F.A. Mckenzie.

Korea's Fight for Freedom online

. (page 6 of 19)
Online LibraryF.A. MckenzieKorea's Fight for Freedom → online text (page 6 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

advised the Ministers to go to the palace and open a Cabinet Meeting in the
presence of the Emperor. This was done, the Japanese joining in.

[Footnote 1: As it may be questioned whether the Japanese would use such
arguments, I may say that the account of the interview was given to me by
one of the participating Korean Ministers, and that he dealt at great
length with the pro-Asian policy suggested there. I asked him why he had
not listened and accepted. He replied that he knew what such arguments
meant. The unity of Asia when spoken of by Japanese meant the supreme
autocracy of their country.]

All this time the Japanese Army had been making a great display of military
force around the palace. All the Japanese troops in the district had been
for days parading the streets and open places fronting the Imperial
residence. The field-guns were out, and the men were fully armed. They
marched, countermarched, stormed, made feint attacks, occupied the gates,
put their guns in position, and did everything, short of actual violence,
that they could to demonstrate to the Koreans that they were able to
enforce their demands. To the Cabinet Ministers themselves, and to the
Emperor, all this display had a sinister and terrible meaning. They could
not forget the night in 1895, when the Japanese soldiers had paraded around
another palace, and when their picked bullies had forced their way inside
and murdered the Queen. Japan had done this before; why should she not do
it again? Not one of those now resisting the will of Dai Nippon but saw the
sword in front of his eyes, and heard in imagination a hundred times during
the day the rattle of the Japanese bullets.

That evening Japanese soldiers, with fixed bayonets, entered the courtyard
of the palace and stood near the apartment of the Emperor. Marquis Ito now
arrived, accompanied by General Hasegawa, Commander of the Japanese Army in
Korea, and a fresh attack was started on the Cabinet Ministers. The Marquis
demanded an audience of the Emperor. The Emperor refused to grant it,
saying that his throat was very bad, and he was in great pain. The Marquis
then made his way into the Emperor's presence, and personally requested an
audience. The Emperor still refused. "Please go away and discuss the
matter, with the Cabinet Ministers," he said.

Thereupon Marquis Ito went outside to the Ministers. "Your Emperor has
commanded you to confer with me and settle this matter," he declared. A
fresh conference was opened. The presence of the soldiers, the gleaming of
the bayonets outside, the harsh words of command that could be heard
through the windows of the palace buildings, were not without their effect.
The Ministers had fought for days and they had fought alone. No single
foreign representative had offered them help or counsel. They saw
submission or destruction before them. "What is the use of our resisting?"
said one. "The Japanese always get their way in the end." Signs of yielding
began to appear. The acting Prime Minister, Han Kew-sul, jumped to his feet
and said he would go and tell the Emperor of the talk of traitors. Han
Kew-sul was allowed to leave the room and then was gripped by the Japanese
Secretary of the Legation, thrown into a side-room and threatened with
death. Even Marquis Ito went out to him to persuade him. "Would you not
yield," the Marquis said, "if your Emperor commanded you?" "No," said Han
Kew-sul, "not even then!"

This was enough. The Marquis at once went to the Emperor. "Han Kew-sul is a
traitor," he said. "He defies you, and declares that he will not obey your

Meanwhile the remaining Ministers waited in the Cabinet Chamber. Where was
their leader, the man who had urged them all to resist to death? Minute
after minute passed, and still he did not return. Then a whisper went round
that the Japanese had killed him. The harsh voices of the Japanese grew
still more strident. Courtesy and restraint were thrown off. "Agree with us
and be rich, or oppose us and perish." Pak Che-sun, the Foreign Minister,
one of the best and most capable of Korean statesmen, was the last to
yield. But even he finally gave way. In the early hours of the morning
commands were issued that the seal of State should be brought from the
Foreign Minister's apartment, and a treaty should be signed. Here another
difficulty arose. The custodian of the seal had received orders in advance
that, even if his master commanded, the seal was not to be surrendered for
any such purpose. When telephonic orders were sent to him, he refused to
bring the seal along, and special messengers had to be despatched to take
it from him by force. The Emperor himself asserts to this day that he did
not consent.

The news of the signing of the treaty was received by the people with
horror and indignation. Han Kew-sul, once he escaped from custody, turned
on his fellow-Ministers as one distraught, and bitterly reproached them.
"Why have you broken your promises?" he cried. "Why have you broken your
promises?" The Ministers found themselves the most hated and despised of
men. There was danger lest mobs should attack them and tear them to pieces.
Pak Che-sun shrank away under the storm of execration that greeted him. On
December 6th, as he was entering the palace, one of the soldiers lifted his
rifle and tried to shoot him, Pak Che-sun turned back, and hurried to the
Japanese Legation. There he forced his way into the presence of Mr.
Hayashi, and drew a knife. "It is you who have brought me to this," he
cried. "You have made me a traitor to my country." He attempted to cut his
own throat, but Mr. Hayashi stopped him, and he was sent to hospital for
treatment. When he recovered he was chosen by the Japanese as the new Prime
Minister, Han Kew-sul being exiled and disgraced. Pak did not, however,
hold office for very long, being somewhat too independent to suit his new

As the news spread through the country, the people of various districts
assembled, particularly in the north, and started to march southwards to
die in front of the palace as a protest. Thanks to the influence of the
missionaries, many of them were stopped. "It is of no use your dying in
that way," the missionaries told them. "You had better live and make your
country better able to hold its own." A number of leading officials,
including all the surviving past Prime Ministers, and over a hundred men
who had previously held high office under the Crown, went to the palace,
and demanded that the Emperor should openly repudiate the treaty, and
execute those Ministers who had acquiesced in it. The Emperor tried to
temporize with them, for he was afraid that, if he took too openly hostile
an attitude, the Japanese would punish him. The memorialists sat down in
the palace buildings, refusing to move, and demanding an answer. Some of
their leaders were arrested by the Japanese gendarmes, only to have others,
still greater men, take their place. The storekeepers of the city put up
their shutters to mark their mourning.

At last a message came from the Emperor: "Although affairs now appear to
you to be dangerous, there may presently result some benefit to the
nation." The gendarmes descended on the petitioners and threatened them
with general arrest if they remained around the palace any longer. They
moved on to a shop where they tried to hold a meeting, but they were turned
out of it by the police. Min Yong-whan, their leader, a former Minister for
War and Special Korean Ambassador at Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, went
home. He wrote letters to his friends lamenting the state of his country,
and then committed suicide. Several other statesmen did the same, while
many others resigned. One native paper, the _Whang Sung Shimbun_, dared to
print an exact statement of what had taken place. Its editor was promptly
arrested, and thrown into prison, and the paper suppressed. Its lamentation
voiced the feeling of the country: -

"When it was recently made known the Marquis Ito would come to
Korea our deluded people all said, with one voice, that he is the
man who will be responsible for the maintenance of friendship
between the three countries of the Far East (Japan, China, and
Korea), and, believing that his visit to Korea was for the sole
purpose of devising good plans for strictly maintaining the
promised integrity and independence of Korea, our people, from
the seacoast to the capital, united in extending to him a hearty

"But oh! How difficult is it to anticipate affairs in this world.
Without warning, a proposal containing five clauses was laid
before the Emperor, and we then saw how mistaken we were about
the object of Marquis Ito's visit. However, the Emperor firmly
refused to have anything to do with these proposals and Marquis
Ito should then, properly, have abandoned his attempt and
returned to his own country.

"But the Ministers of our Government, who are worse than pigs or
dogs, coveting honours and advantages for themselves, and
frightened by empty threats, were trembling in every limb, and
were willing to become traitors to their country and betray to
Japan the integrity of a nation which has stood for 4,000 years,
the foundation and honour of a dynasty 500 years old, and the
rights and freedom of twenty million people.

"We do not wish to too deeply blame Pak Che-sun and the other
Ministers, of whom, as they are little better than brute animals,
too much was not to be expected, but what can be said of the
Vice-Prime Minister, the chief of the Cabinet, whose early
opposition to the proposals of Marquis Ito was an empty form
devised to enhance his reputation with the people?

"Can he not now repudiate the agreement or can he not rid the
world of his presence? How can he again stand before the Emperor
and with what face can he ever look upon any one of his twenty
million compatriots?

"Is it worth while for any of us to live any longer? Our people
have become the slaves of others, and the spirit of a nation
which has stood for 4,000 years, since the days of Tun Kun and
Ke-ja has perished in a single night. Alas! fellow-countrymen.

Suicides, resignations, and lamentation were of no avail. The Japanese
gendarmes commanded the streets, and the Japanese soldiers, behind them,
were ready to back up their will by the most unanswerable of
arguments - force.

Naturally, as might have been expected by those who know something of the
character of the Japanese, every effort was made to show that there had
been no breach of treaty promises. Korea was still an independent country,
and the dignity of its Imperial house was still unimpaired. Japan had only
brought a little friendly pressure on a weaker brother to assist him along
the path of progress. Such talk pleased the Japanese, and helped them to
reconcile the contrast between their solemn promises and their actions. It
deceived no one else. Soon even, the Japanese papers made little or no more
talk of Korean independence. "Korean independence is a farce," they said.
And for the time they were right.

The Emperor did his utmost to induce the Powers, more particularly America,
to intervene, but in vain. The story of his efforts is an interesting
episode in the records of diplomacy.

Dr. Allen, the American Minister, wrote to his Secretary of State, on April
14, 1904, telling of the serious concern of the Korean Emperor over recent
happenings. "He falls back in his extremity upon his old friendship with
America.... The Emperor confidently expects that America will do something
for him at the close of this war, or when opportunity offers, to retain for
him as much of his independence as is possible. He is inclined to give a
very free and favourable translation to Article I of our treaty of Jenchuan
of 1882" (_i.e._, the pledge, "If other Powers deal unjustly or
oppressively with either Government, the other will exert their good
offices, on being informed of the case, to bring about an amicable
arrangement, thus showing their friendly feeling").

In April, 1905, Dr. Allen transmitted to Washington copies of protests by
an American missionary and certain Koreans against the conduct of Japanese
subjects in Korea. Dr. Allen was shortly afterwards replaced by Mr. Edwin
V. Morgan.

In October, 1905, the Emperor, determined to appeal directly to America,
enlisted the services of Professor Homer B. Hulbert, editor of the _Korea
Review_, who had been employed continuously in educational work in Seoul
since 1886, and despatched him to Washington, with a letter to the
President of the United States. Mr. Hulbert informed his Minister at Seoul
of his mission and started off. The Japanese learned of his departure (Mr.
Hulbert suggests that the American Minister may have informed them) and
used every effort to force a decision before the letter could be delivered.

On the same day that Mr. Hulbert reached Washington the Korean Cabinet were
forced to sign the document giving Japan a protectorate over their land.
Formal notification had not yet, however, arrived at Washington, so it was
resolved not to receive Mr. Hulbert until this had come.

"I supposed that the President would be not only willing but
eager to see the letter," said Mr. Hulbert in a statement
presented later to the Senate; "but instead of that I received
the astounding answer that the President would not receive it. I
cast about in my own mind for a possible reason, but could
imagine none. I went to the State Department with it, but was
told that they were too busy to see me. Remember that at that
very moment Korea was in her death throes; that she was in full
treaty relations with us; that there was a Korean legation in
Washington and an American legation in Seoul. I determined that
there was something here that was more than mere carelessness.
There was premeditation in the refusal. There was no other
answer. They said I might come the following day. I did so and
was told that they were still too busy, but might come the next
day. I hurried over to the White House and asked to be admitted.
A secretary came out and without any preliminary whatever told me
in the lobby that they knew the contents of the letter, but that
the State Department was the only place to go. I had to wait till
the next day. But on that same day, the day before I was
admitted, the administration, without a word to the Emperor or
Government of Korea or to the Korean Legation, and knowing well
the contents of the undelivered letter, accepted Japan's
unsupported statement that it was all satisfactory to the Korean
Government and people, cabled our legation to remove from Korea,
cut off all communication with the Korean Government, and then
admitted me with the letter."

On November 25th Mr. Hulbert received a message from Mr. Root that

"The letter from the Emperor of Korea which you intrusted to me
has been placed in the President's hands and read by him.

"In view of the fact that the Emperor desires that the sending of
the letter should remain secret, and of the fact that since
intrusting it to you the Emperor has made a new agreement with
Japan disposing of the whole question to which the letter
relates, it seems quite impracticable that any action should be
based upon it."

On the following day Mr. Hulbert received a cablegram from the Emperor,
which had been despatched from Chefoo, in order not to pass over the
Japanese wires: -

"I declare that the so-called treaty of protectorate recently
concluded between Korea and Japan was extorted at the point of
the sword and under duress and therefore is null and void. I
never consented to it and never will. Transmit to American

Poor Emperor! Innocent simpleton to place such trust in a written bond. Mr.
Root had already telegraphed to the American Minister at Seoul to withdraw
from Korea and to return to the United States.

No one supposes that the Washington authorities were deceived by the
statement of the Japanese authorities or that they believed for one moment
that the treaty was secured in any other way than by force. To imagine so
would be an insult to their intelligence. It must be remembered that Japan
was at this time at the very height of her prestige. President Roosevelt
was convinced, mainly through the influence of his old friend, Mr. George
Kennan, that the Koreans were unfit for self-government. He was anxious to
please Japan, and therefore he deliberately refused to interfere. His own
explanation, given some years afterwards, was:

"To be sure, by treaty it was solemnly covenanted that Korea
should remain independent. But Korea itself was helpless to
enforce the treaty, and it was out of the question to suppose
that any other nation, with no interest of its own at stake,
would do for the Koreans what they were utterly unable to do for

There we have the essence of international political morality.

The letter of the Emperor of Korea to the President of the United States
makes interesting reading:

"Ever since 1883 the United States and Korea have been in
friendly treaty relations. Korea has received many proofs of the
good will and the sympathy of the American Government and people.
The American Representatives have always shown themselves to be
in sympathy with the welfare and progress of Korea. Many teachers
have been sent from America who have done much for the uplift of
our people.

"But we have not made the progress that we ought. This is due
partly to the political machinations of foreign powers and partly
to our mistakes. At the beginning of the Japan-Russia war the
Japanese Government asked us to enter into an alliance with them,
granting them the use of our territory, harbours, and other
resources, to facilitate their military and naval operations.
Japan, on her part, guaranteed to preserve the independence of
Korea and the welfare and dignity of the royal house. We complied
with Japan's request, loyally lived up to our obligations, and
did everything that we had stipulated. By so doing we put
ourselves in such a position that if Russia had won, she could
have seized Korea and annexed her to Russian territory on the
ground that we were active allies of Japan.

"It is now apparent that Japan proposes to abrogate their part of
this treaty and declare a protectorate over our country in direct
contravention of her sworn promise in the agreement of 1904.
There are several reasons why this should not be done.

"In the first place, Japan will stultify herself by such a direct
breach of faith. It will injure her prestige as a power that
proposes to work according to enlightened laws.

"In the second place, the actions of Japan in Korea during the
past two years give no promise that our people will be handled in
an enlightened manner. No adequate means have been provided
whereby redress could be secured for wrongs perpetrated upon our
people. The finances of the country have been gravely mishandled
by Japan. Nothing has been done towards advancing the cause of
education or justice. Every move on Japan's part has been
manifestly selfish.

"The destruction of Korea's independence will work her a great
injury, because it will intensify the contempt with which the
Japanese people treat the Koreans and will make their acts all
the more oppressive.

"We acknowledge that many reforms are needed in Korea. We are
glad to have the help of Japanese advisers, and we are prepared
loyally to carry out their suggestions. We recognize the mistakes
of the past. It is not for ourselves we plead, but for the Korean

"At the beginning of the war our people gladly welcomed the
Japanese, because this seemed to herald needed reforms and a
general bettering of conditions, but soon it was seen that no
genuine reforms were intended and the people had been deceived.

"One of the gravest evils that will follow a protectorate by
Japan is that the Korean people will lose all incentive to
improvement. No hope will remain that they can ever regain their
independence. They need the spur of national feeling to make them
determine upon progress and to make them persevere in it. But the
extinction of nationality will bring despair, and instead of
working loyally and gladly in conjunction with Japan, the
old-time hatred will be intensified and suspicion and animosity
will result.

"It has been said that sentiment should have no place in such
affairs, but we believe, sir, that sentiment is the moving force
in all human affairs, and that kindness, sympathy, and generosity
are still working between nations as between individuals. We beg
of you to bring to bear upon this question the same breadth of
mind and the same calmness of judgment that have characterized
your course hitherto, and, having weighed the matter, to render
us what aid you can consistently in this our time of national

[Private Seal of the Emperor of Korea.]



Marquis Ito was made the first Japanese Resident-General in Korea. There
could have been no better choice, and no choice more pleasing to the Korean
people. He was regarded by the responsible men of the nation with a
friendliness such as few other Japanese inspired. Here was a man greater
than his policies. Every one who came in contact with him felt that,
whatever the nature of the measures he was driven to adopt in the supposed
interests of his Emperor, he yet sincerely meant well by the Korean people.
The faults of his administration were the necessary accompaniments of
Japanese military expansion; his virtues were his own. It was a noble act
for him to take on himself the most burdensome and exacting post that
Japanese diplomacy had to offer, at an age when he might well have looked
for the ease and dignity of the close of an honour-sated career.

The Marquis brought with him several capable Japanese officials of high
rank, and began his new rule by issuing regulations fixing the position and
duties of his staff. Under these, the Resident-General became in effect
supreme Administrator of Korea, with power to do what he pleased. He had
authority to repeal any order or measure that he considered injurious to
public interests, and he could punish to the extent of not more than a
year's imprisonment or not more than a 200 yen fine. This limitation of his
punitive power was purely nominal, for the country was under martial law
and the courts-martial had power to inflict death. Residents and
Vice-Residents, of Japanese nationality, were placed over the country,
acting practically as governors. The police were placed under Japanese
inspectors where they were not themselves Japanese. The various departments
of affairs, agricultural, commercial, and industrial, were given Japanese
directors and advisers, and the power of appointing all officials, save
those of the highest rank, was finally in the hands of the
Resident-General. This limitation, again, was soon put on one side. Thus,
the Resident-General became dictator of Korea - a dictator, however, who
still conducted certain branches of local affairs there through native
officials and who had to reckon with the intrigues of a Court party which
he could not as yet sweep on one side.

To Japan, Korea was chiefly of importance as a strategic position for
military operations on the continent of Asia and as a field for emigration.
The first steps under the new administration were in the direction of
perfecting communications throughout the country, so as to enable the
troops to be moved easily and rapidly from point to point. A railway had
already been built from Fusan to Seoul, and another was in course of
completion from Seoul to Wi-ju, thus giving a trunk line that would carry
large numbers of Japanese soldiers from Japan itself to the borders of
Manchuria in about thirty-six hours. A loan of 10,000,000 yen was raised on

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryF.A. MckenzieKorea's Fight for Freedom → online text (page 6 of 19)