Korea’s Experience of Imperialism, 1872-1953

1872

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

1876

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

1881

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

1885

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

1894

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

1895

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.

1896

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

1902

First Korean immigrants arrive in Hawai’i

Anglo-Japanese Alliance puts Russia on defensive.

1904

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

1905

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

1907

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.

1909

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

1910

Treaty of Annexation: Korea became part of the Japanese Empire

1910s

Early colonial period: aggressive suppression of Korean nationalist movements.

1918

WWI ends: Rice Riots in Japan

1919

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.

1920s

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

1930s

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

1940s

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

1945

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

1948

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)

1950

North Korean forces invade South

1953

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

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