As printed in A HANDBOOK OF KOREA, 9th, 1993;
Published by the Korean Overseas Information Service


Korea: A Protectorate of Japan

Colonial Consolidation

At the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War, Korea proclaimed its neutrality to the world. Nevertheless, Japan sent troops into Seoul in large numbers and, on February 23, 1904, forced the Korean government to sign the Korea-Japan Protocol. This unilaterally exacted Korean concessions necessary for Japan’s execution of the war. Japan stationed six and a half battalions in Korea, which laid military railways, seized Korean telegraphic and telephone networks by occupying the Central Telecommunications Office, and pre-empted land for military use. In September, Japan proclaimed military control over the whole territory of Korea, decreeing the death penalty for any Korean national caught trespassing on the military railway communications line.

By a revision of the military rule of January 6, 1905, Japan suppressed any anti-Japanese movement through assembly, associations, or the press, proclaiming on July 3 that those violating the military rule would be dealt with under Japanese law. In the first Korea-Japan Agreement concluded on August 22, 1904, it was stipulated that a financial consultant would be appointed from among the Japanese and a diplomatic consultant from among nationals of third powers recommended by the Japanese government. This provision was obviously designed to deprive Korea of its national rights.

The agreement was reinforced by the “Principles Concerning Facilities in Korea” concluded late in May 1904, which granted extensive privileges to Japan. These included the stationing of troops in Korea even after the Russo-Japanese War, expropriation of land for military use,supervision of Korea’s diplomacy and financial administration, seizure of Korea’s transportation and communications facilities, and exploitation of concessions in agriculture, forestry, mining and fisheries.

Japan sent as diplomatic consultant an exofficial of its foreign office, an American named Stevens, and as financial consultant Megata Tanetaro, an official of its Ministry of Finance. The latter assumed full authority over Korea’s financial administration, and by a currency reform, brought the Korean currency under the Japanese monetary system, devaluating it by from one fifth to one half in order to plunder Korean properties. Japanese officials further penetrated the Korean government to work in the Ministry of War, the Police, and the Ministry of Education, and in the Royal Household as consultants, thereby undermining the government’s authority.

During the war with Russia, Japan and Great Britain revised the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Alliance on August 12, 1905, obtaining British consent to the Japanese scheme for colonizing Korea under the guise of protection. In the secret Taft-Katsura agreement, Japan and the United States recognized Japan’s prerogatives in Korea. At the Portsmouth Peace Conference, which was concluded in September 1905, Japan requested that “Korea be placed at Japan’s free disposal” in accordance with the second Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Alliance and the U.S.-Japanese agreement.

The United States, Great Britain and Russia at last gave international acquiescence to Japanese aggression in Korea. Recognizing that Japan possessed superior political, military and economic interests in Korea, the U.S. president rejected Emperor Kojong’s personal letter on the illegitimacy of the Korea-Japan treaty presented through the efforts of missionary-diplomat Homer B. Hulbert.

Immediately after the Portsmouth Treaty went into effect, Japan sent Ito Hirobumi to Korea and forced the Korean government to conclude the second Korea-Japan Treaty. By that time Seoul had already been invaded by a Japanese cavalry unit, an artillery battalion and a milititary police unit. On November 17, Ito pressed the Korean government to sign the draft treaty designed to isolate the Korean government by severing its foreign relations completely. Diplomacy was then taken from Korean control and placed under the control of the Japanese Foreign Office. The treaty also established the Office of the Resident-General in Korea to enforce colonial rule.

Resident-General and Resistance

Outright control by Japanese began on February 1, 1906. The Resident-General was invested with full authority in regard to Korea’s diplomacy, domestic administration and military affairs. Through the Council for Improvement of Korean Administration, he pressed the Korean government to accept Japan’s aggressive policy in the fields of finance, banking, agriculture, forestry, mining, transportation, education, culture, jurisprudence, internal security, local administration and the royal household.

In order to cover up their coercive actions, the Resident-General sent Stevens, paid by the Korean government, to the United States to advance Japanese propaganda. Upon his arrival in San Francisco, Stevens, who is said to have received several tens of thousands of dollars from the Japanese, made a false statement that the Korean people in general welcomed the Korea-Japan treaty. Infuriated by this canard, Korean emigrants Chang In-hwan and Chon Myong-un assassinated him in March 1907.

When Emperor Kojong dispatched an emissary to the Peace Conference at the Hague in June 1907 and exposed to the world Japan’s aggressive policy, the Office of the Resident-General forced the monarch to abdicate the throne, and the third Korea-Japan Agreement of July was forced upon Korea, which provided a legal basis for Japan’s appropriation of Korea. A large number of Japanese officials penetrated the executive and judicial branches of the Korean government, accelerating the Japanese scheme of taking the power of the Korean government. The Korean armed forces were disarmed and disbanded and the judicial system was reorganized to serve Japanese aggression. Moreover, in a secret memorandum attached to the Korean-Japan agreement, it was stipulated that Korean military forces would be dissolved and that courts, newly-constructed prisons, and the police would be turned over to Japanese management. This enabled the Japanese to assume actual judicial and police authority.

The Korean Empire was now a nominal one. The Japanese aggressors exerted armed pressure upon the government through their military forces and police. In June 1910, Japan instituted a military police system by appointing the commander of the Japanese military police to the concurrent post of superintendent for police administration.

While carrying out the war against Russia, Japan promoted a puppet society, the Ilchinhoe. The people reacted with rage, and the Daehan Club, the Hwangsong (Seoul) YMCA and the National Education Research Association attacked the Ilchinhoe vehemently. When Chang Chi-yon, publisher of the Hwangsong Shinmun, assailed the protectorate treaty in an editorial, Japanese police arrested him and closed down his newspaper. Another newspaper, the Daehan Maeil Shinbo, published in Korean, Chinese and English, assailed Japan’s agressive and oppressive policies and served as a guide for Korean national resistance.

Many leaders representing all walks of life committed suicide in protest of the forced treaty, and many attempts were made to assassinate ranking officials of the Korean government who had cooperated in bringing the aggressive treaty into being.

Emperor Kojong appealed unsuccessfully to both the United States and the Hague Peace Conference of 1907 for support in repudiating the treaty. Korean resistance to Japanese control intensified, but was ruthlessly suppressed by the Japanese military. Uprisings led by leading Confucian scholars flared in the provinces of Ch‘ungch’ong-do, Cholla-do, Kyongsang-do and Kangwon-do.

Although the resistance fighters, mainly young peasants, were short of weapons, they fought bravely against the Japanese troops. The resistance assumed major proportions and developed into all-out war with Japan when the regular army joined in the fighting after its forced disbandment by the Japanese. Fighting spread to every part of the country, as not only farmers and soldiers, but also hunters and mine workers of northern Korea joined in the resistance. Commanders included Confucian scholars of the yangban class and a number of commoners.

Many pitched battles were fought between 1907 and 1909, but the resistance fighters were more active in guerrilla tactics, rescuing Koreans from Japanese captivity and destroying Japanese transportation and communications facilities. F.A. McKenzie, the only foreigner who visited the volunteer soldiers in their battle areas and personally observed their activities, wrote the following: “As I stood on a mountain pass, looking down on the valley leading to Inch’ön, I recalled these words of my friend. The ‘strong hand of Japan’ was certainly being shown here. I beheld in front of me village after village reduced to ashes. Destruction, thorough and complete, had fallen upon it. Not a single house was left, and not a single wall of a house.”

The situation of the volunteer army was extremely difficult, in that it had to supply itself as best it could with weapons and other necessities to fight against Japan, while the Japanese army and police could easily obtain war supplies from their country. The Korean armed resistance gradually grew weaker, and Japan reported that the Korean volunteer army had ceased to exist in November 1910 or in March 1912 with its last operation in Hwanghae-do province. McKenzie reported, however, that the volunteer army’s resistance may have continued until 1915. At home the resistance took the form of underground organization, while a group of patriots crossed the Amnokkang and Tumangang rivers into Manchuria, where they organized the Korean Independence Army with it stronghold in Kando. This army became the main force in all subsequent struggles against the Japanese. The volunteer soldiers performed a duty as the vanguard in independence resistance both at home and abroad, demonstrating the nation’s ability to resist Japan’s colonial policy.

When the resistance army established a stronghold at Kando, Manchuria, the population of the Kando district as of 1909 consisted of 83,000 Koreans and 21,000 Chinese. The Resident-General, in order to destroy the Korean independence movement there, set up a branch office and stationed an army plus military and civilian police forces in Kando. A corps of Korean independence fighters under the leadership of Hong Pom-do had already moved to Kando, but Japan sought to oppress Korean residents in the district by demanding that China recognize Kando as Korean territory.

There was a change of policy, however, as a result of China’s concession authorizing Japan’s Southern Manchurian Railroad Company to lay branch lines and exploit mining resources in Manchuria. In return, Japan concluded a treaty with China on September 4, 1909, recognizing Chinese territorial rights over Kando.

Nevertheless, the Japanese consulate general newly established in Kando continued to exert pressure against Korean independence activities. A young Korean patriot, An Chung-gun, assassinated Resident-General Ito at the Harbin Railroad Station on October 26, 1909.

Under the treaty concluded on August 22, 1910, and proclaimed a week later, Japan gave the coup de grace to the Korean Empire and changed the Office of the Resident-General to that of Government-General. The proclamation of the treaty had been preceded by severe suppressive measures, including the suspension of newspaper publication and the arrest of thousands of Korean leaders, and the capital in particular was guarded tightly by Japanese combat troops. The treaty was the product of a conspiracy between treacherous Korean officials, who had been the target of national hatred, and Japanese officials of the Office of the Resident-General.

Economic Exploitation

Between 1905 and 1908, Japanese control of Korea’s currency was secured with the rapidly growing volume of Daiichi Bank notes. Supported by generous loans from their home government, Japanese merchants could easily expand their activities and invade the Korean market. Japanese firms operated in Korea with a combined capital in excess of 10 million won. The number of Japanese residents in Korea in 1908 totalled to 126,000, and by 1911 the number had risen to 210,000.

The number of Japanese residents engaged in farming also grew rapidly as Japan’s seizure of Korean land gathered momentum. Korean farmers controlled by the usurious Japanese capital became easy prey to expropriation. The Office of the Resident-General enacted a series of laws concerning land ownership to the decided advantage of the Japanese.

In the meantime, large Japanese capitalists coercively purchased land, mainly in Chölla-do and Ch’ungch’ong-do provinces, during the period from 1905 to 1910. The Honam plain in Chölla-do province, long known as the Korean granary, was rapidly becoming a Japanese farm, and such land seizures quickly spread to other provinces. Intruding into fertile and well-irrigated lands on a nationwide scale, the Japanese advanced toward the north, occupying first the Taegu and Choch’iwon areas along the Seoul-Pusan railway and the Hwangju area along the Seoul-Shinuiju railway.

In order to carry out land expropriation on a broader and more systematic scale, the Resident-General began the practice of distributing to Japanese farmers unclaimed land and military farms of the Korean government. Having worked out a plan aimed at resettling Japanese farmers in Korea, he established the Oriental Development Company in 1908 and seized Korean land, reducing the royal property and its budget.

The Japanese plan called for the seizure of state-owned unreclaimed land, military farms cultivated by troops, and the mobilization of Korean laborers for their reclamation. Within a year, the company had seized 30,000 hectares (75,000 acres) of military farms and unreclaimed land. Property was removed from the royal household by means of removing the power of financial management. This was aimed at preventing Emperor Kojong from raising resistance funds.