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Korea Tributary to China

Korean traditions point to Ki-tzti, or Viscount of Ki, a noble of China during the reign of Chou-hsin of the Shang Dynasty (BC 1154-1122), as as the founder of the present civilization of Korea in BC 1122, and through him Korea claims relationship with China, to which country Koreans said they stand in the same relation of subjection as a younger brother does to an elder one and head of the family. This peculiar form of subservience, based as it is on Confucian theories, which shaped all Chinese and Korean society and made the people of those countries what they are, must never be lost sight of in studying Korea's relations with and to China.

Stress has been laid on the expression, used alike by Chinese and Koreans in official documents, of speaking of Korea as a shu kuo, a term usually translated 'vassal kingdom, fief,' but these terms are misleading, for the character shu carries with it the idea of relationship, which, as stated, is the keynote to the whole question. Even the investiture by the Emperor of China of the King of Korea, which was for many centuries the most important act of suzerainty exercised by China over Korea, should, to a certain extent, be interpreted in the light of the relationship in which the two countries have ever stood to each other. There were in both Korean and Chinese works, and hear among the Korean people, frequent allusion to the relationship of the two countries. The Emperors of the Ming Dynasty were "fathers to Korea"; the Manchu Emperors were "elder brothers "; and the Emperor of China in an edict in 1882 spoke of the reigning family of Korea as his "near kindred."

As to the custom of Korean kings submitting to the Emperor of China for his approval the names of the heirs to their throne, of their consorts, of informing him of deaths in the Royal Family, these again are strictly ceremonial relations bearing with them no idea of subordination, other than that of respect and deference on the part of a younger member of a family to its recognized head.

Twice, at least, during the Ming Dynasty of China (AD 1368-1644) the people of Korea chose their sovereign without consulting China, and the latter power only entered a mild protest. There is no case recorded in which the Emperor of China disapproved of the choice the King of Korea has made of his successor or his consort. In 1699, the King had his son by a concubine recognized as his heir, the Queen having no children. In 1722 and in 1724 he asked for the recognition of his younger brother as his heir. In 1763 the grandson of the then reigning king was recognized as heir to the throne, the Peking Board of Rites quoting the Book of Rites (Li Ki, T'ao kung, i) to show that a grandson is the natural heir to the throne, if the son dies during the father's lifetime. In 1691 the King of Korea asked the Emperor's approval of his again taking as his consort a person whom he had previously put away in favor of a concubine, and of reducing the latter to her former rank. All these requests, and every other one recorded, were granted.

Korea, though she had long held a vassal relation to Japan and China, gradually neglected her duty to Japan after the invasion of Taidsoong, of the Manchu dynasty in 1634, and her tribute to Japan finally ceased after the eighth year of the Bunka era (1811). Yet, the Lord-Governor So, of Tsushima, maintained undisturbed the usage of Saikensen the custom of sending a certain number of Japanese junks to Fusan, a southern port of Korea, for the barter of the national products of the two nations. After the revolution of 1868, Lord So was sent to Korea, as an envoy, formally to announce the resumption by the Mikado of the imperial sovereignty and to invite the Koreans to re-establish the old relations.

As the mission of Lord-Governor So obtained no satisfaction, the Japanese government in 1869 sent three commissioners to investigate the internal condition and foreign relations of Korea. It was represented that the secret designs of Russia, coupled with Chinese control in the peninsula, would endanger the existence of the Hermit Nation, and that it was of vital importance to Japan to take measures for its preservation. The envoy Hanabusa was sent, with two men-of-war, in 1872, to open the peninsula, but he returned disappointed. Previously attempts of France and the United States, in 1866 and 1871, had likewise failed. The obstinacy of the Koreans so incensed General Saigo that he insisted upon an immediate expedition for their chastisement, but a majority of the cabinet voted to try "the subtle movement of diplomatic finesse." As soon as the Formosan question was settled, General Kuroda and Count Inouye, escorted by several men-of-war, were despatched, in December, 1875, to Korea, and, after many patient struggles, making the tactics of Commodore Perry and Townsend Harris their own, they finally succeeded in concluding a treaty of amity and commerce on February 26, 1876.

By this treaty, which has much political significance, it was declared that "Chosen [the Japanese name of Korea] being an independent state, enjoys the same sovereign rights as Japan," and the Chinese claim of suzerainty was formally ignored. The right of permanent embassy at Seoul and Tokyo was recognized. A promise was made to open two ports to Japanese trade. The consuls of Japan were permitted to reside at the open ports and administer justice to Japanese. The treaty also provided that the "official establishment of Japan " at Sorio, in Fusan, which was originally opened to commercial intercourse by Lord So, and the "practice of Saikensen," should be abolished, and that the Japanese trade at Fusan should be conducted in accordance with treaty regulations. Korea, by her trade regulations with Japan, prohibited the importation of opium, as Japan had done under the advice of Townsend Harris.

China asserted her claim as protector of Korea. In the commercial regulations concluded between the two countries in September, 1882, it was declared that, "Korea having been, from ancient times, a tributary state, the canons of her intercourse in all matters with the government of China are fixed and need not be changed." Yet the United States in 1882, Great Britain and Germany in 1883, and Italy and Russia in 1884, established commercial and diplomatic relations with Korea by treaty, as with an independent state.

For purposes of administrative improvement and military training, numerous Japanese advisers and instructors were employed by the Korean court. Youths were sent to Japan to be educated. The Japanese minister, seconding the efforts of the progressive party, advised the Korean king to grant the request of other nations for treaty relations. These innovations aroused the intense opposition of the conservative or antiforeign party, in which Taiwon-Kun (father of the king), and the Min family (from which the queen came), were the chief figures; and on July 23, 1882, a mob, directed by a "scholar " of the orthodox school, named Pe Lo-kuan, attempted to seize the king and his ministers and frantically attacked the Japanese legation. Mr. Hanabusa, the Japanese minister, escorting the women and children of the legation, made his way with difficulty through the darkness to Chemulpo, whence, escaping by boat, he was taken to Nagasaki by the "Flying Fish," an English man-of-war.

The Japanese government promptly despatched three cruisers, as an escort to Minister Hanabusa, to demand reparation. At the same time, China sent several warships, and sought to arbitrate the difference, in the capacity of protector of Korea. Japan, however, disregarding the pretensions of China, immediately entered into negotiations with the Korean government, and on July 27, 1882, concluded the famous "Convention of Chemulpo." By this convention, the Korean government was to punish the perpetrators of the recent outrage, to pay 550,000 yen as an indemnity, and to send an apology to Japan by a special embassy.

After 1882, the Korean cabinet was once more organized by the progressive or pro-Japanese party and the Japanese troops were stationed at Seoul for the protection of their legation. China lost no time in counterbalancing the Japanese influence; and 3000 Chinese soldiers were stationed at Seoul. These measures caused great anxiety at Tokyo. Steps were gradually taken to check the growth of Chinese influence, and to overthrow the Chinese claim of suzerainty.

In the course of administration, collisions between the progressive and conservative parties (the pro-Japanese and pro-Chinese) at the Korean court became inevitable. The reform policy of the progressive party was so radical that the reaction toward the conservatives brought on, on December 5, 1884, a coup d' etat. The Japanese legation was again attacked by a Korean mob and Chinese soldiers. Thirty Japanese were killed and the legation was burned. Mr. Takezoye, the Japanese charge d'affaires, barely escaped to Chemulpo. Count Inouye was immediately despatched to demand an explanation. The Chinese commissioner at Seoul claimed the right to arbitrate, by virtue of China's suzerainty; but the representatives of Japan, declaring that the matter between Japan and Korea should be settled as between "two sovereign states, without any co-operation of a third power," concluded on January 9, 1885, a convention 2 by which Japan obtained substantially the conditions secured in 1882.

Not only was the Chinese claim of suzerainty thus disregarded, but Count Ito was sent to Tientsin to demand satisfaction from China for the part taken by Chinese soldiers in the attack on the Japanese legation at Seoul, and to provide, by diplomatic arrangement, against future aggressions by the Chinese in Korea. Negotiations between Count Ito and Earl Li were opened at Tientsin on April 3, 1885, but were prolonged upon the question of the equal right of Japan and China to send troops to Korea in the event of a disturbance. Li Hung Chang insisted upon China's special privilege by virtue of her alleged suzerain power, but Count Ito threatened to break off negotiations unless the equal rights of Japan were recognized. Troubled by the English occupation of Port Hamilton and the FrancoChinese complication, the Chinese commissioner finally came to an understanding, and a convention was signed in April, 1885. The contracting parties mutually agreed to withdraw their troops from Korea and not to send any armed force to the peninsula in the future without previously giving notice each to the other. This was a diplomatic triumph for Japan, since she compelled China to recognize her equal right as to armed intereference in Korea and thus again ignored China's claims of suzerainty.

Nevertheless, after the coup d'etat of 1884, the Korean government was organized by the conservative party and Kim-ok-ki and Pok-Eiko sought refuge in Japan. YenShih-kai, the Chinese commissioner, became the most influential figure in Seoul, and the foreigners regarded him as "Mayor of the Palace." In 1888, the Chinese government more openly pressed its claim of suzerainty and tried to interfere with the sending of a Korean minister to the United States. President Cleveland, however, treated the Korean minister as the "representative of an independent state."

In the summer of 1894, the Tonghak rebels rose in the province of Zenra, and, marching toward Seoul, got beyond the control of the government forces. On June 2 the government asked China to despatch troops to suppress the insurrection, whereupon five days later the Chinese government, in accordance with the Tientsin convention of 1884, informed Japan that it had despatched troops to the revolted district, but added: "It is in harmony with our constant practice to protect our tributary states by sending our troops." Viscount Mutsu, who was then minister of foreign affairs, protested against the phrase "tributary states," and declared that the imperial government had "never recognized Korea as a tributary state of China."

Thereupon followed the Sino-Japanse War. The Japanese were successively victorious at the battles of Ansan, Ping-Yang, and the Yellow Sea, and, while they were planning the invasion of Manchuria, China asked the great powers of Europe to intervene for the purpose of compelling Japan to conclude peace. In accordance with the terms of the Peace of Shimonoseki, a new commercial treaty between Japan and China was signed at Peking on July 21, 1896. China recognized Korean independence by the first article of the Shimonoseki treaty. Korea also concluded a treaty of amity and commerce with China on an equal footing on 11 September 1899.

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Page last modified: 12-04-2012 17:50:13 ZULU