Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact


SDHF Newsletter No. 384 The Road to the Greater East Asian War Part 14, Chapter 3 The Russo-Japanese War -7

Nakamura Akira, Dokkyo University Professor Emeritus
(English Translation: Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact)
Part 14, Chapter 3: The Russo-Japanese War-7
During the dozen or so years after the Russo-Japanese War ended, numerous events occurred that ended up transforming not only the Asian, but also the world political situation. They included the Japanese annexation of Korea, the 1911 (Xinhai) revolution in China, Japan’s Twenty-one Demands of China, the struggle for supremacy over the Manchurian Railway, US exclusionist laws against Japanese immigration, the Russian Revolution, the Siberian Intervention, as well as repercussions of the 1st World War. Among these events, only the Japanese annexation of Korea brought some stability to the Far East. The others, without exception, became underlying causes of subsequent crises and conflicts.
In February 1904, in the early days of the Russo-Japanese War, Japan began winning battles. The Korean then made an abrupt shift from a pro-Russian to a pro-Japanese stance, and the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1904 was concluded. According to that pact, (1) Korea would accept advice from Japan about improving the administration of the Korean government, (2) if Korea were endangered, Japan would expropriate such territory as was necessary for military purposes. With this treaty, the traditional Japan-Korea relationship changed, clearly marking the first step toward Korea’s becoming a protectorate.
Tyler Dennett, a prominent American historian believed that the protectorate would bring stability to East Asia.
“The Koreans, in their recent history, and in most of the diplomatic representatives in Washington during the period since the President had been the resident of the city, could not have commended themselves to his respect or admiration. … It appears to have been evident to the President that Korea, long a derelict state, a menace to navigation, must now to be towed into port and secured.”
British Foreign Minister Henry Lansdowne voiced a similar opinion; “It has, however, become evident that Corea, owing to its proximity to the Japanese Empire and inability to stand alone, must fall under the control and tutelage of Japan.”
From these citations, we can see that there was a common understanding worldwide of the Korean problem.
It should be recognized that there were many ordinary Koreans who understood why it was important for Japan to win, and who were kindly disposed toward the Japanese military.
The best known pro-Japanese Korean group, Iljinhoe, was formed in the fall of 1904, with a purported membership of 1 million. Its leader, Yi Yonggu, viewed the war as a critical conflict pitting Japan against Russia, a nation that represented the encroaching Western powers. He believed that a military alliance with Japan would change Korea’s fortunes by halting Russian aggression and helping Asia recover.
Approximately 150,000 Iljinhoe members participated in the construction of the Gyeongui Line (extending from Seoul to Sinujiu) and another 115,000 members were mobilized to transport munitions from northern Korea to Manchuria.
The Japan-Korea Treaty of 1907 enabled Japan to begin modernizing Korea. There was resistance against reforms that were implemented. In 1908, Korean immigrants assassinated Durham Stevens, an advisor to Korean Foreign Office, while he was on furlough in the US. Then, in October of the following year, Ito Hirobumi was assassinated by independence activist An Jung-geun. These events may have hastened the process by which, in August 1910, Korea was annexed by Japan, bringing an end to the Joseon dynasty, which had lingered for more than 500 years.
MOTEKI Hiromichi, Chairman
Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact