Korea's Fight for Freedom
Part 1 out of 5
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KOREA'S FIGHT FOR FREEDOM
"Mr. F.A. McKenzie has been abused in the columns of the Japanese press_
with a violence which, in the absence of any reasoned controversy,
indicated a last resource. In answer to his specific charges, only one word
has been uttered--'lies!'
"Yet these charges embrace crimes of the first magnitude--murder, plunder,
outrage, incendiarism, and in short all the horrors that make up tyranny of
the worst description. It is difficult to see how Mr. McKenzie's sincerity
could be called into question, for he, too, like many other critics of the
new Administration, was once a warm friend and supporter of Japan.
"In those days, his contributions were quoted at great length in the
newspapers of Tokyo, while the editorial columns expressed their
appreciation of his marked capacity. So soon, however, as he found fault
with the conditions prevailing in Korea, he was contemptuously termed a
'yellow journalist' and a 'sensation monger.'"--_From "Empires of the Far
East" by F. Lancelot Lawson. London. Grant Richards_.
"Mr. McKenzie was perhaps the only foreigner outside the ranks of
missionaries who ever took the trouble to elude the vigilance of the
Japanese, escape from Seoul into the interior, and there see with his own
eyes what the Japanese were really doing. And yet when men of this kind,
who write of things which come within scope of personal observation and
enquiry, have the presumption to tell the world that all is not well in
Korea, and that the Japanese cannot be acquitted of guilt in this context,
grave pundits in Tokyo, London and New York gravely rebuke them for
following their own senses in preference to the official returns of the
Residency General. It is a poor joke at the best! Nor is it the symptom of
a powerful cause that the failure of the Japanese authorities to 'pacify'
the interior is ascribed to 'anti-Japanese' writers like Mr.
McKenzie."--_From "Peace and War in the Far East," by E.J. Harrison.
Yokohama. Kelly and Walsh_.
Korea's Fight for
_Author of "The Tragedy of Korea," "The
Unveiled East," "Through the
Hindenburg Line" etc._
The peaceful uprising of the people of Korea against Japan in the spring of
1919 came as a world surprise. Here was a nation that had been ticketed and
docketed by world statesmen as degenerate and cowardly, revealing heroism
of a very high order.
The soldier facing the enemy in the open is inspired by the atmosphere of
war, and knows that he has at least a fighting chance against his foe. The
Koreans took their stand--their women and children by their side--without
weapons and without means of defense. They pledged themselves ahead to show
no violence. They had all too good reason to anticipate that their lot
would be the same as that of others who had preceded them--torture as
ingenious and varied as Torquemada and his familiars ever practiced.
They were not disappointed. They were called on to endure all that they had
anticipated, in good measure, pressed down and running over. When they were
dragged to prison, others stepped into their place. When these were taken,
still others were ready to succeed them. And more are even now waiting to
join in the dreadful procession, if the protests of the civilized world do
not induce Japan to call a halt.
It seems evident that either the world made a mistake in its first estimate
of Korean character, or these people have experienced a new birth. Which is
the right explanation? Maybe both.
To understand what has happened, and what, as I write, is still happening,
one has to go back for a few years. When Japan, in face of her repeated
pledges, annexed Korea, her statesmen adopted an avowed policy of
assimilation. They attempted to turn the people of Korea into Japanese--an
inferior brand of Japanese, a serf race, speaking the language and
following the customs of their overlords, and serving them.
To accomplish this better, the Koreans were isolated, not allowed to mix
freely with the outer world, and deprived of liberty of speech, person and
press. The Japanese brought certain material reforms. They forgot to supply
one thing--justice. Men of progressive ideas were seized and imprisoned in
such numbers that a new series of prisons had to be built. In six years the
total of prisoners convicted or awaiting trial doubled. The rule of the big
stick was instituted, and the Japanese police were given the right to flog
without trial any Korean they pleased. The bamboo was employed on scores of
thousands of people each year, employed so vigorously as to leave a train
of cripples and corpses behind. The old tyranny of the yang-ban was
replaced by a more terrible, because more scientifically cruel, tyranny of
an uncontrolled police.
The Japanese struck an unexpected strain of hardness in the Korean
character. They found, underneath the surface apathy, a spirit as
determined as their own. They succeeded, not in assimilating the people,
but in reviving their sense of nationality.
Before Japan acquired the country, large numbers of Koreans had adopted
Christianity. Under the influence of the teachers from America, they became
clean in person, they brought their women out from the "anpang" (zenana)
into the light of day, and they absorbed Western ideas and ideals. The
mission schools taught modern history, with its tales of the heroes and
heroines of liberty, women like Joan of Arc, men like Hampden and George
Washington. And the missionaries circulated and taught the Bible--the most
dynamic and disturbing book in the world. When a people saturated in the
Bible comes into touch with tyranny, either one of two things happens, the
people are exterminated or tyranny ceases.
The Japanese realized their danger. They tried, in vain, to bring the
Churches under Japanese control. They confiscated or forbade missionary
textbooks, substituting their own. Failing to win the support of the
Christians, they instituted a widespread persecution of the Christian
leaders of the north. Many were arrested and tortured on charges which the
Japanese Courts themselves afterwards found to be false. The Koreans
endured until they could endure no more. Not the Christians alone, but men
of all faiths and all classes acted as one. The story of their great
protest, of what led up to it, and the way in which it was met, is told in
To the outsider, one of the most repulsive features of the Japanese method
of government of Korea is the wholesale torture of untried prisoners,
particularly political prisoners. Were this torture an isolated occurrence,
I would not mention it. There are always occasional men who, invested with
authority and not properly controlled, abuse their position. But here
torture is employed in many centres and on thousands of people. The
Imperial Japanese Government, while enacting paper regulations against the
employment of torture, in effect condones it. When details of the inhuman
treatment of Christian Korean prisoners have been given in open court, and
the victims have been found innocent, the higher authorities have taken no
steps to bring the torturers to justice.
The forms of torture freely employed include, among others:--
1. The stripping, beating, kicking, flogging, and outraging of schoolgirls
and young women.
2. Flogging schoolboys to death.
3. Burning--the burning of young girls by pressing lighted cigarettes
against their tender parts, and the burning of men, women and children by
searing their bodies with hot irons.
4. Stringing men up by their thumbs, beating them with bamboos and iron
rods until unconscious, restoring them and repeating the process, sometimes
several times in one day, sometimes until death.
5. Contraction--tying men up in such fashion as to cause intense suffering.
6. Confinement for long periods under torturing conditions, as, _e.g._,
where men and women are packed so tightly in a room that they cannot lie or
sit down for days at a stretch.
In the latter chapters of this book I supply details of many cases where
such methods have been employed. Where it can safely be done, I give full
names and places. In many instances this is impossible, for it would expose
the victims to further ill treatment. Sworn statements have been made
before the American Consular authorities covering many of the worst events
that followed the 1919 uprising. These are now, I understand, with the
State Department at Washington. It is to be hoped that in due course they
will be published in full.
* * * * *
When my book, "The Tragedy of Korea," was published in 1908, it seemed a
thankless and hopeless task to plead for a stricken and forsaken nation.
The book, however, aroused a wide-spread and growing interest. It has been
more widely quoted and discussed in 1919 than in any previous year. Lawyers
have argued over it in open court; statesmen have debated parts of it in
secret conferences, Senates and Parliaments. At a famous political trial,
one question was put to the prisoner, "Have you read the 'Tragedy of
Korea'?" It has been translated into Chinese.
At first I was accused of exaggeration and worse. Subsequent events have
amply borne out my statements and warnings. The book has been for a long
time out of print, and even second-hand copies have been difficult to
obtain. I was strongly urged to publish a new edition, bringing my
narrative up to date, but I found that it would be better to write a new
book, including in it, however, some of the most debated passages and
chapters of the old. This I have done.
Some critics have sought to charge me with being "anti-Japanese." No man
has written more appreciatively of certain phases of Japanese character and
accomplishments than myself. My personal relations with the Japanese, more
especially with the Japanese Army, left me with no sense of personal
grievance but with many pleasant and cordial memories. My Japanese friends
were good enough to say, in the old days, that these agreeable
recollections were mutual.
I have long been convinced, however, that the policy of Imperial expansion
adopted by Japan, and the means employed in advancing it, are a grave
menace to her own permanent well-being and to the future peace of the
world. I am further convinced that the militarist party really controls
Japanese policy, and that temporary modifications which have been recently
announced do not imply any essential change of national plans and
ambitions. If to believe and to proclaim this is "anti-Japanese," then I
plead guilty to the charge. I share my guilt with many loyal and patriotic
Japanese subjects, who see, as I see, the perils ahead.
In this book I describe the struggle of an ancient people towards liberty.
I tell of a Mongol nation, roughly awakened from its long sleep, under
conditions of tragic terror, that has seized hold of and is clinging fast
to, things vital to civilization as we see it, freedom and free faith, the
honour of their women, the development of their own souls.
I plead for Freedom and Justice. Will the world hear?
I. OPENING THE OYSTER
II. JAPAN MAKES A FALSE MOVE
III. THE MURDER OF THE QUEEN
IV. THE INDEPENDENCE CLUB
V. THE NEW ERA
VI. THE RULE OF PRINCE ITO
VII. THE ABDICATION OF YI HYEUNG
VIII. A JOURNEY TO THE "RIGHTEOUS ARMY"
IX. WITH THE REBELS
X. THE LAST DAYS OF THE KOREAN EMPIRE
XI. "I WILL WHIP YOU WITH SCORPIONS"
XII. THE MISSIONARIES
XIII. TORTURE A LA MODE
XIV. THE INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT
XV. THE PEOPLE SPEAK--THE TYRANTS ANSWER
XVI. THE REIGN OF TERROR IN PYENG-YANG
XVII. GIRL MARTYRS FOR LIBERTY
XVIII. WORLD REACTIONS
XIX. WHAT CAN WE DO?
OPENING THE OYSTER
Up to the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Korea refused all
intercourse with foreign nations. Peaceful ships that approached its
uncharted and unlit shores were fired upon. Its only land approach, from
the north, was bounded by an almost inaccessible mountain and forest
region, and by a devastated "No Man's Land," infested by bandits and river
pirates. When outside Governments made friendly approaches, and offered to
show Korea the wonders of modern civilization, they received the haughty
reply that Korea was quite satisfied with its own civilization, which had
endured for four thousand years.
Even Korea, however, could not keep the world entirely in the dark about
it. Chinese sources told something of its history. Its people were the
descendants of Ki-tzse, a famous Chinese sage and statesman who, eleven
hundred years before Christ, moved with his tribesmen over the river Yalu
because he would not recognize or submit to a new dynasty that had usurped
power in China. His followers doubtless absorbed and were influenced by
still older settlers in Korea. The result was a people with strong national
characteristics, different and distinct from the Chinese on the one side
and the Japanese on the other.
We knew that, as Korea obtained much of its early knowledge from China, so
it gave the younger nation of Japan its learning and industries. Its people
reached a high stage of culture, and all records indicate that in the days
when the early Briton painted himself with woad and when Rome was at her
prime, Korea was a powerful, orderly and civilized kingdom. Unhappily it
was placed as a buffer between two states, China, ready to absorb it, and
Japan, keen to conquer its people as a preliminary to triumph over China.
In the course of centuries, it became an inbred tradition with the Japanese
that they must seize Korea. Hideyoshi, the famous Japanese Regent, made a
tremendous effort in 1582. Three hundred thousand troops swept over Korea,
capturing city after city, and driving the Korean forces to the north.
Korea appealed to China for aid, and after terrible fighting, the Japanese
were driven back. They left a Korea in ruins, carrying off everything they
could, and destroying all they could not carry off. They kidnapped, among
others, the skilled workmen of Korea, and made them remain in Japan and
carry on their industries there.
Hideyoshi's invasion is of more than historic interest Korea has never
recovered the damage then done. The Japanese desire for Korea, thwarted for
the moment, smouldered, waiting for the moment to burst afresh into flame.
The memories of their terrible sufferings at the hands of the Japanese
ground into the Koreans a hatred of their neighbour, handed down
undiminished from generation to generation, to this day.
Korea might have recovered, but for another and even more serious handicap.
A new dynasty, the House of Yi, succeeded to the Korean throne over five
centuries ago, and established a rule fatal to all progress. The King was
everything, and the nation lived solely for him. No man was allowed to
become too rich or powerful. There must be no great nobles to come together
and oppose these kings as the Norman Barons fought and checked the Norman
Kings of England.
No man was allowed to build a house beyond a certain size, save the King.
The only way to wealth or power was by enlisting in the King's service. The
King's governors were free to plunder as they would, and even the village
magistrate, representing the King, could freely work his will on those
under him. The King had his eyes everywhere. His spies were all over the
land. Let yang-ban (official or noble) however high show unhealthy ambition
or seek to conceal anything from the royal knowledge and he would be called
to Court and broken in an hour, and would count himself fortunate if he
escaped with his life.
The Korean people are eminently pacific. Up to a point, they endure hard
thing's uncomplainingly. It would have been better for them had they not
suffered wrongs so tamely. The Yi method of government killed
ambition--except for the King's service--killed enterprise and killed
progress. The aim of the business man and the farmer was to escape notice
and live quietly.
Foreigners attempted, time after time, to make their way into the country.
French Catholic priests, as far back as the end of the eighteenth century,
smuggled themselves in. Despite torture and death, they kept on, until the
great persecution of 1866 wiped them and their converts out. This
persecution arose because of fear of foreign aggression.
A Russian war vessel appeared off Broughton's Bay, demanding on behalf of
Russians the right of commerce. The King at this time was a minor, adopted
by the late King. His father, the Tai Won Kun, or Regent, ruled in his
stead. He was a man of great force of character and no scruples. He slew in
wholesale fashion those who dared oppose him. He had the idea that the
Christians favoured the coming of the foreigner and so he turned his wrath
on them. The native Catholics were wiped out, under every possible
circumstance of brutality, and with them perished a number of French
Catholic priests. By one of those contradictions which are constantly
happening in real life, the crew of an American steamer, the _Surprise_,
who were wrecked off the coast of Whang-hai that year were treated with all
possible honour and consideration, and were returned home, through
Manchuria, officials conducting them and the people coming out to greet
them as they travelled through the land.
The French Minister at Peking determined on revenge for the death of the
priests. A strong expedition was sent to the Han River, and attacked the
forts on the Kangwha Island. The Korean troops met them bravely, and
although the French obtained a temporary success, thanks to their modern
weapons, they were in the end forced to retire.
An American ship, the _General Sherman_, set out for Korea in 1866, sailing
from Tientsin for the purpose, it was rumoured, of plundering the royal
tombs at Pyeng-yang. It entered the Tai-tong River, where it was ordered to
stop. A fight opened between it and the Koreans, the latter in their dragon
cloud armour, supposed to be impervious to bullets, sending their fire
arrows against the invaders. The captain, not knowing the soundings of the
river, ran his ship ashore. The Koreans sent fire boats drifting down the
river towards the American ship. One of them set the _General Sherman_ in
flames. Those of the crew who were not burned on the spot were soon
slaughtered by the triumphant Korean soldiers. A more disreputable
expedition, headed by a German Jew, Ernest Oppert and an American called
Jenkins, left Shanghai in the following year, with a strong fighting crew
of Chinese and Malays, and with a French missionary priest, M. Feron, as
guide. They landed, and actually succeeded in reaching the royal tombs near
the capital. Their shovels were useless, however, to remove the immense
stones over the graves. A heavy fog enabled them to carry on their work for
a time undisturbed. Soon an angry crowd gathered, and they had to return to
their ship, the _China_. They were fortunate to escape before the Korean
troops came up. The American consular authorities in Shanghai placed
Jenkins on trial, but there was not enough evidence to convict him.
The killing of the crew of the _General Sherman_ brought the American
Government into action. Captain Shufeldt, commander of the _Wachusset_, was
ordered to go to Korea and obtain redress. He reached the mouth of the Han
River, and sent a message to the King, asking an explanation of the matter.
He had to retire, owing to weather conditions, before the reply arrived.
The Korean reply, when eventually delivered, was in effect a plea of
justification. The Americans, however, determined to inflict punishment,
and a fleet was sent to destroy the forts on the Han River.
The American ships, the _Monacacy_ and the _Palos_ bombarded the forts. The
Korean brass guns, of one and one-half inch bore, and their thirty
pounders, could do nothing against the American howitzers, throwing eight
and ten inch shells. The American Marines and sailors landed, and in
capturing a hill fort, had a short, hot hand-to-hand battle with the
defenders. The Koreans fought desperately, picking up handfuls of dust to
fling in the eyes of the Americans when they had nothing else to fight
with. Refusing to surrender they were wiped out. Having destroyed the forts
and killed a number of the soldiers, there was nothing for the Americans to
do but to retire. The "gobs" were the first to admit the real courage of
the Korean soldiers.
Japan, which herself after considerable internal trouble, had accepted the
coming of the Westerner as inevitable, tried on several occasions to renew
relations with Korea. At first she was repulsed. In 1876 a Japanese ship,
approaching the Korean coast, was fired on, as the Japanese a generation
before had fired on foreign ships approaching their shore. There was a
furious demand all over the country for revenge. Ito and other leaders with
cool heads resisted the demand, but took such steps that Korea was
compelled to conclude a treaty opening several ports to Japanese trade and
giving Japan the right to send a minister to Seoul, the capital. The first
clause of the first article of the treaty was in itself a warning of future
trouble. "Chosen (Korea) being an independent state enjoys the same
sovereign rights as does Japan." In other words Korea was virtually made to
disown the slight Chinese protectorate which had been exercised for
The Chinese statesmen in Peking watched this undisturbed. They despised the
Japanese too much to fear them, little dreaming that this small nation was
within less than twenty years to humble them in the dust. Their real fear
at this time was not Japan but Russia. Russia was stretching forth
throughout Asia, and it looked as though she would try to seize Korea
itself. And so Li Hung-chang advised the Korean rulers to guard themselves.
"You must open your doors to other nations in order to keep out Russia," he
told them. At the same time it was intimated to Ministers in Peking,
particularly to the American Minister, that if he would approach the
Koreans, they would be willing to listen. Commodore Shufeldt was made
American Envoy, and an American-Korean Treaty was signed at Gensan on May
22, 1882. It was, truth to tell, a somewhat amateurish production, and had
to be amended before it was finally ratified. It provided for the
appointment of diplomatic and Consular officials, and for the opening of
the country to commerce. A treaty with Britain was concluded in the
following year, and other nations followed.
One clause in the American Treaty was afterwards regarded by the Korean
ruler as the sheet anchor of his safety, until storm came and it was found
that the sheet anchor did not hold.
There shall be perpetual peace and friendship between the
President of the United States and the King of Chosen and the
citizens and subjects of their respective Governments. If other
powers deal unjustly or oppressively with either Government, the
other will exert their good offices, on being informed of the
case, to bring about an amicable arrangement, thus showing their
All of the treaties provided for extra-territoriality in Korea, that is to
say that the foreigners charged with any offence there should be tried not
by the Korean Courts but by their own, and punished by them.
Groups of adventurous foreigners soon entered the country. Foreign
ministers and their staffs arrived first. Missionaries, concession hunters,
traders and commercial travellers followed.
They found Seoul, the capital, beautifully placed in a valley surrounded by
hills, a city of royal palaces and one-storied, mud-walled houses, roofed
with thatch--a city guarded by great walls. Statesmen and nobles and
generals, always surrounded by numerous retinues in glorious attire, ambled
through the narrow streets in dignified procession. Closed palanquins,
carried by sturdy bearers, bore yet other dignitaries.
The life of the city revolved round the King's Court, with its four
thousand retainers, eunuchs, sorcerers, blind diviners, politicians and
place hunters. The most prominent industry--outside of politics--was the
making of brass ware, particularly of making fine brass mounted chests. The
average citizen dressed in long flowing white robes, with a high,
broad-brimmed, black gauze hat. Hundreds of women were ever busy at the
river bank washing these white garments.
Women of good family remained at home, except for one hour after dark, when
the men retired from the streets and the women came out. Working women went
to and fro, with their faces shielded by green jackets thrown over their
heads. Their usual dress was a white skirt coming high up and a very short
jacket. The breasts and the flesh immediately below the breasts were often
freely displayed. Fishing and farming supported ninety per cent of the
population, and the Korean farmer was an expert. At sunset the gates of
Seoul were closed, and belated wayfarers refused admission until morning.
But there was no difficulty in climbing over the city walls. That was
typical. Signal fires at night on the hills proclaimed that all was well.
The Koreans were mild, good natured, and full of contradictory
characteristics. Despite their usual good nature, they were capable of
great bursts of passion, particularly over public affairs. They often
looked dirty, because their white clothes soiled easily; yet they probably
spent more time and money over external cleanliness than any other Asiatic
people. At first, they gave an impression of laziness. The visitor would
note them sleeping in the streets of the cities at noon. But Europeans soon
found that Korean labourers, properly handled, were capable of great
effort. And young men of the cultured classes amazed their foreign teachers
by the quickness with which they absorbed Western learning.
The land was torn, at the time of the entry of the foreigners, by the
rivalry of two great families--the Yi's, the blood relatives of the King,
and the Mins, the family of the Queen. The ex-Regent was leader of the
Yi's. He had exercised absolute power for many years during the King's
minority, and attempted to retain power even after he ceased to be Regent.
But he reckoned without the Queen. She was as ambitious as the Regent. The
birth of a son greatly improved and strengthened her authority, and she
gradually edged the Regent's party out of high office. Her brother, Min
Yeung-ho, became Prime Minister; her nephew, Min Yung-ik, was sent as
Ambassador to the United States. The Regent was anti-foreign; the Queen
advocated the admission of foreigners. The Regent tried to strengthen his
hold by a very vigorous policy of murder, attempting the death of the Queen
and her relatives. One little incident was an effort to blow up the Queen.
But Queen Min was triumphant every time. The King, usually weak and easily
moved, really loved the Queen, refused to be influenced away from her, and
was dominated by her strong character.
In the summer of 1881 there was a famine in the land. The Regent's agents
were busy everywhere whispering that the spirits were angry with the nation
for admitting the foreigner, and that Queen Min had brought the wrath of
the gods on them. The National Treasury failed, and many of the King's
soldiers and retainers were ready for any trouble. A great mob gathered in
the streets. It first attacked and murdered the King's Ministers, and
destroyed their houses. Then it turned against the King's palace.
Word came to the Queen's quarters that the rioters were hammering at the
gates and would soon be on her. The palace guards had weakened, and some
had even joined the people. Queen Min was calm and collected. She quickly
changed clothes with one of her serving women, who somewhat resembled her
in appearance. The serving woman, dressed in the robes of the Queen, was
given a draught of poison and died.
The Queen hurried out through a side way, in peasant woman's dress, guarded
by a water carrier, Yi Yung-ik, who for his services that day rose till he
finally became Prime Minister of the land. When the crowd broke into the
Queen's private apartments, they were shown the corpse and told that it was
the Queen, who had died rather than face them.
The crowd swept on and attacked the Japanese Legation. The Minister,
Hanabusa, and his guard, with all the civilians who could reach the
place--the rest were murdered--fought bravely, keeping the mob back until
the Legation building was set afire. Then they battled their way through
the city to the coast. The survivors--twenty-six out of forty--set to sea
in a junk. They were picked up at sea by a British survey ship, the _Flying
Fish_, and conveyed to Nagasaki.
There was, naturally, intense anger in Japan over this incident and loud
demands for war. A little more than three weeks after, Hanabusa returned to
Seoul with a strong military escort. He demanded and obtained punishment of
the murderers, the honourable burial of the Japanese dead, an indemnity of
400,000 yen, and further privileges in trade for the Japanese.
Meanwhile China, Korea's usually apathetic suzerain power, took action. Li
Hung-chang sent 4,000 troops to Seoul to maintain order. The Regent, now
humble and conciliatory, attempted to put blame for the outbreak on others.
But that did not save him. The Chinese, with elaborate courtesy, invited
him to a banquet and to inspect their ships. There was one ship, in
particular, to which they called his honourable attention. They begged him
to go aboard and note the wonders of the apartments below. The Regent went.
Once below, he found the door shut, and could hear the ropes being thrown
off as the ship hastily departed. It was in vain for him to call for his
attendants and warriors waiting on the shore.
They took him to China, and Li Hung-chang sent him into imprisonment and
exile for three years, until it was deemed safe to allow him to return.
JAPAN MAKES A FALSE MOVE
For hundreds of years it was the ambition of Japan to replace China as the
Protector of Korea. It was the more mortifying, therefore, that the
Hanabusa incident served to strengthen China's authority. It gave Peking an
excuse to despatch and maintain a considerable force at Seoul, for the
first time for hundreds of years.
The Japanese tried to turn the affair to their advantage by demanding-still
more concessions. The Korean rulers found it hard to refuse these
determined little men. So they adopted a policy of procrastination, arguing
endlessly. Now Japan was in a hurry, and could not wait.
The Japanese Minister at Seoul at this time was Takezoi, timid and
hesitating constitutionally, but, like many timid folk, acting at times
with great rashness. Under him was a subordinate of stronger and rougher
type, Shumamura, Secretary to the Legation. Shumamura kept in touch with a
group of Cabinet Ministers who had been to Japan and regarded Japan as
their model. They mourned together over the growth of Chinese power, and
agreed that it was threatening the independence of the country. They
repeated the rumour that a secret treaty had actually been signed by the
King, recognizing Chinese supremacy in more binding form than ever before.
They felt that the Queen was against them. Her nephew, Min Yung-ik, had
been on their side when he returned from America. Now, under her influence,
he had taken the other side.
Kim Ok-kiun, leader of the malcontents, was an ambitious and restless
politician, eager to have the control of money. One of his chief supporters
was Pak Yung-hyo, relative of the King, twenty-three years old, and a
sincere reformer. Hong Yung-sik, keen on foreign ways, was a third. He was
hungry for power. He was the new Postmaster General, and a building now
being erected in Seoul for a new post-office was to mark the entry of Korea
into the world's postal service. So Kwang-pom, another Minister, was
working with them.
Kim Ok-kiun and Shumamura had long conferences. They discussed ways and
means. The reformers were to overthrow the reactionaries in the Cabinet by
the only possible way, killing them; they were then in the King's name to
grant Japan further commercial concessions, and the Japanese were to raise
a considerable loan which should be handed over to Kim for necessary
Takezoi was on a visit to Tokyo when his deputy and the Korean came to an
understanding. They were rather anxious to have the whole thing through
before his return, for they knew, as every one knew, that Takezoi was not
the best man for a crisis. But when the Minister returned from Tokyo there
was none so bold as he. He boasted to his friends that Japan had at last
resolved to make war on China, and that every Chinaman would soon be driven
out of the land. He received Kim and heard of his plans with satisfaction.
There would be no trouble about money. A few Japanese in Seoul itself would
arrange all that was necessary. Let the thing be done quickly.
It had been customary for the Legations only to drill their soldiers in
daytime, and to inform the Government before they were taken out to public
places. But one night Takezoi had his Japanese troops turned out, marched
up the great hill, Namzan, commanding the city, and drilled there. When
asked why he did it, he cheerfully replied that he had just made an
experiment to see how far he could startle the Chinese and Koreans; and he
was quite satisfied with the result.
He sought an interview with the King. He had brought back the 400,000 yen
which Japan had exacted as indemnity for the Hanabusa outrage. Japan
desired Korea's friendship, he declared, not her money. He also brought a
stand of Japanese-made rifles, a gift from the Emperor to the King, and a
very significant gift, too. The Minister urged on the King the helpless
condition of China, and the futility of expecting assistance from her, and
begged the King to take up a bold position, announce Korea's independence
and dare China's wrath. The King listened, but made no pledges.
Kim and the Japanese Secretary called in their allies, to discuss how to
strike. One scheme proposed was that they should send two men, disguised as
Chinese, to kill two of the Ministers they had marked as their victims.
Then they would charge the other Ministers with the deed and kill them.
Thus they would get rid of all their enemies at a blow. A second plan was
that Kim should invite the Ministers to the fine new house he had built,
should entertain them and then kill them. Unfortunately for Kim, the
Ministers were not willing to come to his house. He had invited them all to
a grand banquet shortly before, and only a few had accepted.
"Make haste!" urged Shumamura. "Japan is ready for anything." At last some
one hit on a happy scheme. Twenty-two young Koreans had been sent to Japan
to learn modern military ways, and had studied at the Toyama Military
School at Tokyo. Returning home, they had given an exhibition of their
physical drill and fencing before the King, who was as delighted with them
as a child with a new toy. He had declared that he would have all his army
trained this way. The leader of the students, So Jai-pil, nephew of one of
the King's favourite generals, was made a Colonel of the Palace Guard,
although only seventeen years old. But despite the King, the old military
leaders, whose one idea of martial ardour was to be carried around from one
point to another surrounded with bearers and warriors who made a loud noise
to impress the crowd, shuddered at the idea of reform, and managed to block
it. The students were kicking their heels idly around the palace. Here were
the very lads for the job. Appeal to their patriotism. Let them do the
killing, and their seniors take the glory. And so it was decided.
The Japanese were talking so boastingly that it would be surprising if the
Chinese had learned nothing. At the head of the Chinese troops was Yuan
Shih-kai, afterwards to prove himself the strongest man in the Middle
Kingdom and to overthrow the Manchu dynasty. He said nothing, but it does
not follow that he did nothing. At a dinner given to the Foreign
Representatives, the Interpreter to the Japanese Legation delivered a
speech in Korean on the shameless unscrupulousness and cowardice of the
Chinese. He even went so far as to call them "sea slugs," giving a
malicious glance at the Chinese Consul-General while he spoke. The Chinese
official did not know Korean, but he could understand enough of the speech
to follow its import.
The plans were now complete. Every victim had two assassins assigned to
him. The occasion was to be the opening of the new post-office, when Hong
Yung-sik would give an official banquet to which all must come. During the
dinner, the detached palace was to be set on fire, a call was to be raised
that the King was in danger, and the reactionary Ministers were to be
killed as they rushed to his help. Two of the students were appointed
sentries, two were to set fire to the palace, one group was to wait at the
Golden Gate for other members of the Government who tried to escape that
way. Four young Japanese, including one from the Legation, were to act as a
reserve guard, to complete the killing in case the Koreans failed. The
Commander of the Palace Guard, a strong sympathizer, posted his men in such
a way as to give the conspirators a free hand. The Japanese Minister
promised that his soldiers would be ready to cooperate at the right time.
On the afternoon of December 4th, the Japanese Legation people busied
themselves with fetching ammunition and provisions from the barracks. In
the afternoon a detachment of soldiers came over. They knew that the deed
was to be done that night.
The dinner was held, according to plan. It was a singularly harmonious
gathering--up to a point. Many were the jokes and pointed was the wit. The
gesang (geisha), spurred by the merriment of their lords, did more than
ever to amuse the guests. The drink was not stinted.
Then there came a call of "Fire!" It was the duty of Min Yung-ik, as
General Commanding the right Guard Regiment, to keep the custody of the
fire apparatus. Deploring his rough luck in being called to duty at such a
time, he left the hall and, surrounded by his braves and attendants, who
were waiting for him in the anteroom, made his way to his yungmun, or
official residence. When he was near the post-office five young men, armed
with sharp swords, suddenly broke through his guard, killed one of the
soldiers and attacked the Minister. "He received seven sword slashes, all
great ones, two all but taking his head off," wrote a contemporary
chronicler. He staggered back into the banqueting hall, blood pouring from
him. There was at once great confusion. The Ministers not in the plot,
fearing that some ill was intended against them, threw away their hats of
state, turned their coats, and concealed themselves amongst their coolies.
Fortunately for Min, just as the palace doctors were about to attempt to
stop his wounds by pouring boiling wax on them, a modern surgeon came
hurrying up. He was Dr. Allen, an American Presbyterian missionary, the
first to arrive in Korea. He did such good work on his patient that night
that King and Court became friends of the missionaries for ever on.
Leaving the banqueting hall, Pak Yung-kyo and his companions at once
hurried to the palace, informed the King that a Great Event had happened,
and told him that he and the Queen must go with them for their safety. They
took him to the Tai Palace, near at hand. Here they were at once surrounded
by the Japanese troops, by the students, and some 800 Korean soldiers,
under General Han Kiu-chik, who commanded one of the four regiments of the
The King and Queen were of course accompanied by their own attendants. The
Chief Eunuch, who was among them, took General Han on one side. "This is a
very serious matter," he urged. "Let us send for General Yuan and the
Chinese." General Han apparently weakened and agreed. There was no
weakening on the part of the students. The Chief Eunuch and the General
were "one by one withdrawn from the King's presence" and when outside were
promptly despatched. Then the King was bidden to write notes to his chief
anti-Progressive Ministers, summoning them to his presence. As they
arrived, "one by one, each in his turn, was despatched by the students and
his body thrown aside."
The King called for the Japanese Minister. At first he would not come.
Finally he appeared. He had arranged that most of the work was to be done
without his presence, in order to avoid diplomatic trouble. A number of
edicts had been drawn up which the King was obliged to sign. All kinds of
reforms were commanded, and the land was made on paper, in an hour, into a
modern state. The reformers did not forget their own interests. Hong
Yung-sik, the Postmaster General, was made Prime Minister, Kim Ok-kiun was
made second officer of the Royal Treasury, and the lad So Jai-pil, on whom
the chief command of the students and Korean soldiers now devolved, was
made General Commanding a Guard Regiment.
In answer to his urgent entreaties, the King was allowed next morning to
return to his palace, the Japanese and the Progressives accompanying him.
It was soon clear, even to the reformers, that they had gone too far. As
news of the affair became known, the people made their sentiments felt in
unmistakable fashion. Odd Japanese in the streets were killed, others made
their way to the Legation and shut themselves in there, while the Japanese
Minister and the Progressives were hemmed in the palace by an angry mob.
They were short of ammunition. The Japanese had twenty-five rounds a man,
the twenty-two students had fifteen rounds apiece, and the eight hundred
Korean soldiers either had none or destroyed what they had. There was
plenty in the Legation but the mob barred the way. General So Jai-pil (to
give him his new title) was on the move day and night, going from outpost
to outpost, threatening and encouraging weaklings, and arranging and
inspiring his men.
The affair started on the evening of December 4th; the reformers remained
in the palace until the afternoon of December 7th. Then General Yuan
Shih-kai, the Chinese leader, approached the palace gates and sent in his
card, demanding admission. The Queen had already smuggled a message out to
him begging his aid. The Japanese soldiers on guard refused to allow him to
enter. He gave warning that he would attack. He had 2,000 Chinese troops
and behind them were fully 3,000 Korean soldiers and the mass of the
Takezoi weakened. He did not want to risk an engagement with the Chinese,
and he declared that he would withdraw his Guard, and take them back to his
Legation. Young General So drew his sword threateningly, and told him that
they must stay and see it through. The Japanese captain in command of the
troops was as eager for a fight as was So, and the Minister was for the
A great fight followed. The Chinese sought to outflank the reformers, and
to force an entry by climbing over the walls. One of the personal
attendants of the King suddenly attacked the new Premier, Hong Yung-sik,
and slew him. The Korean soldiers seemed to disappear from the scene as
soon as the real fighting started, but the students and the Japanese did
valiantly. They claimed that they shot fully three hundred Chinese. The
great gate of the palace still held, in spite of all attacks. But the
ammunition of the defenders had at last all gone.
"Let us charge the Chinese with our bayonets," cried So. The Japanese
captain joyfully assented. But Takezoi now asserted his authority. He
pulled from his pocket his Imperial warrants giving him supreme command of
the Japanese in Korea and read them to the captain. "The Emperor has placed
you under my command," he declared. "Refuse to obey me and you refuse to
obey your Emperor. I command you to call your men together and let us all
make our way back to the Legation." There was nothing to do but obey.
While the Chinese were still hammering at the front gate, the Japanese and
reformers crept quietly around by the back wall towards the Legation. The
people in the building, hearing this mass of men approach in the dark,
unlit street, thought that they were the enemy, and opened fire on them. A
Japanese sergeant and an interpreter were shot down on either side of
General So. Not until a bugle was sounded did the Japanese inside the
building recognize their friends. The party staggered in behind the
barricades worn out. So, who had not closed his eyes for four days, dropped
to the ground exhausted and slept.
He did not awake until the next afternoon. He heard a voice calling him,
and started up to find that the Japanese were already leaving. They had
resolved to fight their way to the sea. "I do not know who it was called
me," said So, afterwards. "Certainly it was none of the men in the
Legation. I sometimes believe that it must have been a voice from the other
world." Had he wakened five minutes later, the mob would have caught him
and torn him to bits.
The Japanese blew up a mine, and, with women and children in the centre,
flung themselves into the maelstrom of the howling mob. The people of Seoul
were ready for them. They had already burned the houses of the Progressive
statesmen, Kim, Pak, So and Hong. They tried, time after time, to rush the
Japanese circle. The escaping party marched all through the night, fighting
as it marched. At one point it had to pass near a Chinese camp. A cannon
opened fire on it. At Chemulpo, the coast port twenty-seven miles from
Seoul, it found a small Japanese mail steamer, the _Chidose Maru_. The
Koreans who had escaped with the party were hidden. Before the _Chidose_
could sail a deputation from the King arrived, disclaiming all enmity
against the Japanese, but demanding the surrender of the Koreans. Takezoi
seemed to hesitate, and the reformers feared for the moment that he was
about to surrender them. But the pockmarked captain of the _Chidose_ drove
the deputation from the side of his ship, in none too friendly fashion, and
The reformers landed in Japan, expecting that they would be received like
heroes, and that they would return with a strong army to fight the Chinese.
They did not realize that the revolutionist who fails must look for no
sympathy or aid.
The Japanese Foreign Minister at first refused even to see them. When at
last they secured an audience, he told them bluntly that Japan was not
going to war with China over the matter. "We are not ready yet," said he.
He then demanded of the reformers what they were going to do with
themselves. This was too much for So Jai-pil. His seniors tried to restrain
him, but in vain, "What way is this for Samurai to treat Samurai?" he hotly
demanded. "We trusted you, and now you betray and forsake us. I have had
enough of you. I am going to a new world, where men stand by their bonds
and deal fairly with one another. I shall go to America."
A few weeks later he landed in San Francisco, penniless. He knew scarcely
any English. He sought work. His first job was to deliver circulars from
door to door, and for this he was paid three dollars a day. He attended
churches and meetings to learn how to pronounce the English tongue. He
saved money enough to enter college, and graduated with honours. He became
an American citizen, taking a new form of his name, Philip Jaisohn. He
joined the United States Civil Service and in due course was made a doctor
of medicine by Johns Hopkins University. He acquired a practice at
Washington, and was lecturer for two medical schools. Later on, he was
recalled to his native land.
The Korean reformers themselves saw, later on, the folly of their attempt.
"We were very young," they say. They were the tools of the Japanese
Minister, and they had inherited a tradition of political life which made
revolt seem the natural weapon by which to overthrow your enemies. They
learned wisdom in exile, and some of them were subsequently to reach high
rank in their country's service.
There is a sequel to this story. The King and the Court regarded Kim
Ok-kiun as the unpardonable offender. Other men might be forgiven, for
after all attempted revolts were no novelties. But there was to be no
forgiveness for Kim.
A price was put on his head. Assassins followed him to Japan, but could
find no opportunity to kill him. Then a plot was planned and he was induced
to visit Shanghai. He had taken great pains to conceal his visit, but
everything had been arranged ahead for him. Arriving at Shanghai he was
promptly slain, and his body was carried in a Chinese war-ship to Chemulpo.
It was cut up, and exhibited in different parts of the land as the body of
a traitor. The mortified Japanese could do nothing at the time.
Years passed. The Japanese now had control of Korea. One of the last things
they did, in 1910, before contemptuously pushing the old Korean Government
into limbo, was to make it issue an Imperial rescript, restoring Kim
Ok-kiun, Hong Yung-sik and others--although long dead--to their offices and
honours, and doing reverence to their memory.
[Footnote 1: Curiosity may be felt about my authority for many of the
particulars supplied in this chapter. Accounts published by foreigners
living at Seoul at the time are of use as giving current impressions, but
are not wholly to be relied on for details. A very interesting official
report, based on information supplied by the King, is to be found in the
unpublished papers of Lieutenant George C. Foulk, U.S. Naval Attache at
Seoul, which are stored in the New York Public Library. A valuable account
from the Japanese point of view was found among the posthumous papers of
Mr. Fukuzawa (in whose house several of the exiles lived for a time) and
was published in part in the Japanese press in 1910. I learned the
conspirators' side directly from one of the leading actors in the drama.]
THE MURDER OF THE QUEEN
"We are not ready to fight China yet," said the Japanese Foreign Minister
to the impetuous young Korean. It was ten years later before Japan was
ready, ten years of steady preparation, and during that time the real focus
of the Far Eastern drama was not Tokyo nor Peking, but Seoul. Here the
Chinese and Japanese outposts were in contact. Here Japan when she was
ready created her cause of war.
China despised Japan, and did not think it necessary to make any real
preparations to meet her. The great majority of European experts and of
European and American residents in the Far East were convinced that if it
came to an actual contest, Japan would stand no chance. She might score
some initial victories, but in the end the greater weight, numbers and
staying power of her monster opponent must overwhelm her.
The development of Korea proceeded slowly. It seemed as though there were
some powerful force behind all the efforts of more enlightened Koreans to
prevent effective reforms from being carried out The Japanese were, as was
natural the most numerous settlers in the land, and their conduct did not
win them the popular affection. Takezoi's disastrous venture inflicted for
a time a heavy blow on Japanese prestige. The Japanese dead lay unburied in
the streets for the dogs to eat. China was momentarily supreme. "The whole
mass of the people are violently pro-Chinese in their sentiments," the
American representative stated in a private despatch to his Government,
"and so violently anti-Japanese that it is impossible to obtain other than
a volume of execrations and vituperations against them when questioned," A
semi-official Japanese statement that their Minister and his troops had
gone to the palace at the King's request, to defend him, made the matter
The affair would have been more quickly forgotten but for the overbearing
attitude of Japanese settlers towards the Korean people, and of Japanese
Ministers towards the Korean Government. Officially they advanced claims so
unjust that they aroused the protest of other foreigners. The attitude of
the Japanese settlers was summed up by Lord (then the Hon. G.N.) Curzon,
the famous British statesman, after a visit in the early nineties. "The
race hatred between Koreans and Japanese," he wrote, "is the most striking
phenomenon in contemporary Chosen. Civil and obliging in their own country,
the Japanese develop in Korea a faculty for bullying and bluster that is
the result partly of nation vanity, partly of memories of the past. The
lower orders ill-treat the Koreans on every possible opportunity, and are
cordially detested by them in return."
[Footnote 1: "Problems of the Far East," London, 1894.]
The old Regent returned from China in 1885, to find his power largely gone,
at least so far as the Court was concerned. But he still had friends and
adherents scattered all over the country. Furious with the Chinese for his
arrest and imprisonment, he threw himself into the arms of the Japanese.
They found in him a very useful instrument.
Korea has for centuries been a land of secret societies. A new society now
sprang up, and spread with amazing rapidity, the Tong-haks. It was
anti-foreign and anti-Christian, and Europeans were at first inclined to
regard it in the same light as Europeans in China later on regarded the
Boxers. But looking back at it to-day it is impossible to deny that there
was much honest patriotism behind the movement. It was not unnatural that a
new departure, such as the introduction of Europeans and European
civilization should arouse some ferment. In a sense, it would not have been
healthy if it had not done so. The people who would accept a vital
revolution in their life and ways without critical examination would not be
Few of the Tong-haks had any idea that their movement was being organized
under Japanese influences. It did not suit Japan that Korea should develop
independently and too rapidly. Disturbances would help to keep her back.
When the moment was ripe, Japan set her puppets to work. The Tong-haks were
suddenly found to be possessed of arms, and some of their units were
trained and showed remarkable military efficiency. Their avowed purpose was
to drive all foreigners, including the Japanese, out of the country; but
this was mere camouflage. The real purpose was to provoke China to send
troops to Korea, and so give Japan an excuse for war.
The Japanese had secured an agreement from China in 1885 that both
countries should withdraw their troops from Korea and should send no more
there without informing and giving notice to the other. When the Tong-haks,
thirty thousand in number, came within a hundred miles of Seoul, and
actually defeated a small Korean force led by Chinese, Yuan Shih-kai saw
that something must be done. If the rebels were allowed to reach and
capture the capital, Japan would have an excuse for intervention. He
induced the King to ask for Chinese troops to come and put down the
uprising; and as required by the regulations, due notice of their coming
was sent to Japan.
This was what Japan wanted. She poured troops over the channel until there
were 10,000 in the capital Then she showed her hand. The Japanese Minister,
Mr. Otori, brusquely demanded of the King that he should renounce Chinese
suzerainty. The Koreans tried evasion. The Japanese pressed their point,
and further demanded wholesale concessions, railway rights and a monopoly
of gold mining in Korea. A few days later, confident that Europe would not
intervene, they commanded the King to accept their demand unconditionally,
and to give the Chinese troops three days' notice to withdraw from the
land. The King refused to do anything while the Japanese troops menaced his
The declaration of war between Japan and China followed. The first incident
was the blowing up by the Japanese of a Chinese transport carrying 1,200
men to Korea. The main naval battle was in the Yalu, between Korea and
Manchuria, and the main land fight, in which the Chinese Army was
destroyed, in Pyeng-yang, the main Korean city to the north. The war began
on July 25, 1894; the Treaty of Peace, which made Japan the supreme power
in the Extreme East, was signed at Shimonoseki on April 17, 1895.
Before fighting actually began, the Japanese took possession of Seoul, and
seized the palace on some trumpery excuse that Korean soldiers had fired on
them and they had therefore been obliged to enter and guard the royal
apartments. They wanted to make their old friend and ally the ex-Regent,
the actual ruler, as he had been in the King's minority but he did not care
to take responsibility. Japanese soldiers turned the King out of his best
rooms and occupied them themselves. Any hole was good enough for the King.
Finally they compelled the King to yield and follow their directions. A new
treaty was drawn up and signed. It provided
1. That the independence of Korea was declared, confirmed, and established,
and in keeping with it the Chinese troops were to be driven out of the
2. That while war against China was being carried on by Japan, Korea was to
facilitate the movements and to help in the food supplies of the Japanese
troops in every possible way.
3. That this treaty should only last until the conclusion of peace with
Japan at once created an assembly, in the name of the King, for the
"discussion of everything, great and small, that happened within the
realm." This assembly at first met daily, and afterwards at longer
intervals. There were soon no less than fifty Japanese advisers at work in
Seoul. They were men of little experience and less responsibility, and they
apparently thought that they were going to transform the land between the
rising and setting of the sun. They produced endless ordinances, and scarce
a day went by save that a number of new regulations were issued, some
trivial, some striking at the oldest and most cherished institutions in the
country. The Government was changed from an absolute monarchy to one where
the King governed only by the advice of his Ministers. The power of direct
address to the throne was denied to any one under the rank of Governor. One
ordinance created a constitution, and the next dealt with the status of the
ladies of the royal seraglio. At one hour a proclamation went forth that
all men were to cut their hair, and the wearied runners on their return
were again despatched hot haste with an edict altering the official
language. Nothing was too small, nothing too great, and nothing too
contradictory for these constitution-mongers. Their doings were the laugh
and the amazement of every foreigner in the place.
Acting on the Japanese love of order and of defined rank, exact titles of
honour were provided for the wives of officials. These were divided into
nine grades: "Pure and Reverend Lady," "Pure Lady," "Chaste Lady," "Chaste
Dame," "Worthy Dame," "Courteous Dame," "Just Dame," "Peaceful Dame," and
"Upright Dame." At the same time the King's concubines were equally
divided, but here eight divisions were sufficient: "Mistress," "Noble
Lady," "Resplendent Exemplar," "Chaste Exemplar," "Resplendent Demeanour,"
"Chaste Demeanour," "Resplendent Beauty," and "Chaste Beauty." The Japanese
advisers instituted a number of sumptuary laws that stirred the country to
its depths, relating to the length of pipes, style of dress, and the
attiring of the hair of the people. Pipes were to be short, in place of the
long bamboo churchwarden beloved by the Koreans. Sleeves were to be
clipped. The topknot, worn by all Korean men, was at once to be cut off.
Soldiers at the city gates proceeded to enforce this last regulation
Japanese troops remained in the palace for a month, and the King was badly
treated during that time. It did not suit the purpose of the Japanese
Government just then to destroy the old Korean form of administration. It
was doubtful how far the European Powers would permit Japan to extend her
territory, and so the Japanese decided to allow Korea still to retain a
nominal independence. The King and his Ministers implored Mr. Otori to
withdraw his soldiers from the royal presence. Mr. Otori agreed to do so,
at a price, and his price was the royal consent to a number of concessions
that would give Japan almost a monopoly of industry in Korea. The Japanese
guard marched out of the palace on August 25th, and was replaced by Korean
soldiers armed with sticks. Later on the Korean soldiers were permitted to
carry muskets, but were not served with any ammunition. Japanese troops
still retained possession of the palace gates and adjoining buildings.
Another movement took place at this time as the result of Japanese
supremacy. The Min family--the family of the Queen--was driven from power
and the Mins, who a few months before held all the important offices in the
kingdom, were wiped out of public life, so much so that there was not a
single Min in one of the new departments of state.
Victory did not improve the attitude of the Japanese to the Koreans. While
the war was on the Japanese soldiers had shown very strict discipline, save
on certain unusual occasions. Now, however, they walked as conquerors. The
Japanese Government presented further demands to the King that would have
meant the entire trade of Korea being monopolized by their countrymen.
These demands went so far that the foreign representatives protested.
The new Japanese Minister, Count Inouye, protested publicly and privately
against the violent ways and rascalities of the new Japanese immigrants
pouring into Korea. He denounced their lack of cooeperation, arrogance and
extravagance. "If the Japanese continue in their arrogance and rudeness,"
he declared, "all respect and love due to them will be lost and there will
remain hatred and enmity against them."
Several of the participants in the _emeute_ of 1884 were brought back by
the Japanese and Pak Yung-hyo became Home Minister. He was very different
from the rash youth who had tried to promote reform by murder eleven years
before. He had a moderate, sensible program, the reform and modernization
of the army, the limitation of the powers of the monarchy and the promotion
of education on Western lines. "What our people need," he declared, "is
education and Christianization." Unfortunately he fell under suspicion. The
Queen thought that his attempt to limit the power of the King was a plot
against the throne. He received warning that his arrest had been ordered,
and had to flee the country.
Count Inouye ranks with Prince Ito as the two best Japanese administrators
sent to Korea. He was followed, in September, 1895, by Viscount General
Miura, an old soldier, a Buddhist of the Zen school and an extreme ascetic.
The Queen continued to exercise her remarkable influence over the King, who
took her advice in everything. She was the real ruler of the country. What
if her family was, for a time, in disgrace? She quietly worked and brought
them back in office again. Time after time she checked both the Japanese
Minister and the Regent.
The Japanese Secretary of Legation, Fukashi Sugimura, had long since lost
patience with the Queen and urged on Miura that the best thing was to get
rid of her. Why should one woman be allowed to stand between them and their
purpose? Every day she was interfering more and more in the affairs of
state. She was proposing to disband a force of troops that had been
created, the Kunrentai, and placed under Japanese officers. It was reported
that she was contemplating a scheme for usurping all political power by
degrading some and killing other Cabinet Ministers favourable to Japan.
Miura agreed. She was ungrateful. Disorder and confusion would be
introduced into the new Japanese organization for governing the country.
She must be stopped.
While Miura was thinking in this fashion the Regent came to see him. He
proposed to break into the palace, seize the King and assume real power. As
a result of their conversation, a conference was held between the Japanese
Minister and his two leading officials, Sugimura and Okamoto. "The decision
arrived at on that occasion," states the report of the Japanese Court of
Preliminary Enquiries, "was that assistance should be rendered to the Tai
Won Kun's (Regent's) entry into the palace by making use of the Kunrentai,
who, being hated by the Court, felt themselves in danger, and of the young
men who deeply lamented the course of events, and also by causing the
Japanese troops stationed in Seoul to offer support to the enterprise. It
was further resolved that this opportunity should be availed of for taking
the life of the Queen, who exercised overwhelming influence in the
[Footnote 1: Japanese official report.]
The whole thing was to be done according to system. The Regent was made to
bind himself down to the Japanese. A series of pledges was drawn up by
Sugimura, and handed to the Regent, saying that this was what Miura
expected of him. He, his son and his grandson "gladly assented" to the
conditions and he wrote a letter guaranteeing his good faith. The Japanese
Minister then resolved to carry out the plan, _i.e._, the attack on the
palace and the murder of the Queen, by the middle of the month. A statement
by the Korean War Minister that the disbandment of the Kunrentai troops was
approaching caused them to hurry their plans. "It was now evident that the
moment had arrived, and that no more delay should be made. Miura Goro and
Fukashi Sugimura consequently determined to carry out the plot on the night
of that very day." The Legation drew up a detailed program of what was
to happen, and orders were issued to various people. Official directions
were given to the Commander of the Japanese battalion in Seoul Miura
summoned some of the Japanese and asked them to collect their friends and
to act as the Regent's body-guard when he entered the palace. "Miura told
them that on the success of the enterprise depended the eradication of the
evils that had done so much mischief in the Kingdom for the past twenty
years, and instigated them to despatch the Queen when they entered the
palace." The head of the Japanese police force was ordered to help; and
policemen off duty were to put on civilian dress, provide themselves with
swords and proceed to the rendezvous. Minor men, "at the instigation of
Miura, decided to murder the Queen and took steps for collecting
[Footnote 1: Japanese official report.]
[Footnote 2: Ibid.]
[Footnote 3: Ibid.]
The party of Japanese met at the rendezvous, to escort the Regent's
palanquin. At the point of departure Okamoto (one of the Japanese
Minister's two right-hand men) "assembled the whole party outside the gate
of the Prine's (Regent's) residence, declaring that on entering the palace
the 'fox' should be dealt with according as exigency might require, the
obvious purpose of this declaration being to instigate his followers to
murder Her Majesty the Queen." The party proceeding towards Seoul met
the Kunrentai troops outside the West Gate and then advanced more rapidly
to the palace.
[Footnote 4: Ibid.]
The Japanese Court of Preliminary Enquiries, which had Viscount Miura and
his assistants before it after the murder, reported all the facts up to
this point with great frankness. I have used its account solely in the
above description. The Court having gone so far, then added a final finding
which probably ranks as the most extraordinary statement ever presented by
a responsible Court of law. "Notwithstanding these facts, there is no
sufficient evidence to prove that any of the accused actually committed the
crime originally meditated by them.... For these reasons the accused, each
and all, are hereby discharged."
What happened after the Regent and the Japanese reached the palace? The
party advanced, with the Kunrentai troops to the front. Behind them were
the police, the officers in charge, and twenty-six Japanese. An inner group
of these, about half of them, had special orders to find the Queen and kill
her. The gates of the palace were in the hands of Japanese soldiers, so the
conspirators had free admission. Most of the regular troops paraded
outside, according to orders. Some went inside the grounds, accompanied by
the rabble, and others moved to the sides of the palace, surrounding it to
prevent any from escaping. A body of men attacked and broke down the wall
near to the royal apartments.
Rumours had reached the palace that some plot was in progress, but no one
seems to have taken much trouble to maintain special watch. At the first
sign of the troops breaking down the walls and entering through the gates,
there was general confusion. Some of the Korean body-guard tried to resist,
but after a few of them were shot the others retired. The royal apartment
was of the usual one-storied type, led to by a few stone steps, and with
carved wooden doors and oiled-paper windows. The Japanese made straight for
it, and, when they reached the small courtyard in front, their troops
paraded up before the entrance, while the soshi broke down the doors and
entered the rooms. Some caught hold of the King and presented him with a
document by which he was to divorce and repudiate the Queen. Despite every
threat, he refused to sign this. Others were pressing into the Queen's
apartments. The Minister of the Household tried to stop them, but was
killed on the spot. The soshi seized the terrified palace ladies, who were
running away, dragged them round and round by their hair, and beat them,
demanding that they should tell where the Queen was. They moaned and cried
and declared that they did not know. Now the men were pressing into the
side-rooms, some of them hauling-the palace ladies by their hair. Okamoto,
who led the way, found a little woman hiding in a corner, grabbed her head,
and asked her if she were the Queen. She denied it, freed herself, with a
sudden jerk, and ran into the corridor, shouting as she ran. Her son, who
was present, heard her call his name three times, but, before she could
utter more, the Japanese were on her and had cut her down. Some of the
female attendants were dragged up, shown the dying body, and made to
recognize it, and then three of them were put to the sword.
The conspirators had brought kerosene with them. They threw a bedwrap
around the Queen, probably not yet dead, and carried her to a grove of
trees in the deer park not far away. There they poured the oil over her,
piled faggots of wood around, and set all on fire. They fed the flames with
more and more kerosene, until everything was consumed, save a few bones.
Almost before the body was alight the Regent was being borne in triumph to
the palace under an escort of triumphant Japanese soldiers. He at once
assumed control of affairs. The King was made a prisoner in his palace. The
Regent's partizans were summoned to form a Cabinet, and orders were given
that all officials known to be friendly to the Queen's party should be
The Japanese were not content with this. They did everything they could,
the Regent aiding them, to blacken the memory of the murdered women. A
forged Royal Decree, supposed to have been issued by the King, was
officially published, denouncing Queen Min, ranking her among the lowest
prostitutes, and assuming that she was not dead, but had escaped, and would
again come forward. "We knew the extreme of her wickedness," said the
decree, "but We were helpless and full of fear of her party, and so could
not dismiss and punish her. We are convinced that she is not only unfitted
and unworthy to be Queen, but also that her guilt is excessive and
overflowing. With her We could not succeed to the glory of the Royal
ancestors, so We hereby depose her from the rank of Queen and reduce her to
the level of the lowest class."
The poor King, trembling, broken, fearful of being poisoned, remained
closely confined in his palace. The foreign community, Ministers and
missionaries, did their best for him, conveying him food and visiting him.
If the Japanese thought that their crime could be hushed up they were much
mistaken. Some of the American missionaries' wives were the Queen's
friends. A famous American newspaper man, Colonel Cockerill, of the New
York _Herald_, came to Seoul, and wrote with the utmost frankness about
what he learned. So much indignation was aroused that the Japanese
Government promised to institute an enquiry and place the guilty on trial.
Ito was then Prime Minister and declared that every unworthy son of Japan
connected with the crime would be placed on trial. "Not to do so would be
to condemn Japan in the eyes of all the world," he declared. "If she does
not repudiate this usurpation on the part of the Tai Won Run, she must lose
the respect of every civilized government on earth." Miura and his
associates were, in due course, brought before a court of enquiry. But the
proceedings were a farce. They were all released, Miura became a popular
hero, and his friends and defenders tried openly to justify the murder.
Japan, following her usual plan of following periods of great harshness by
spells of mildness, sent Count Inouye as Envoy Extraordinary, to smooth
over matters. He issued a decree restoring the late Queen to full rank. She
was given the posthumous title of "Guileless, revered" and a temple called
"Virtuous accomplishment" was dedicated to her memory. Twenty-two officials
of high rank were commissioned to write her biography. But the King was
still kept a prisoner in the palace.
Then came a bolt from the blue. The Russian Minister at Seoul at this time,
M. Waeber, was a man of very fine type, and he was backed by a wife as
gifted and benevolent as himself. He had done his best to keep in touch
with and help the King. Now a further move was made. The Russian Legation
guard was increased to 160 men, and almost immediately afterwards it was
announced that the King had escaped from his jailers at the palace, and had
taken refuge with the Russians. A little before seven in the morning the
King and Crown Prince left the palace secretly, in closed chairs, such as
women use. Their escape was carefully planned. For more than a week before,
the ladies of the palace had caused a number of chairs to go in and out by
the several gates in order to familiarize the guards with the idea that
they were paying many visits. So when, early in the morning, two women's
chairs were carried out by the attendants, the guards took no special
notice. The King and his son arrived at the Russian Legation very much
agitated and trembling. They were expected, and were at once admitted. As
it is the custom in Korea for the King to work at night and sleep in the
morning, the members of the Cabinet did not discover his escape for some
hours, until news was brought to them from outside that he was safe under
the guardianship of his new friends.
Excitement at once spread through the city. Great crowds assembled, some
armed with sticks, some with stones, some with any weapons they could lay
hands on. A number of old Court dignitaries hurried to the Legation, and
within an hour or two a fresh Cabinet was constituted, and the old one
The heads of the Consulates and Legations called and paid their respects to
the King, the Japanese Minister being the last to do so. For him this move
meant utter defeat. Later in the day, a proclamation was spread broadcast,
calling on the soldiers to protect their King, to cut off the heads of the
chief traitors and bring them to him. This gave final edge to the temper of
the mob. Two Ministers were dragged into the street and slaughtered.
Another Minister was murdered at his home. In one respect the upheaval
brought peace. The people in the country districts had been on the point of
rising against the Japanese, who were reported to be universally hated as
oppressors. With their King in power again, they settled down peaceably.
THE INDEPENDENCE CLUB
It was a double blow to Japan that the check to her plans should have been
inflicted by Russia, for she now regarded Russia as the next enemy to be
overthrown, and was already secretly preparing against her. Russia had
succeeded in humiliating Japan by inducing France and Germany to cooperate
in a demand that she should evacuate the Liaotung Peninsula, ceded to her,
under the Treaty of Shimonoseki, by China. Forced to obey, Japan entered on
another nine years of preparation, to enable her to cross swords with the
Colossus of the North.
At the close of the nineteenth century Russia was regarded as the supreme
menace to world peace. Her expansion to the south of Siberia threatened
British power in India; her railway developments to the Pacific threatened
Japan. She struggled for a dominating place in the councils of China and
was believed to have cast an ambitious eye on Korea. Germany looked with
dread on the prospect of France and Russia striking her on either side and
squeezing her like a nut between the crackers. Her statesmen were eager to
obtain egress to the seas of the south, through the Dardanelles, and years
before it had become a part of the creed of every British schoolboy that
"the Russians shall not enter Constantinople."
It was dread of what Russia might do that caused England, to the amazement
of the world, to conclude an Alliance with Japan in 1902, for the
maintenance of the _status quo_ in the Far East. Japan, willing under
certain conditions to forget her grievances, had first sought alliance with
Russia and had sent Prince Ito on a visit to St. Petersburg for that
purpose. But Russia was too proud and self-confident to contemplate any
such step, and so Japan turned to Britain, and obtained a readier hearing.
Under the Alliance, both Britain and Japan disclaimed any aggressive
tendencies in China or Korea, but the special interests of Japan in Korea
The Alliance was an even more important step forward for Japan in the ranks
of the nations of the world than her victory against China had been, and it
was the precursor of still more important developments. This, however,
takes us ahead of our story.
The King of Korea, after his escape from the palace, remained for some time
in the Russian Legation, conducting his Court from there. Agreements were
arrived at between the Russians, Japanese and Koreans in 1896 by which the
King was to return to his palace and Japan was to keep her people in Korea
in stricter control. A small body of Japanese troops was to remain for a
short time in Korea to guard the Japanese telegraph lines, when it was to
be succeeded by some Japanese gendarmerie who were to stay "until such time
as peace and order have been restored by the Government." Both countries
agreed to leave to Korea the maintenance of her own national army and
These agreements gave the Korean monarch--who now took the title of
Emperor--a final chance to save himself and his country. The Japanese
campaign of aggression was checked. Russia, at the time, was behaving with
considerable circumspection. A number of foreign advisers were introduced,
and many reforms were initiated. Progressive statesmen were placed at the
head of affairs, and the young reformer, So Jai-pil, Dr. Philip Jaisohn,
was summoned from America as Adviser to the Privy Council.
It must be admitted that the results were on the whole disappointing.
Certain big reforms were made. In the period between 1894 and 1904 the
developments would have seemed startling to those who knew the land in the
early eighties. There was a modern and well-managed railroad operating
between Seoul and the port of Chemulpo, and other railroads had been
planned and surveyed, work being started on some of them. Seoul had
electric light, electric tramways and an electric theatre. Fine roads had
been laid around the city. Many old habits of mediaeval times had been
abolished. Schools and hospitals were spreading all over the land, largely
as a result of missionary activity. Numbers of the people, especially in
the north, had become Christians. Sanitation was improved, and the work of
surveying, charting and building lighthouses for the waters around the
coast begun. Many Koreans of the better classes went abroad, and young men
were returning after graduation in American colleges. The police were put
into modern dress and trained on modern lines; and a little modern Korean
Army was launched.
Despite this, things were in an unsatisfactory state. The Emperor, whose
nerve had been broken by his experiences on the night of the murder of the
Queen and in the days following, was weak, uncertain and suspicious. He
could not be relied on save for one thing. He was very jealous of his own
prerogatives, and the belief that some of his best statesmen and advisers
were trying to establish constitutional monarchy, limiting the power of the
Throne, finally caused him to throw in his lot with the anti-Progressive
Then there was no real reform in justice. The prisons retained most of
their mediaeval horrors, and every man held his life and property at the
mercy of the monarch and his assistants.
Some of the foreign advisers were men of high calibre; others were unfitted
for their work, and used their offices to serve their own ends and fill
their own pockets. Advisers or Ministers and foreign contractors apparently
agreed at times to fill their pockets at the cost of the Government. There
is no other rational explanation of some of the contracts concluded, or
some of the supplies received. The representatives of the European Powers
and America were like one great happy family, and the life of the European
and American community in Seoul was for a long time ideal. There came one
jarring experience when a Government--it would be unkind to mention
which--sent a Minister who was a confirmed dipsomaniac. For days after his
arrival he was unable to see the Ministers of State who called on him,
being in one long debauch. The members of his Legation staff had to keep
close watch on him until word could be sent home, when he was promptly
The young Koreans who were given power as Ministers and Advisers after the
Monarch escaped from Japanese control were anxious to promote reform and
education, and to introduce some plan of popular administration. They were
aided by one British official, Mr. (now Sir John) McLeavy Brown. Mr. Brown,
trained in the Chinese Customs Service, was given charge of the Korean
Treasury and Customs, at the instigation of the British Government. It was
hoped that this appointment indicated that the British Government would
take a more active interest in Korean affairs. Unfortunately Korea was far
away, and the prevailing idea in England at the time was to escape any more
Mr. Brown was the terror of all men who regarded the national treasure
chest as the plunder box. Even the King found his extravagance checked, and
Imperial schemes were delayed and turned from mere wasteful squanderings to
some good purpose. When, for example, the Emperor announced his
determination to build a great new memorial palace to the late Queen, Mr.
Brown pointed out that the first thing to do was to build a fine road to
the spot. The road was built, to the permanent gain of the nation, and the
palatial memorial waited. Old debts were paid off. The nation was making
money and saving.
A national economist always arouses many foes. The popular man is the man
who spends freely. Officials who found their own gains limited and the
sinecure posts for their relatives cut down united against the British
guardian of the purse. Just about this time Russian control was changed. M.
Waeber left Seoul, to the universal regret of all who knew him, and was
succeeded by M. de Speyer, who displayed the most aggressive aspects of the
Russian expansionist movement. A Russian official was appointed Mr. Brown's
successor and for a beginning doubled the salaries of the Korean office
holders. This brought many of the Korean office holders in line against Mr.
Brown. The latter held on to his office despite the appointment of the
Russian, and when an active attempt was made to turn him from his office,
the British Fleet appeared in Chemulpo Harbour. Mr. Brown was to be backed
by all the force of England. The Russians yielded and Mr. Brown remained on
at the head of the Customs, but did not retain full control over the
Had Britain or America at this time taken a hand in the administration of
Korean affairs, much future trouble would have been avoided. They would
have done so as part of their Imperial task of "bearing the burden of
weaker nations." Many Koreans desired and tried to obtain the intervention
of America, but the United States had not then realized to the extent she
was to do later that great power brings great responsibilities, not for
your nation alone, but for all the world that has need of you.
During the period of active reform following the King's escape, the
Progressives formed a league for the maintenance of Korean union. At their
head was Dr. Philip Jaisohn, the boy General of 1884. The movement was one
of considerable importance. In response to my request, Dr. Jaisohn has
written the following description of what took place:
THE INDEPENDENCE CLUB
"Early in 1896 I went back to Korea after an absence of twelve
years, at the urgent invitation of some Koreans who at that time
held high positions in the government. When I reached Korea, I
found that the Koreans who had invited me had left their
government positions, either voluntarily or by force, and they
were not to be seen. It seemed that some of them had to leave the
country to save their lives. In those days the Korean government
changed almost every month.
"At first I tried to help the Korean government in the capacity
of Adviser to the Privy Council, as they offered me a five year
contract to serve them in this manner. I accepted the offer and
gave some advice. For the first month or two some of it was
accepted by the Emperor and his Cabinet officers, but they soon
found that if they carried out this advice, it would interfere
with some of their private schemes and privileges. They informed
the Emperor that I was not a friend of his, but a friend of the
Korean _people_, which at that time was considered treason. My
influence was decreasing every day at the Court, and my advice
was ignored. I gave up the idea of helping the government
officially and planned to give my services to the Korean people
as a private individual.
"I started the first English newspaper, as well as the first
Korean newspaper, both being known as _The Independent_. At first
this was only published semi-weekly, but later on, every other
day. The Korean edition of this paper was eagerly read by the
people and the circulation increased by leaps and bounds. It was
very encouraging to me and I believe it did exert considerable
influence for good. It stopped the government officials from
committing flagrant acts of corruption, and the people looked
upon the paper as a source of appeal to their ruler. This little
sheet was not only circulated in the capital and immediate
vicinity, but went to the remote corners of the entire kingdom. A
pathetic but interesting fact is that it was read by a
subscriber, and when he had finished reading it, turned it over
to his neighbours, and in this way each copy was read by at least
200 people. The reason for this was that most of the people were
too poor to buy the paper, and it was also very hard to get it to
the subscribers, owing to the lack of proper transportation
facilities at that time.
"After the paper was running in an encouraging manner, I started
a debating club, called THE INDEPENDENCE CLUB, and leased a large
hall outside of the West Gate which was originally built by the
government to entertain foreign envoys who visited Korea in olden
times. This hall was very spacious and surrounded by considerable
ground and was the best place in Korea for holding public
meetings. When this club was organized there were only half a
dozen members, but in the course of three months the membership
increased to nearly 10,000. There were no obstacles or
formalities in joining it and no dues or admission were charged.
As a result, many joined, some from curiosity and some for the
sake of learning the way of conducting a public meeting in
"The subjects discussed were mostly political and economical
questions, but religion and education were not overlooked. In the
beginning the Koreans were shy about standing up before an
audience to make a public speech, but after a certain amount of
coaching and encouragement I found that hundreds of them could
make very effective speeches. I believe the Koreans have a
natural talent for public speaking. Of course, all that was said
in these meetings was not altogether logical or enlightening;
nevertheless, a good many new thoughts were brought out which
were beneficial. Besides, the calm and orderly manner in which
various subjects were debated on equal footing, produced a
wonderful effect among the Korean young men and to those who were
in the audience.
"In the course of a year the influence of this club was very
great and the members thought it was the most marvellous
institution that was ever brought to Korea. The most remarkable
thing I noticed was the quick and intelligent manner in which the
Korean young men grasped and mastered the intricacies of
Parliamentary rule. I often noticed that some Korean raised a
question of the point of order in their procedure which was well
taken, worthy of expert Parliamentarians of the Western
"The increasing influence of the Independence Club was feared not
only by the Korean officials but by some of the foreign
representatives, such as Russia and Japan, both of whom did not
relish the idea of creating public opinion among the Korean
people. The members of the Independence Club did not have any
official status, but they enjoyed the privilege of free speech
during the meeting of this club, and they did not hesitate to
criticize their own officials, as well as those of the foreign
nations who tried to put through certain schemes in Korea for the
benefit of their selfish interests. In the course of a year and a
half the opposition to this club developed in a marked degree not
among the people, but among a few government officials and
certain members of the foreign legations.
"The first time in Korean history that democracy made its power
felt in the government was at the time Russia brought to Korea a
large number of army officers to drill the Korean troops. When
this question was brought up in the Independence Club debate, and
the scheme was thoroughly discussed pro and con by those who took
part in the debate, it was the consensus of opinion that the
turning over of the Military Department to a foreign power was
suicidal policy and they decided to persuade the government to
stop this scheme. The next day some 10,000 or more members of the
club assembled in front of the palace, and petitioned the Emperor
to cancel the agreement of engaging the Russian military officers
as they thought it was a dangerous procedure. The Emperor sent a
messenger out several times to persuade them to disperse and
explain to the people that there was no danger in engaging the
Russians as military instructors. But the people did not
disperse, nor did they accept the Emperor's explanation. They
quietly but firmly refused to move from the palace gates unless
the contract with Russia was cancelled.
"When the Russian Minister heard of this demonstration against
the contract he wrote a very threatening letter to the Korean
government to the effect that the Korean government must disperse
the people, by force if necessary, and stop any talk imputing
selfish motives on the part of the Russian government. If this
was not stopped, the Russian government would withdraw all the
officers from Korea at once, and Korea would have to stand the
consequences. This communication was shown to the people with the
explanation that if they insisted upon cancelling this contract
dire consequences would result to Korea. But the people told the
government they would stand the consequences, whatever they would
be, but would not have Russian officers control their military
establishment. The Korean government finally asked the Russian
Minister to withdraw their military officers and offered to pay
any damage on account of the cancellation of the contract. This
was done, and the will of the people was triumphant.
"But this event made opposition to the Independence Club stronger
than ever, and the government organized an opposing organization,
known as the PEDLARS' GUILD, which was composed of all the
pedlars of the country, to counteract the influence this club
wielded in the country. In May, 1898, I left Korea for the United
Dr. Jaisohn, as a naturalized American citizen, was immune from arrest by
the Korean Government, and the worst that could happen to him was
dismissal. Another young man who now came to the front in the Independence
movement could claim no such immunity. Syngman Rhee, son of a good family,
training in Confucian scholarship to win a literary degree and official
position, heard with contempt and dislike the tales told by his friends of
foreign teachers and foreign religion. His parents were pious Buddhists and
Confucians, and he followed their faith. Finding, however, that if he hoped
to make good in official life he must know English, he joined the Pai Chai
mission school, in Seoul, under Dr. Appenzeller. He became a member of the
Independence Club, and issued a daily paper to support his cause. Young,
fiery, enthusiastic, he soon came to occupy a prominent place in the
The Independents were determined to have genuine reform, and the mass of
the people were still behind them. The Conservatives, who opposed them, now
controlled practically all official actions. The Independence Club started
a popular agitation, and for months Seoul was in a ferment. Great meetings
of the people continued day after day, the shops closing that all might
attend. Even the women stirred from their retirement, and held meetings of
their own to plead for change. To counteract this movement, the
Conservative party revived and called to its aid an old secret society, the
Pedlars' Guild, which had in the past been a useful agent for reaction. The
Cabinet promised fair things, and various nominal reforms were outlined.
The Independents' demands were, in the main, the absence of foreign
control, care in granting foreign concessions, public trial of important
offenders, honesty in State finance, and justice for all. In the end,
another demand was added to these--that a popular representative tribunal
should be elected.
When the Pedlars' Guild had organized its forces, the King commanded the
disbandment of the Independence Club. The Independents retorted by going
_en bloc_ to the police headquarters, and asking to be arrested. Early in
November, 1898, seventeen of the Independent leaders were thrown into
prison, and would have been put to death but for public clamour. The people
rose and held a series of such angry demonstrations that, at the end of
five days, the leaders were released.
The Government now, to quiet the people, gave assurances that genuine
reforms would be instituted. When the mobs settled down, reform was again
shelved. On one occasion, when the citizens of Seoul crowded into the main
thoroughfare to renew their demands, the police were ordered to attack them
with swords and destroy them. They refused to obey, and threw off their
badges, saying that the cause of the people was their cause. The soldiers
under foreign officers, however, had no hesitation in carrying out the
Imperial commands. As a next move, many thousands of men, acting on an old
national custom, went to the front of the palace and sat there in silence
day and night for fourteen days. In Korea this is the most impressive of
all ways of demonstrating the wrath of the nation, and it greatly
embarrassed the Court.
The Pedlars' Guild was assembled in another part of the city, to make a
counter demonstration. Early in the morning, when the Independents were
numerically at their weakest, the Pedlars attacked them and drove them off.
On attempting to return they found the way barred by police. Fight after
fight occurred during the next few days between the popular party and the
Conservatives, and then, to bring peace, the Emperor promised his people a
general audience in front of the palace. The meeting took place amid every
surrounding that could lend it solemnity. The foreign representatives and
the heads of the Government were in attendance. The Emperor, who stood on a
specially built platform, received the leaders of the Independents, and
listened to their statement of their case. They asked that the monarch
should keep some of his old promises to maintain the national integrity and
do justice. The Emperor, in reply, presented them with a formal document,
in which he agreed to their main demands.
The crowd, triumphant, dispersed. The organization of the reformers
slackened, for they thought that victory was won. Then the Conservative
party landed some of its heaviest blows. The reformers were accused of
desiring to establish a republic. Dissension was created in their ranks by
the promotion of a scheme to recall Pak Yung-hio. Some of the more extreme
Independents indulged in wild talk, and gave excuse for official
repression. Large numbers of reform leaders were arrested on various
pretexts. Meetings were dispersed at the point of the bayonet, and the
reform movement was broken. The Emperor did not realize that he had, in the
hour that he consented to crush the reformers, pronounced the doom of his
own Imperial house, and handed his land over to an alien people.
Dr. Jaisohn maintains that foreign influence was mainly responsible for the
destruction of the Independence Club. Certain Powers did not wish Korea to
be strong. He adds:
"The passing of the Independence Club was one of the most
unfortunate things in the history of Korea, but there is one
consolation to be derived from it, and that is, the seed of
democracy was sown in Korea through this movement, and that the
leaders of the present Independence Movement in Korea are mostly
members of the old Independence Club, who somehow escaped with
their lives from the wholesale persecution that followed the
collapse of the Independence Club. Six out of the eight cabinet
members elected by the people this year, (1919) were the former
active members of the Independence Club."
Among the Independents arrested was Syngman Rhee. The foreign community,
which in a sense stood sponsor for the more moderate of the Independents,
brought influence to bear, and it was understood that in a few days the
leaders would be released. Some of them were. But Rhee and a companion
broke out before release, in order to stir up a revolt against the
Government By a misunderstanding their friends were not on the spot to help
them, and they were at once recaptured.
Rhee was now exposed to the full fury of the Emperor's wrath. He was thrown
into the innermost prison, and for seven months lay one of a line of men
fastened to the ground, their heads held down by heavy cangues, their feet
in stocks and their hands fastened by chains so that the wrists were level
with the forehead. Occasionally he was taken out to be tormented, in
ancient fashion. He expected death, and rejoiced when one night he was told
that he was to be executed. His death was already announced in the
newspapers. But when the guard came they took, not Rhee, but the man
fastened down next to him, to whom Rhee had smuggled a farewell message to
be given to his father after his death. His sentence was commuted to life
Lying there, the mind of the young reformer went back to the messages he
had heard at the mission school He turned to the Christians' God, and his
first prayer was typical of the man, "O God, save my country and save my
soul." To him, the dark and foetid cell became as the palace of God, for
here God spoke to his soul and he found peace.
He made friends with his guards. One of them smuggled a little Testament in
to him. From the faint light of the tiny window, he read passage after
passage, one of the under-jailers holding the book for him--since with his
bound hands he could not hold it himself--and another waiting to give
warning of the approach of the chief guard. Man after man in that little
cell found God, and the jailer himself was converted.
After seven months of the hell of the inner cell, Rhee was shifted to
roomier quarters, where he was allowed more freedom, still, however,
carrying chains around his neck and body. He organized a church in the
prison, made up of his own converts. Then he obtained text-books and
started a school. He did not in the least relax his own principles. He
secretly wrote a book on the spirit of Independence during his imprisonment
His old missionary friends sought him out and did what they could for him.
Rhee met plenty of his old friends, for the Conservatives were in the
saddle now, and were arresting and imprisoning Progressives at every
opportunity. Among the newcomers was a famous old Korean statesman, Yi
Sang-jai, who had formerly been First Secretary to the Korean Legation at
Washington. Yi incurred the Emperor's displeasure and was thrown into
prison. He entered it strongly anti-Christian; before two years were over
he had become a leader of the Christian band. In due course Yi was released
and became Secretary of the Emperor's Cabinet. He carried his Christianity
out with him, and later on, when he left office, became Religious Work
leader of the Seoul Y.M.C.A. Yi was one of the most loved and honoured men
in Korea. Every one who knew him spoke of him in terms of confidence and
Syngman Rhee was not released from prison until 1904. He then went to
America, graduated at the George Washington University, took M.A. at
Harvard, and earned his Ph.D. at Princeton. He returned to Seoul as an
official of the Y.M.C.A., but finding it impossible to settle down under
the Japanese regime, went to Honolulu, where he became principal of the
Korean School. A few years later he was chosen first President of the
Republic of Korea.
When Russia leased the Liaotung Peninsula from China, after having
prevented Japan from retaining it, she threw Korea as a sop to Japan. A
treaty was signed by which both nations recognized the independence of
Korea, but Russia definitely recognized the supreme nature of the Japanese
enterprises and interests there, and promised not to impede the development
of Japan's commercial and industrial Korean policy. The Russian military
instructors and financial adviser were withdrawn from Seoul.
The Emperor of Korea was still in the hands of the reactionaries. His Prime
Minister and favourite was Yi Yung-ik, the one-time coolie who had rescued
the Queen, and was now the man at the right hand of the throne.
After a time Russia repented of her generosity. She sought to regain
control in Korea. She sent M. Pavloff, an astute and charming statesman, to
Seoul, and a series of intrigues began. Yi Yung-ik sided with the Russians.
The end was war.
One personal recollection of these last days before the war remains stamped
on my memory. I was in Seoul and had been invited to an interview with Yi
Yung-ik. Squatted on the ground in his apartment we discussed matters. I
urged on him the necessity of reform, if Korea was to save herself from
extinction. Yi quickly retorted that Korea was safe, for her independence
was guaranteed by America and Europe.
"Don't you understand," I urged, "that treaties not backed by power are
useless. If you wish the treaties to be respected, you must live up to
them. You must reform or perish."
"It does not matter what the other nations are doing," declared the
Minister. "We have this day sent out a statement that we are neutral and
asking for our neutrality to be respected."
"Why should they protect you, if you do not protect yourself?" I asked.
"We have the promise of America. She will be our friend whatever happens,"
the Minister insisted.
From that position he would not budge.
Three days later, the Russian ships, the _Variag_ and the _Korietz_, lay
sunken wrecks in Chemulpo Harbour, broken by the guns of the Japanese
fleet, and the Japanese soldiers had seized the Korean Emperor's palace. M.
Hayashi, the Japanese Minister, was dictating the terms he must accept.
Korea's independence was over, in deed if not in name, and Japan was at
last about to realize her centuries' old ambition to have Korea for her
THE NEW ERA
Japan was now in a position to enforce obedience. Russia could no longer
interfere; England would not. A new treaty between Japan and Korea, drawn
up in advance, was signed--the Emperor being ordered to assent without
hesitation or alteration--and Japan began her work as the open protector of
Korea. The Korean Government was to place full confidence in Japan and
follow her lead; while Japan pledged herself "in a spirit of firm
friendship, to secure the safety and repose" of the Imperial Korean House,
and definitely guaranteed the independence and territorial integrity of the
country. Japan was to be given every facility for military operations
during the war.
The Japanese at first behaved with great moderation. Officials who had been
hostile to them were not only left unpunished, but were, some of them,
employed in the Japanese service. The troops marching northwards maintained
rigid discipline and treated the people well. Food that was taken was
purchased at fair prices, and the thousands of labourers who were pressed
into the army service as carriers were rewarded with a liberality and
promptitude that left them surprised. Mr. Hayashi did everything that he
could to reassure the Korean Emperor, and repeatedly told him that Japan
desired nothing but the good of Korea and the strengthening of the Korean
nation. The Marquis Ito was soon afterwards sent on a special mission from
the Mikado, and he repeated and emphasized the declarations of friendship
All this was not without effect upon the Korean mind. The people of the
north had learnt to dislike the Russians, because of their lack of
discipline and want of restraint. They had been alienated in particular by
occasional interference with Korean women by the Russian soldiers. I
travelled largely throughout the northern regions in the early days of the
war, and everywhere I heard from the people during the first few weeks
nothing but expressions of friendship to the Japanese. The coolies and
farmers were friendly because they hoped that Japan would modify the
oppression of the native magistrates. A section of better-class people,
especially those who had received some foreign training, were sympathetic,
because they credited Japan's promises and had been convinced by old
experience that no far-reaching reforms could come to their land without
As victory followed victory, however, the attitude of the Japanese grew
less kindly. A large number of petty tradesmen followed the army, and these
showed none of the restraint of the military. They travelled about, sword
in hand, taking what they wished and doing as they pleased. Then the army
cut down the rate of pay for coolies, and, from being overpaid, the native
labourers were forced to toil for half their ordinary earnings. The
military, too, gradually began to acquire a more domineering air.
In Seoul itself a definite line of policy was being pursued. The Korean
Government had employed a number of foreign advisers. These were steadily
eliminated; some of them were paid up for the full time of their
engagements and sent off, and others were told that their agreements would
not be renewed. Numerous Japanese advisers were brought in, and, step by
step, the administration was Japanized. This process was hastened by a
supplementary agreement concluded in August, when the Korean Emperor
practically handed the control of administrative functions over to the
Japanese. He agreed to engage a Japanese financial adviser, to reform the
currency, to reduce his army, to adopt Japanese military and educational
methods, and eventually to trust the foreign relations to Japan. One of the
first results of this new agreement was that Mr. (now Baron) Megata was
given control of the Korean finances. He quickly brought extensive and, on
the whole, admirable changes into the currency. Under the old methods,
Korean money was among the worst in the world. The famous gibe of a British
Consul in an official report, that the Korean coins might be divided into
good, good counterfeits, bad counterfeits, and counterfeits so bad that
they can only be passed off in the dark, was by no means an effort of
imagination. In the days before the war it was necessary, when one received
any sum of money, to employ an expert to count over the coins, and put
aside the worst counterfeits. The old nickels were so cumbersome that a
very few pounds' worth of them formed a heavy load for a pony. Mr. Megata
changed all this, and put the currency on a sound basis, naturally not
without some temporary trouble, but certainly with permanent benefit to the
The next great step in the Japanese advance was the acquirement of the
entire Korean postal and telegraph system. This was taken over, despite
Korean protests. More and more Japanese gendarmes were brought in and
established themselves everywhere. They started to control all political
activity. Men who protested against Japanese action were arrested and
imprisoned, or driven abroad. A notorious pro-Japanese society, the II Chin
Hoi, was fostered by every possible means, members receiving for a time
direct payments through Japanese sources. The payment at one period was 50
sen (1s.) a day. Notices were posted in Seoul that no one could organize a
political society unless the Japanese headquarters consented, and no one
could hold a meeting for discussing affairs without permission, and without
having it guarded by Japanese police. All letters and circulars issued by
political societies were first to be submitted to the headquarters. Those
who offended made themselves punishable by martial law.
Gradually the hand of Japan became heavier and heavier. Little aggravating
changes were made. The Japanese military authorities decreed that Japanese
time should be used for all public work, and they changed the names of the
towns from Korean to Japanese. Martial law was now enforced with the utmost
rigidity. Scores of thousands of Japanese coolies poured into the country,
and spread abroad, acting in a most oppressive way. These coolies, who had
been kept strictly under discipline in their own land, here found
themselves masters of a weaker people. The Korean magistrates could not
punish them, and the few Japanese residents, scattered in the provinces,
would not. The coolies were poor, uneducated, strong, and with the
inherited brutal traditions of generations of their ancestors who had
looked upon force and strength as supreme right. They went through the
country like a plague. If they wanted a thing they took it If they fancied
a house, they turned the resident out.
They beat, they outraged, they murdered in a way and on a scale of which it
is difficult for any white man to speak with moderation. Koreans were
flogged to death for offences that did not deserve a sixpenny fine. They
were shot for mere awkwardness. Men were dispossessed of their homes by
every form of guile and trickery. It was my lot to hear from Koreans
themselves and from white men living in the districts, hundreds upon
hundreds of incidents of this time, all to the same effect. The outrages
were allowed to pass unpunished and unheeded. The Korean who approached the
office of a Japanese resident to complain was thrown out, as a rule, by the
One act on the part of the Japanese surprised most of those who knew them
best. In Japan itself opium-smoking is prohibited under the heaviest
penalties, and elaborate precautions are taken to shut opium in any of its
forms out of the country. Strict anti-opium laws were also enforced in
Korea under the old administration. The Japanese, however, now permitted
numbers of their people to travel through the interior of Korea selling
morphia to the natives. In the northwest in particular this caused quite a
wave of morphia-mania.
The Japanese had evidently set themselves to acquire possession of as much
Korean land as possible. The military authorities staked out large portions
of the finest sites in the country, the river-lands near Seoul, the lands
around Pyeng-yang, great districts to the north, and fine strips all along
the railway. Hundreds of thousands of acres were thus acquired. A nominal
sum was paid as compensation to the Korean Government--a sum that did not
amount to one-twentieth part of the real value of the land. The people who
were turned out received, in many cases, nothing at all, and, in others,
one-tenth to one-twentieth of the fair value. The land was seized by the
military, nominally for purposes of war. Within a few months large parts of
it were being resold to Japanese builders and shopkeepers, and Japanese
settlements were growing up on them. This theft of land beggared thousands
of formerly prosperous people.
The Japanese Minister pushed forward, in the early days of the war, a
scheme of land appropriation that would have handed two-thirds of Korea
over at a blow to a Japanese concessionaire, a Mr. Nagamori, had it gone
through. Under this proposal all the waste lands of Korea, which included
all unworked mineral lands, were to be given to Mr. Nagamori nominally for
fifty years, but really on a perpetual lease, without any payment or
compensation, and with freedom from taxation for some time. Mr. Nagamori
was simply a cloak for the Japanese Government in this matter. The
comprehensive nature of the request stirred even the foreign
representatives in Seoul to action. For the moment the Japanese had to
abandon the scheme. The same scheme under another name was carried out
later when the Japanese obtained fuller control.
It may be asked why the Korean people did not make vigorous protests
against the appropriation of their land. They did all they could, as can be
seen by the "Five Rivers" case. One part of the Japanese policy was to
force loans upon the Korean Government. On one occasion it was proposed
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