History of Corea

From Roses, Tulips, & Liberty

The Obstinacy: 1623–1670

Reigns of Indjo and Sangdjong
Monarch(s)Indjo (1623–1649)
Hjodong (1649–1662)
Hjôndjong (1662–1670)

The Obstinacy (Corean: 조선 완고, Djosôn Wango) was a brief period of Corean history starting with the 1623 Restoration of Indjo and ending with the death–overthrow of his grandson Hjôndjong. It was defined by the social and political domination of Ming loyalists, acute political factionalism, the expansion of the state, as well as the resurgence of the Corean military for the first time since the Imdjin Wars.

Indjo's reign

In 1623, King Indjo dethroned Prince Gwanghê with the help of the Westerner Party (西人, Sô-in). Upon his ascension, deemed a "restoration" (反正, banjông), he broke his predecessor's policy of neutrality and declared Corea a pro-Ming and anti-Qing state. In passive opposition, the Northern Party (北人, Boek-in)'s influence in the country waned, though their most unblemished members still retained high government positions. This coup subsequently invited Manchu invasions in 1627 and 1636, resulting in forced Corean conformation to the Qing's new order. Several members of the royal family, including Indjo's sons Crown Prince Sohjôn and Grand Prince Bongrim, were taken as hostage by the Qing in Mukden (the modern Corean city of Sjimjang). Additionally, around half a million Coreans were forcibly relocated to Manchuria.

During Indjo's tenure as king, the Westerners and the Northerners encouraged state control of industry, the revamping of the military, and the passing of the Uniform Land Tax Law (大同法, Dêdongbôb), which was a regressive tax system targeting the peasantry. The Westerner–Northerner policies experienced massive pushback in Corea's southwestern provinces, where the Southerner Party (南人, Nam-in) continued to dominate. In 1631, a Portuguese Jesuit by the name of João Rodrigues gifted a number of Western items, including a firearm, to King Indjo — this otherwise minor event is often characterized as the birth of the Sahak (西學, sôhag, 'Western Learning') movement in the Corean peninsula.

Djo Djioen (조지운; fl. 1600s) was a notable painter of the Djosôn era who was particularly adored for his paintings of cats, birds, and plum blossoms.

In 1645, Crown Prince Sohjôn and many other hostages were returned to Corea. The Crown Prince, a pro-Qing figure, posed a threat to the continuation of Indjo's policies and ideology. Though the exact details of his death are unknown, it is widely supposed that the Crown Prince was murdered by his father in order to make way for the similarly-minded Grand Prince Bongrim to inherit the throne. Soon after, the late Prince's wife Crown Princess Minheu was accused of treason and sentenced to death. The Crown Prince was survived by his son Prince Gjôngan, who possessed a legitimate blood claim to the throne. On 6 February 1649, King Indjo died after years of unsuccessful medical treatment. He was naturally succeeded by his son Prince Bongrim, who became King Hjodjong.

Hjodong and Hjôndjong

Deeply concerned due to the rise of wêgoe (倭寇, 'dwarf pirates') and the consistent growth of Koxinga's Zeng organization, the government of King Hjodong dispatched an emissary to Beiging in 1656 with the purpose of establishing an anti-warlord coalition with the Qing dynasty and colonial Tauland. Two years later, flotillas under the authority of the Djosôn Navy aided Qing forces in the 1658 Battle of Namging, ultimately defeating the Ming loyalist pirate Koxinga and ridding large swathes of the East China Sea of illegal pirate activity.

In 1662, a negotiation between Dutch authorities and the Corean government allowed sailor Hendrick Hamel to leave Corea for Tauland after seven years of captivity. Reputedly, he brought to Tauland a Corean wife and a number of Corean colonists who eventually settled on the outskirts of the modern day city of New Hague. This group is widely considered the first major population of Corean immigrants on the island, though their exact numbers and the historical significance of the event are disputed by scholars. The king's life was cut short in January of the same year when he died of hypovolemic shock brought on by infection. Naturally, his eldest surviving son Crown Prince Ie Jôn supplanted him, taking on the regnal name Hjôndjong.

In 1668, the central government under King Hjôndjong introduced copper coinage to facilitate commercial exchange across the country. From this point on, regional economies within Corea began to consolidate into an integrated market area. By the end of the decade, Corean merchants met their Japanese counterparts four times a month and their Taulander counterparts on average one or twice a month. Few months before his death, the King issued the Pine Policy, protecting numerous forests of Corean red pine as a matter of economic security and prestige. Wood was continuously imported from the island of Tauland in order to satisfy domestic demand for timber and fuel.

Gim Oe-mjông (1619–1670) is often caricatured as an embodiment of political incompetence and nepotism in the mid-Djosôn period.

Political chaos and the Gjôngsoel Putsch

Increased factionalism gradually led to violence in the capital. The Sambok (三福) — three minor grandsons of King Indjo — were increasingly seen as a political threat to the succession of Crown Prince Ie Bo, the eight-year-old heir apparent. Amidst this tension, the ostracized Prince Gjôngan returned to the capital, aiming to capitalize on the chaos plaguing the nation. The Southerner Party, particularly politicians Joen Hjoe and Hô Mok, supported the Sambok against accusations of treasons made by the Westerner Party. They particularly feuded with Gim Oe-mjông, the father-in-law of the King and son of famous scholar Gim Joek. It is in this disorder that the exiled Prince forged a diverse coalition of Southerners, members of the Westerner Mountain faction, non-partisan officials, as well as several soldiers, promising to restore Corean neutrality, reform taxation, and correct the immorality of the ruling government.

The King, experiencing severe eye disease and abscess compounded with immense stress, passed away suddenly in May 1670, triggering the struggle for the throne. In mid-June, the Prince's coalition successfully detained Queen Mjôngsông (명성왕후), the wife of the deceased King and daughter of Gim Oe-mjông. Shortly after, the deposed Queen and her father both committed suicide within days of each other. Meanwhile the Sambok, with the exception of Prince Bokpjông (福平君), fell in line. On 28 June, the Regent for Crown Prince Ie Bo was executed and Prince Gjôngan, at the age of twenty-six, was crowned monarch with the regnal name of Soendjo (순조, 純祖).

1671 to 1766

Moendjo's reign

Reign of King Moendjo

King Moendjo was the longest reigning monarch of the Tsjasjan dynasty, ruling from 1766 to 1817 for a total of 51 years. He is often compared to the Gwangzi Emperor of the 18th-century Qing due to his longevity, reforms, and administrative prowess.

Djosôn in decline: 1817–1883

Sôgwang dynasty

Sôgwang dynasty
Monarch(s)Têdjo (1883–1921)
Hjodjo (1921–1936)

The Sôgwang dynasty (Corean: 서광, 曙光) was a short-lived Corean state that lasted for fifty-three years, ruled by the Hengdjoe Ki clan. It was characterized by aggressive military expansion spearheaded by the Royal Corean Army, the introduction of constitutional monarchy, industrialization, and the rise of a Neronian ideology known domestically as Kinsfolk Thought (혈족념, Hyôldjoknjôm).

The Third Northern Expedition

In 1886, the new monarch Têdjo announced the Third Northern Expedition (삼北伐, Samboekbôl) into the northern Qing dynasty. China had recently been devastated by the Canton War, which partitioned the country in two. The term 'Northern Expedition' references two previous failed Corean military incursions into China, namely those that happened under monarchs Indjo and Hûidjong. In European and American historiography, the conflict is most commonly referred to as the Sino-Corean War of 1886–1888.

Supported by the Russian and Dutch empires, the renewed Corean army invaded the region then commonly known as Manchuria. Corean emigration to the region from the early 19th century onwards provided invading forces with a civilian population to rely on for support, greatly increasing their odds of victory. Over the next two years, the Corean and Russian militaries would gradually consolidate their occupation of vast swathes of Manchuria, causing many Hwa Chinese residents to flee south and overseas.

Early 1888 saw the signing of the Bukwey Treaty, which forced the Qing dynasty to cede territory up to the Lwan River, a body of water which had previously ran through the Viceroyalty of Zili. Most of the territory captured by Corea was soon reorganized into the Kingdom of Poeja (부여국, Boejô Goeg), a semi-autonomous state ultimately under the control of the Sôgwang dynasty. The term Poeja (or Boejô in Revised Keukenkamp) derives from the name of an ancient Corean tribal kingdom located within the boundaries of the modern state.

Fall of the Ki: the Russo-Corean War

In May 1931, the Ye dynasty of southern China was overthrown by the National Reformation Party (Chinese: 華改會, Hwagaihwei), a national republican political organization. Threatened by the appearance of a powerful anti-monarchical republic close-by, the Corean government decided to pre-emptively launch a military expedition into the waning Qing dynasty in order to establish a buffer state. By October of that year, the Qing capital of Beiging fell to Corean forces, with the puppet state of Haboek (하북; from Chinese 河北, 'River North') being officially declared not long after. This event is also sometimes known as the Fourth Northern Expedition (사北伐, Sa-boekbôl).

January of 1932 saw the Russian National Republic declare war on Corea and its associated states. Air raids devastated the northern city of Sjimjang, while the Imperial Japanese Navy assisted their Russian allies by blockading the Dutch naval ports of Desjima and Poesjan. The Netherlands, wary of its declining influence in eastern Asia and the precarious state of its ally Corea, relied on an old military agreement they established with the now-sovereign nation of Tauland in 1895 in order to station Dutch forces on the island.

In order to further denigrate Corea's position, Russia began talks with the Chinese Republic, who would enter the war soon after. After the Great War erupted in Europe in May 1935, Russia entered an alliance with Great Britain. This caused the Netherlands to spontaneously exit the war, leaving Corea to fend for itself. Despite a secret meeting between French and Corean diplomats in September, the country was left with no allied military support. The Poejan city of Kirim was captured in November, while the Russian Navy occupied Poesjan.

In April 1936, the Corean state surrendered to the Chinese–Russian–Japanese coalition forces with the Treaty of Hansjang. Haboek was given to the Chinese Republic, Poeja to Russia, and Tema Island to Japan. King Hjodjo, along with the majority of the royal family, subsequently sought refuge in the monarchy of Viet Nam in southeast Asia.

National republican era: 1936–

After the abolition of the Sjakwang dynasty, the ideology of national republicanism became dominant in Corea. Several political parties and associations - many of them formerly persecuted by the imperial government - coalesced to form a republican administration with Russian support in the mid-1930s.

Reforms of 1939

The new capital

As part of the early national republican policies, the capital of the country was moved to Pjangjang, which was renamed Rjoekjang (류경, lit. capital of willow trees). This decision was seen as the eventual fulfilment of the wishes of the Mjoetsjang uprising that occurred 900 years prior.

See also