CHALLENGES OF MODERNIZATION
Response to Capitalist Encroachment
During the late 19th century, insistent demands for commercial relations with
Choson were made by the British, the Russians and other Europeans. The
Prussian merchant Ernest J. Oppert in 1866 twice knocked on Korea's door and
requested trade, but was refused. In the same year the American ship General
Sherman made its memorable sortie into Korean waters with the objective of
forcing the Korean government to enter into commercial relations. The
vessel reached the Taedonggang river with a cargo of European merchandise and
proceeded to P'yongyang, where they used unseemly force in dealing with Korean
soldiers and civilians. The infuriated Koreans attacked the ship and set
The Taewon-gun's massacre of Catholics was a powerful stimulus for France,
which had already established beachheads in Indochina, to move aggressively
against Korea. Admiral Pierre G. Rose, commander of France's Indochina
fleet, led his squadron to waters off Kanghwado island on October 13, 1866 and
landed troops on the island. They were repulsed, however, by Korean
forces, and the French fleet was forced to withdraw.
From 1868, Japan, as a first step in its aggressive policy toward the
peninsula, began pressing Korea to start negotiations aimed at revising
traditional relations. From the American standpoint, such a revision was
also highly desirable. The General Sherman incident stimulated the
United States to intensify its efforts to force Korea to open its ports, and in
1871 Washington directed its Asian fleet to invade Kanghwado island. The
American troops were repulsed by the Korean garrison and their fleet retreated
from Korean waters.
When Japan indicated its intention to terminate traditional diplomatic
relations with Korea, the Taewon-gun expressed a different view. He
favored the restoration of the time-honored diplomacy in which the ruling clan
of Tsushima island served as an intermediary between the two governments.
Because the Taewon-gun was adamant on the matter, Japanese leaders seized
upon the "Korea problem: as an outlet to relieve domestic discontent, and
made plans for an aggressive war. Japanese officials stationed in the area
were instructed to spy on Korea's domestic situation. Japanese leaders
proposed that 30 regiments should be sent to occupy the whole of the
peninsula. Korea's natural resources and abundant rice production were
important factors in Japan's aggressive designs. In pursuit of their objective,
the Japanese fabricated a number of incidents. They sent their warships to
raid points on Korea's coast, Pusan and Kanghwado island, creating an atmosphere
just short of actual war. The Japanese delegation which landed at Kapkot,
Kanghwado island on January 16, 1876, was fully equipped for combat, being
escorted by 400 troops.
Such was the atmosphere in which a 12-article treaty was concluded.
Presented unilaterally by the Japanese, this pact provided for a revision of
diplomatic relations. An addendum to the treaty, consisting of a trade
accord and a customs agreement, all drafted by Japan, was signed in July.
These instruments provided a legal basis for Japanese aggression by granting to
the Japanese such privileges as extraterritoriality, exemption from customs
duties, and legal recognition of Japanese currency in the ports opened to
foreign trade. Creating a legal basis for Japanese aggression in Korea,
these were unequal treaties, forced upon Korea just as Japan had been coerced
years before by European powers and America.
In 1881, the scope of Japanese encroachment was broadened by the opening of
Wonsan and Inch'on ports. Another demand was that a Japanese consul be
stationed in the capital. In the course of these events, there emerged
among Koreans two strongly held opinions - one advocating the repulsion of
"crooked" foreign powers, and the other calling for domestic reform.
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Arguments for Repulsion
Korea's learned Confucianists, on the basis of information obtained through
Qing China, regarded the infiltration of European capitalist power as a
potentially disruptive intrusion. They wanted to strengthen their
alignment with Neo-Confucian ethics, and grew intolerant of new creeds.
The closing of many local schools by the Taewon-gun in 1864 increased
apathy. Deprived of their spiritual, political and financial strongholds,
the Confucian literati felt a need to restore Neo-Confucian supremacy.
Another factor conducive to xenophobia was the invasion of Korean waters by
foreign fleets in 1866.
These factors stimulated Yi Hang-no (1792-1868) to strongly advocated
repelling European capitalist encroachment. He called for political reform
and stability, and the reinforcement of Korea's national defense
capability. His conclusion was that Europeanization of the country could
be prevented by keeping capitalism out. He proposed the boycotting of all
European goods. His disciples and many Confucian scholars and thinkers
affiliated with his school also called for the strengthening of national
In 1881, many Confucianists raised objections to the policies of China and
Japan. About that time, Paek Nak-kwan proposed that Korea should open up
to foreign interests only after it had prepared fully for commercial
competition. Some of these Confucianists were punished on charges of
opposing state policy. Those Confucianists who advocated the repulsion of
foreign influence were primarily oriented toward practical reform measures and
not abstract ideas.
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A Korean "goodwill mission" was invited to Japan in 1876 and 1880,
to inspect various new institutions Japan had installed on European
models. On his return in 1880, Kim Koeng-jip (later known as Kim Hong-jip)
brought to Korea a booklet titled Choson ch'aengnyak (Korean Stratagem)
written by a Chinese official of the Qing legation in Japan. It advised
Korea to accept European institutions and technology for the sake of economic
development, and to strengthen its defense capability in collaboration with
China, Japan and the United States in order to check Russia's southward
Once this "stratagem" became known in Korea, Confucian scholars,
who in 1876 had advocated the expulsion of Japanese influence, launched a
movement strongly opposed to the infiltration of foreign capitalism. The
movement soon spread among Confucian students in Kyongsang-do, Kangwon-do,
Kyonggi-do, Ch'ungch'-ong'do and Cholla-do provinces. The government
dispatched a group of young aristocrats to Japan in 1881 for a study of
administrative, military, educational, industrial and technological
institutions. Meanwhile, at the request of Qing China, another group of 60
young Koreans led by Kim Yun-shik visited China, where they studied chiefly the
arts of manufacturing and handling Western weapons. This kind of reform
attempt arose within the government itself, and the wave soon spread to engulf
not only the yangban and middle classes but the society as a whole.
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Opposition to Japan
The Japanese minister to Korea, Hanabusa Yoshimoto, forced the Korean
government to introduce the Japanese army training system, and a separate
training command was established for this purpose. Implementation of army
reorganization and training was of itself an effective springboard for
aggression. Japan monopolized the Korean market in 1876. Two years
later, Japan's Daiichi Bank established a branch office in Pusan, encouraging
Japanese merchants to infiltrate Korea en masse. The Japanese
merchants could purchase rice, soy beans, cattle hides and alluvial gold at
incredibly low prices, reaping exorbitant profits at home. Korea, on the
other hand, was faced with the pressing need of devising some means of
protecting its national economy.
Discriminatory treatment within the armed forces became an inflammatory
issue. While the opposition movement was at its height, soldiers
undergoing Japanese training in special units were paid and rewarded
conspicuously better than the ordinary troops in traditional training.
Infuriated by these injustices, the latter rose up in revolt. Giving vent
to their anger at the Japanese aggressors, the Korean soldiers assaulted the
Japanese legation, forcing the Japanese minister and his party to flee to
Inch'on at night. State administration once again entrusted itself to the
Taewon-gun in the hope that he might be able to save the situation. Queen
Min and her clique, having barely escaped the rioting army by fleeing the
palace, asked China for a contingent of troops to help suppress the
uprising. The Chinese responded by sending four warships and 3,000 troops
to Korea. Moreover, they seized the Taewon-gun and took him to
Beijing. Minister Hanabusa, who had managed to escape to Japan, returned
to Hanyang on August 12, bringing 1,500 troops abroad four warships.
Storming into the capital, Hanabusa pressed the Korean government to pay
reparations for the damages and to agree to the stationing of Japanese troops in
In the Chemulp'o Treaty, concluded under Japanese exaction, Korea agreed to
Japan's demands, which included Korea's promise to pay 500,000 Won in
reparations and gave permission for the stationing of Japanese troops in the
capital for the defense of the Japanese legation. The treaty further
broadened the scope of Japan's aggressive activities centering around such ports
as Pusan, Inch'on and Wonsan.
Meanwhile, the Chinese continued their interference in Korea's internal
affairs. They reorganized the Korean government system at will, appointing
to important posts members of the Min clique who had previously held high
positions. China's powerful Li Hung-chang sent his emissaries, P.G.
Moellendorff and Ma Chien-chung, to Korea to carry out the task of reorganizing
Korea's diplomacy. Yuan Shih-kai of Qing took command of the Korean army,
providing it with Chinese-style training.
To reinstate Chinese control, China advised Korea to conclude a series of
commercial treaties with European powers and America. The Korea-US treaty
of commerce was concluded on May 22 and signed on June 6, 1882. Korea
signed the revised treaties with Great Britain and Germany in Hanyang on
November 26, 1883. The two new treaties, together with the first
international treaty concluded with Japan, were most disadvantageous to
Korea. In addition, a treaty of commerce was signed with Russia on June
25, 1884, and was followed on August 8, 1888, by the conclusion of another
agreement governing Korean-Russian overland commerce. A treaty of commerce
with France was signed on June 4, 1886.
Japan concluded an agreement with Korea concerning commercial activities of
Japanese residents in Korea. The tax rates fixed in the agreement with
Japan were very disadvantageous to Korea. Moellendorff tried to introduce
Russian influence into Korea with the purpose of engineering a secret treaty of
protection between the two countries. His action, however, precipitated
the British occupation of Komundo island (Port Hamilton) in order to check the
Russian advance. Korea was plunged into a whirlpool of international
With the British occupation of Komundo island on April 10, 1885, Korea lost
control over one of best ports on the South Sea. After exacting a pledge
from Russia through Lu Hung-chang that it would not attempt an occupation of any
part of Korea, Great Britain withdrew its fleet from the port on February 27,
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Political Upheaval of 1884
The conclusion of a series of commercial treaties between Choson and foreign
countries intensified the encroachment of capitalist powers. A group of
reformists denounced the leading politicians for their reliance on foreign
influence and tried to introduce reforms that would improve social conditions,
enrich the people and strengthen national power. The main concern of Kim
Ok-kyun (1851-1894) and Hong Yong-shik (1855-1884) was to set modern reform in
motion. The Min family's heavy reliance on China in the wake of the army
revolt had resulted in the occupation of the capital by Chinese forces.
At the outbreak of war between China and France (1883-1885), Japanese
Minister to Korea Takezoe Shinichiro talked with these reformists about plans
for a coup d'etat. Although China had withdrawn part of its
expeditionary forces from Korea, the Chinese maintained far superior military
strength over the Japanese.
The reformists planned the assassination of prominent politicians affiliated
with China at a reception to be given on December 4, 1884, but the plot was not
fully carried out. The reformists first called on King Kojong (r.
1863-1907) at the royal palace and pressed for his sanction of their reform
plan. On December 5, they assassinated military commanders and ministers
inside the palace on their way to a royal audience. The reformists were
forced to flee, however, without proclaiming their comprehensive 13-point Reform
Decree. Kim Ok-kyun and So Chae-p'il (1866-1951) escaped to Inch'on where
they boarded a Japanese ship for asylum in Japan.
Japan settled pending problems with China by concluding the Tianjin Treaty,
in which the two sides agreed to: (a) pull their expeditionary forces out of
Korea simultaneously; (b) not send military instructors for the training of the
Korean army; and (c) notify the other side beforehand should one decide to send
troops to Korea. However, Yuan Shih-kai remained in Seoul interfering in
Korea's internal affairs, while Japan, not to be outdone, was ready to pounce
upon any suitable opportunity for encroachment.
Japan had already consolidated its bases for economic aggression on the
peninsula. The Japanese looked to Korea's agricultural production to meet
demands for rice and soy beans, which were soaring commensurately with Japan's
population growth. Korean rice, which was superior in quality to Japanese
rice, was used as a usurious tool to exploit Korean peasants by making them
dependent upon Japanese capital. Through branch offices in Inch'on, Japan
also made bargain purchases of cowhide for military use, as well as Korean gold
which was used as a reserve fund for the Bank of Japan.
Japanese exports to Korea consisted, in the initial period, mainly of the
resale of European, especially English, and American commodities. Japan
later kept these European commodities for home consumption, gradually replacing
export goods with Japanese products of low quality, mostly sundry merchandise
for daily use.
There developed a great outflow of grain which eventually devastated the life
of the Korean peasants. In 1889 and 1891, when the farmers of Hamgyong-do
and Hwanghae-do provinces suffered crop failure, the Japanese government exacted
exorbitant indemnities for losses allegedly suffered by Japanese merchants.
Consequently, most farmers were impoverished, and their indignation was directed
at Korea's ruling class responsible for their plight. The only recourse
was to revolt, and during the period of 1884-1894, farmers struggles broke out
repeatedly in all provinces.
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Tonghak Struggle of 1894
Tonghak, or Eastern Learning, was based on the doctrine of the
salvation of farmers from their destitute lives. Although its preaching
had a religious aspect, the main concern was to realize national stability and
security. Seeing that his teaching was gaining in popularity, the
government executed Ch'oe Che-u in 1864 on charges of treason. His
movement lived on, however, and poverty-stricken farmers flocked to his
standard. Large-scale Tonghak demonstrations took place in 1892 in
Cholla-do and Ch'ungch'pong-do provinces. In 1893, Tonghak
believers went to Hanyang and staged a demonstration in front of the royal
palace, but were dispersed by the army. About 20,000 Tonghak
movement followers assembled at Poun, Ch'ungch'long-do province, and proclaimed
their determination to reject Japan and Europe. In 1894, Chon Pong-jun
(1854-1895) assumed leadership of the Tonghak movement in Cholla-do
province, where cruel exploitation of the already hard-pressed farmers was in
progress after the construction of a new reservoir.
Their peaceful protests having proven fruitless, the farmers resorted to
violence. The government countered with draconian measures, and an
inspector sent from Hanyang ordered wholesale executions. Chon led a
larger uprising and defeated the government army occupying the provincial
capital of Chonju. There they agreed to a cease fire and submitted a
comprehensive reform plan. Unfortunately, however, the royal court,
dominated by the Min family, decided to ask for Chinese intervention.
Chinese forces, 2,000 strong, landed at Asan beginning June 8 and took Kongju,
while government troops recaptured Chonju on June 11, and the peasant army
dispersed. Japan landed 400 marines on June 10 and a mixed brigade on June
16; Japanese forces soon entered Hanyang.
The Japanese army turned its attention to the Tonghak only after they
had expelled the Chinese forces from Korean territory. The Tonghak
movement, facing combined government and Japanese troops, was dealt a crushing
blow at T'aein, Cholla-do province. Chon Pong-jun was captured alive and
beheaded in the capital. Countless Tanghak troops and farmers were
captured and massacred by the Japanese.
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The unsuccessful 1884 coup d'etat brought frustration to the reform
efforts, but the need for reform was still keenly felt byt he populace and some
leaders of the government as well. The disintegration of the traditional
social order was accelerated by the peasant struggle. Such developments
led Korea to implement institutional reform.
The conservative government had been compelled to accept the administrative
reform proposals submitted by the Tonghak rebels at the time of the
cease-fire in Chonju in 1894. This peasant struggle was utilized by the
Japanese army for its aggressive purposes. Then, in the course of the
Sino-Japanese War, Japan forced Korea to carry out reform by armed threat, while
expelling the China-oriented conservative politicians from the government.
The peace treaty ending the Sino-Japanese War was concluded on April 17, 1895,
at Shimonoseki, Japan. China's influence waned, and the Korean government
was forcibly integrated into Japan's design of imperialistic aggression.
On July 27, 1894, a Supreme Council for Military and State Administration was
established to function as the nation's highest executive and legislative
organ. On July 29, it passed a 23-article reform plan, but this was not by
any means autonomous, as it was accompanied by the aggressive intent of
Japan. The reform movement was led mainly by politicians heavily
Japan-oriented, but the Taewon-gun fought Japanese aggression by inciting Tonghak
followers to engage in anti-Japanese activities.
The Supreme Council passed no less than 208 reform measures. These
included the use of the founding of the Choson Dynasty as a basis for the
calendar; disciplinary action against corrupt officials; the liberalization of
commercial activities; the establishment of a new currency system on the silver
standard; unity in financial administration under the jurisdiction of the
Ministry of Finance; the standardization of weights and measures; cash payment
of all taxes; the establishment of a military system on the basis of universal
conscription; the reform of the local government system; the protection of civil
life and property; the enactment of civil and criminal codes; the employment of
competent persons at government offices; and the provision of opportunities for
talented young men to pursue advanced studies abroad to acquire modern knowledge
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Intensified Japanese Agression
Japanese aggression in Korean was "a matter of life or death," as
was earlier expressed by Hayashi Tadashi, a one-time Japanese minister to
London. As Japanese aggression intensified, the Min clique collaborated
with Russian Minister Karl Waeber to force Kim Hong-jip to reorganize his
cabinet, and pro-Russian figures such as Yi Pom-jin were given cabinet posts.
The government, reorganizing the military structure in April 1895, hired
Japanese officer as instructors. They trained about 800 Korea officers and
men who were then assigned to the royal palace as guards under training.
It was under these circumstances of questionable palace security that militant
Japanese Minister Miura Goro and other Japanese decided to assassinate Queen
Min, the leading figure in the Min clique, as she was again making secret
overtures to China and Russia. Taking advantage of the trainee-guards and
those who opposed the Min family, Japanese troops, crushing resistance put up by
the royal bodyguards, intruded into Kyongbokkung palace at dawn on October 8.
Storming into the Ok'oru pavilion, the Japanese found and killed Queen Min,
and burned her body with kerosene. The foreign missions were outraged by
this atrocity. The Japanese government hurriedly repatriated those who had
taken part in the action and detained them briefly at Hiroshima Prison as a
subterfuge. Their trial, to borrow the worlds of a Japanese historian
Yamabe Kentaro, was "a deliberate miscarriage of justice, designed to
protect the culprits."
Despite the Japanese brutality, the European powers, in their apprehension
over Russia's southward expansion, welcomed the overt Japanese aggression as a
counter to the Russian threat. Germany saw the continued presence of the
Japanese army as indispensable, while other powers maintained that a demand for
its withdrawal would only produce more trouble. Great Britain believed the
entrustment of Korea to Japan was a proper measure to check the Russian
advance. The American government instructed its minister not to make any
statement unfavorable to Japan.
Informed of the assassination of Queen Min by a mob of Japanese intruders,
the nation was gripped with indignation. Confucian scholars mobilized
volunteers to fight against the Japanese. The Kim Hong-jip cabinet,
spurred greatly by the incident, expedited reform. It adopted the solar
calendar, established primary schools in Hanyang, introduced smallpox
vaccinations, started modern postal service, and reorganized the military
system, with the Royal Army Guards stationed in Hanyang and other detachments in
the provinces. During this reform, the Japanese forced the cabinet
to issue a decree banning topknots. Citizens wearing topknots were
arrested on the streets or at their homes, and were forced to cut them
off. Ch'oe Ik-hyon defying the decree, was arrested and imprisoned,
but he did not yield. With these attempts, the Japanese tried to wipe out
Korean heritage, only to stimulate the armed resistance of the Korean volunteer
Spontaneous "righteous troops" protesting the ban on topknots
spread all over the country. The Royal Guards of Hanyang were dispatched
to suppress them. The resultant weakening of palace security was seen by
Russia as an opportunity to extend its influence. From a Russian warship
lying at anchor off Inch'on, 100 sailors were summoned, ostensibly to protect
the Russian legation. Shortly afterward, they were reinforced by an
additional contingent of 120 sailors. Ex-minister Waeber, remaining in
Seoul, plotted to persuade King Kojong to take refuge at the Russian
legation. Home Minister Yu Kil-chun, meanwhile, conferred with Japanese
Minister Komura Jutaro concerning countermeasures that might be taken against
Russia. At dawn on February 11, 1896, King Kojong and the Crown Prince
went to the Russian legation to escape the Japanese menace, and were protected
by guards provided by other legations as well. Japanese Minister Komura
called on Russian Minister Speyer at the Russian legation and requested that the
King return to the royal palace, but King Kojong refused, knowing that he had
chosen the lesser of two evils.
At the same time the Korean government, following a proposal made by the
Russian minister, appointed Russians as consultants for military training and
financial administration. In May, a Korean delegation led by Min Yong-hwan
and Yun Ch'i-ho concluded a treated in Russia with Foreign Minister Lobanoff,
agreeing to the following: Russia would protect the Korean monarch and, if
necessary, would send additional troops to Korea; the consultants in question
would be subject to the guidance of the Russian minister; the two governments
would enter into a loan agreement when deemed necessary in view of Korea's
economic conditions; and the Russian government would be authorized to connect
its telegraph lines with the Korean telegraph network. With the Korean
King in custody, Russia lost no time in implementing the aggressive provisions
of the treaty.
During the King's stay at the Russian legation, Korea's foreign relations
were aimed at protecting the royal family from the atmosphere of terror created
in the royal palace by Japanese violence. This overriding concern was
conducive to reliance on Russia despite its aggressive policy.
The United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and Japan competed for
concessions. From its Russian refugee, the Korean government granted
unconditional concessions without the usual stipulations as to the terms of
lease or conditions of taxes. Korea was deprived of its properties by the
world powers through such concessions.
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Awakening of the People
So Chae-p'il (Philip Jaisohn) processed in 1884 from asylum in Japan to
America and studied medicine. On his return to Korea in 1896, he resumed
leadership of the nation's modern reform program. Appointed a consultant
to the Privy Council, So was able to broaden his contacts with prominent
government leaders. Obtaining a donation of 5,000 Won from Home Minister
Yu Kil-chun, he inaugurated the newspaper Tongnip Shinmun (The
Independent) on April 7, 1896. Published in pure Han-gul (the
Korean script) and in English, the journal was well received by the public.
Aimed at conveying both domestic and foreign news to the Korean people,
the newspaper argued both for and against government policies in an impartial
manner. It called for the nation's all-out effort to strengthen its
autonomy and promote the public good. It reflected the needs of the time
when the Korea government was being shaken to its foundations by the aggressive
policies of Japan and Russia. So demanded that the government give top
priority to the promotion of civil rights and that it safeguard national
sovereignty by combatting the growth of foreign influence. The publisher
also did his utmost to introduce to his readers modern science and the ideology
of the Western world. The Tongnip Shinmun grew rapidly, from an
initial circulation of 300 to 3,000. In his tireless efforts to enlighten
the masses. So also availed himself of every opportunity to address the
people on the streets on current topics. His newspaper awakened the
citizenry to the urgent needs of the day: eliminating corruption, expanding
education, solidifying national sovereignty and promoting civil rights.
The Independence Club, which So helped to found, was formally activated in
July 1896, with Minister of War An Kyong-su as president and Foreign Minister Yi
Wan-yong as chairman. Prominent government and civic personages who had
led the country in modern reform and in the struggle for independence were
counted among its members, as well as a number of important government
leaders. The Crown Prince, as a token of cooperation, made a donation of
1,000 Won to the club, thereby arousing great interest among people throughout
So Chae-p'il did his best to awaken the public to the needs of
modernization. He asserted that the following steps were vital to national
development: mass education, road construction, commerce promoting national
wealth, women's education, the promotion of Han-gul for mass education,
currency in domestic transactions, wide circulation of both domestic and foreign
newspapers, exploitation of mining resources and the establishment of a
Voicing his strong opposition to the government's delegation of its financial
and military authority to Russia since Febuary 1897, So made a protest to the
government concerning Russia's demand for the concession of Choryongdo (present
Yongdo) island off Pusan, and for the establishment of a Korean-Russian Bank.
Speaking at a mass rally in the heart of Hanyang, So asked the government to
dismiss the Russian military and financial consultants. Syngman Rhee and
other speakers who took the rostrum at the same rally also drew enthusiastic
applause from the audience by pointing out the absurdity of entrusting the
financial and military authority of Korea to another country.
The Independence Club frequently presented to the government opinions
concerning the reform of domestic administration and did not hesitate to
register opposition. Its demands for the dismissal of ranking government
officials guilty of irregularities and fraud were put in effect. Through
"outside" sources, the club also conducted an investigation of the
government's concession of rights in lumbering, mining and railway construction,
and filed a protest with the government to correct abuses. The government
thereupon imprisoned leading members of the club and by imperial edict ordered
its dissolution, an oppressive action that stifled the club's movement for civil
rights and national sovereignty. The club, albeit short-lived, bequeathed
its spirit of independence to subsequent national movements.
The people were united in condemning the King's flight to a foreign
legation and the continuous granting of economic concessions to foreigners and
their outrage coalesced in the Independence Club's campaign. As a result,
Kojong moved out of the Russian legation to Kyong-un-gung (today's Toksugung)
palace in February 1897, and changed his reign name to Kwangmu (Martial
Brilliance) in August. He proclaimed to the nation and the world the
establishment of an independent "Taehan (Great Han) Empire" in
October, after which he was called by the title "Emperor." This
was a significant victory for the pressure of Korean public opinion.
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On the condition that Japan tacitly consent to Russia's 25-year lease of Port
Arthur as a naval base and Dalian as a commercial port, Russia agreed not to
hamper Japanese commercial and industrial activities in Korea. Such was
the substance of the Russo-Japanese Treaty III, concluded on April 25, 1899,
between Japanese Foreign Minister Nishi and Russia's Minister to Japan,
Rosen. Russia thereby gave Japan a free hand for its aggressive operations
As an anti-foreign movement erupted in Manchuria in the wake of the Boxer
Rebellion, Russian threw a huge army of 180,000 troops into the area on the
pretext of guarding its railways. Three-fourths of the Manchurian
territory came under occupation by the Russians, where they watched for an
opportunity to invade Korea.
Precisely such a proposal to invade was made to the Russian government in
1903 by the manager of a Russian lumber company operating on the Amnokkang
river, a company owned by the imperial Russian foundation. Russian
Minister Pavloff proposed that Russia establish a sphere of influence south of
the river and reject any interference by other powers in Manchuria.
Accordingly, Russia assembled its fleet in Port Arthur and deployed ground
forces in Fenghuang-ch'eng and along the Amnokkang river. In August 1903,
Russia occupied Yong-amp'o and hastily constructed military facilities,
including fortresses, barracks and communication lines.
Through the Anglo-Japanese treaty of alliance in 1902, Japan,
with the cooperation of Great Britain, obtained international recognition for
its aggressive policy toward Korea. This treaty provided that in return for
British support, Japan would assume the burden of checking the Russian southward
advance in the Far East. Japan agreed to recognize the Russia occupation of
Manchuria, on condition that Russia recognize its activities in Korea.
Russia and Japan stood face to face, each attempting to occupy
both sides of the Amnokkang river as a preliminary step toward the occupation of
both Korea and Manchuria. On February 8, 1904, Japan opened fire on the Russian
fleets off Inch'oon and Port Arthur, thereby
touching off the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).
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At the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War, Korea proclaimed
its neutrality to the world. Nevertheless, Japan sent troops into Hanyang in
large numbers and, on February 23, 1904, forced the Korean government to sign
the Korea-Japan Protocol. This unilaterally exacted Korean concessions necessary
for Japan's execution of the war. Japan stationed six and a half battalions in
Korea, which laid military railways, seized Korean telegraphic and telephone
networks by occupying the Central Telecommunications Office, and pre-empted land
for military use. In September, Japan proclaimed military control over the whole
territory of Korea, decreeing the death penalty for any Korean national caught
trespassing on the military railway communications line.
By a revision of the military rule of January 6, 1905, Japan
suppressed any anti-Japanese movement through assembly, associations, or the
press, proclaiming on July 3 that those violating the military rule would be
dealt with under Japanese law. In the first Korea-Japan Agreement concluded on
August 22, 1904, it was stipulated that a financial consultant would be
appointed from among the Japanese and a diplomatic consultant from among
nationals of third powers recommended by the Japanese government. This provision
was obviously designed to deprive Korea of its national rights.
The agreement was reinforced by the "Principles
Concerning Facilities in Korea" concluded late in May 1904, which granted
extensive privileges to Japan. These included the stationing of troops in Korea
even after the Russo-Japanese War, expropriation of land for military use,
supervision of Korea's diplomacy and financial administration, seizure of
Korea's transportation and communications facilities, and exploitation of
concessions in agriculture, forestry, mining and fisheries.
Japan sent as diplomatic consultant an ex-official of its
foreign office, an American named Stevens, and as financial consultant, Megata
Tanetaro, an official of its Ministry of Finance. The latter assumed full
authority over Korea's financial administration, and by a currency reform,
brought the Korean currency under the Japanese monetary system, devaluating it
by from one-fifth to one half in order to plunder Korean properties. Japanese
officials further penetrated the Korean government to work in the Ministry of
War, the Police, and the Ministry of Education, and in the Royal Household as
consultants, thereby undermining the government's authority.
During the war with Russia, Japan and Great Britain revised
the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Alliance on August 12, 1905, and Japan obtained
British consent to colonize Korea under the guise of protection. In the secret
Taft-Katsura agreement, Japan and the United States recognized Japan's
prerogatives in Korea. At the Portsmouth Peace Conference, which was concluded
in September 1905, Japan requested that "Korea be placed at Japan's free
disposal" in accordance with the second Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Alliance
and the U.S.-Japanese agreement.
The United States, Great Britain and Russia at last gave
international acquiescence to Japanese aggression in Korea. Recognizing that
Japan possessed superior political, military and economic interests in Korea,
the U.S. president rejected Emperor Kojong's personal letter on the illegitimacy
of the Korea-Japan Treaty presented through the efforts of missionary-diplomat
Homer B. Hulbert.
Immediately after the Portsmouth Treaty went into effect,
Japan sent Ito Hirobumi to Korea and forced the Korean government to conclude
the second Korea-Japan Treaty. By that time Hanyang had already been invaded by
a Japanese cavalry unit, an artillery battalion and a military police unit. On
November 17, Ito pressed the Korean government to sign the draft treaty designed
to isolate the Korean government by severing its foreign relations completely.
Diplomacy was then taken from Korean control and placed under the control of the
Japanese Foreign Office. The treaty also established the Office of the
Resident-General in Korea to enforce colonial rule.
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