The Korean Empire (Hangul: 대한제국; Hanja: 大韓帝國) was the last independent unified Korean state. Proclaimed in October 1897 by Emperor Gojong of the Joseon dynasty, the empire stood until Japan's annexation of Korea in August 1910. During the Korean Empire, Emperor Gojong oversaw the Gwangmu Reform, a partial modernization and Westernization of the military, economy, land system, and education system, and of various industries.
(English: Let the land be enlightened)
Territory of the Korean Empire
|Status||Sovereign state (1897–1905)|
Protectorate of the Empire of Japan (1905–1910)
|Capital||Hanseong (now Seoul)|
|Historical era||New Imperialism|
• Empire proclaimed
|13 October 1897|
|17 August 1899|
|17 November 1905|
|29 August 1910|
|Today part of|| North Korea|
a Chongri Daesin later changed name to Uijeong Daesin in 1905, and renamed Chongri Daesin in 1907.
Korea in the Joseon dynasty had been a perfunctory client kingdom of China in the Qing dynasty due to the diplomatic reason even though Joseon was managed by the King independently from China. Towards the end of the 19th century, influence over Korea was increasingly an area of conflict between the Qing and Japan. The First Sino-Japanese War marked the rapid decline of any power the Joseon state had managed to hold against foreign interference, as the battles of the conflict itself had been fought on Korean soil and the surrounding seas. With its newfound preeminence over the waning and weak Qing dynasty, Japan had delegates negotiate the Treaty of Shimonoseki with the Qing dynasty. Through signing the treaty, a move designed to prevent the southern expansion of Russia, Japan wrested control over the Liaodong Peninsula from Qing and more importantly over Korea. However, Russia recognized this agreement as an act against its interests in northeastern China and eventually brought France and Germany to its side, in saying that the Liaodong Peninsula should be repatriated to Qing China.
At the time, Japan was powerless to resist such foreign pressure, especially by nations that it considered far more advanced and which it sought to emulate, and as such relinquished its claim to Liaodong Peninsula. With the success of the three-country intervention (Russia, France, Germany), Russia emerged as another major power in East Asia, replacing the Qing Dynasty as the entity that the Joseon court's many government officials advocated close ties with to prevent more Japanese meddling in Korean politics. Queen Min (posthumously titled Empress Myeongseong), the consort of King Gojong, also recognized this change and formally established closer diplomatic relations with Russia to counter Japanese influence.
Queen Min began to emerge as a key figure in higher-level Korean counteraction against Japanese influence. Japan, seeing its designs endangered by the queen, quickly replaced its ambassador to Korea, Count Inoue, with Lieutenant-General Viscount Miura, a diplomat with a background in the Imperial Japanese Army. He subsequently orchestrated the assassination of Queen Min on October 8, 1895, at her residence at the Geoncheong Palace, the official sleeping quarters of the king within Gyeongbok Palace.
With the assassination of his wife Queen Min, King Gojong and the Crown Prince (who later became Emperor Sunjong) fled to the Russian legation in 1896. During the time from Queen Min's death to the king's return from Russian protection, Korea underwent another major upheaval both at home and abroad. By 1894, new laws passed by progressives and reformers in the royal cabinet forced through long-desired reforms aimed at revamping Korea's antiquated society. These laws were called the Gabo Reform, referring to the year (1894) in which they began.
Meanwhile, the new reforms aimed at modernizing Korean society soon attracted controversy from within. Anti-Japanese sentiment, which had already become entrenched in the minds of commoners and aristocrats alike during the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592–98), became pervasive in the royal court and upper echelons of society following the Ganghwa Treaty of 1876 and soon extended explosively to most Koreans following perceived Japanese meddling in court politics and the assassination of Queen Min. However, the new and modern reforms pushed forward by the pro-Japanese progressives, the most controversial of which was the mandatory cutting of the traditional man bun, ignited further resentment and discontent. This led to the uprising of the Eulmi temporary armies aimed at avenging the assassination of Queen Min.
In 1897, King Gojong, yielding to rising pressure from both overseas and the demands of the Independence Association-led public opinion, returned to Gyŏngungung (modern-day Deoksugung). There, he proclaimed the founding of the "Great Korean Empire", officially re-designated the national title as such, and declared the new era name Gwangmu (Hangul: 광무, Hanja: 光武) (meaning warrior of light), effectively severing Korea's superficial historic ties as a tributary of Qing China, which Korea had adhered to since the prior Manchurian invasion in 1636. Gojong became the Gwangmu Emperor, the first imperial head of state and hereditary sovereign of the Korean Empire. This marked the complete end of the old world order and traditional tributary system in the Far East. Korea's new status as an empire meant "Completely independence from Qing's sphere of influence" which means Korea was not influenced from Qing externally according to the Treaty of Shimonoseki of 1895 and also implemented the "full and complete" independence according to the treaty.
The name, literally meaning "Great Han Empire", was derived from Samhan, specifically the Three Kingdoms of Korea (not the ancient confederacies in the southern Korean Peninsula), in the tradition of naming new states after historic states (Gubon Sincham, Hanja: 舊本新參, Hangul: 구본신참). The significance of the declaration of an Empire, in the Korean understanding of the situation was to declare Korea's end of tributary relationship with the Qing dynasty. Usually, the usage of Emperor was reserved only for the emperor of China, the Son of Heaven. Korean dynasties had given tribute to Chinese dynasties. When Japan experienced the Meiji Restoration, the Emperor of Japan was declared the source of sovereignty in the Japanese government. Upon receiving news of the Meiji restoration from Japan, the Korean government refused to acknowledge the change. Not only did it challenge the primacy of the Qing Chinese emperor as the symbolic suzerains of Korea but Japan's address also addressed Korea as an empire, rather than as a tributary of the Qing dynasty. The change in title for Korea to empire only became possible after the Sino-Japanese war.
A group of Korean officials and intellectuals felt great necessity of the comprehensive reform of the country, after the observation tour of other modernized countries. More and more intellectuals were informed of the Western civilization and became conscious of the modernized powerful nations of Europe and America. Later, the progressives within the group initiated The Gabo Reform in 1894 and the moderate reformists carried out the Gwangmu Reform during the Great Korean Empire.
American missionaries, who had close relationships with the Korean royal court, also helped the propagation of Western culture. Under royal finance and support, American missionary doctor Horace N. Allen introduced Western medicine by establishing Gwanghyewon, what would become Severance Hospital and the oldest Western-style hospital in Korea. Additionally, the missionaries provided Western education for Korean girls, who had previously been excluded from the educational system.
The Gwangmu reform was aimed at modernizing and westernizing Korea as a late starter in the industrial revolution. The first legislation enacted by the new state was the 1897 Law on Weights and Measures standardizing Korea's various local systems of traditional weights and measures. The same year, the cadastral survey project was launched by the Gwangmu government, aiming at modernizing the landownership system. In order to apply Western surveying methods, American surveyors were hired. After the survey, a property title, "Jigye", showing the exact dimension of the land, were supposed to be issued by the authorities concerned. That reform was closely involved to the reform of land tax system, which was conducted under the leadership of Yi Yong-ik, who also carried out the monetary reforms in Korea. The project was interrupted owing to the Russo-Japanese War in 1904–1905, after having finished about two-thirds of the whole land.
In that time, modern urban infrastructure was built by the Gwangmu government. In 1898, the emperor authorized the creation of a joint venture with American businessmen. In consequence, Hanseong Electric Company, operating a public electrical lighting network and an electric streetcar system was founded. Seoul Fresh Spring Water Company had an American connection as well. In 1902, six years after the first introduction of telephone in Korea, the first long-distance public phone was installed.
During the Gwangmu period, the industrial promotion policy was also conducted by the Korean government. It gave support to found technical and industrial schools. In that time, along with modernized weaving factories which were established to meet demand for textiles on domestic market, technological innovations in the field of weaving industry occurred in Korea. For instance, spinning and weaving machines were made for producing silk, so as to be substituted for high-cost machines from abroad.
During the Gwangmu period, Western-style official uniforms were introduced in Korea. Initially, Koreans were quite hostile to Western dress, and mocked Japanese who had adopted Western style-dress after the Meiji Restoration. At the start, the Korean Emperor had begun to wear Prussian-style royal attire along with Korean diplomats, who wore Western suits. In 1900, Western attire became the official uniform for the Korean civil officials. Several years later, all Korean soldiers and policemen were assigned to wear Western uniforms.
In the military sphere, the Korean army as it existed in the early 1890s consisted of about 5,000 soldiers and it was increased to an immense amount of 28,000 right before the Russo-Japanese War. Training by Russian officers beginning in 1896 led to the organization of a 1,000-strong royal bodyguard armed with Berdan rifles that served as the core of an improved army. From this core unit, soldiers were sometimes transferred to other units, which included five regiments of about 900 men each.
However, the Gwangmu reform was not radical because of foreign liabilities, suppression of democracy, and a slow pace. Instead, Korea became an object of contention between Japan and Russia.
On August 22, 1904, the first treaty between Japan and Korea, known as First Japan–Korea Convention, was signed. The Taft–Katsura Agreement (also known as the Taft–Katsura Memorandum) was issued on July 17, 1905, and was not actually a secret pact or agreement between the United States and Japan, but rather a set of notes regarding discussions on U.S.-Japanese relations between members of the governments of the United States and Japan. The Japanese Prime Minister Taro Katsura used the opportunity presented by Secretary of War William Howard Taft's stopover in Tokyo to extract a statement from (representative of the Roosevelt Administration) Taft's feeling toward the Korea question. Taft expressed in the Memorandum how a suzerain relationship with Japan guiding Korea would "contribute to permanent peace in the Far East".
In September 1905, Russia and Japan signed the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the Russo-Japanese War and firmly establishing Japan's consolidation of influence on Korea. Secret diplomatic contacts were sent by the Gwangmu Emperor in the fall of 1905 to entities outside of Korea presenting Korea's desperate case to preserve their sovereignty because normal diplomatic channels were no longer an option due to the constant surveillance by the Japanese.
On November 17, 1905 the Eulsa Treaty (known also as "1905 Agreement", "The Five Article Treaty" or "Second Japan-Korean Convention") was signed in Korea even before Dr. Homer Hulbert's mission entered Washington. Reportedly, the seal of the Korean Foreign Ministry was snatched and pressed on the document which had been prepared by the Japanese. One week after the forced "treaty" the State Department withdrew its U.S. legation from Korea even before Korea notified the U.S. of their new "protectorate" status.
The empire began with the law and perception of the international system at the time stacked against what was a slowly modernizing country. In the end, a weak military, and the remaining legacy of Korea's tributary relationship with Qing held Korea back from fending off foreign encroachment. Eventually the Gwangmu Emperor was forced to abdicate in 1907 in favor of his son, Emperor Sunjong, who became the second and last emperor of Korea, due to his attempt to send delegates to the Hague Peace Conference (Hague Convention of 1907) in violation of the arbitrarily implemented Eulsa Treaty. The delegation at The Hague was led by Yi Sang-seol and his deputy Yi Tjoune, Yi Wi-jong presented a diplomatic attempt to reclaim the Empire's sovereignty. Although Korea pleaded its case to the powerful members of colonial elite nations at The Hague, the view of protectorate status of Japan from the growing Japanese influences over Korea seemed natural and beneficial at the height of colonialism in the first decade of the twentieth century to the Westerners.
Prior to the Korean Empire, several dynastic rulers of Gojoseon, Buyeo, Goguryeo, Silla, Baekje, Balhae, and Goryeo claimed the right to imperial status and used imperial titles at one time or another.
Emperor of Korea was the title of head of state of the Korean Empire between 1897 and 1910.. It was established with the inauguration of Gojong, in November 1897, and ended with the abolition of emperor Sunjong on August 29, 1910. In 1910, the head of the Gyeongsul National Assembly was taken over by the Japanese emperor, and the head of the government was taken over by Japanese Prime Minister Masatake Terauchi as the first governor of Joseon.Empress Sunjeong
Empress Sunjeong (19 September 1894 – 3 February 1966) was the consort of Emperor Yunghui, the last emperor of the Joseon Dynasty and Korea.Gojong of Korea
Gojong (Hangul: 고종; Hanja: 高宗; RR: Gojong; MR: Kojong), the Emperor Gwangmu (Hangul: 광무제; Hanja: 光武帝; RR: Gwangmuje; MR: Kwangmuje; 8 September 1852 – 21 January 1919), was the last king of Joseon and the first Emperor of Korea.Governor-General of Korea
The Governor-General of Chosen was the chief administrator of the Japanese colonial government in Korea from 1910 to 1945.
The Governor-General of Chosen was established shortly after the Korean Empire was formally annexed by the Empire of Japan in the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910 to replace the title of Resident-General. The Governor-General of Chosen was appointed from Tokyo and accountable to the Emperor of Japan. The Governor-General of Chosen was responsible for colonial government affairs in Korea, including infrastructure, culture, justice, and the suppression of freedom of speech and the Korean independence movement.The Governor-General of Chosen was seated in the General Government Building in Keijō (Seoul) after its completion in 1926.House of Yi
The House of Yi or Korean Imperial Household, also called the Yi Dynasty or known as Yi clan of Jeonju, is the household of Joseon and the Korean Empire, consisting of the descendants of Yi Seonggye, the founder of Joseon, known by his posthumous name, Taejo ("highest ancestor"). All his descendants are members of the Yi clan of Jeonju, including the imperial family of the Korean Empire (1897–1910).
After the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910, in which the Empire of Japan annexed the Korean Peninsula, some members of the Yi clan of Jeonju were mediatised into the Imperial House of Japan and the Japanese peerage by the Japanese government until 1947, just before the Constitution of Japan was promulgated. Under the 11th Article of the Constitution of South Korea, the Korean government does not acknowledge any form of privileged caste since its promulgation in 1948. Nevertheless, they continue to attract occasional media attention in South Korea. This happened most recently with the July 2005 funeral of Yi Gu, former head of the royal household.
Since the death of Yi Gu, Prince Imperial Hoeun in 2005, the succession of the title for the head of the Yi clan has been disputed. The Imperial Grandsons Association, which is run by members of the family and the city of Jeonju, home of the Yi Dynasty, considers Prince Yi Seok as the head of the family. Another organization formed by Yi Won in 2012, (대한황실문화원, 大韓皇室文化院) put forth Yi Won as the head of the house. Finally, Yi Hae-won, second daughter of the Prince Yi Kang, made a counter-claim as the "Empress of Korea" in a private ceremony organized by her followers in a hotel room.Japan–Korea Agreement of August 1904
The Japan–Korea Protocol of August 1904 was made between representatives of the Empire of Japan and the Korean Empire in 1904. Negotiations were concluded on August 22, 1904.Japan–Korea Treaty of 1904
The Japan–Korea Treaty of 1904 was made between representatives of the Empire of Japan and the Korean Empire in 1904. Negotiations were concluded on February 23, 1904.Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905
The Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905, also known as the Eulsa Treaty, Eulsa Unwilling Treaty or Japan–Korea Protectorate Treaty, was made between the Empire of Japan and the Korean Empire in 1905. Negotiations were concluded on November 17, 1905. The treaty deprived Korea of its diplomatic sovereignty and made Korea a protectorate of Imperial Japan. It resulted from Imperial Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.Japan–Korea Treaty of 1907
The Japan–Korea Treaty of 1907 was made between the Empire of Japan and the Korean Empire in 1907. Negotiations were concluded on July 24, 1907.Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910
The Japan–Korea Treaty of 1910, also known as the Japan–Korea Annexation Treaty, was made by representatives of the Empire of Japan and the Korean Empire on August 22, 1910. In this treaty, Japan formally annexed Korea following the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905 by which Korea became a protectorate of Japan and Japan–Korea Treaty of 1907 by which Korea was deprived of the administration of internal affairs.
Japanese commentators predicted that Koreans would easily assimilate into the Japanese Empire.In 1965, the Treaty of Basic Relations between South Korea and Japan confirmed this treaty is "already null and void".Korean Empire passport
Korean Empire passports were issued to subjects of the Korean Empire for international travel.Korean Seon
Seon Buddhism (Korean: 선, 禪; IPA: [sŏn]) is the transformative facture of Chan Buddhism tradition and creed in Korea. A main feature of Seon Buddhism is a method of meditation, Ganhwa Seon (Korean: 간화선/看話禪). A Korean monk, Jinul (Korean: 지눌/知訥) accepted partially a meditative method of Chan Buddhism in 1205. In Chan Buddhism, hwadu (Korean: 화두/話頭) was a delivery of realising a natural state of the Awakening. Jinul addressed a doctrine of Sagyo Yiepseon (Korean: 사교입선/捨敎入禪)) that monks should live an inborn life after learning and forgetting all creeds and theories. Within the doctrine of Jinul, hwadu is the witnessing of truthful meaning in everyday life.Korean era name
Korean era names were used during the period of Silla, Goguryeo, Balhae, Taebong, Goryeo, Joseon, and the Korean Empire. Dangun-giwon, the era name originating from the foundation of Gojoseon is also widely used in Korea as an indication of long civilisation of Korea.Korean won
The won (; Korean: 원(圓), Korean pronunciation: [wʌn]) was the currency of the Korean Empire between 1902 and 1910. It was subdivided into 100 jeon (; Korean: 전(錢), Korean pronunciation: [tɕʌn]).List of Korean flags
This is a list of flags used by South Korea, North Korea, and their predecessor states.National anthem of the Korean Empire
The "Patriotic Hymn of the Great Korean Empire" (Hunminjeongeum: 대한제국 애국가; Hanja: 大韓帝國愛國歌; lit. "Great Korean empire loving country song") was the national anthem of the Korean Empire, used during the early 20th century. It was the first national anthem of a unified Korean state and to date, the last one.Orders, decorations, and medals of South Korea
The South Korean honors system includes orders of merit, medals of honor, and commendations conferred by the South Korean government onto its citizens and foreigners.Postage stamps and postal history of Korea
This is a survey of the postage stamps and postal history of Korea.
Before a strict isolationist country, Korea began to open up in the second half of the 19th century.Sunjong of Korea
Sunjong, the Emperor Yunghui (Hangul: 융희제; Hanja: 隆熙帝; RR: Yunghuije; MR: Yunghŭije; 25 March 1874 – 24 April 1926), was the second and the last Emperor of Korea, of the Yi dynasty, ruling from 1907 until 1910.