Korea’s Experience of Imperialism, 1872-1953


Japan debates invading Korea because Korea refuses to acknowledge an “emperor” in Japan.


Japan forces Korea to sign the Kangwha treaty, opening Korea to foreign trade, MFN clause, extraterritoriality


United States signs treaty of Friendship with Korea including unequal clauses; other western powers follow shortly


Li Hongzhang of China and Itō Hirobumi of Japan sign the Li-Ito agreement, balancing their forces and influence in Korea


Sino-Japanese War begins as clash between Japanese and Chinese forces in Seoul; Korean Tonghak rebellion (anti-foreign, populist) in full swing.


Sino-Japanese War ends: China gives up influence in Korea, surrenders Taiwan and the concession to the Liaodong Penninsula, and pays an indemnity

Korea’s Queen Min assassinated by Japanese forces. King Kojong flees to Russian Legation, remains there 1 year.


Triple Intervention forces Japan to return Liaodong concession; subsequently taken by Russia, which is growing stronger in Manchuria


First Korean immigrants arrive in Hawai’i

Anglo-Japanese Alliance puts Russia on defensive.


Russo-Japanese war begins as conflict over status of Russian forces in Manchuria and Korea.


US President Theodore Roosevelt negotiates the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the Russo-Japanese war, and giving Japan the Liaodong concession, Russian railway rights in Manchuria and unchallenged influence over Korea.

Taft-Katsura secret agreement exchanges US recognition of Japan’s sphere of interest in Korea for Japanese recognition of US sphere of interest in Philippines.

Korea forced to sign a Treaty of Protectorate with Japan; Itō Hirobumi named Resident-General


Korean delegation to the Hague refused hearing on the Treaty of Protectorate because according to international law Korea did not have standing.

Korean King Kojong abdicates; Korean army disbanded, but anti-Japanese guerilla activity begins.


Governor-General Itō Hirobumi assassinated by An Chung-gun in Harbin


Treaty of Annexation: Korea became part of the Japanese Empire


Early colonial period: aggressive suppression of Korean nationalist movements.


WWI ends: Rice Riots in Japan


King Kojong dies. March 1st Movement: Korean protests refusal of Versailles conference to hear self-determination request; thousands of Koreans killed; tens of thousands imprisoned.


“Cultural policy” shifts away from widespread supression. Agricultural promotion and cultural openness, educational expansion


Cultural Unity movement attempts to “Japanize” Korea, including name changes, religious reform, increased industrial development


WWII: Korean slave laborers used heavily in Japanese industry; sexual slaves (“comfort women”)


Defeat of Japan; Korea divided into US and USSR zones of occupation


Separate elections in Soviet and UN zones lead to establishment of separate states in North (DPRK, led by Kim Il Sung) and South Korea (ROK, led by Syngman Rhee)


North Korean forces invade South


Armistice ends active conflict; South Korea signs mutual defense treaty with US.

Current Situation:

North: still Communist state, emphasizing independence (juche), led by Kim Il Sung’s son, Kim Jong Il. Currently developing nuclear weapons technology; otherwise economic and social disaster.

South: full-fledged democracy, with elections, opposition parties, orderly transfers of power. Current president Lee Myung-bak. Second wealthiest nation in Asia.

© 2003 – Jonathan Dresner

One comment to Korea’s Experience of Imperialism, 1872-1953

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