Kjemi Coup

From Roses, Tulips, & Liberty
Kjemi Coup
Date5 - 17 June 1883
Result Anti-Tsjosan coalition victory
Commanders and leaders
  • Tedjo the Great

The Kjemi Coup [Hankoel: 계미정변, Handja: 癸未政變] was a Corean coup d'état that overthrew the government of King Hjodjo of Tsjasan and led to the enthronement of King Tedjo, founding the Sjakwang state in 1883. It lasted from the 5th to the 17th of June and provoked a series of changes and social unrest across Corea and East Asia.


The word Kjemi [癸未] comes from the ancient Sinospheric sexagenary cycle. During the 19th century, it was still used commonly in Corea to name events and incidents.

Causes and Background

Corea's Silhak movement

Originating in the late 17th century, the Silhak [실학, lit. practical knowledge] was a philosophical, practical, and reformist movement that was opposed to the Neo-Confucian social order. The Banje Records is considered to be the first Silhak publication. Throughout the centuries, Silhak has remained mainly apolitical, focusing on the reformation of Corean society and public policy instead. Several contrasting political parties have had significant Silhak influence, making this movement one of few that united much of the Corean public against the ills and stagnation of the Neo-Confucian order.

Dutch influence and the Sjinsa Party

The Sjinsa Party [신서파, lit. new Western faction] was a political and intellectual coterie that actively associated themselves with Western ideas and Christian doctrine. They gained notability during the mid 18th century after the Dutch acquired control of Poesjan and especially during the discord that followed the 1754 Japanese succession crisis [徳川継承の危機]. Their most persistent political opposition was the Kongsa Party [공서파, lit. anti-Western faction], their brother faction from the Southerner bloc.

Many viewed them as "conceited aristocrats enthralled with the artifacts of the West, unconcerned for rural folk and addicted to grape wine" (as described by politician Kim Jero). Ultimately, their laudations for the West did expose Corea to entirely different concepts and invited nuanced debates on Corean society and politics. This contributed to the public's dissatisfaction with the Neo-Confucian status quo over the next 130 years.

During the late 1860s and 1870s, the Sjinsa and Kongsa factions would be united by the anti-King Hjodjang opposition through a mutual moral duty to defend Corean Christians from unjust persecution despite their thoughts on the West.

Ascendancy of the Ki family

Always having been a prestigious family, the Hengdjoe Ki clan gained modern prominence when their patriarch, Lord Ki Tsjangdjin, moved the political and economic center of the clan to the capital region in 1858. Lord Ki used his own ability, the family's historical reputation, and the dynamicity of a modernizing Corea to pave the way for their eventual dominance of the country for decades.

The Oelhe Repression

King Hjodjong instituted a series of edicts and policies that came to be known as the Oelhe Repression [Handja: 乙亥壓迫 lit. pressure of the earth pig year]. Following the collapse of Qing hegemony and the rise of a Christian state in southern China, the Neo-Confucian ruling class became au courant with Corea's position as Little China, allowing for the passage of several anti-Western and anti-Silhak laws in rapid succession. Many Coreans reacted harshly to these restrictions, with many different intellectual and political factions banding together under the leadership of several public figures like Lord Ki, Yoen Oengnjal, Pak Kjoesoe, and others.

Oeitongbang Incident of 1881

In 1881, the Mayor of Iksan began forcibly shutting down schools and selectively enslaving pro-Silhak peasants who failed to meet the tax deadline. Lord Ki Tsjangdjin of the Hengdjoe Ki clan gathered 83 scholars from all over the country in front of Kjangbak Palace to submit a petition to the King with the following requests;

  1. To end the persecutions of the Silhak movements and Corean Christians
  2. To abolish the institution of slavery
  3. To reannex the city of Poesjan from the Dutch, in addition to expelling the Dutch consul
  4. To permit the education of women in womens' universities
  5. To readdress the tax system and reform penalties for failing to pay tax

Lord Ki's son, Military Governor Ripbam of Kesang (the future King Tedjo), dispatched a contingent of 225 soldiers to the capital of Hansjang to support the petition of the scholars. The Tsjasan government responded with deploying 500 soldiers and royal guards to defend the capitol district of Hansangboe. This resulted in the Oeitongbang Incident [의통방사건].

The Incident lasted around 36 hours. A documented 21 people died and 13 buildings were set ablaze, causing the destruction of several important records and books. Several residences were looted, leading to the disappearance of many precious items such as celadon, chests of gold bars, ancestral tablets, and paintings. Foreign dignitaries from the Qing dynasty, Russia, Genoa, and other countries fled Hansjang. Exoduses of Corean Christians, corrupt officials, and educators also occurred. Public frustration was merely raised due to the death of Lord Ki Tsjangdjin, who passed away due to a heart attack during the Incident. During his funeral, a mob of pro-Tsjasan bandits stormed the funeral procession, allegedly at the request of the Left State Councillor.

Guerrilla activity continued throughout Kjanggi province - in fact, most of Corea - for the next two years. Hansjang remained under martial law for the majority of this time, with many other Corean cities and ports having to institute measures to preserve food supplies and improve defensive apparatuses in their respective provinces.

Events of the Coup

On the 5th of June, 1883, the Coup began in the Insa Locale. Rebels assassinated four Tsjosan officials within an hour.

Military Governor Ki (with 500 soldiers) and several other resistance leaders arrived in Hansjang on the 6th, fighting government forces. A Dutch Reformed church in Jongsan District was set ablaze that night, leading to an extremely destructive conflagration that destroyed much of Hansjang and caused the forced evacuation of 10,000 people.

Eventually, on the 17th of June - twelve days since the Coup began and with over 1,000 casualties - Governor Ki's forces imprisoned the King and executed the Left and Chief State Councillors.


Ascension of the new King

A week after the coup, Ki Ripbam was a leading candidate for the new King. He was challenged by candidates from the Andong Kim, Soenhoeng Ahn, and other clans. Using his connections, he hired mercenaries from Tauland and allied with several key families in return for discreet favours.

Eleven days before Tsjusak, Ki Ripbam decisively declared himself King of Corea, the formation of the House of Ki, and the establishment of the state of Sjakwang. 326 people were exiled, 64 sentenced to death, and 1,102 pardoned on the day of the declaration. Ripbam declared himself King Tedjo and began his coronation on the 26th of October, the same day as King Yangdjo's. Shortly before his coronation, King Tedjo divorced his estranged wife Lady Pak Mjanghwa and took on two consorts the next day.

Resistance to the new regime

The Ki clan and their allies commit acts of violence across the nation in response to resistance, at one time even executing the wife and children of an ultraconservative governor. Nakatomi Hidehasa, a Japanese accountant and translator in Corea at the time, described the Ki clan's atrocities as 'tragedy framed by justice' and 'the novel Jansangun dreamed of writing'.

Shift in Corean policy