A Korean Tragedy

by fulltimestudent 32 Replies latest jw friends

  • fulltimestudent

    The modern history is full of deep, dark tragedies. And, my intention, as I sat down to write of those tragedies for a FB page I look after for a Macquarie University student society, was to tell the story of these very dark contemporary events. But East Asia history is complex and I think its helpful to try to have an overview of that history to understand what has happened in the recent past.

    A Korean Tragedy.

    The Back Story. 1. The Mongols, Korea, China and Japan

    In the first decade of the 13th century, Chingiis Khan and his armies commenced small scale raids into one of the smaller Northern Dynasties of China, but it was not until 1271 that Kublai Khan had conquered sufficient territory to declare himself the Emperor of China.

    While attempting to subdue Chinese opposition, the Mongol army first invaded Korea, *in 1231) there was strong resistance and only in 1259 did the King sue for peace with the Mongols. However, some army units continued resistance until 1273. The Mongols, having achieved control of most of East Asia, now sought to invade Japan, using Chinese and Korean resources. In 1274, a combined army of Mongols, Chinese and Korean troops sailed on some 800 ships on the first of two ill-fated invasions. Despite having superior weapons (e.g. poisoned arrows, fire arrows, bow-launched arrows with small rocket engines attached and gunpowder-packed exploding arrows and grenades with ceramic shells thrown by slings to terrify the enemy's horses), the invaders were defeated.

    The Mongol military machine was not about to give up. They organised a second invasion force. According to some sources, as many as 100,000 highly skilled warriors and near to 4,500 ships took part in the second invasion. This time the Mongols nearly succeeded. Legend has it that as battle seemed lost, the Emperor prayed to his ancestors who sent a ‘divine wind’ (kamikaze) that destroyed much of the invasion force and drowned near 100,000 men.

    The Mongol era in East Asia was not all doom and spilt blood. This was the East Asia that Marco Polo described in glowing terms. With a unified political authority stretching across Asia, East-West trade surged and there were many cultural exchanges.

    Yet, in China, the Mongols began to lose control with various peasant uprisings demonstrating the dynasty’s growing weakness. Two native rivals fought for political control of China, and in 1363, in a naval battle known as the 'Battle of Lake Poyang' (termed by some historians as the largest naval battle in history) Zhu Yuanzhang eliminated his opponent, and by 1368, his armies were able to control much of China as the Ming (Bright) Dynasty.

  • fulltimestudent

    A Korean Tragedy.

    The Back Story. 2. Ming China, Korea and Japan

    1. By 1370 the last of the Mongolian armies left China, but did not give up on efforts to regain, at least control of some areas, of China. Because of that constant threat, China under the Ming has been described as an armed camp, with an army of one million. That’s the time when the Great Wall, that was already over 1500 years old (parts anyway) was rebuilt with masonry walls, as you can see near Beijing today.


    Tomorrow (hopefully)

    1. The Qing Empire and Korea.

    1. Russia, Japan and Korea

    Korea divided

    Korea’s darkest time

  • Bungi Bill
    Bungi Bill


    Interesting, and we look forward to hearing further!

  • cofty

    Thank you.

  • smiddy3

    I look forward to the next installments fts.

  • WingCommander

    Damn you Monguls!!!!!!!!!

  • fulltimestudent

    A Korean Tragedy.

    The Back Story. 2. Ming China, Korea and Japan.


    Additional details in this section go some way to explaining the deep seated hatred in the Korean psyche towards the Japanese. Beginning approximately in the 1559's Japanese raiders began hitting Korean coastal towns and villages.In 1592 a very large Japanese army landed at Pusan, overwhelmed the local Korean forces and commenced a three pronged march toward Seoul. The initial response of the Korean government was weak, and the situation was only partially saved by the spontaneous formation of guerrilla groups known as 'uibyong' (righteous armies). A Ming Chinese relief Army also arrived in Korea and eventually forced the Japanese to retreat. A second Japanese attempt in 1597 was also repulsed, The cost to Koreans during this seven year period national defense was great. There was a marked decrease in the population, due not just to deaths in the war, but also the famine and disease which ravaged most of Korea. So even after a regime change in Japan and the restoration of a relationship between the two states, Koreans generally retained a deep animosity towards the Japanese.

    That Korean-Japanese war also caused other problems in East Asia. Its possible to mark the decline of the MIng dynasty in China from that war, so that by 1644, the rising Qing were able to just march through an opened gate in the Great Wall and begin their long-planned conquest of China. For around the next 250 years China was subjected to Manchurian rule.Of course, while many Chinese wanted (and planned) to expel the Manchus, other cultural forces were at work, and eventually the Manchus, became "Chinese," so that today, the former Manchuria, generally known now as the 'Dongbei' (the North east) is just another part of China. During those years of Chinese decline, the Manchu's (the Qing) also commenced forcing the Koreans into a vassal status.

  • fulltimestudent

    A Korean Tragedy.

    The Back Story 3. The Qing Empire and Korea.

    As summarized in the previous entry the Manchus became the dominant political power in N. E. Asia. Nurhaci, an ambitious local ruler, once swearing loyalty to the Ming, began to organize an attempt to win control of China. In 1636, under the name of the Qing dynasty Korea was invaded and the Joseon Dynasty was forced to cut off their relationship with Ming China and submit to a vassal status to the Manchurian Qing. By 1644 Qing armies were in Beijing and on their way to control of China. During the years when the Qing Dynasty controlled China, Korea had a close relationship with the Qing, but by the beginning of the 20th century that relationship had weakened and would soon prove to be useless.

    In the above 400-500 years of history Koreans experienced many tragedies, but the worst tragedies were still to come.

    In the nineteenth century ambitious European powers began to seek to colonise East Asia. At first East Asians – Japan, Korea and China in particular attempted to close their borders to these new aggressions.

    And, it is in the political machinations that occurred under the pressure of European aggression that today’s Korean tragedy began to unfold.

    Around China's borders, under both the Ming and Qing regimes, relationships were built with most neighbour states, not just with Korea.** Most of those relationships revolved around what we may call today a "favoured nation' status. That is, a right to trade with China. These relationships could be widespread, for example the Ryukyu Kingdom, centred on what is now Okinawa had a relationship with Qing China. In the Philipinnes (before the Spanish) a small kingdom had a relationship with China. The north of Vietnam was in a tributary relationship with Qing China, as did a northern section of Burma (now Myanmar). Tibet also had submitted to the Qing before the Qing took control of China. Tibetan Buddhism was the form of Buddhism used by the Imperial Qing family.

    However, under pressure from various European states, Great Britain, France, Germany and Russia, all these previous alliances and relationships came under pressure.

    The reactions of the key states, China, Japan and Korea. was to close their borders. As a policy it failed.

    ** A list of tributary alliances can be found in this Wikipedia entry:


  • cofty


  • fulltimestudent

    A Korean Tragedy.

    The Back Story. 4. Russia, Japan and Korea.

    Russia had taken control of Siberia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, this brought certain tensions between the Russian Empire and the Qing Empire which now controlled China. After some conflict a relationship developed until in the general melee occurring during the European incursions into East Asia, the Russian Empire grabbed a chunk of the Qing (Manchu) homeland, the section of land where Vladivostok now stands. Russia also wanted some of the action in the weakened Qing Empire.

    In 1853 the USA decided to join the fun and the U.S. government sent a fleet to “open Japan” Faced with the problem of superior weapons that the Americans showed off, the Japanese Bakufu (Military government) decided to allow access. ( A website of the U.S.State Dept. Office of the Historian has a reasonable summary of the event ( https://history.state.gov/milestones/1830-1860/opening-to-japan ). It should be noted that Japan had previously allowed greater access to the Portuguese in Nagasaki, and the Jesuits had established a base in Nagasaki. The Bakufu eventually cancelled that permission (after claimed abuse) and massacred the Catholic converts. The Dutch were allowed limited trading rights after that.

    Events moved quickly in ‘open’ Japan. A rebellion destroyed the Bakufu government and a new government set about ‘westernising’ (if you think that’s a good term). Japan also had Imperial ambitions and closely watched how the “West” went about doing things.

    Japan had some good teachers, as they watched the semi-colonisation of China. In the 1880’s France decided they wanted to control Vietnam. Vietnam had a close association with Qing China, and this brought conflict between France and the Qing Empire. A war (the Sino-French war, December 1883 – April 1885) developed. One of the first French actions was to sail a naval fleet into the harbour where a Chinese fleet (the Nanyang – South fleet) was based at Mawei part of Fuzhou city, and without any declaration of war, started firing, destroying most of the Chinese ships and a new machine shop (one of the largest in the world at that time).

    I assume the Japanese watched closely, why? Because that was a technique they later used against the Russians and in December, 1941 against the USA.

    It’s difficult to quickly describe all the complex moves behind my simplified summaries, and none more so than with the next major conflict in East Asia. In July 1894, Japan and China became involved in what is known (in the west) as the First Sino-Japanese war. It was a move by Japan to expel the Qing Empire from Korea. Japan’s armed forces showed great skill. The Japanese army was trained and advised by Imperial Germany. It was the advice of the head of the German mission that Korea was a geographical threat to their security. The Japanese Navy was trained and advised by the British Navy, at that time, surely the best in the world.

    The Japanese won easily. There Navy destroyed most of the Qing Northern fleet. The Japanese army was able to win control of large parts of Manchuria (now the North East provinces of modern China).

    In the ensuing peace negotiations, Japan took control of Taiwan, the Liaodong Peninsula and the Penghu Island, “in perpetuity.” The Qing government also had to pay 13,600 tons of silver to Japan as war reparations (that was 6.5 years of government revenue for the Japanese). A second treaty made the Qing concede to the Japanese the right to navigate the Yangzi River deep into the Chinese heartland, and the right to establish factories in any “Treaty” Port.

    Japanese beheading Chinese Pows.

    The failure of the Qing in this war caused deep resentment in China, and it can be argued, that the end of the Qing became inevitable. By 1911 the Qing would abdicate, but the Revolution that toppled the Qing would continue until 1949 and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

    From a global geo-political viewpoint, Japan’s victory meant that Japan supplanted China as THE political power in East Asia

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