19th Century Korea: Resisting European Colonization to Fall Victim to Japan

How North Korea’s Kim Il Sung was shaped by the USSR - Russia Beyond

Kim Il-Sung, leader of Korean resistance against Japanese Occupation

Episode 41: Korean Choson – The Last Dynasty

Foundations of Eastern Civilization

Dr Craig Benjamin (2013)

Film Review

In response to the opium wars Britain launched on China, Korea’s Choson Dynasty essentially closed their country to foreigners.

After the Choson rejected British India Company trade overtures in 1832, the European response was aggressive:

  • In 1846, three French warships delivered a letter protesting the persecution of French missionaries.
  • In 1854, two Russian warships “interfered” with Korean commercial shipping, resulting in several injuries and deaths.
  • In 1866, after a local Pyongyang official declined their request to trade, a US trading ship took him hostage, fired their guns into a crowd of civilians and sent a crew ashore to plunder Pyongyang and murdered seven Koreans. In response, the Korean military set fire to the ship and killed the entire crew.
  • In 1866 a full scale campaign against Catholicism turned into a blood bath – with nine French missionaries and 8,000 Korean Catholics killed. One of the missionaries escaped to China, where he persuaded the French overseas fleet pursue punitive action.  After a French squadron pillaged the administrative center on Gangwha Island, they made an unsuccessful attempt to invade the mainland. \
  • In 1871, the US US Asiatic Squadron sent warships against Korea in 1871. Opening fire on them, batteries on shore forced them to return to China.

Japan proved more successful in colonizing Korea:

  • In 1875, a Japanese invasion of Korea forced them to sign the 1876 Treaty of Kanghwa opening trade relations between the two countries.
  • Between 1882-89 (fearful of further Japanese aggressive), Korea signed military and trade agreements with the US, Britain, Germany,  them with Italy, Russia, France, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
  • In 1885, Japan withdrew the troops they had stationed in Korea.
  • In 1895, the Japanese ambassador assassinated the Choson queen. In response the king fled to the Russian legation to conduct his official business.
  • In 1894, the Choson requested China’s help in suppressing a civil rebellion. To counteract Chinese military influence over Korean, Japan also dispatched troops to Korea (in violation of the Treaty of Kangwha). This led first Sino-Japanese War (1894-95).
  • In 1895, the Shimonoseki Treaty granted the Japanese total control over Korea.
  • In 1905 (following Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War), US President Teddy Roosevelt encouraged Japan to increase its dominance in Korea when Japan agreed to US occupation of the Philippines.
  • In 1907, Japan dissolved the Korean Army and stationed 2,000 police in Korea to pacify the population. They also suspended all newspapers.
  • In 1910, the Japanese forced the Choson emperor to abdicate.

The period 1910-1945 was associated with extremely harsh colonial rule intent on eradicating Korean culture. Forbidden to use the their own language, Koreans were forced to adopt Japanese names and convert to Shintoism.

In 1919, a populist independence movement was brutally crushed with 7,000 members killed. Tens of thousands were either jailed or permanently injured.

In 1937, Japan invaded China, launching the second Sino-Japanese War. Korean men were conscripted into the Japanese army, with another 16% of the Korean population deported to Japan either as as slave labor or as “comfort women” (sex slaves). Seventy thousand Korean cultural artifacts were either destroyed or taken to Japan.

A Korean resistance movement, led by Kim Il-Sung,* was formed with the support of the Communist Party of China. Thousands joined People’s Liberation Army and fought the Japanese in China.

*Kim Il-Sung (grandfather of Kim Jong-un) ultimately became the first premier of North Korea.

Film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.


2 thoughts on “19th Century Korea: Resisting European Colonization to Fall Victim to Japan

  1. Pingback: Industrialization and Militarization of Japan | The Most Revolutionary Act

  2. Pingback: Isolation and Cold War Conflict: Korea and Vietnam | The Most Revolutionary Act

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.