Some Differing Approaches

I have been reading through a collection of books about the road to Japan’s annexation of Korea, mostly somewhat dry political history for my tastes. It is orals year for me so there will be a lot of postings related to readings in preparation for my modern Japan and modern Korea field (when also relevant to Japanese history) exams next Spring.

Today, after re-reading Peter Duus The Abacus and the Sword: The Japanese Penetration of Korea, 1895-1910 and taking some better notes, I wanted to do quick re-reads on this period in two other big narrative sweeps of Korean history: Carter J. Eckert, Ki-baik Lee, Young Ick Lew, Michael Robinson, and Edward W. Wagner eds. Korea Old and New: A History and Bruce Cumings Korea’s Place in the Sun. I then compared some notes with other books I read last year.

The complicated political history of the decades leading up to Japan’s annexation of Korea can tax the memory (I’ll post some notes on this at some point with people/timeline reference) and patience but at least the English language scholarship on this is quite limited, as far as I can tell. In contrast, disagreements and writing about Japanese imperialism in Korea has provoked some of the most bitter fights between Japanese and Korean scholars, even those who are eager to cooperate and don’t represent extreme wings in scholarship on either side.

I was interested, though not really surprised, to see that the differences on some of these touchy issues surrounding the 1905 Protectorate treaty etc. across the Pacific, seep into English language scholarship on the topic. Since many of these texts can find their way onto university history course materials, it is not without relevance for those teaching modern East Asian or Japan/Korea courses. These differences have a lot to do with which sources get used by the scholars in question, of course, and these usually trace back to previous Korean or Japanese secondary works on the issue. To show what I mean, below I’ll explore a few differences by comparing various accounts on a few specific events. I’ll use Young Ick Lew’s chapters in Korea Old and New as the starting point, since his claims come out the most concise and strongly worded.

On Ilchinhoe

Lew p239: “Japan attempted to rally public support for a protectorate treaty through a front organization that it created and financed, the Ilchinhoe (“Advancement Society”). The purpose of this charade was to create the false impression that a protectorate treaty was not a Japanese demand but rather a response to the wishes of the Korean people.”

Duus p216 “In August 1904, probably as a means to mobilize laborers for the construction of the military railway between Seoul and Ûiju, Song [Pyŏng-jun] organized the Yushinhoe (Restoration Society). To expand its numbers, the group merged a few days later with the Chinbohoe (Progress Society) led by Yi Yong-gun, a former Tonghak leader…In a fawning letter sent to Japanese officials…the new organization, called the Ilchinhoe (Restoration Society) offered its support to the Japanese efforts against the Russians…From the outset the Japanese authorities viewed the Ilchinhoe with considerable ambivalence…The strongest Japanese supporters of the Ilchinhoe were Japanese patriotic societies and chauvinist groups looking for allies in the pursuit of their pan-Asian dreams…” Mentions an alleged 1 million membership for the society.

Schmid, Andre Korea Between Empires, 1895-195 (2002) p88 “Pan-Asianist ideas also found many advocates in Korea. Most notorious was the Ilchinhoe, a political society established in 1904 by Yi Yonggu and Son Pyŏnghûi [sic: isn’t Son a Ch’ŏndogyo leader and co-founder of the anti-Ilchinhoe newspaper Mansebo?] which made unity of the yellow race a central tenet of its collaborationist activity…”

Conroy, Hilary The Japanese Seizure of Korea 1868-1910 (1960) p415 “Exactly how this relationship [between Tonghak rebels and Japanese reactionaries] developed is not clear, but the “Secret History” tells us that the Ilchin Hoe (Japanese Isshin Kai), the society which linked the Japanese reactionaries with their Korean comrades during the 1905-1910 period, was “a changed form of the Tonghak Party.” One of the main changes seems to have occured during the Russo-Japanese War when the Japanese army in Korea began to subsidize the society to encourage its pro-Japanese proclivities.” Cites Nikkan Gappō

Cumings p147 “Within Korea an organization called Ilchinhoe, or Unity and Progress Society, enrolled large numbers of Koreans in a new mass organization that backed Japan’s policies; one scholar [Gregory Henderson] wrote that this was Korea’s first modern political organization, uniting leaders and led and mobilizing the masses. That generalization is a bit of a stretch, but so is the subsequent attempt by nationalist historians to pretend that the Ilchinhoe’s members were few, with each one devoted to selling Korea to Japan.”

On the Signing of the Protectorate Treaty

Lew p239 “Japan sent its elder statesman, Itō Hirobumi, to conclude the protectorate treaty. Itō entered the palace with an escort of Japanese troops, threatened Kojong and his ministers, and demanded that they accept the draft treaty Japan had prepared. When the Korean officials refused, Prime Minister Han Kyu-sŏl, who had expressed the most violent opposition, was dragged from the chamber by Japanese gendarmes. Japanese soldiers then went to the foreign ministry to bring its official seal, which then was affixed to the document by Japanese hands, on November 17, 1905.”

Duus p189 “On November 17 the entire Korean cabinet was to be invited to lunch at the Japanese legation. If discussions went well at lunch and the ministers agreed to the treaty, an audience would be arranged with the monarch; if not, the ministers would solicit the emperor’s decision….Hayashi asked General Hasegawa Yoshimichi…to post troops along the route, ostensibly as a ‘protective guard.’ And since there was danger of popular demonstrations or disturbances…armed Japenese troops were to be posted around the palace…the king’s ministers were unable to reach a decision during lunch discussions. Deeply divided, they wanted the monarch to make the final decision. At about three in the afternoon, accompanied by Hayashi, the cabinet left the legation for the palace. Kojong, they discovered, was ‘ill.'”….Itō arrives and asks each minister their opinion: “Han Kyu-sol [sic] who appeared to Hayashi to be in a state of extreme agitation, was adamant in his opposition…Han rose from his seat and walked unsteadily in the direction of the royal quarters as if he personally intended to stop the monarch from agreeing to the treaty. A few moments later the group heard the sound of women’s screams and running feet in the palace interior…In his excited state Han had blundered into the women’s chambers…he fainted dead away. Hayashi learned the cause of the uproar, he muttered, ‘Throw some water on his face to calm him down.’ The discussion continued without the prime minister.”

Duus goes on to describe how the Pak Che-sun was opposed but would go along if Kojong did, Min Yŏng-gi also was generally opposed, while Yi Wan-yong, Yi Kun-t’aek, Yi Ha-yong, Kwon Chong-hyun, and Yi Chi-yong were all for the treaty (the “5 traitors”), it thus gaining majority support. Duus goes on to explain that it is unclear what happens next, the Japanese official account says the emperor finally went along with it, but also notes that there are two alternative accounts based on letters by other foreigners which may suggest otherwise. He also mentions that Lee Tai-jin has claimed that the original text of the treaty doesn’t have the king’s seal or signature on it.

Conroy p334 “Internationally, the way was cleared for Itō to take a very strong hand in Korea’s affairs by an agreement between Japan and Korea, signed on November 17, 1905 and a ‘declaration of the Japanese government’ relating to Korea issued on November 22.”

Cumings p145 Itō Hirobumi, among the greatest of Meiji leaders, was resident-general during the protectorate; he had established it at the point of a gun in November 1905, entering Kojong’s palace escorted by Japanese troops and forcibly seizing the Foreign Ministry’s seal to affix Korea’s assent to the documents. It look like another offer Koreans could not refuse, but many did.” Goes on to talk about martyrs.

Dudden, Alexis Japan’s Colonization of Korea: Discourse and Power (2005) Since her emphasis is on the language and power of law, she only mentions this incident indirectly throughout chapter 3: “The Vocabulary of Power” and in one line, “In November 1905, the Meiji emperor’s envoys in Seoul usurped the Korean government’s ability to conduct diplomacy.” (p60)

Emperor Kojong’s Letter

Lew p240 “Kojong’s opposition to the Protectorate Treaty was made public in an imperial letter published on February 1, 1906, in the Korea Daily News (Taehan Maeil Sinbo), in which he stated that he had not consented to the treaty and appealed for the joint protection of the powers.”

Duus p207 “In early 1907 the Tahan maeil sinbo, a Korean-language newspaper edited by [Ernest J.] Bethell, published a letter from teh emperor claiming that the protectorate treaty had been signed under duress—a letter that the emperor then emphatically denied writing.”

The Hague Incident

Lew p240 “Kojong secretly dispatched a delegation to the [Second Hague Peace Conference] to expose the injustice done Korea and to seek redress. Although the conference refused to seat the Korean delegates or accept their petition, the world-wide publicity the Korean question consequently received created considerable international furor.”

Dudden p7 “…Emperor Kojong of Korea sent three representatives on his behalf to the Second International Conference on Peace at The Hague…Although the three young men appealed to diplomats from countries that had long-standing relations with Korea, none except the Russian envoy gave them more than a passing notice. Not coincidentally, of course, Japan’s shocking military victory against Russia two years earlier made St. Petersburg eager to support any protest of Japan.” p9 “the international deaf ear to the Koreans—allowed Japanese officials to broaden control of the country…”

Duus p208 “After making their way across Russia to Europe, they arrived in teh Hague, only to be refused the right of diplomatic representation. Since Korea was a protectorate, they were told, it was not possible to recognize their credentials. The Japanese authorities…suspected that the mission was financed by ‘dividends’ paid into the royal treasury by the Korean-American Electric Company, a Bostwick and Collbran enterprise…”

On Annexation

Lew p240 “The leaders of imperial Japan, who long had schemed to annex Korea, could at last realize their ambition.”

Duus p425 “The view [that Meiji leaders were intent on making Korea into a colony] continues to be held by many nationalist historians in Korea and by anti-imperialist historians in Japan. But to me the historical record suggests much greater tentativeness in Japanese policy. The process of reaching consensus on what to do about Korea took several decades. Indeed, it could be argued that until the cabinet decision of May 1904 the Meiji leaders did not really make up their minds.”


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