In the early hours of the morning of November 30, 1905, Min Yŏnghwan (閔泳煥, 1861–1905), after a failed protest against the conclusion of the 1905 Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty (Ŭlsa Poho Choyak; 乙巳保護條約), which had been forced on the Korean cabinet at gunpoint by Itō Hirobumi (伊藤博文, 1841–1909), Hayashi Gonsuke (林権助, 1860–1939), and a detachment of Japanese gendarmes (J.
Concerning Min’s funeral procession, which departed from Seoul on December 17, 1905, Henry Cockburn (1859–1929) the British chargé d’affaires wrote appreciatively,
Another Western commentator, however,
On October 26, 1909, less than four years after Min’s suicide, at Harbin station in Manchuria, An Chunggŭn (安重根, 1879–1910) assassinated Itō Hirobumi, who had held the position of resident-general (J.
1This article is an extended and revised version of a paper presented at the 2012 annual conference of the Association of Asian Studies. The author would like to acknowledge the helpful comments of the journal’s peer reviewers in revising the article for publication. 2Michael Finch, Min Yŏng-hwan: A Political Biography (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2002), p. 171. For a detailed examination of the illegal nature of the treaty, see Yi T’aejin ed., Ilbon ŭi Taehan Cheguk kangjŏm: “Poho choyak” esŏ “pyŏnghap choyak” kkaji (Seoul: Kkach’i, 1995). Other names by which this treaty is known in Korean historiography include Ŭlsa Choyak (乙巳條約; 1905 Treaty), Ŭlsa Nŭgyak (乙巳勒約; Forced Treaty of 1905) and Ŭlsa Oyak (乙巳五約; 1905 Treaty of the Five [Robbers]). The last term is a reference to the five members of the Korean cabinet who signed the treaty under duress, namely, Yi Wanyong (乙巳條約, 1856–1926), Yi Kŭnt’aek (李根澤, 1865–1919), Yi Chiyong (李址鎔, 1870–1928), Pak Chesun (朴齊純, 1858–1916), and Kwŏn Chunghyŏn (權重顯, 1854–1934), who are also known as “the five ‘robbers’ of 1905” (Ŭlsa ojŏk; 乙巳五賊). 3Michael Finch, “German Diplomatic Documents on the 1905 Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty,” Korean Studies, vol. 20 (1996): p. 59. 4FO 371/179, Cockburn to Lansdowne, December 1, 1905. 5FO 371/179 Cockburn to Lansdowne, December 28, 1905. Henry Cockburn eventually became the British consul-general in Seoul but resigned his position in 1908 due to his disagreement with his superiors in the Foreign Office over the imprisonment and torture of Yang Kit’ak (梁起鐸, 1871–1938), the subeditor of the Korea Daily News (Taehan maeil sinbo), by the Japanese authorities in Seoul. See Patrick Cockburn, “Henry’s war: one man’s fight against rendition,” The Independent, 6 December, 2007. 6Frank Brinkley, “Japan and Korea,” The Times (London), December 5, 1905, p. 5, col. d. Originally an officer in the British Royal Artillery, Brinkley became a foreign adviser (J. yatoi) to the Imperial Japanese Navy, married a Japanese woman Tanaka Yasuko and from 1881 became the owner-editor of the Japan Weekly Mail, which received financial support from the Japanese government. He was, therefore, well known as an influential apologist for Japanese actions in East Asia until his death in 1912. See James E. Hoare, “Captain Francis Brinkley (1841–1912): Yatoi, Scholar and Apologist,” in James E. Hoare ed. Britain & Japan: Biographical Portraits, vol. III (London: Japan Library, 1999), pp. 99–107. 7William Underwood and Hankyoreh, “Recent Developments in Korean-Japanese Historical Reconciliation,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 17-3-10, April 26, 2010. Accessed February 10, 2012.
On a personal level Min Yŏnghwan experienced a brilliant political career rising through the ranks of the late Chosŏn administration and being selected for the important diplomatic functions of representing his country as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary (
An’s assassination of Itō was, of course, also in some sense an act of suicide as he made no attempt to escape the consequences of his deed apart from arguing that he be treated as a prisoner of war rather than as a common criminal. Having converted to Roman Catholicism at the age of sixteen, An was perhaps an unlikely candidate for an assassin, with one of the fundamental tenets of Christian teaching being to love one’s enemy. In response to the conclusion of the 1905 Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty, however, An had joined an armed resistance group based in Manchuria, and with the failure of such groups to make any significant impression on the Japanese armed forces in Korea, he decided to assassinate one of the most internationally prominent Meiji Japanese leaders, Itō Hirobumi, whom he saw as being primarily responsible for Japan’s imperialistic policy towards Korea.9 The “justice” of his act, however, although widely recognized inside China and Korea,10 incurred the following words of dis-approbation from the
Min and An were united in their opposition to Japan’s attempts to gain control of Korea but were different in almost every other way. Min was born in Seoul and was a member of one of its most influential
8Concerning the motivation for Min’s suicide in protest against the protectorate treaty, see Finch, Min Yŏnghwan: A Political Biography, pp. 172–175. 9In his trial defense An Chunggŭn listed fifteen crimes that he believed Itō Hirobumi had been involved in—including the assassinations of Empress Myŏngsŏng of Korea and Emperor Kōmei of Japan—that provided the justification for his assassination. See Kang Chunman, Han’guk kŭndaesa sanch’aek (A walk through modern Korean history), vol. 5 (Seoul: Inmul kwa sasangsa, 2007), pp. 131–132. The status of Itō in the West, on the other hand, can be seen from the fact that he was frequently referred to as the “Bismarck of Japan;” see, for example, the report of Itō’s death in The Outlook, November 6, 1909, pp. 517–518. 10For the jubilant reaction of some Koreans to the news of Itō’s assassination, for example, see Hwang Hyŏn, Maech’ŏn yarok (梅泉野錄) (Seoul: Kuksa p’yŏnch’an wiwŏnhoe, 1955), p. 262. 11F. A. McKenzie, Korea’s Fight for Freedom (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1920; reprint, Seoul: Yonsei University Press, 1975), pp. 173–174. In this passage McKenzie is referring not only to An’s assassination of Itō in Harbin in 1909 but also to the assassination of the American adviser to the Korean government during the Japanese protectorate era Durham White Stevens (1851–1908) by Chang Inhwan (張仁煥, 1875–1930) and Chŏn Myŏngun (田明雲, 1884–1947) in San Francisco in 1908. 12Min Yŏnghwan became closely related to Queen Min when his paternal uncle Min Sŭngho became the adopted son of Queen Min’s father, Min Ch’irok (1799–1858). The mother of King Kojong was the younger sister of Min’s father, Min Kyŏmho (1839–1882). For full details of Min’s family background and family tree, see Finch, Min Yŏnghwan: A Political Biography, pp. 23–24 and 183. 13Although Min Yŏnghwan was officially posted to Russia and the United Kingdom in 1897, he abandoned his position as Chosŏn’s representative in Europe in July of that year after the conclusion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and traveled to the United States where he remained until he finally received a pardon for acting contrary to his official orders from Emperor Kojong in May 1898. He arrived back in Seoul on September 14 of the same year. See Finch, Min Yŏnghwan: A Political Biography, pp. 155–156. 14For evidence of Min’s sympathetic attitude towards Christianity, see Finch, Min Yŏnghwan: A Political Biography, p. 132. 15For a succinct but informative account of An’s conversion to Roman Catholicism and a convincing explanation of why he decided to turn away from the path of promoting Roman Catholic higher education in Korea, which had brought him into conflict with Bishop Gustave-Charles-Marie Mutel (1854–1933), and engage in the armed struggle against the Japanese that broke out in the wake of the 1905 Japan-Korea Treaty of Protection, see Franklin Rausch, “Saving Knowledge: Catholic Educational Policy in the Late Chosŏn Dynasty,” Acta Koreana, vol. 11, no. 3, (2008): pp. 69–76.
Min, on the other hand, spent his entire diplomatic career seeking the support of the West, particularly Russia, the United States, and Great Britain, for Korean independence. In none of his writings does he call for the racial solidarity of the East Asian nations to counteract the imperialistic encroachment of the Western powers in the region. The following example of his positive assessment of a Western power and its people can be found in the account of his visit to London in 1897 to attend the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria:
It is in fact Min’s relatively positive view of the West that clearly distinguishes him from such contemporaries as An Chunggŭn and the prolific Korean diarist Yun Ch’iho (尹致昊, 1864–1945), who, although having been educated in the United States at Vanderbilt University and Emory University after converting to Protestant Christianity (Methodism) in Korea, was nevertheless deeply resentful of the Western powers and their actions in East Asia. Yun Ch’iho’s attitude towards the West shares many of the traits of An Chunggŭn’s view as expressed in a
As with An, Yun’s resentment was directed not only at Russia but also at other Western powers such as Great Britain and the United States, as is shown in the following diary entry written around the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941:
One of the key points of commonality that can be found between An and Min, however, is their mutual mistrust of Russia. Although Min is sometimes mistakenly associated with the pro-Russian group in Korea because of his role in the 1896 legation to Tsar Nicholas II’s coronation in Moscow and his subsequent negotiations with the Russian foreign minister Alekseii B. Lobonov-Rostovsky (1824–1896) and other officials in St. Petersburg, it should be noted that in his c. 1894 essay,
This view of Russia as the major regional threat in East Asia is also expressed in An’s
This negative assessment of Russia by both Min and An can also be traced back to the much earlier work,
Huang’s solution to Chosŏn’s predicament was for it to make an alliance with the United States in order to protect itself against “Russian annexation, and against the intimidation of England, France, Germany, and Italy.”23 Although, like Huang but unlike An, Min also appears to have held a positive opinion of the United States, he never expressed any negativity towards the European nations in his writings, and the main purpose of his visit to London in 1897 to attend Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee was to attempt to gain British support for Korean independence.24
An, however, followed the lead of Huang in excoriating all the European nations in
It should be noted, however, that despite his mistrust of Japanese intentions, Min Yŏnghwan was not blind to the achievements of the Japanese, and in his 1896 work,
Surprisingly, perhaps, An Chunggŭn, as well as excoriating the Western nations, also condemned the indigenous Tonghak Uprising in
An Chungŭn appears to have been in the same tradition as the
This stance towards Japan was very different from that of Min, who from as early as 1894 was convinced that Japanese intentions towards Korea were far from benevolent.32 In his final posthumous messages (K.
In the light of the conclusion of the Second Anglo-Japanese Alliance on August 12, 1905 which unlike its predecessor concluded on January 30, 1902 made no mention of Korean independence, and the confidential Taft-Katsura Memorandum of Agreement concluded on July 29, 1905 between Japan and the United States—in which the two countries pledged not to intervene in each other’s respective spheres of influence, namely, the Korean Peninsula and the Philippines—Min’s appeal to the Western powers might be considered to have been naïve. Nevertheless, as it was eventually the Allies—including the Soviet Union—that defeated Japan in the Pacific War and in so doing liberated Korea from Japanese colonial rule thirty-five years after it had become a Japanese colony, Min appears to have had a clearer understanding of the international realities facing Korea in the twentieth century than An, who although a convert to a religion that came to Korea from the West, had never travelled beyond the Northeast Asian region and appears to have been seduced by Japanese Social-Darwinist rhetoric concerning a racial war for survival between the East and the West.34 Also, by assassinating Itō—who ironically was the foremost Japanese statesman to have had misgivings about the Japanese policy of annexation of Korea—An inadvertently further alienated Western public opinion concerning Korea and provided Japan with one more pretext to move from a protectorate to incorporating Korea into the Japanese Empire by means of the Japan-Korea Treaty of Annexation concluded on August 22, 1910.35
16An Chunggŭn, Franklin Rausch and Jieun Han trans., “An Chunggŭn’s A Treatise on Peace in the East,” p. 3–4. http://www.utoronto.ca/csk/A_Treatise_on_Peace_in_the_East.pdf. Accessed January 12, 2012. 17Michael Finch, Min Yŏnghwan: The Selected Writings of a Late Chosŏn Diplomat (Berkeley: IEAS, UC Berkeley, 2008), pp. 253. For the original text, see Min Yŏnghwan, Min Ch’ungjonggong yugo (Seoul: Kuksa p’yŏnch’an wiwŏnhoe, 1971), p. 164. 18Yun Ch’iho, Yun Ch’iho Ilgi (Diary of Yun Ch’i-ho), vol. VI, (Seoul: Kuksa p’yŏnch’an wiwŏnhoe, 1973–1989), p, 143 (September 7, 1905). 19Yun Ch’iho, Ilgi, vol. XI, p. 407 (December 8, 1941). One of the main reasons for Yun Ch’iho’s antipathy towards the West was the racial discrimination that he had experienced personally as a student in the United States. For an in-depth discussion of his complex attitudes towards the West, see Young Ick Lew et al., Korean Perceptions of the United States: A History of Their Origins and Formation, (Seoul: Jimoondang, 2006), pp. 31–37 and pp. 157–163. For a nuanced account of Yun’s attitude towards Japanese rule during the colonial period, see Lee Sang-Hoon, “Nomadism and the Discovery of the Nation,” The Review of Korean Studies, vol. 13, no. 3 (September 2010): pp. 51–64. The most extensive study on Yun Ch’iho in English to date is Koen De Ceuster, “Modernization to Collaboration, the Dilemma of Cultural Nationalism: the case of Yun Ch’i-ho [1865–1945]” (PhD diss., Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 1994). 20Finch, Min Yŏnghwan: The Selected Writings of a Late Chosŏn Diplomat, pp. 26–27. For the original text, see Min Ch’ungjonggong yugo, p. 45. On a visit to view the statue of Peter the Great by the River Neva in St. Petersburg on June 10, 1896, however, Min gave a more positive assessment of the Russian tsar’s achievements, concluding his account, “Out of respect and admiration his countrymen made this statue as a memorial and named this capital St. Petersburg after him. It was a glorious era.” Finch, Min Yŏnghwan: The Selected Writings of a Late Chosŏn Diplomat, pp. 106–107. For the original text, see Min Ch’ungjonggong yugo, p. 94. 21“An Chunggŭn’s A Treatise on Peace in the East,” p. 2. 22Huang Zunxian, “The True Policy for Corea: a Private Memorandum by Huang Tsun-hsien [Huang Zunxian], Secretary of the Chinese Legation in Japan” in Park Il-Keun ed., Anglo-American Diplomatic Materials Relating to Korea: 1866–1886 (Seoul: Shinmundang, 1982), p. 105. The original Chinese text of this document and an annotated Korean translation of it may be found in Huang Zunxian (K. Hwang Chunhŏn), Chaoxian celüe (K. Chosŏn ch’aengnyak), Cho Ilmun trans. (Seoul: Kŏn’guk Taehakkyo ch’ulp’anbu), 1977, pp. 109–120 and pp. 9–38. It should be mentioned, however, that some contemporary scholars consider this “Russian threat” to have been a myth created as “a pretext for Great Britain and Japan to carry out their aggressive policy in East Asia.” See M. N. Pak with Wayne Patterson, “Russian Policy toward Korea before and during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95,” Journal of Korean Studies 5 (1984): p. 110. 23Huang, “The True Policy for Corea” in Park ed., Anglo-American Diplomatic Materials, p. 111. 24As circumstantial evidence that Min’s participation in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and meetings with the foreign secretary Lord Salisbury may have had some positive effect, two days after Min’s departure from London in July 1897, the British undersecretary for foreign affairs, George Curzon, gave a speech in Parliament confirming that the British government would support Korean independence. Parliamentary Debates, 4th ser., vol. 51 (1897), pp. 437–438; Times (London), 20 July 1897, p. 6, col. f. Although supporting the independence of Korea appears to have remained official British policy until the conclusion of the Second Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1905, Isabella Bird Bishop wrote as early as 1898 that “England, for reasons which may be guessed at, has withdrawn from any active participation in her [Korean] affairs; the other European Powers have no interests to guard in that quarter; and her integrity and independence are at the mercy of the most patient and the most ambitious of Empires [i.e. Japan and Russia], whose interests in the Far East are conflicting, if not hostile.” Isabella Bird Bishop, Korea and Her Neighbours: A Narrative of Travel, with an Account of the Recent Vicissitudes and Present Position of the Country, 2 vols. (London: John Murray, 1898. Reprint, Seoul: Yonsei University Press, 1970), pp. 458–459. 25“An Chunggŭn’s A Treatise on Peace in the East,” p. 2. As one of the anonymous readers for this article pointed out, An appears to have either forgotten, deliberately neglected to mention, or been unaware of the Mongol expansion into eastern and central Europe in the thirteenth century. He also fails to mention the numerous invasions of the Korean Peninsula by two nations belonging to “the people of the East,” namely, China and Japan. 26Huang, “The True Policy for Corea” in Park ed., Anglo-American Diplomatic Materials, p. 105. 27Finch, Min Yŏnghwan: The Selected Writings, p. 28. For the original text, see Min Ch’ungjŏnggong yugo, p. 46. 28Finch, Min Yŏnghwan: The Selected Writings, p. 76. For the original text, see Min Ch’ungjonggong yugo, p. 76. 29“An Chunggŭn’s A Treatise on Peace in the East,” p. 7. The main reason for An’s antipathy towards those who participated in the Tonghak Uprising was most probably the fact that his own family had suffered as a consequence of the uprising, see Rausch, “Saving Knowledge,” pp. 74. 30Finch, Min Yŏnghwan: The Selected Writings, pp. 31, 34. For the original text, see Min Ch’ungjonggong yugo, pp. 48–50. 31“An Chunggŭn’s A Treatise on Peace in the East,” p. 17. 32For a discussion of the internal evidence in One Policy in One Thousand (Ch’ŏnilch’aek) indicating that it was written just before the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1894, see Finch, Min Yŏnghwan: A Political Biography, pp. 39–42. 33Finch, Min Yŏnghwan: The Selected Writings, pp. 271–272. For the original text, see Min Ch’ungjonggong yugo, pp. 198–199. 34For a thorough study of the influence of Social Darwinism on Korean intellectuals in this period, see Vladimir Tikhonov, Social Darwinism and Nationalism in Korea: The Beginnings (1880s–1910s), “Survival” as an Ideology of Korean Modernity (Leiden: Brill, 2010). It should also be noted that ideas of an impending racial war between the peoples of the East and the West were fairly common in Europe and the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. See for example, Hermann Knackfuß’s painting, Völker Europas wahrt eure heiligsten Güter (Peoples of Europe, guard your dearest goods), commissioned by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1895, and Greenbury G. Rupert, The Yellow Peril, or the Orient vs. the Occident as viewed by modern statesmen and ancient prophets, Oklahoma City: Union Publishing Company, 1911. 35For a discussion of Itō Hirobumi’s “lack of ‘racist’ contempt” for Koreans and ambivalent attitude towards annexation, see Peter Duus, The Abacus and the Sword: The Japanese Penetration of Korea, 1895–1910 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), pp. 198–199 and 235–237.
In the minds of contemporary Koreans it appears to be An Chunggŭn rather than Min Yŏnghwan who stands out as the preeminent patriotic martyr of the early twentieth century, and he is honored with a substantial memorial hall, the An Chunggŭn Ŭisa Kinyŏmgwan, in Namsan Park in Seoul and an elaborate and up-to-date website set up by the An Chunggŭn Ŭisa Sungmohoe (The Patriotic Martyr An Chunggŭn Admiration Association).36 The centennial of An’s assassination of Itō Hirobumi in 2009 was even commemorated by a major musical,
As the memory of regional conflicts dating back to the late nineteenth and twentieth century and even earlier continue to hinder the development of peaceful and amicable diplomatic relations between Korea, China, Japan and Russia, it is to be hoped that contemporary Koreans and everyone with an interest in the Northeast Asian region will continue to reflect back on the lives and times of these two individuals and be motivated to make greater efforts to contribute towards securing a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and its surrounding region.
36See http://www.patriot.or.kr/index.php. 37The musical was first performed at the LG Arts Center in Seoul at a cost of 5 billion wŏn on October 26, 2009, the 100th anniversary of An’s assassination of Itō. It was produced by Acom International and directed by Yun Hojin, the director of the musical The Last Empress (Myujik’ŏl Myŏngsŏng hwanghu, 1995). The author of the libretti for both Hero: The Musical and The Last Empress is the well-known Korean novelist Yi Munyŏl, who has also recently published a two-volume novel based on An Chunggŭn’s life titled, Pulmyŏl (Immortality), Seoul: Minŭmsa, 2010. 38See the exhibition catalogue, Koryŏ Taehakkyo Pangmulgwan ed. Sa i pul sa—Min Yŏnghwan (死而不死 민영환: Dead but not dead—Min Yŏnghwan) (Seoul: Koryŏ Taehakkyo Pangmulgwan, 2005).