Born – 8th September 1852
Died – 21st January 1919
Father – Yi Ha-eung also known as Heungseon Daewongun (Grand Internal Prince) (1820 – 1898)
Mother – Sunmok Budaebuin (Grand Internal Princess Consort) (1818 – 1898)
Spouse – Myeongseong (Queen Min) (1851 – 1895)
Children – by Myeongseong – Emperor Sunjong (1874 – 1926);
by Imperial Consort Yi Sun-ah – Yi Seon, Prince Wanhwa (1868 – 1880)
by Imperial Consort Gwi-in – Yi Kang Prince Uihwa (1877 – 1955);
by Imperial Noble Consort Seon-yeong – Yi Un Crown Prince Uimin (1897 – 1970);
by Imperial Consort Yang Chun-gi – Yi Deok-hye Princess Deokhye (1912 – 1989);
by Imperial Consort Bohyeon Gwi-in – Prince Yi U (1915 – 1916)
In retaliation for the execution of French Jesuit missionaries, France invaded and occupied Ganghwa Island.
The Joseon military managed to force the French to withdraw from Ganghwa Island. However, the French took with them much of the island’s treasures and riches.
The American merchant ship, ‘General Sherman’ docked at Korea with a view to negotiating a trade deal. The ship was told to wait at the Keupsa Gate while Regent Heungseon Daewongun was consulted. However, after taking the Adjutant General Yi Hyon-ik prisoner, the ship sailed further inland. The Koreans attacked and managed to secure the release of Yi Hyon-ik and forced the ship to retreat, but it then ran aground. Fighting continued for 4 days and then the ‘General Sherman’ was set alight. US sailors fleeing the ship were attacked and killed.
An American force of 1200 men aboard five ships sailed for Korea to discuss the ‘General Sherman’ incident. Due to cultural differences the Americans, mistakenly believed they had permission to survey the coast of Korea. As the ships neared the fortresses at Sandolmok, the Koreans opened fire.
The United States force attacked Choji Garrison and pushed onwards to Gwangseong Garrison where a battle ensued. The Korean’s firearms were no match for the superior American rifles.
This treaty between Korea and Japan was a trade agreement between the two. However, the terms of the treaty were far more favourable to the Japanese. Being forced into making this treaty made King Gojong resentful towards Japan.
This treaty, signed by Korea and America, was Korea’s first treaty with a Western nation.
This was a violent uprising started by Korean soldiers angry at the growing Japanese influence and Gojong’s support for Japanese military advisors. The Japanese legation was attacked and a number of Japanese officials were killed. Others fled the country. Queen Min sought refuge at the villa of one of her relatives.
The Japanese demanded compensation from Korea following the Imo Incident. As well as financial compensation, the treaty allowed the Japanese military to protect their legation and Japanese living in Korea.
This was a friendship and trade agreement between Korea and Russia.
A group of pro-reform Koreans, with Japanese backing, attempted to take over leadership of Korea. The coup was suppressed by Chinese soldiers stationed in Korea. Those leaders that were caught were executed while the others fled to Japan.
This was an armed uprising by poor peasants angered by their poor situation in Korea. The Korean government asked China for support.
Following the Donghak Peasant Rebellion, the government began a programme of reforms. 210 reforms were introduced. They included giving greater power to the State Council and a number of social reforms aimed at reforming the traditional feudal structure of society.
War broke out between the Qing dynasty of China and the Japanese Empire over control of Joseon Korea.
213 articles were introduced including restructuring of administrative regions, changes to taxation, military and police. Royal court affairs were placed under the control of the Council of Royal Household rather than being classed as state affairs.
The war between Japan and China ended when China sued for peace. The peace treaty agreed the independence of Joseon with China giving up all claims to Korea.
Queen Min was assassinated in the early hours of the morning by Japanese agents. King Gojong and his son fled to the Russian legation for protection.
The pro-Japanese cabinet introduced further reforms including changes to the calendar, educational reforms and a new postal service. The reforms also included a move away from traditional dress and the banning of the traditional male topknot hairstyle. These latter reforms were extremely unpopular and widely resented.
Established by Philip Jaisohn, a Korean-American activist, this association aimed to free Joseon from outside interference and move to independence. The association published a newspaper to spread their ideas.
The Righteous Army was a historical informal army of civilians that had supported the regular army in times of need. They armed themselves with whatever weaponry they could lay their hands on. Following the assassination of Queen Min, many Koreans joined the Righteous Army, determined to stop the dominance of Japan. During this period the leaders were Min Jeong-sik, Choe Ik-hyeon and Shin Dol-seok.
Emperor Gojong began a period of reforms aimed at modernising the new Korean Empire. His plans included improved infrastructure including a railway network, abolition of the traditional class system, a move towards western dress and economic reforms.
With Korea now proclaimed independent, the association began to push for democracy. Daily demonstrations were staged outside the royal palace.
Emperor Gojong ordered the association to disband. It is likely that he felt threatened by their ongoing push for democracy.
War broke out between Russia and Japan after Japanese forces attacked and lay siege to Port Arthur on the Liadong Peninsular which had been leased to Russia by the Chinese. Japan was keen to expand its territory by taking Manchuria and Korea.
With the increasing dominance of Japan in Korea, the Righteous Army increased activities making, often covert, attacks on Japanese military and leaders. They also attacked Japanese merchants and pro-Japanese Korean officials.
More than 90,000 Russian soldiers lost their lives in this battle against the Japanese.
The Russian fleet reached the east and were defeated by Japanese.
US War Secretary William Howard Taft and Prime Minister of Japan, Katsura Taro met for talks. While there was no formal treaty, it is believed that the two agreed that Japan would not interfere in the Philippines if the United States allowed Korea to become a protectorate of Japan.
This treaty brought the Russo-Japanese war to an end. Under the terms of the peace negotiation Russia lost Port Arthur to the Japanese and recognised Japan’s claim to Korea.
The Japanese presented this treaty to Emperor Gojong but he refused to sign. However, five pro-Japanese ministers – Yi Wan-yong (Minister of Education), Yi Geun-taek (Army Minister), Yi Ji-yong (Interior Minister), Park Je-sun (Foreign Minister) and Gwon Jung-hyeon (Agriculture Minister) agreed to sign the treaty on Korea’s behalf. They are known collectively as the five Eulsa traitors. The treaty placed Korea under the protection of Japan.
Emperor Gojong was forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Sunjong who became Yunghui Emperor. Gojong was placed under house arrest at the Deoksugung Palace.
This treaty stipulated that Korea should be under the guidance of a Japanese resident general. This effectively handed the government of the Korean Empire to Japan.
The Korean army was disbanded. Colonel Park Seung-hwan committed suicide in protest at the order. Korean soldiers refused to give up their weapons and fought against the Japanese military. However, the inferior weapons of the Koreans meant they stood no chance of victory. 68 Korean soldiers were killed, 100 wounded and 516 captured. Many of those that escaped joined the Righteous Army.
The Righteous Army planned an offensive to liberate Hanseong and defeat the Japanese army stationed there. They had trained 10,000 members and marched towards Hanseong. However, 12 km outside of the city they were met by 20,000 Japanese soldiers and forced to retreat.
More than 17,000 members of the Righteous Army had been killed and 37,000 injured. Despite these heavy losses they refused to give up their fight. They split into small bands and used guerilla warfare tactics to continue their struggle against Japan.
Japan annexed Korea and took full control of the country signalling the end of the Korean Empire. They would hold Korea until the end of World War Two in 1945. Gojong was given the title King Emeritus Yi of Deoksu and recognised as a member of the Imperial Japanese family.
Surviving members of the Righteous army fled to Manchuria which they used as a base to continue their fight for Korean independence.
Published Apr 23 2022 @ 4:43 pm – Updated –
Harvard Reference for this page:
Heather Y Wheeler. (2022). King Gojong of Korea 1852 – 1919.