Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact


SDHF Newsletter No.369 THE ROAD TO THE GREATER EAST ASIAN WAR Part 7: Chapter 2: The 1st Sino-Japanese War

Nakamura Akira, Dokkyo University Professor Emeritus
(English Translation: Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact)

Part 7: Chapter 2: The 1st Sino-Japanese War-4

Korean domestic reforms proposed by Japan (the Gabo Reforms) were undertaken during the 1st Sino-Japanese War. The 208 reforms decided upon represented Korea’s first attempt at modernization; they included the following:

1. The Chinese calendar was replaced with a Korean calendar that begins in 1392, the year the Joseon dynasty was established
2. Hiring was to be done without regard to social class or lineage
3. Slave trade was banned
4. Common people could now express their opinions to the Deliberative Council; those with significant talent could be hired as government officials
5. Arrest and punishment unsupported by judicial authority were prohibited
6. Torture was prohibited

However, internecine strife in Korea presented a serious obstacle to the reforms. The conflict between the progressives and the conservatives continued to worsen, and ultimately became one between the pro-Japanese and pro-Russian factions.

On June 4 Japan’s Diet passed a resolution concerning Korea policy. Japan would, in the future, avoid interfering in Korean affairs, and allow Korea to achieve autonomy on its own. This would be the best opportunity for Korea to realize true independence and become a modern nation. However,

this policy change was interpreted by Queen Min as a manifestation of Japan’s fear of Russia. She began to attempt to rein Japan in through pro-Russian policies, and to acquire more strength for her faction.

Russia took full advantage of the discord between the progressives and conservatives. Russian Ambassador Weber made overtures to Queen Min and her followers, boasting about Russia’s might.

“Bury the queen!” became the war cry not only of Japanese idealists in Korea, but also of Korean politicians who opposed the queen’s faction. On October 7, 1895 the Korean government announced that the Military Training Division would be disbanded and its weapons confiscated. Early the next morning, the Military Training Division and Japanese and Korean partisans, under orders from Japanese Ambassador Miura Gorō, who had pledged to do away with Queen Min, entered the palace with the Daewongun. During this incident Queen Ming was killed.

Afterwards Kim Hong-jip formed a new pro-Japanese cabinet, and once again began implementing reforms. But some of them, e.g., the Short Hair Act, alienated the Korean people, and in 1896 uprisings cropped up all over the nation. Russian Ambassador Weber took advantage of that situation by bringing 100 Russian sailors into Korea supposedly to protect the Russian legation. Conspiring with pro-Russian Koreans, Weber kidnapped the king on February 11 and escorted him to the Russian legation. The king’s sojourn there is referred to as Gojong’s internal exile. It meant that Korean policy was drafted at the Russian legation, an extraordinary circumstance.

But high-pressure Russian diplomatic tactics backfired when they incurred the enmity of the Korean people. On March 23, 1898, Russian military and financial advisors departed from Korea. The Russians shifted their focus to a new target – a southward advance to Manchuria. On March 27, only four days after its military and financial advisers left Korea, Russia leased Port Arthur and Dalian from China.


MOTEKI Hiromichi, Chairman
Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact