Lawrence John Lumley Dundas Zetland.

An Eastern miscellany online

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independence of his kingdom under an inter-
national guarantee. What passes in the mind
of the Korean figure-head is, however, at the
present day a matter of little interest and no
importance to any one but himself; it is with


accomplished facts and not with the airy specu-
lations even of an imperial brain that the world
is called upon to deal. Hence the text of this
chapter — Korea, an appanage of Japan.

Geographical proximity inevitably drew Korea
into the revolving orbit of New Japan. A
powerful neighbour firmly established on the
adjacent mainland, and in a position to descend
at any moment upon the island shores, pre-
sented to the Japanese mind a state of affairs
not to be tolerated, and strong in her belief
in the vital importance of providing against any
such contingency, she did not hesitate in 1894
to go to war. A whole aggregation of circum-
stances, indeed, conspired to light up the hills
and valleys of Korea with the devouring fires
of strife, while a hereditary feud of some
centuries standing with the Power that dis-
puted with her the overlordship of the Hermit
Kingdom gave an irresistible impetus to the
policy which was rapidly driving her along the
road to w^ar. Nor had she been guilty of any
miscalculation in estimating the relative value of
her forces and those of her foe. The war very
soon developed into a procession, and before
many days were past every Chinese soldier had
been swept off the face of Korea.

But if the task of wiping out the soldiery of
China proved a simple one, the ensuing task of


reforming and reorganising the inept Govern-
ment of Korea proved very much the reverse.
Of all things in the world reform in any shape
or disguise was the very last that appealed to
the immutable conservatism of the Korean mind;
and after a brief though breathless period, during
which measures of improvement fell like leaves
in Vallombrosa, and with as little effect upon
the land, the reformer retired from the unequal
contest, baffled by a stolid and unyielding re-
sistance, against which it was found useless to

But worse was yet to come. An almost
bewildering succession of victories had attended
the Japanese arms ; China, the hereditary foe,
had been smitten hip and thigh and driven
effectually from the unhappy country whose
inability to manage her own affairs had been
the ostensible cause of all the trouble ; but here
the tale of triumph ceased. The statesmen of
Korea were as incompetent as ever to conduct
the affairs of their country to the advantage
or satisfaction of any one but themselves, the
troubled waters still made Korea an alluring
pool for any one to fish in, and before many
days were past another and vastly more formid-
able Power had stepped into the recently vacated
shoes of China. Henceforth the whole force of
Japanese diplomacy was to be concentrated in


a wasting and protracted struggle against the
inexorable advance of Russia.

Into the details of the events which followed
upon this unpalatable deyiouenient it is not
necessary to enter. Korea became the un-
fortunate shuttlecock in a fiercely contested
game, and was hard put to it to decide which
of the two players excited her bitterest aver-
sion. War over her protesting and helpless
body became once more an inevitable episode,
and that it was with Japan that she was
finally forced to come to terms was due to the
greater preparedness of the latter and to the
paralysing swiftness with which she struck the
preliminary blow. By a protocol, signed a fort-
night after the outbreak of hostilities, the
Imperial Government of Korea agreed to place
full confidence in the Imperial Government of
Japan, and to adopt the advice of the latter in
regard to improvement of administration in re-
turn for a guarantee by the latter Power of the
safety and repose of the Imperial House, and
of the independence and territorial integrity of
the Korean Empire. Eighteen months later,
with the victories of Japan staring them in the
face, the Korean Government agreed to accept
the services of a Japanese financial adviser, of
a foreign nominee of Japan as diplomatic adviser
to the Foreign Office, and further decided that


they would contract no treaties with foreign
Powers, and grant no concessions to foreign
applicants, without first consulting the Govern-
ment of Japan. The threads of the web were
being carefully woven.

The future of Korea was sealed with the final
victories of Japan. She had the bitter after-
taste of the war of 1894 to warn her of the
absolute necessity of firm and determined meas-
ures if the sacrifices which she had made at
the altar of Hachiman were not to prove barren.
She had ten years of national profligacy and
international disturbance to point to in proof of
the danger to the world from the prolonged
existence of an unrestrained and untutored
Korea, and better than all, she had a trump
card up her sleeve in the text of the newly-
concluded alliance with Great Britain, wherein
the recognition of England was given to her
paramount position in Korea — backed by the
cogent argument presented by the most power-
ful fleet in the world.

The conditions were as favourable as could
be expected, and the way was paved on the
conclusion of peace for a renewal of the diplom-
atic onslaught upon the Korean Citadel. Never-
theless, it may well be doubted whether the
veteran statesman of Japan, to whose lot fell
the task of setting in order the Korean House,



looked with any great satisfaction upon the
legacy bequeathed to him by his life-long friend
and predecessor, Count Inouye, who had repaired
to the Korean Court with shovel and broom in
1895. However entertaining to the onlookers
were the proceedings which now occupied the
centre of the Korean stage, they can have been
nothing but a source of intense strain and anxiety
to the man to whom all Japan looked to carry
them to a satisfactory termination.

The negotiations which led up to the Conven-
tion which was to sign the death - warrant of
Korean independence are worthy of being put
briefly upon record.

Early in November 1905, Marquis Ito repaired
to Soul, bearing gifts from the Emperor of
Japan to his brother Sovereign of Korea, and
inter alia a silver vase from the Empress to
Lady Om — indirect testimony to the success
which the schemes and pretensions of that
ambitious lady had already achieved. On the
15th the Ambassador was closely closeted with
the Emperor for upwards of three hours, a
circumstance which aroused the suspicions of
militant young Korea, who made abortive at-
tempts at disturbing the peace by delivering
perorations in front of the palace in favour of
the independence of their country. The way
having been duly paved by the interview of the


loth, a document embodying important pro-
posals was handed to the Government by Mr
Hayashi on the 16th — a proceeding which vastly
fluttered the inmates of the Korean official
dovecots. Both Marquis Ito and Mr Hayashi
exercised inexhaustible patience in explaining in
detail to the Cabinet the imperative reasons for
inauefuratins: a new state of affairs between the
two countries. Korea's mismanagement of her
affairs had in the past seriously jeopardised the
relations between the two countries and im-
perilled the peace of the world. No such
situation could be tolerated again. Such was
the drift of a patient and prolonged explanation.
The arguments used bore the impress of an irre-
futable logic, the explanations were lucid and
to the point ; yet the Ministers displayed a
paralysing reluctance to take the lead in assent-
ing to the principles advanced. The Prime
Minister, with exemplary modesty, excused him-
self on the plea of ignorance, inexperience, and
incompetence. Marquis Ito was quick to point
out that while these deficiencies might justly
have been pleaded as valid reasons for declining
office in the first instance, they could scarcely
be held as a justification for refusing to dis-
charge the duties of office when once it had
been accepted ; and the Minister, quite unable
to traverse the incisive logic of the argument,


broke down and burst into tears. Still no one
could be found to burn their boats behind them
by actually signifying assent, and the difficulty
was eventually solved in accordance with the
best traditions of ojieva houffe, by Marquis Ito
declaring that he would put the question for,
and accept silence as giving consent. This in-
genious solution gave immense satisfaction to
the Cabinet, who were thus spared all further
exertion in endeavouring to make up their
minds to speak !

On the 17th diplomacy — intricate and pro-
tracted — was the order of the day. The pro-
ceedings opened with a luncheon party, given by
Mr Hayashi to the Korean dignitaries, at which
an animated discussion on the situation took
place. Later in the afternoon the whole party,
including Mr Hayashi, repaired to the palace to
report progress to the Emperor, who had been
indisposed on the previous day as a result of
the long and momentous interview of the 15th.
Here the discussion of the detailed proposals of
Japan dragged wearily on through the long after-
noon, the Emperor, who remained secluded in
another part of the palace, being kept informed
at frequent intervals of the progress made. As
hour after hour passed by the sands of Korean
independence slipped slowly but inexorably
through the glass, and when at length at 8 p.m.


Marquis Ito and General Hasegawa, who had
been consuming their souls in patience until they
received intimation that the psychological moment
for their appearance had arrived, hurried to the
palace, it was felt that the supreme moment in
the life of at least one nation was at hand. The
almost unimaginable vitality of Korean powers
of procrastination, however, succeeded in rising
to the occasion by one last superb display ; and
it was not until the cold grey hours of early
dawn that the hardly-tried statesmen of Japan
emerged from a night of strenuous trial, weary
but triumphant, and happy in the knowledge
that they took with them in their pockets the
title-deed to all that they had sacrificed so much
to secure. How the discussion waxed and waned;
how, as hour after hour sped by, the Emperor
sent solicitous messages to the Envoy of Japan,
urging him to rest lest the great labour he was
undergoing should impair his health ; how the
minister Li at length spoke out and deliberately
declared that nothing remained but to accept in
toto the Japanese terms ; how a Cabinet crisis
took place and the Prime Minister fell for
refusing to countenance or affix his seal to any
agreement calculated to impair his country's
sovereignty; and how Mr Min Yong Choi was
thereupon instated in his stead, — all these
details of the momentous Conference transpired


at a later date, as did also the full text of the
hardly- won Convention. Under the provisions
of this instrument a Residency - General was
set up in Korea, the interests and subjects
of that country abroad were placed in charge
of the diplomatic and consular representatives of
Japan, and the responsibility for her foreign
affairs transferred from Soul to Tokyo.

The early reception of this revised edition of
the Korean polity was not wholly encouraging.
The temerity of the Minister Li in first assent-
ing to the terms of the Agreement evoked a
retort from patriotic Korea in the burning of
his house ; the students of certain schools who
showed signs of unseemly commotion indulged
in an enforced holiday from their work ; a little
harmless stone- throwing brought down upon its
authors imprisonment and one hundred blows of
the bamboo ; and the air became thick with
rumours of patriotic suicides, ministerial resig-
nations, revolution, and civil war. No little
truth, indeed, ran through the tangled skein of
sensational rumour that now enveloped the
capital. The Cabinet handed in their resigna-
tion, the Emperor refused to accept it ; the
Ministers persisted, the Emperor was obdurate.
Result : a Gilbertian situation characteristically
Korean — a Cabinet on strike. A change effected
in the presidency by the substitution of Mr Pak


Che-Soon for Mr Min Yong Choi, whose career as
Prime Minister had been numbered by hours,
failing to bring about any alteration in the
situation, as did also a peremptory order from
the Emperor for a resumption of work, Marquis
Ito at the end of a week evolved the idea of a
huge banquet, which device was successful in
drawinsf the Ministers from their retirement,
and in setting going once more the creaking
wheels of the ponderous coach of State.

Various earnest if misguided patriots, chips of
the old Korean block, achieved momentary no-
toriety by inspirited protests against the new
regime not infrequently followed by suicide, a
proceeding which received no small encourage-
ment at the hands of the Emperor, who accorded
the victims state funerals and flowery posthumous
titles. As was remarked at the time, " If his
Majesty persisted in distinguishing suicides in
this enviable manner, he would not be unlikely
to lose several of his subjects." A notable
example of this attitude was that of Mr Chyo
Pyong-sik, an elder statesman and at one time
special Ambassador to Japan on an abortive
mission for the neutralisation of Korea under an
international guarantee, who was early in the
field urging the Emperor to impeach the Cabinet
for concluding the new Convention. Failing in
his object, he collected a following of malcontents


and proceeded to the palace, where he made
violent remonstrance against the new order of
things. The following day saw the leader and
his band seated at the gate of the Court of
Justice awaiting punishment. Towards evening
a message of pardon was received from the
Emperor, whereupon the stalwart hero proceeded
from the Board of Punishments to the Board of
Decorations to renew his protest, and was
promptly relieved by the Emperor of all further
concern in the affairs of State. Within twelve
days of the signing of the Convention his chief
follower, Mr Min Yonghwan, ex - Prime Minister
and Chief Chamberlain, died by his own hand,
to be followed twenty- four hours later by Chyo
Pyong-sik himself, who "took opium" and ex-
pired on the afternoon of December 1.

At this juncture Mr Yon Chhi-ho, acting-
Minister for Foreign Affairs, tendered his resig-
nation two or three times, but as no one
appeared willing to accept it he gave up what
proved to be a useless formality, and retired to
the seclusion of his private residence, whence
nothing would induce him to emerge. Plots for
the assassination of Ministers became as plentiful
as daisies in the spring, and a profusion of peti-
tions denouncing the Convention flowed steadily
in. The regularity, however, with which these
missives came to hand soon led to their being


looked upon as purely formal affairs of which
no notice need be taken. Despite such omin-
ous symptoms, moreover, it was optimistically
declared by the end of the year that tranquillity
had been restored throughout the country — an
assumption which was rudely traversed by sub-
sequent events. Beneath the surface feeling
seethed and bubbled, and the spring and summer
months of the year 1906 were remarkable chiefly
for collisions in different parts of the country
between the supporters of the new and the up-
holders of the old, secretly applauded, if not
actually instigated, by the Court, for the sup-
pression of which Japanese gendarmes and troops
were not infrequently called in. Thus with many
an expiring splutter did the flame of old Korea
flicker slowly and painfully out.

The task of the new Resident-General was,
indeed, no light one, and the statesmen of Japan
were fortunate in persuading Marquis Ito to
accept the office and so to carry forward the
good work which he had successfully begun. An
impoverished treasury accustomed to squander
its slender funds upon a galaxy of palace syco-
phants and parasites was slow to acquiesce in
the new restrictions of well-ordered finance, and
when the Minister of the Household failed to
extract from the reformed department funds
which he considered adequate to meet the palace



expenses at the time of the new year, he in-
continently resigned. An inquiry into the
palace entourage revealed a motley crowd of
between five and six thousand petty officials and
hangers-on, of which number it was decided, as
a first step, to dismiss about 3000 — a reform
little calculated to add to the popularity of its
author. With other sections of the populace
reform in some of its manifestations met with
considerable applause. Immense astonishment
was created, for instance, by an intimation that
men would in future be appointed to office by
selection made with reference solely to ability
and not at all to family connection and Court
intrigue ; and when further several appointments
were actually made in accordance with this novel
plan, no little satisfaction was added to the
initial sensation of surprise. An announcement,
too, to the effect that the Crown Prince, whose
first wife had died childless, would wed again,
caused much fluttering in the bosom of many
a Korean maid, while the general interest excited
by the news was doubtless greatly stimulated by
the issue of an Imperial proclamation, which saw
the light of day in March, prohibiting any
wedding till the selection of a Consort had been
made. By the late summer the number of candi-
dates had been reduced by a process of elimina-
tion to seven, four more were about to be


rejected, and the final choice made from the
remaining three.

Much criticism, partly extravagant and partly
just, has been levelled against Japan in Korea.
To criticise her presence there is obviously absurd.
She is there in the first instance by right of might,
but her position gained by might has received the
recognition and the sanction of the world. The
Portsmouth Treaty accepts it, the text of the
Anglo -Japanese Agreement afiirms it, the volun-
tary withdrawal of all the Foreign Legations
from Soul acknowledges it. A fcdt accompli,
sealed and confirmed by such practical and
documentary evidence, is scarcely worth the
trouble of assailing. She is there for an avowed
and acknowledged purpose — the reform of the
Government of Korea, a purpose in itself excel-
lent in presence of the assurance which stares
boldly from the pages of history that the Korean
is unable to cleanse his own house ; and it is only
when we come to the methods employed that solid
ground for criticism is reached. The red - tape
disease is acute in Japan, and is always productive
of absurd and petty regulations. So in Korea.
Despite the difference in longitude between the
two countries, Tokyo time must be used in Korea.
The people must smoke short pipes, or again they
must discard their immemorial robes of white for
garments of a more dusky hue. Such regulations


are ridiculous to a degree. They have been tried
before and have failed. They will probably fail
again. The Korean has an inexplicable but
unalterable preference for white, and with or
without the sanction of the law white garments
he will wear. To-day as in the past the most
striking feature of the streets of Soul is the
leisurely, white-robed gentleman, with his quaint
black horse-hair hat, and his most noticeable
adjunct is his elongated pipe.

Such things, however, are, after all, matters
of minor importance ; far more serious questions
are those of the power and procedure of the
military, and the attitude of the Japanese immi-
grants towards the Korean people. With the
sacrifices of the late war still fresh in the memory,
the attitude of the military party in Japan became
a source of no little anxiety to the civil authorities.
In the early summer of 1906 a stormy battle
raged between the two factions in the Govern-
ment over the question of the opening of Man-
churia, and the eventual triumph of the advocates
of the open door was said to have been far from
palatable to the military junta. In Korea it is
common knowledge that the feelings and the
just claims of the natives met with scant con-
sideration where the military authorities were
concerned. Land was taken regardless of any
considerations except the supposed necessities of


military strategy, and such compensation only
was paid as those who commandeered it chose to
pay. It was perhaps unfortunate, in the light
of the adverse criticism which such action not
unnaturally evoked, that loopholes should have
been given the military, in the regulations defin-
ing the position of the Japanese authorities in the
protected country, for an escape from the salutary
restrictions of civil control.

That the Resident -General appreciated the re-
quirements of the situation, and was sincerely
anxious to do well by Korea, is in no way open
to doubt. R-eform in the administration, strength-
ening of the country's finances, agricultural, en-
gineering, and forestry improvements — all these
found prominent places in the forefront of his
programme. Nor was he blind to the failings of
his own nationals in the country. " There has
been much to censure in the conduct of our
nationals hitherto in Korea," he admitted on a
public occasion in Tokyo, " The greatest in-
dignities have been put upon the Koreans, and
they have been obliged to sufier them with tears
in their eyes. . . . Now that this Empire has
taken upon itself the protectorate of Korea, this
improper behaviour calls for the utmost correc-
tion." When it is added that a rouo^h outside
estimate of the actual Korean population is
12,000,000, and that in a single year (1905) the


number of Japanese increased from 55,000 to
72,000,^ it becomes clear that as time goes on
the country must fall more and more under the
influence of Japan ; and it is imperative for her
good name and reputation as a civilised and
civilising Power that she should leave no stone
unturned to check and stamp out the high-handed
and indefensible behaviour which has been a
marked and unfortunate characteristic of her
colonists in the past. The struggles of a weak
and helpless people under the forceful guidance
of a conquering power — even if that guidance be
in the direction of improvement and reform — are
at all times calculated to call forth the sympathy
of the lookers-on. No one who has trafficked or
travelled in the Far East can be blind to the fact
that the victories of Japan conjured up a solid
feeling among the Far Eastern residents of con-
tinental Europe hostile to the Mikado's Empire,
and her people can ill aflbrd to accentuate that
feeling by any ill-advised or arbitrary action.

Thus entrenched in Korea, it was said that
Japan was anxious to establish a Customs union
between herself and that country. The mere
fact that only so lately as November 1905 she
had accepted the treaties existing between the
Powers and Korea should have been sufficient to
contradict any such assertion. But a further

^ By the summer of 1910 this latter figure had been doubled.


guarantee was to be found in the perception and
sagacity of the statesman then at the helm in
Korea. "It is not with regard to Korea alone,"
said Marquis Ito, in addressing the members of
the foremost political party in Japan, " but with
regard to the whole problem of the Far East,
that nothing opposed to the sentiment of the
Powers should be done. No strong country
whatever can march forward independently and
at its own arbitrary convenience. If Japan,
puffed up by her victories in war, should forfeit
the sympathy of the Powers, she will be laying
up for herself misfortune in the future." ^

Japan was, indeed, fortunate in the possession
of a statesman solicitous, above all things, of the
honour and fair fame of his country ; skilled also
to steer her safely through the rocks and shoals
of the international sea ; and it was, indeed, a
tragic example of the irony of Fate, that he
should have been struck down by an assassin's

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Online LibraryLawrence John Lumley Dundas ZetlandAn Eastern miscellany → online text (page 20 of 24)