jin and Yi Wan-yong, with the King’s support, dominated the government’s affairs.
Meanwhile, Pro- Japan figures such as Kim Hong Jip and O Yun-jung were assassinated by pro- Russia side. King Kojong stayed at the Russian embassy to avoid any risks caused by Japan, which made Korean people sentimentally angry.
In that situation, Korean people turned to support “a campaign supervised by new established Independence Association”. However, in this time, Russia’s status got firm in Korea, and to calm down the public outcry, King Kojong decided to leave Russian embassy for palace Kyonggun( today’s Toksu Palace) in February 1897. In August 1897, he changed his title into Kwangmu (Martial Brilliance) and in October, he declared that Korea would become Teahan Cheguk (Great Han Empire). On October 12,1897, after the ceremony of enthronement, King Kojong formally became emperor of Korea with status equal to that of Japanese and Chinese emperors. Korea became an empire this time in its name but actually, it did not change anything. Big powers such as Russia, France, Britain, America, Germany and Japan continued their battle to win influence in Korea. For example, Russia used Cholyong to make its coal and water transfer station and had authority to open Russia- Korea bank. Britain asked to have right to exploit the gold mine in Unsan, P’yongyang. Similarly, in April 1897, a German company named Edward Meyer won right to exploit the gold mine at Kumsong of Kangwon province. In February 1898, an American company won a contract to make roads, facilitate electricity cables and water
pipes in Seoul.
However, these investment projects did not come true, many Western nations broke the contracts. Taking this chance, Japan bought the contract from America and Britain. In September 1898, Japan signed with Korea a cooperation project in building a railway route linking Seoul and Pusan. During this time, many fishing companies of Japan were present along Korea’s coast. It could be seen that because Japan was really interested in appropriating Korea, they were willing to invest in Korea to put more control on Korea.
1.8 The establishment of the Independence Club and Russia- Japan war (1904- 1905)
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