"The subjects discussed were mostly political and economical questions, but religion and education were not overlooked. In the beginning the Koreans were shy about standing up before an audience to make a public speech, but after a certain amount of coaching and encouragement I found that hundreds of them could make very effective speeches. I believe the Koreans have a natural talent for public speaking. Of course, all that was said in these meetings was not altogether logical or enlightening; nevertheless, a good many new thoughts were brought out which were beneficial. Besides, the calm and orderly manner in which various subjects were debated on equal footing, produced a wonderful effect among the Korean young men and to those who were in the audience.
"In the course of a year the influence of this club was very great and the members thought it was the most marvellous institution that was ever brought to Korea. The most remarkable thing I noticed was the quick and intelligent manner in which the Korean young men grasped and mastered the intricacies of Parliamentary rule. I often noticed that some Korean raised a question of the point of order in their procedure which was well taken, worthy of expert Parliamentarians of the Western countries.
"The increasing influence of the Independence Club was feared not only by the Korean officials but by some of the foreign representatives, such as Russia and Japan, both of whom did not relish the idea of creating public opinion among the Korean people. The members of the Independence Club did not have any official status, but they enjoyed the privilege of free speech during the meeting of this club, and they did not hesitate to criticize their own officials, as well as those of the foreign nations who tried to put through certain schemes in Korea for the benefit of their selfish interests. In the course of a year and a half the opposition to this club developed in a marked degree not among the people, but among a few government officials and certain members of the foreign legations.
"The first time in Korean history that democracy made its power felt in the government was at the time Russia brought to Korea a large number of army officers to drill the Korean troops. When this question was brought up in the Independence Club debate, and the scheme was thoroughly discussed pro and con by those who took part in the debate, it was the consensus of opinion that the turning over of the Military Department to a foreign power was suicidal policy and they decided to persuade the government to stop this scheme. The next day some 10,000 or more members of the club assembled in front of the palace, and petitioned the Emperor to cancel the agreement of engaging the Russian military officers as they thought it was a dangerous procedure. The Emperor sent a messenger out several times to persuade them to disperse and explain to the people that there was no danger in engaging the Russians as military instructors. But the people did not disperse, nor did they accept the Emperor's explanation. They quietly but firmly refused to move from the palace gates unless the contract with Russia was cancelled.
"When the Russian Minister heard of this demonstration against the contract he wrote a very threatening letter to the Korean government to the effect that the Korean government must disperse the people, by force if necessary, and stop any talk imputing selfish motives on the part of the Russian government. If this was not stopped, the Russian government would withdraw all the officers from Korea at once, and Korea would have to stand the consequences. This communication was shown to the people with the explanation that if they insisted upon cancelling this contract dire consequences would result to Korea. But the people told the government they would stand the consequences, whatever they would be, but would not have Russian officers control their military establishment. The Korean government finally asked the Russian Minister to withdraw their military officers and offered to pay any damage on account of the cancellation of the contract. This was done, and the will of the people was triumphant.
"But this event made opposition to the Independence Club stronger than ever, and the government organized an opposing organization, known as the PEDLARS' GUILD, which was composed of all the pedlars of the country, to counteract the influence this club wielded in the country. In May, 1898, I left Korea for the United States."
Dr. Jaisohn, as a naturalized American citizen, was immune from arrest by the Korean Government, and the worst that could happen to him was dismissal. Another young man who now came to the front in the Independence movement could claim no such immunity. Syngman Rhee, son of a good family, training in Confucian scholarship to win a literary degree and official position, heard with contempt and dislike the tales told by his friends of foreign teachers and foreign religion. His parents were pious Buddhists and Confucians, and he followed their faith. Finding, however, that if he hoped to make good in official life he must know English, he joined the Pai Chai mission school, in Seoul, under Dr. Appenzeller. He became a member of the Independence Club, and issued a daily paper to support his cause. Young, fiery, enthusiastic, he soon came to occupy a prominent place in the organization.
The Independents were determined to have genuine reform, and the mass of the people were still behind them. The Conservatives, who opposed them, now controlled practically all official actions. The Independence Club started a popular agitation, and for months Seoul was in a ferment. Great meetings of the people continued day after day, the shops closing that all might attend. Even the women stirred from their retirement, and held meetings of their own to plead for change. To counteract this movement, the Conservative party revived and called to its aid an old secret society, the Pedlars' Guild, which had in the past been a useful agent for reaction. The Cabinet promised fair things, and various nominal reforms were outlined. The Independents' demands were, in the main, the absence of foreign control, care in granting foreign concessions, public trial of important offenders, honesty in State finance, and justice for all. In the end, another demand was added to these—that a popular representative tribunal should be elected.
When the Pedlars' Guild had organized its forces, the King commanded the disbandment of the Independence Club. The Independents retorted by going en bloc to the police headquarters, and asking to be arrested. Early in November, 1898, seventeen of the Independent leaders were thrown into prison, and would have been put to death but for public clamour. The people rose and held a series of such angry demonstrations that, at the end of five days, the leaders were released.
The Government now, to quiet the people, gave assurances that genuine reforms would be instituted. When the mobs settled down, reform was again shelved. On one occasion, when the citizens of Seoul crowded into the main thoroughfare to renew their demands, the police were ordered to attack them with swords and destroy them. They refused to obey, and threw off their badges, saying that the cause of the people was their cause. The soldiers under foreign officers, however, had no hesitation in carrying out the Imperial commands. As a next move, many thousands of men, acting on an old national custom, went to the front of the palace and sat there in silence day and night for fourteen days. In Korea this is the most impressive of all ways of demonstrating the wrath of the nation, and it greatly embarrassed the Court.
The Pedlars' Guild was assembled in another part of the city, to make a counter demonstration. Early in the morning, when the Independents were numerically at their weakest, the Pedlars attacked them and drove them off. On attempting to return they found the way barred by police. Fight after fight occurred during the next few days between the popular party and the Conservatives, and then, to bring peace, the Emperor promised his people a general audience in front of the palace. The meeting took place amid every surrounding that could lend it solemnity. The foreign representatives and the heads of the Government were in attendance. The Emperor, who stood on a specially built platform, received the leaders of the Independents, and listened to their statement of their case. They asked that the monarch should keep some of his old promises to maintain the national integrity and do justice. The Emperor, in reply, presented them with a formal document, in which he agreed to their main demands.
The crowd, triumphant, dispersed. The organization of the reformers slackened, for they thought that victory was won. Then the Conservative party landed some of its heaviest blows. The reformers were accused of desiring to establish a republic. Dissension was created in their ranks by the promotion of a scheme to recall Pak Yung-hio. Some of the more extreme Independents indulged in wild talk, and gave excuse for official repression. Large numbers of reform leaders were arrested on various pretexts. Meetings were dispersed at the point of the bayonet, and the reform movement was broken. The Emperor did not realize that he had, in the hour that he consented to crush the reformers, pronounced the doom of his own Imperial house, and handed his land over to an alien people.
Dr. Jaisohn maintains that foreign influence was mainly responsible for the destruction of the Independence Club. Certain Powers did not wish Korea to be strong. He adds:
"The passing of the Independence Club was one of the most unfortunate things in the history of Korea, but there is one consolation to be derived from it, and that is, the seed of democracy was sown in Korea through this movement, and that the leaders of the present Independence Movement in Korea are mostly members of the old Independence Club, who somehow escaped with their lives from the wholesale persecution that followed the collapse of the Independence Club. Six out of the eight cabinet members elected by the people this year, (1919) were the former active members of the Independence Club."
Among the Independents arrested was Syngman Rhee. The foreign community, which in a sense stood sponsor for the more moderate of the Independents, brought influence to bear, and it was understood that in a few days the leaders would be released. Some of them were. But Rhee and a companion broke out before release, in order to stir up a revolt against the Government By a misunderstanding their friends were not on the spot to help them, and they were at once recaptured.
Rhee was now exposed to the full fury of the Emperor's wrath. He was thrown into the innermost prison, and for seven months lay one of a line of men fastened to the ground, their heads held down by heavy cangues, their feet in stocks and their hands fastened by chains so that the wrists were level with the forehead. Occasionally he was taken out to be tormented, in ancient fashion. He expected death, and rejoiced when one night he was told that he was to be executed. His death was already announced in the newspapers. But when the guard came they took, not Rhee, but the man fastened down next to him, to whom Rhee had smuggled a farewell message to be given to his father after his death. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
Lying there, the mind of the young reformer went back to the messages he had heard at the mission school He turned to the Christians' God, and his first prayer was typical of the man, "O God, save my country and save my soul." To him, the dark and foetid cell became as the palace of God, for here God spoke to his soul and he found peace.
He made friends with his guards. One of them smuggled a little Testament in to him. From the faint light of the tiny window, he read passage after passage, one of the under-jailers holding the book for him—since with his bound hands he could not hold it himself—and another waiting to give warning of the approach of the chief guard. Man after man in that little cell found God, and the jailer himself was converted.
After seven months of the hell of the inner cell, Rhee was shifted to roomier quarters, where he was allowed more freedom, still, however, carrying chains around his neck and body. He organized a church in the prison, made up of his own converts. Then he obtained text-books and started a school. He did not in the least relax his own principles. He secretly wrote a book on the spirit of Independence during his imprisonment His old missionary friends sought him out and did what they could for him.
Rhee met plenty of his old friends, for the Conservatives were in the saddle now, and were arresting and imprisoning Progressives at every opportunity. Among the newcomers was a famous old Korean statesman, Yi Sang-jai, who had formerly been First Secretary to the Korean Legation at Washington. Yi incurred the Emperor's displeasure and was thrown into prison. He entered it strongly anti-Christian; before two years were over he had become a leader of the Christian band. In due course Yi was released and became Secretary of the Emperor's Cabinet. He carried his Christianity out with him, and later on, when he left office, became Religious Work leader of the Seoul Y.M.C.A. Yi was one of the most loved and honoured men in Korea. Every one who knew him spoke of him in terms of confidence and praise.
Syngman Rhee was not released from prison until 1904. He then went to America, graduated at the George Washington University, took M.A. at Harvard, and earned his Ph.D. at Princeton. He returned to Seoul as an official of the Y.M.C.A., but finding it impossible to settle down under the Japanese regime, went to Honolulu, where he became principal of the Korean School. A few years later he was chosen first President of the Republic of Korea.
When Russia leased the Liaotung Peninsula from China, after having prevented Japan from retaining it, she threw Korea as a sop to Japan. A treaty was signed by which both nations recognized the independence of Korea, but Russia definitely recognized the supreme nature of the Japanese enterprises and interests there, and promised not to impede the development of Japan's commercial and industrial Korean policy. The Russian military instructors and financial adviser were withdrawn from Seoul.
The Emperor of Korea was still in the hands of the reactionaries. His Prime Minister and favourite was Yi Yung-ik, the one-time coolie who had rescued the Queen, and was now the man at the right hand of the throne.
After a time Russia repented of her generosity. She sought to regain control in Korea. She sent M. Pavloff, an astute and charming statesman, to Seoul, and a series of intrigues began. Yi Yung-ik sided with the Russians. The end was war.
One personal recollection of these last days before the war remains stamped on my memory. I was in Seoul and had been invited to an interview with Yi Yung-ik. Squatted on the ground in his apartment we discussed matters. I urged on him the necessity of reform, if Korea was to save herself from extinction. Yi quickly retorted that Korea was safe, for her independence was guaranteed by America and Europe.
"Don't you understand," I urged, "that treaties not backed by power are useless. If you wish the treaties to be respected, you must live up to them. You must reform or perish."
"It does not matter what the other nations are doing," declared the Minister. "We have this day sent out a statement that we are neutral and asking for our neutrality to be respected."
"Why should they protect you, if you do not protect yourself?" I asked.
"We have the promise of America. She will be our friend whatever happens," the Minister insisted.
From that position he would not budge.
Three days later, the Russian ships, the Variag and the Korietz, lay sunken wrecks in Chemulpo Harbour, broken by the guns of the Japanese fleet, and the Japanese soldiers had seized the Korean Emperor's palace. M. Hayashi, the Japanese Minister, was dictating the terms he must accept. Korea's independence was over, in deed if not in name, and Japan was at last about to realize her centuries' old ambition to have Korea for her own.
THE NEW ERA
Japan was now in a position to enforce obedience. Russia could no longer interfere; England would not. A new treaty between Japan and Korea, drawn up in advance, was signed—the Emperor being ordered to assent without hesitation or alteration—and Japan began her work as the open protector of Korea. The Korean Government was to place full confidence in Japan and follow her lead; while Japan pledged herself "in a spirit of firm friendship, to secure the safety and repose" of the Imperial Korean House, and definitely guaranteed the independence and territorial integrity of the country. Japan was to be given every facility for military operations during the war.
The Japanese at first behaved with great moderation. Officials who had been hostile to them were not only left unpunished, but were, some of them, employed in the Japanese service. The troops marching northwards maintained rigid discipline and treated the people well. Food that was taken was purchased at fair prices, and the thousands of labourers who were pressed into the army service as carriers were rewarded with a liberality and promptitude that left them surprised. Mr. Hayashi did everything that he could to reassure the Korean Emperor, and repeatedly told him that Japan desired nothing but the good of Korea and the strengthening of the Korean nation. The Marquis Ito was soon afterwards sent on a special mission from the Mikado, and he repeated and emphasized the declarations of friendship and help.
All this was not without effect upon the Korean mind. The people of the north had learnt to dislike the Russians, because of their lack of discipline and want of restraint. They had been alienated in particular by occasional interference with Korean women by the Russian soldiers. I travelled largely throughout the northern regions in the early days of the war, and everywhere I heard from the people during the first few weeks nothing but expressions of friendship to the Japanese. The coolies and farmers were friendly because they hoped that Japan would modify the oppression of the native magistrates. A section of better-class people, especially those who had received some foreign training, were sympathetic, because they credited Japan's promises and had been convinced by old experience that no far-reaching reforms could come to their land without foreign aid.
As victory followed victory, however, the attitude of the Japanese grew less kindly. A large number of petty tradesmen followed the army, and these showed none of the restraint of the military. They travelled about, sword in hand, taking what they wished and doing as they pleased. Then the army cut down the rate of pay for coolies, and, from being overpaid, the native labourers were forced to toil for half their ordinary earnings. The military, too, gradually began to acquire a more domineering air.
In Seoul itself a definite line of policy was being pursued. The Korean Government had employed a number of foreign advisers. These were steadily eliminated; some of them were paid up for the full time of their engagements and sent off, and others were told that their agreements would not be renewed. Numerous Japanese advisers were brought in, and, step by step, the administration was Japanized. This process was hastened by a supplementary agreement concluded in August, when the Korean Emperor practically handed the control of administrative functions over to the Japanese. He agreed to engage a Japanese financial adviser, to reform the currency, to reduce his army, to adopt Japanese military and educational methods, and eventually to trust the foreign relations to Japan. One of the first results of this new agreement was that Mr. (now Baron) Megata was given control of the Korean finances. He quickly brought extensive and, on the whole, admirable changes into the currency. Under the old methods, Korean money was among the worst in the world. The famous gibe of a British Consul in an official report, that the Korean coins might be divided into good, good counterfeits, bad counterfeits, and counterfeits so bad that they can only be passed off in the dark, was by no means an effort of imagination. In the days before the war it was necessary, when one received any sum of money, to employ an expert to count over the coins, and put aside the worst counterfeits. The old nickels were so cumbersome that a very few pounds' worth of them formed a heavy load for a pony. Mr. Megata changed all this, and put the currency on a sound basis, naturally not without some temporary trouble, but certainly with permanent benefit to the country.
The next great step in the Japanese advance was the acquirement of the entire Korean postal and telegraph system. This was taken over, despite Korean protests. More and more Japanese gendarmes were brought in and established themselves everywhere. They started to control all political activity. Men who protested against Japanese action were arrested and imprisoned, or driven abroad. A notorious pro-Japanese society, the II Chin Hoi, was fostered by every possible means, members receiving for a time direct payments through Japanese sources. The payment at one period was 50 sen (1s.) a day. Notices were posted in Seoul that no one could organize a political society unless the Japanese headquarters consented, and no one could hold a meeting for discussing affairs without permission, and without having it guarded by Japanese police. All letters and circulars issued by political societies were first to be submitted to the headquarters. Those who offended made themselves punishable by martial law.
Gradually the hand of Japan became heavier and heavier. Little aggravating changes were made. The Japanese military authorities decreed that Japanese time should be used for all public work, and they changed the names of the towns from Korean to Japanese. Martial law was now enforced with the utmost rigidity. Scores of thousands of Japanese coolies poured into the country, and spread abroad, acting in a most oppressive way. These coolies, who had been kept strictly under discipline in their own land, here found themselves masters of a weaker people. The Korean magistrates could not punish them, and the few Japanese residents, scattered in the provinces, would not. The coolies were poor, uneducated, strong, and with the inherited brutal traditions of generations of their ancestors who had looked upon force and strength as supreme right. They went through the country like a plague. If they wanted a thing they took it If they fancied a house, they turned the resident out.
They beat, they outraged, they murdered in a way and on a scale of which it is difficult for any white man to speak with moderation. Koreans were flogged to death for offences that did not deserve a sixpenny fine. They were shot for mere awkwardness. Men were dispossessed of their homes by every form of guile and trickery. It was my lot to hear from Koreans themselves and from white men living in the districts, hundreds upon hundreds of incidents of this time, all to the same effect. The outrages were allowed to pass unpunished and unheeded. The Korean who approached the office of a Japanese resident to complain was thrown out, as a rule, by the underlings.
One act on the part of the Japanese surprised most of those who knew them best. In Japan itself opium-smoking is prohibited under the heaviest penalties, and elaborate precautions are taken to shut opium in any of its forms out of the country. Strict anti-opium laws were also enforced in Korea under the old administration. The Japanese, however, now permitted numbers of their people to travel through the interior of Korea selling morphia to the natives. In the northwest in particular this caused quite a wave of morphia-mania.
The Japanese had evidently set themselves to acquire possession of as much Korean land as possible. The military authorities staked out large portions of the finest sites in the country, the river-lands near Seoul, the lands around Pyeng-yang, great districts to the north, and fine strips all along the railway. Hundreds of thousands of acres were thus acquired. A nominal sum was paid as compensation to the Korean Government—a sum that did not amount to one-twentieth part of the real value of the land. The people who were turned out received, in many cases, nothing at all, and, in others, one-tenth to one-twentieth of the fair value. The land was seized by the military, nominally for purposes of war. Within a few months large parts of it were being resold to Japanese builders and shopkeepers, and Japanese settlements were growing up on them. This theft of land beggared thousands of formerly prosperous people.
The Japanese Minister pushed forward, in the early days of the war, a scheme of land appropriation that would have handed two-thirds of Korea over at a blow to a Japanese concessionaire, a Mr. Nagamori, had it gone through. Under this proposal all the waste lands of Korea, which included all unworked mineral lands, were to be given to Mr. Nagamori nominally for fifty years, but really on a perpetual lease, without any payment or compensation, and with freedom from taxation for some time. Mr. Nagamori was simply a cloak for the Japanese Government in this matter. The comprehensive nature of the request stirred even the foreign representatives in Seoul to action. For the moment the Japanese had to abandon the scheme. The same scheme under another name was carried out later when the Japanese obtained fuller control.
It may be asked why the Korean people did not make vigorous protests against the appropriation of their land. They did all they could, as can be seen by the "Five Rivers" case. One part of the Japanese policy was to force loans upon the Korean Government. On one occasion it was proposed that Japan should lend Korea 2,000,000 yen. The residents in a prosperous district near Seoul, the "Five Rivers," informed the Emperor that if he wanted money, they would raise it and so save them the necessity of borrowing from foreigners. Soon afterwards these people were all served with notice to quit, as their land was wanted by the Japanese military authorities. The district contained, it was said, about 15,000 houses. The inhabitants protested and a large number of them went to Seoul, demanding to see the Minister for Home Affairs. They were met by a Japanese policeman, who was soon reenforced by about twenty others, who refused to allow them to pass. A free fight followed. Many of the Koreans were wounded, some of them severely, and finally, in spite of stubborn resistance, they were driven back. Later, a mixed force of Japanese police and soldiers went down to their district and drove them from their villages.
The Japanese brought over among their many advisers, one foreigner—an American, Mr. Stevens—who had for some time served in the Japanese Foreign Office. Mr. Stevens was nominally in the employment of the Korean Government, but really he was a more thoroughgoing servant of Japan than many Japanese themselves. Two foreigners, whose positions seemed fairly established, were greatly in the way of the new rulers. One was Dr. Allen, the American Minister at Seoul. Dr. Allen had shown himself to be an independent and impartial representative of his country. He was friendly to the Japanese, but did not think it necessary to shut his eyes to the darker sides of their administration. This led to his downfall. He took opportunity, on one or two occasions, to tell his Government some unpalatable truths. The Japanese came to know it. They suggested indirectly that he was not persona grata to them. He was summarily and somewhat discourteously recalled, his successor, Mr. E.V. Morgan, arriving at Seoul with authorization to replace him. The next victim was Mr. McLeavy Brown, the Chief Commissioner of Customs. Mr. Brown had done his utmost to work with the Japanese, but there were conflicts of authority between him and Mr. Megata. Negotiations were entered into with the British authorities, and Mr. Brown had to go. He was too loyal and self-sacrificing to dispute the ruling, and submitted in silence.
As the summer of 1905 drew to a close it became more and more clear that the Japanese Government, despite its many promises to the contrary, intended completely to destroy the independence of Korea. Even the Court officials were at last seriously alarmed, and set about devising means to protect themselves. The Emperor had thought that because Korean independence was provided for in various treaties with Great Powers, therefore he was safe. He had yet to learn that treaty rights, unbacked by power, are worth little more than the paper upon which they are written.
The Emperor trusted in particular to the clause in the Treaty with the United States in 1882 that if other Powers dealt unjustly or oppressively with Korea, America would exert her good offices to bring about an amicable arrangement In vain did the American Minister, his old friend Dr. Allen—who had not yet gone—try to disillusion him.
Early in November the Marquis Ito arrived in Seoul on another visit, this time as Special Envoy from the Emperor of Japan. He brought with him a letter from the Mikado, saying that he hoped the Korean Emperor would follow the directions of the Marquis, and come to an agreement with him, for it was essential for the maintenance of peace in the Far East that he should do so.
Marquis Ito was received in formal audience on November 15th, and there presented a series of demands, drawn up in treaty form. These were, in the main, that the foreign relations of Korea should be placed entirely in the hands of Japan, the Korean diplomatic service brought to an end, and the Ministers recalled from foreign Courts. The Japanese Minister to Korea was to became supreme administrator of the country under the Emperor, and the Japanese Consuls in the different districts were to be made Residents, with the powers of supreme local governors. In other words, Korea was entirely to surrender her independence as a State, and was to hand over control of her internal administration to the Japanese. The Emperor met the request with a blank refusal. The conversation between the two, as reported at the time, was as follows.
The Emperor said—
"Although I have seen in the newspapers various rumours that Japan proposed to assume a protectorate over Korea, I did not believe them, as I placed faith in Japan's adherence to the promise to maintain the independence of Korea which was made by the Emperor of Japan at the beginning of the war and embodied in a treaty between Korea and Japan. When I heard you were coming to my country I was glad, as I believed your mission was to increase the friendship between our countries, and your demands have therefore taken me entirely by surprise."
To which Marquis Ito rejoined—
"These demands are not my own; I am only acting in accordance with a mandate from my Government, and if Your Majesty will agree to the demands which T have presented it will be to the benefit of both nations and peace in the East will be assured for ever. Please, therefore, consent quickly."
The Emperor replied—
"From time immemorial it has been the custom of the rulers of Korea, when confronted with questions so momentous as this, to come to no decision until all the Ministers, high and low, who hold or have held office, have been consulted, and the opinion of the scholars and the common people have been obtained, so that I cannot now settle this matter myself."
Said Marquis Ito again—
"Protests from the people can easily be disposed of, and for the sake of the friendship between the two countries Your Majesty should come to a decision at once."
To this the Emperor replied—
"Assent to your proposal would mean the ruin of my country, and I will therefore sooner die than agree to it."
The conference lasted nearly five hours, and then the Marquis had to leave, having accomplished nothing. He at once tackled the members of the Cabinet, individually and collectively. They were all summoned to the Japanese Legation on the following day, and a furious debate began, starting at three o'clock in the afternoon, and lasting till late at night. The Ministers had sworn to one another beforehand that they would not yield. In spite of threats, cajoleries, and proffered bribes, they remained steadfast The arguments used by Marquis Ito and Mr. Hayashi, apart from personal ones, were twofold. The first was that it was essential for the peace of the Far East that Japan and Korea should be united. The second appealed to racial ambition. The Japanese painted to the Koreans a picture of a great united East, with the Mongol nations all standing firm and as one against the white man, who would reduce them to submission if he could. The Japanese were determined to give the Cabinet no time to regather its strength. On the 17th of November, another conference began at two in the afternoon at the Legation, but equally without result. Mr. Hayashi then advised the Ministers to go to the palace and open a Cabinet Meeting in the presence of the Emperor. This was done, the Japanese joining in.
[Footnote 1: As it may be questioned whether the Japanese would use such arguments, I may say that the account of the interview was given to me by one of the participating Korean Ministers, and that he dealt at great length with the pro-Asian policy suggested there. I asked him why he had not listened and accepted. He replied that he knew what such arguments meant. The unity of Asia when spoken of by Japanese meant the supreme autocracy of their country.]
All this time the Japanese Army had been making a great display of military force around the palace. All the Japanese troops in the district had been for days parading the streets and open places fronting the Imperial residence. The field-guns were out, and the men were fully armed. They marched, countermarched, stormed, made feint attacks, occupied the gates, put their guns in position, and did everything, short of actual violence, that they could to demonstrate to the Koreans that they were able to enforce their demands. To the Cabinet Ministers themselves, and to the Emperor, all this display had a sinister and terrible meaning. They could not forget the night in 1895, when the Japanese soldiers had paraded around another palace, and when their picked bullies had forced their way inside and murdered the Queen. Japan had done this before; why should she not do it again? Not one of those now resisting the will of Dai Nippon but saw the sword in front of his eyes, and heard in imagination a hundred times during the day the rattle of the Japanese bullets.
That evening Japanese soldiers, with fixed bayonets, entered the courtyard of the palace and stood near the apartment of the Emperor. Marquis Ito now arrived, accompanied by General Hasegawa, Commander of the Japanese Army in Korea, and a fresh attack was started on the Cabinet Ministers. The Marquis demanded an audience of the Emperor. The Emperor refused to grant it, saying that his throat was very bad, and he was in great pain. The Marquis then made his way into the Emperor's presence, and personally requested an audience. The Emperor still refused. "Please go away and discuss the matter, with the Cabinet Ministers," he said.
Thereupon Marquis Ito went outside to the Ministers. "Your Emperor has commanded you to confer with me and settle this matter," he declared. A fresh conference was opened. The presence of the soldiers, the gleaming of the bayonets outside, the harsh words of command that could be heard through the windows of the palace buildings, were not without their effect. The Ministers had fought for days and they had fought alone. No single foreign representative had offered them help or counsel. They saw submission or destruction before them. "What is the use of our resisting?" said one. "The Japanese always get their way in the end." Signs of yielding began to appear. The acting Prime Minister, Han Kew-sul, jumped to his feet and said he would go and tell the Emperor of the talk of traitors. Han Kew-sul was allowed to leave the room and then was gripped by the Japanese Secretary of the Legation, thrown into a side-room and threatened with death. Even Marquis Ito went out to him to persuade him. "Would you not yield," the Marquis said, "if your Emperor commanded you?" "No," said Han Kew-sul, "not even then!"
This was enough. The Marquis at once went to the Emperor. "Han Kew-sul is a traitor," he said. "He defies you, and declares that he will not obey your commands."
Meanwhile the remaining Ministers waited in the Cabinet Chamber. Where was their leader, the man who had urged them all to resist to death? Minute after minute passed, and still he did not return. Then a whisper went round that the Japanese had killed him. The harsh voices of the Japanese grew still more strident. Courtesy and restraint were thrown off. "Agree with us and be rich, or oppose us and perish." Pak Che-sun, the Foreign Minister, one of the best and most capable of Korean statesmen, was the last to yield. But even he finally gave way. In the early hours of the morning commands were issued that the seal of State should be brought from the Foreign Minister's apartment, and a treaty should be signed. Here another difficulty arose. The custodian of the seal had received orders in advance that, even if his master commanded, the seal was not to be surrendered for any such purpose. When telephonic orders were sent to him, he refused to bring the seal along, and special messengers had to be despatched to take it from him by force. The Emperor himself asserts to this day that he did not consent.
The news of the signing of the treaty was received by the people with horror and indignation. Han Kew-sul, once he escaped from custody, turned on his fellow-Ministers as one distraught, and bitterly reproached them. "Why have you broken your promises?" he cried. "Why have you broken your promises?" The Ministers found themselves the most hated and despised of men. There was danger lest mobs should attack them and tear them to pieces. Pak Che-sun shrank away under the storm of execration that greeted him. On December 6th, as he was entering the palace, one of the soldiers lifted his rifle and tried to shoot him, Pak Che-sun turned back, and hurried to the Japanese Legation. There he forced his way into the presence of Mr. Hayashi, and drew a knife. "It is you who have brought me to this," he cried. "You have made me a traitor to my country." He attempted to cut his own throat, but Mr. Hayashi stopped him, and he was sent to hospital for treatment. When he recovered he was chosen by the Japanese as the new Prime Minister, Han Kew-sul being exiled and disgraced. Pak did not, however, hold office for very long, being somewhat too independent to suit his new masters.
As the news spread through the country, the people of various districts assembled, particularly in the north, and started to march southwards to die in front of the palace as a protest. Thanks to the influence of the missionaries, many of them were stopped. "It is of no use your dying in that way," the missionaries told them. "You had better live and make your country better able to hold its own." A number of leading officials, including all the surviving past Prime Ministers, and over a hundred men who had previously held high office under the Crown, went to the palace, and demanded that the Emperor should openly repudiate the treaty, and execute those Ministers who had acquiesced in it. The Emperor tried to temporize with them, for he was afraid that, if he took too openly hostile an attitude, the Japanese would punish him. The memorialists sat down in the palace buildings, refusing to move, and demanding an answer. Some of their leaders were arrested by the Japanese gendarmes, only to have others, still greater men, take their place. The storekeepers of the city put up their shutters to mark their mourning.
At last a message came from the Emperor: "Although affairs now appear to you to be dangerous, there may presently result some benefit to the nation." The gendarmes descended on the petitioners and threatened them with general arrest if they remained around the palace any longer. They moved on to a shop where they tried to hold a meeting, but they were turned out of it by the police. Min Yong-whan, their leader, a former Minister for War and Special Korean Ambassador at Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, went home. He wrote letters to his friends lamenting the state of his country, and then committed suicide. Several other statesmen did the same, while many others resigned. One native paper, the Whang Sung Shimbun, dared to print an exact statement of what had taken place. Its editor was promptly arrested, and thrown into prison, and the paper suppressed. Its lamentation voiced the feeling of the country:—
"When it was recently made known the Marquis Ito would come to Korea our deluded people all said, with one voice, that he is the man who will be responsible for the maintenance of friendship between the three countries of the Far East (Japan, China, and Korea), and, believing that his visit to Korea was for the sole purpose of devising good plans for strictly maintaining the promised integrity and independence of Korea, our people, from the seacoast to the capital, united in extending to him a hearty welcome.
"But oh! How difficult is it to anticipate affairs in this world. Without warning, a proposal containing five clauses was laid before the Emperor, and we then saw how mistaken we were about the object of Marquis Ito's visit. However, the Emperor firmly refused to have anything to do with these proposals and Marquis Ito should then, properly, have abandoned his attempt and returned to his own country.
"But the Ministers of our Government, who are worse than pigs or dogs, coveting honours and advantages for themselves, and frightened by empty threats, were trembling in every limb, and were willing to become traitors to their country and betray to Japan the integrity of a nation which has stood for 4,000 years, the foundation and honour of a dynasty 500 years old, and the rights and freedom of twenty million people.
"We do not wish to too deeply blame Pak Che-sun and the other Ministers, of whom, as they are little better than brute animals, too much was not to be expected, but what can be said of the Vice-Prime Minister, the chief of the Cabinet, whose early opposition to the proposals of Marquis Ito was an empty form devised to enhance his reputation with the people?
"Can he not now repudiate the agreement or can he not rid the world of his presence? How can he again stand before the Emperor and with what face can he ever look upon any one of his twenty million compatriots?
"Is it worth while for any of us to live any longer? Our people have become the slaves of others, and the spirit of a nation which has stood for 4,000 years, since the days of Tun Kun and Ke-ja has perished in a single night. Alas! fellow-countrymen. Alas!"
Suicides, resignations, and lamentation were of no avail. The Japanese gendarmes commanded the streets, and the Japanese soldiers, behind them, were ready to back up their will by the most unanswerable of arguments—force.
Naturally, as might have been expected by those who know something of the character of the Japanese, every effort was made to show that there had been no breach of treaty promises. Korea was still an independent country, and the dignity of its Imperial house was still unimpaired. Japan had only brought a little friendly pressure on a weaker brother to assist him along the path of progress. Such talk pleased the Japanese, and helped them to reconcile the contrast between their solemn promises and their actions. It deceived no one else. Soon even, the Japanese papers made little or no more talk of Korean independence. "Korean independence is a farce," they said. And for the time they were right.
The Emperor did his utmost to induce the Powers, more particularly America, to intervene, but in vain. The story of his efforts is an interesting episode in the records of diplomacy.
Dr. Allen, the American Minister, wrote to his Secretary of State, on April 14, 1904, telling of the serious concern of the Korean Emperor over recent happenings. "He falls back in his extremity upon his old friendship with America.... The Emperor confidently expects that America will do something for him at the close of this war, or when opportunity offers, to retain for him as much of his independence as is possible. He is inclined to give a very free and favourable translation to Article I of our treaty of Jenchuan of 1882" (i.e., the pledge, "If other Powers deal unjustly or oppressively with either Government, the other will exert their good offices, on being informed of the case, to bring about an amicable arrangement, thus showing their friendly feeling").
In April, 1905, Dr. Allen transmitted to Washington copies of protests by an American missionary and certain Koreans against the conduct of Japanese subjects in Korea. Dr. Allen was shortly afterwards replaced by Mr. Edwin V. Morgan.
In October, 1905, the Emperor, determined to appeal directly to America, enlisted the services of Professor Homer B. Hulbert, editor of the Korea Review, who had been employed continuously in educational work in Seoul since 1886, and despatched him to Washington, with a letter to the President of the United States. Mr. Hulbert informed his Minister at Seoul of his mission and started off. The Japanese learned of his departure (Mr. Hulbert suggests that the American Minister may have informed them) and used every effort to force a decision before the letter could be delivered.
On the same day that Mr. Hulbert reached Washington the Korean Cabinet were forced to sign the document giving Japan a protectorate over their land. Formal notification had not yet, however, arrived at Washington, so it was resolved not to receive Mr. Hulbert until this had come.
"I supposed that the President would be not only willing but eager to see the letter," said Mr. Hulbert in a statement presented later to the Senate; "but instead of that I received the astounding answer that the President would not receive it. I cast about in my own mind for a possible reason, but could imagine none. I went to the State Department with it, but was told that they were too busy to see me. Remember that at that very moment Korea was in her death throes; that she was in full treaty relations with us; that there was a Korean legation in Washington and an American legation in Seoul. I determined that there was something here that was more than mere carelessness. There was premeditation in the refusal. There was no other answer. They said I might come the following day. I did so and was told that they were still too busy, but might come the next day. I hurried over to the White House and asked to be admitted. A secretary came out and without any preliminary whatever told me in the lobby that they knew the contents of the letter, but that the State Department was the only place to go. I had to wait till the next day. But on that same day, the day before I was admitted, the administration, without a word to the Emperor or Government of Korea or to the Korean Legation, and knowing well the contents of the undelivered letter, accepted Japan's unsupported statement that it was all satisfactory to the Korean Government and people, cabled our legation to remove from Korea, cut off all communication with the Korean Government, and then admitted me with the letter."
On November 25th Mr. Hulbert received a message from Mr. Root that
"The letter from the Emperor of Korea which you intrusted to me has been placed in the President's hands and read by him.
"In view of the fact that the Emperor desires that the sending of the letter should remain secret, and of the fact that since intrusting it to you the Emperor has made a new agreement with Japan disposing of the whole question to which the letter relates, it seems quite impracticable that any action should be based upon it."
On the following day Mr. Hulbert received a cablegram from the Emperor, which had been despatched from Chefoo, in order not to pass over the Japanese wires:—
"I declare that the so-called treaty of protectorate recently concluded between Korea and Japan was extorted at the point of the sword and under duress and therefore is null and void. I never consented to it and never will. Transmit to American Government. "THE EMPEROR OF KOREA."
Poor Emperor! Innocent simpleton to place such trust in a written bond. Mr. Root had already telegraphed to the American Minister at Seoul to withdraw from Korea and to return to the United States.
No one supposes that the Washington authorities were deceived by the statement of the Japanese authorities or that they believed for one moment that the treaty was secured in any other way than by force. To imagine so would be an insult to their intelligence. It must be remembered that Japan was at this time at the very height of her prestige. President Roosevelt was convinced, mainly through the influence of his old friend, Mr. George Kennan, that the Koreans were unfit for self-government. He was anxious to please Japan, and therefore he deliberately refused to interfere. His own explanation, given some years afterwards, was:
"To be sure, by treaty it was solemnly covenanted that Korea should remain independent. But Korea itself was helpless to enforce the treaty, and it was out of the question to suppose that any other nation, with no interest of its own at stake, would do for the Koreans what they were utterly unable to do for themselves."
There we have the essence of international political morality.
The letter of the Emperor of Korea to the President of the United States makes interesting reading:
"Ever since 1883 the United States and Korea have been in friendly treaty relations. Korea has received many proofs of the good will and the sympathy of the American Government and people. The American Representatives have always shown themselves to be in sympathy with the welfare and progress of Korea. Many teachers have been sent from America who have done much for the uplift of our people.
"But we have not made the progress that we ought. This is due partly to the political machinations of foreign powers and partly to our mistakes. At the beginning of the Japan-Russia war the Japanese Government asked us to enter into an alliance with them, granting them the use of our territory, harbours, and other resources, to facilitate their military and naval operations. Japan, on her part, guaranteed to preserve the independence of Korea and the welfare and dignity of the royal house. We complied with Japan's request, loyally lived up to our obligations, and did everything that we had stipulated. By so doing we put ourselves in such a position that if Russia had won, she could have seized Korea and annexed her to Russian territory on the ground that we were active allies of Japan.
"It is now apparent that Japan proposes to abrogate their part of this treaty and declare a protectorate over our country in direct contravention of her sworn promise in the agreement of 1904. There are several reasons why this should not be done.
"In the first place, Japan will stultify herself by such a direct breach of faith. It will injure her prestige as a power that proposes to work according to enlightened laws.
"In the second place, the actions of Japan in Korea during the past two years give no promise that our people will be handled in an enlightened manner. No adequate means have been provided whereby redress could be secured for wrongs perpetrated upon our people. The finances of the country have been gravely mishandled by Japan. Nothing has been done towards advancing the cause of education or justice. Every move on Japan's part has been manifestly selfish.
"The destruction of Korea's independence will work her a great injury, because it will intensify the contempt with which the Japanese people treat the Koreans and will make their acts all the more oppressive.
"We acknowledge that many reforms are needed in Korea. We are glad to have the help of Japanese advisers, and we are prepared loyally to carry out their suggestions. We recognize the mistakes of the past. It is not for ourselves we plead, but for the Korean people.
"At the beginning of the war our people gladly welcomed the Japanese, because this seemed to herald needed reforms and a general bettering of conditions, but soon it was seen that no genuine reforms were intended and the people had been deceived.
"One of the gravest evils that will follow a protectorate by Japan is that the Korean people will lose all incentive to improvement. No hope will remain that they can ever regain their independence. They need the spur of national feeling to make them determine upon progress and to make them persevere in it. But the extinction of nationality will bring despair, and instead of working loyally and gladly in conjunction with Japan, the old-time hatred will be intensified and suspicion and animosity will result.
"It has been said that sentiment should have no place in such affairs, but we believe, sir, that sentiment is the moving force in all human affairs, and that kindness, sympathy, and generosity are still working between nations as between individuals. We beg of you to bring to bear upon this question the same breadth of mind and the same calmness of judgment that have characterized your course hitherto, and, having weighed the matter, to render us what aid you can consistently in this our time of national danger."
[Private Seal of the Emperor of Korea.]
THE RULE OF PRINCE ITO
Marquis Ito was made the first Japanese Resident-General in Korea. There could have been no better choice, and no choice more pleasing to the Korean people. He was regarded by the responsible men of the nation with a friendliness such as few other Japanese inspired. Here was a man greater than his policies. Every one who came in contact with him felt that, whatever the nature of the measures he was driven to adopt in the supposed interests of his Emperor, he yet sincerely meant well by the Korean people. The faults of his administration were the necessary accompaniments of Japanese military expansion; his virtues were his own. It was a noble act for him to take on himself the most burdensome and exacting post that Japanese diplomacy had to offer, at an age when he might well have looked for the ease and dignity of the close of an honour-sated career.
The Marquis brought with him several capable Japanese officials of high rank, and began his new rule by issuing regulations fixing the position and duties of his staff. Under these, the Resident-General became in effect supreme Administrator of Korea, with power to do what he pleased. He had authority to repeal any order or measure that he considered injurious to public interests, and he could punish to the extent of not more than a year's imprisonment or not more than a 200 yen fine. This limitation of his punitive power was purely nominal, for the country was under martial law and the courts-martial had power to inflict death. Residents and Vice-Residents, of Japanese nationality, were placed over the country, acting practically as governors. The police were placed under Japanese inspectors where they were not themselves Japanese. The various departments of affairs, agricultural, commercial, and industrial, were given Japanese directors and advisers, and the power of appointing all officials, save those of the highest rank, was finally in the hands of the Resident-General. This limitation, again, was soon put on one side. Thus, the Resident-General became dictator of Korea—a dictator, however, who still conducted certain branches of local affairs there through native officials and who had to reckon with the intrigues of a Court party which he could not as yet sweep on one side.
To Japan, Korea was chiefly of importance as a strategic position for military operations on the continent of Asia and as a field for emigration. The first steps under the new administration were in the direction of perfecting communications throughout the country, so as to enable the troops to be moved easily and rapidly from point to point. A railway had already been built from Fusan to Seoul, and another was in course of completion from Seoul to Wi-ju, thus giving a trunk line that would carry large numbers of Japanese soldiers from Japan itself to the borders of Manchuria in about thirty-six hours. A loan of 10,000,000 yen was raised on the guarantee of the Korean Customs, and a million and a half of this was spent on four main military roads, connecting some of the chief districts with the principal harbours and railway centres. Part of the cost of these was paid by the loan and part by special local taxation. It may be pointed out that these roads were military rather than industrial undertakings. The usual methods of travel and for conveying goods in the interior of Korea was by horseback and with pack-ponies. For these, the old narrow tracks served, generally speaking, very well. The new roads were finely graded, and were built in such a manner that rails could be quickly laid down on them and artillery and ammunition wagons rapidly conveyed from point to point. Another railway was built from Seoul to Gensan, on the east coast.
The old Korean "Burglar Capture Office," the native equivalent to the Bow Street Runners, or the Mulberry Street detectives, was abolished, as were the local police, and police administration was more and more put in the hands of special constables brought over from Japan. The Japanese military gendarmerie were gradually sent back and their places taken by civilian constables. This change was wholly for the good. The gendarmerie had earned a very bad reputation in country parts for harshness and arbitrary conduct. The civilian police proved themselves far better men, more conciliatory, and more just.
One real improvement instituted by the Residency-General was the closer control of Japanese immigrants. Numbers of the worst offenders were laid by the heels and sent back home. The Residency officials were increased in numbers, and in some parts at least it became easier for a Korean to obtain a hearing when he had a complaint against a Japanese. The Marquis Ito spoke constantly in favour of a policy of conciliation and friendship, and after a time he succeeded in winning over the cooeperation of some of the foreigners.
It became more and more clear, however, that the aim of the Japanese was nothing else than the entire absorption of the country and the destruction of every trace of Korean nationality. One of the most influential Japanese in Korea put this quite frankly to me in 1906. "You must understand that I am not expressing official views," he told me. "But if you ask me as an individual what is to be the outcome of our policy, I only see one end. This will take several generations, but it must come. The Korean people will be absorbed by the Japanese. They will talk our language, live our life, and be an integral part of us. There are only two ways of colonial administration. One is to rule over the people as aliens. This you British have done in India, and therefore your Empire cannot endure. India must pass out of your rule. The second way is to absorb the people. This is what we will do. We will teach them our language, establish our institutions, and make them one with us."
The policy of the new administration towards foreigners was one of gradual, but no less sure, exclusion. Everything that could be done was done to rob the white man of what prestige was yet left to him. Careful and systematic efforts were made, in particular, by the Japanese newspapers and some of the officials to make the native Christian converts turn from their American teachers, and throw in their lot with the Japanese. The native press, under Japanese editorship, systematically preached anti-white doctrines. Any one who mixed freely with the Korean people heard from them, time after time, of the principles the Japanese would fain have them learn. I was told of this by ex-Cabinet Ministers, by young students, and even by native servants. One of my own Korean "boys" put the matter in a nutshell to me one day. He raised the question of the future of Japan in Asia, and he summarized the new Japanese doctrines very succinctly. "Master," he said to me, "Japanese man wanchee all Asia be one, with Japanese man topside. All Japanese man wanchee this; some Korean man wanchee, most no wanchee; all Chinaman no wanchee."
It may be thought that the Japanese would at least have learnt from their experience in 1895 not to attempt to interfere with the dress or personal habits of the people. Nothing among all their blunders during the earlier period was more disastrous to them than the regulations compelling the men to cut off their topknots. These did Japan greater harm among the common people than even the murder of the Queen. Yet no sooner had Japan established herself again than once more sumptuary regulations were issued. The first was an order against wearing white dress in wintertime. People were to attire themselves in nothing but dark-coloured garments, and those who refused to obey were coerced in many ways. The Japanese did not at once insist on a general system of hair-cutting, but they brought the greatest pressure to bear on all in any way under their authority. Court officials, public servants, magistrates, and the like, were commanded to cut their hair. Officials were evidently instructed to make every one who came under their influence have his topknot off. The Il Chin Hoi, the pro-Japanese society, followed in the same line. European dress was forced on those connected with the Court. The national costume, like the national language, was, if possible, to die. Ladies of the Court were ordered to dress themselves in foreign style. The poor ladies in consequence found it impossible to show themselves in any public place, for they were greeted with roars of derision.
The lowered status of the white in Korea could be clearly seen by the attitude of many of the Japanese towards him. I heard stories from friends of my own, residents in the country, quiet and inoffensive people that made my blood boil. It was difficult, for instance, to restrain one's indignation when a missionary lady told you of how she was walking along the street when a Japanese soldier hustled up against her and deliberately struck her in the breast. The Roman Catholic bishop was openly insulted and struck by Japanese soldiers in his own cathedral, and nothing was done. The story of Mr. and Mrs. Weigall typifies others. Mr. Weigall is an Australian mining engineer, and was travelling up north with his wife and assistant, Mr. Taylor, and some Korean servants, in December, 1905. He had full authorizations and passports, and was going about his business in a perfectly proper manner. His party was stopped at one point by some Japanese soldiers, and treated in a fashion which it is impossible fully to describe in print. They were insulted, jabbed at with bayonets, and put under arrest. One soldier held his gun close to Mrs. Weigall and struck her full in the chest with his closed fist when she moved. The man called them by the most insulting names possible, keeping the choicest phrases for the lady. Their servants were kicked. Finally they were allowed to go away after a long delay and long exposure to bitter weather, repeated insults being hurled after them. The British authorities took up this case. There was abundant evidence, and there could be no dispute about the facts. All the satisfaction, however, that the Weigalls could obtain was a nominal apology.
Then there was the case of the Rev. Mr. McRae, a Canadian missionary living in northeastern Korea. Mr. McRae had obtained some land for a mission station, and the Japanese military authorities there wanted it. They drove stakes into part of the property, and he thereupon represented the case to the Japanese officials, and after at least twice asking them to remove their stakes, he pulled them up himself. The Japanese waited until a fellow-missionary, who lived with Mr. McRae, had gone away on a visit, and then six soldiers entered his compound and attacked him. He defended himself so well that he finally drove them off, although he received some bad injuries, especially from the blows from one of the men's rifles. Complaint was made to the chief authorities, and, in this case, the Japanese promised to punish the officer concerned. But there were dozens of instances affecting Europeans of all ranks, from consular officials to chance visitors. In most cases the complaints were met by a simple denial on the part of the Japanese. Even where the offence was admitted and punishment was promised, the Europeans would assure you that the men, whom it had been promised to imprison, came and paraded themselves outside their houses immediately afterwards in triumph. In Korea, as in Formosa, the policy was and is to humiliate the white man by any means and in any way.
Two regulations of the Japanese, apparently framed in the interests of the Koreans, proved to be a dangerous blow at their rights. New land laws were drawn up, by which fresh title-deeds were given for the old and complicated deeds of former times. As the Koreans, however, pointed out, large numbers of people held their land in such a way that it was impossible for them to prove their right by written deeds. Until the end of 1905 large numbers of Koreans went abroad to Honolulu and elsewhere as labourers. The Residency-General then framed new emigration laws, nominally to protect the natives, which have had the result of making the old systematic emigration impossible. Families who would fain have escaped the Japanese rule and establish themselves in other lands had every possible hindrance put in their way.
Act after act revealed that the Japanese considered Korea and all in it belonged to them. Did they want a thing? Then let them take it, and woe be to the man who dared to hinder them! This attitude was illustrated in an interesting fashion by a bit of vandalism on the part of Viscount Tanaka, Special Envoy from the Mikado to the Korean Emperor. When the Viscount was in Seoul, late in 1906, he was approached by a Japanese curio-dealer, who pointed out to him that there was a very famous old Pagoda in the district of P'ung-duk, a short distance from Song-do. This Pagoda was presented to Korea by the Chinese Imperial Court a thousand years ago, and the people believed that the stones of which it was constructed possessed great curative qualities. They named it the "Medicine King Pagoda" (Yakwang Top), and its fame was known throughout the country. It was a national memorial as much as the Monument near London Bridge is a national memorial for Englishmen or the Statue of Liberty for Americans. Viscount Tanaka is a great curio-collector, and when he heard of this Pagoda, he longed for it. He mentioned his desire to the Korean Minister for the Imperial Household, and the Minister told him to take it if he wanted it. A few days afterwards, Viscount Tanaka, when bidding the Emperor farewell, thanked him for the gift. The Korean Emperor looked blank, and said that he did not know what the Viscount was talking about. He had heard nothing of it.
However, before long, a party of eighty Japanese, including a number of gendarmes, well armed and ready for resistance, swooped down on Song-do. They took the Pagoda to pieces and placed the stones on carts. The people of the district gathered round them, threatened them, and tried to attack them. But the Japanese were too strong. The Pagoda was conveyed in due course to Tokyo.
Such an outrage could not go unnoticed. The story of the loss spread over the country and reached the foreign press. Defenders of the Japanese at first declared that it was an obvious and incredible lie. The Japan Mail in particular opened the vials of its wrath and poured them upon the head of the editor of the Korea Daily News—the English daily publication in Seoul—who had dared to tell the tale. His story was "wholly incredible." "It is impossible to imagine any educated man of ordinary intelligence foolish enough to believe such a palpable lie, unless he be totally blinded by prejudice." The Mail discovered here again another reason for supporting its plea for the suppression of "a wholly unscrupulous and malevolent mischief-maker like the Korea Daily News." "The Japanese should think seriously whether this kind of thing is to be tamely suffered. In allowing such charges at the door of the Mikado's Special Envoy who is also Minister of the Imperial Household, the Korea Daily News deliberately insults the Mikado himself. There is indeed the reflection that this extravagance will not be without compensation, since it will demonstrate conclusively, if any demonstration were needed, how completely unworthy of credence have been the slanders hitherto ventilated by the Seoul journal to bring the Japanese into odium."
There were instant demands for denials, for explanations, and for proceedings against the wicked libeller. Then it turned out that the story was true, and, in the end, the Japanese officials had to admit its truth. It was said, as an excuse, that the Resident-General had not given his consent to the theft, and that Viscount Tanaka did not intend to keep the Pagoda himself, but to present it to the Mikado. The organ of the Residency-General in Seoul, the Seoul Press, made the best excuse it could. "Viscount Tanaka," it said, "is a conscientious official, liked and respected by those who know him, whether foreign or Japanese, but he is an ardent virtuoso and collector, and it appears that in this instance his collector's eagerness got the better of his sober judgment and discretion." But excuses, apologies, and regrets notwithstanding, the Pagoda was not returned.
It may be asked why the white people living in Korea did not make the full facts about Korea known at an earlier date. Some did attempt it, but the strong feeling that existed abroad in favour of the Japanese people—a feeling due to their magnificent conduct during the war—caused complaints to go unheeded. Many missionaries, while indignant at the injury done to their native neighbours, counselled patience, believing that the abuses were temporary and would soon come to an end.
At the beginning of the war every foreigner—except a small group of pro-Russians, sympathized with Japan. We had all been alienated by the follies and mistakes of the Russian Far Eastern policy. We saw Japan at her best, and we all believed that her people would act well by this weaker race. Our favourable impressions were strengthened by the first doings of the Japanese soldiers, and when scandals were whispered, and oppression began to appear, we all looked upon them as momentary disturbances due to a condition of war. We were unwilling to believe anything but the best, and it took some time to destroy our favourable prepossessions. I speak here not only for myself, but for many another white man in Korea at the time.
I might support this by many quotations. I take, for instance, Professor Hulbert, the editor of the Korea Review, to-day one of the most persistent and active critics of Japanese policy. At the opening of the war Professor Hulbert used all his influence in favour of Japan.
"What Korea wants," he wrote, "is education, and until steps are taken in that line there is no use in hoping for a genuinely independent Korea. Now, we believe that a large majority of the best-informed Koreans realize that Japan and Japanese influence stand for education and enlightenment, and that while the paramount influence of any one outside Power is in some sense a humiliation, the paramount influence of Japan will give far less genuine cause for humiliation than has the paramount influence of Russia. Russia secured her predominance by pandering to the worst elements in Korean officialdom. Japan holds it by strength of arm, but she holds it in such a way that it gives promise of something better. The word reform never passed the Russians' lips. It is the insistent cry of Japan. The welfare of the Korean people never showed its head above the Russian horizon, but it fills the whole vision of Japan; not from altruistic motives mainly but because the prosperity of Korea and that of Japan rise and fall with the same tide."
[Footnote 1: Korea Review, February, 1904.]
Month after month, when stories of trouble came from the interior, the Korea Review endeavoured to give the best explanation possible for them, and to reassure the public. It was not until the editor was forced thereto by consistent and sustained Japanese misgovernment that he reversed his attitude.
Foreign visitors of influence were naturally drawn to the Japanese rather than to the Koreans. They found in the officials of the Residency-General a body of capable and delightful men, who knew the Courts of Europe, and were familiar with world affairs. On the other hand, the Korean spokesmen had no power or skill in putting their case so as to attract European sympathy. One distinguished foreigner, who returned home and wrote a book largely given up to laudation of the Japanese and contemptuous abuse of the Koreans, admitted that he had never, during his journey, had any contact with Koreans save those his Japanese guides brought to him. Some foreign journalists were also at first blinded in the same way.
Such a state of affairs obviously could not last. Gradually the complaints of the foreign community became louder and louder, and visiting publicists began to take more notice of them.
The main credit for defending the cause of the Korean people at that time must be given to a young English journalist, editor of the Korea Daily News, Mr. Bethell took up an attitude of strong hostility to the Nagamori land scheme, and came, in consequence, in sharp hostility to the Japanese officials. This naturally led to his close association with the Korean Court. The Daily News became openly pro-Korean; its one daily edition was changed into two separate papers—one, the Dai Han Mai Il Shinpo, printed in the Korean language, and the other, printed in English, still calling itself by the old name. Several of us thought that Mr. Bethell at first weakened his case by extreme advocacy and by his indulgence in needlessly vindictive writing. Yet it must be remembered, in common justice to him, that he was playing a very difficult part The Japanese were making his life as uncomfortable as they possibly could, and were doing everything to obstruct his work. His mails were constantly tampered with; his servants were threatened or arrested on various excuses, and his household was subjected to the closest espionage. He displayed surprising tenacity, and held on month after month without showing any sign of yielding. The complaint of extreme bitterness could not be urged against his journal to the same extent after the spring of 1907. From that time he adopted a more quiet and convincing tone. He attempted on many occasions to restrain what he considered the unwise tactics of some Korean extremists. He did his best to influence public opinion against taking up arms to fight Japan.
Failing to conciliate the editor, the Japanese sought to destroy him. In order to cut the ground from under his feet an opposition paper, printed in English, was started, with an able Japanese journalist, Mr. Zumoto, Prince Ito's leading spokesman in the press, as editor. Few could have done the work better than Mr. Zumoto, but his paper, the Seoul Press, failed to destroy the Daily News.
Diplomacy was now brought into play. During the summer of 1906, the Japanese caused the translations of a number of articles from the Dai Han Mai Il Shinpo (the Korean edition of the Daily Mail) to be submitted to the British Government, with a request that Mr. Bethell's journal might be suppressed.
On Saturday, October 12th, Mr. Bethell received a summons to appear on the following Monday at a specially appointed Consular Court, to answer the charge of adopting a course of action likely to cause a breach of the peace.
The trial took place in the Consular building, Mr. Cockburn, the very able British Consul-General, acting as Judge. The short notice made it impossible for Mr. Bethell to obtain legal aid, as there were no British lawyers nearer than Shanghai or Kobe. He had to plead his cause under great disadvantages.
Eight articles were produced in court Six were comments on or descriptions of fighting then taking place in the interior. They were no stronger, if as strong, as many of the statements published in this book.
The Consul-General's decision was as anticipated. He convicted the editor, and ordered him to enter into recognizances of L300 to be of good behaviour for six months. The Korea Daily News in commenting on the matter, said, "The effect of this judgment is that for a period of six months this newspaper will be gagged, and therefore no further reports of Japanese reverses can be published in our columns."
In June, 1908, Mr. Bethell was again prosecuted at a specially convened court at Seoul, presided over by Judge Bourne of Shanghai. The charge, made by Yagoro Miura, Secretary to the Residency-General and Resident for Seoul, was of publishing various articles calculated to excite disorder and to stir up enmity between the Government of Korea and its subjects.
Mr. Bethell was represented by counsel and applied to have the case heard before a jury. The application was refused. He was convicted, sentenced to three weeks' imprisonment and required to give security for good behaviour for six months. He did not very long survive his sentence.
The people of Korea cherish his memory, and the name of "Beth-ell," as they call him, is already becoming traditional. "We are going to build a great statue to Beth-ell some day," they say. "We will never forget the man who was our friend, and who went to prison for us."
THE ABDICATION OF YI HYEUNG
The Court party was from the first the strongest opponent of the Japanese. Patriotism, tradition, and selfish interests all combined to intensify the resistance of its members. Some officials found their profits threatened, some mourned for perquisites that were cut off, some were ousted out of their places to make room for Japanese, and most felt a not unnatural anger to see men of another race quietly assume authority over their Emperor and their country. The Emperor led the opposition. Old perils had taught him cunning. He knew a hundred ways to feed the stream of discontent, without himself coming forward. Unfortunately there was a fatal strain of weakness in his character. He would support vigorous action in secret, and then, when men translated his speech into deeds, he would disavow them at the bidding of the Japanese. On one point he never wavered. All attempts to make him formally consent to the treaty of November, 1905, were in vain. "I would sooner die first!" he cried. "I would sooner take poison and end all!" In July, 1906, the Marquis Ito began to exercise stronger constraint on the personal life of the Emperor. One evening a number of Japanese police were brought into the palace. The old palace guards were withdrawn, and the Emperor was made virtually a prisoner. Police officers were posted at each gate, and no one was allowed in or out without a permit from a Japanese-nominated official. At the same time many of the old palace attendants were cleared out. The Resident-General thought that if the Emperor were isolated from his friends, and if he were constantly surrounded by enthusiastic advocates of Japan, he might be coerced or influenced into submission. Yet here Marquis Ito had struck against a vein of obstinacy and determination that he could scarce have reckoned with.
The Emperor had taken every opportunity to send messages abroad protesting against the treaty. He managed, time after time, still to hold communication with his friends, but the Japanese took good care that traitors should come to him and be loudest in their expressions of loyalty. Little that he did but was immediately known to his captors. In the early summer of 1907 the Emperor thought that he saw his chance at last of striking a blow for freedom through the Hague Conference. He was still convinced that if he could only assure the Powers that he had never consented to the treaty robbing Korea of its independence, they would then send their Ministers back to Seoul and cause Japan to relax her hand. Accordingly, amid great secrecy, three Korean delegates of high rank were provided with funds and despatched to the Hague under the guardianship of Mr. Hulbert. They reached the Hague only to be refused a hearing. The Conference would have nothing to say to them.
This action on the part of the Emperor gave the Japanese an excuse they had long been looking for. The formation of the Korean Cabinet had been altered months before in anticipation of such a crisis, and the Cabinet Ministers were now nominated not by the Emperor, but by the Resident-General. The Emperor had been deprived of administrative and executive power. The Marquis Ito had seen to it that the Ministers were wholly his tools. The time had come when his tools were to cut. The Japanese Government assumed an attitude of silent wrath. It could not allow such offences to go unpunished, its friends declared, but what punishment it would inflict it refused to say.
Proceedings were much more cleverly stage-managed than in November, 1905. Nominally, the Japanese had nothing to do with the abdication of the Emperor. Actually the Cabinet Ministers held their gathering at the Residency-General to decide on their policy, and did as they were instructed. They went to the Emperor and demanded that he should abandon the throne to save his country from being swallowed up by Japan. At first he refused, upon which their insistence grew greater. No news of sympathy or help reached him from foreign lands. Knowing the perils surrounding him, he thought that he would trick them all by a simple device. He would make his son, the Crown Prince, temporary Emperor, using a Chinese ideograph for his new title which could scarce be distinguished from the title giving him final and full authority. Here he overreached himself, for, once out, he was out for good. On July 19th, at six o'clock in the morning, after an all-night conference, the Emperor was persuaded to abdicate.
The new Emperor, feeble of intellect, could be little more than a tool in the hands of his advisers. His father, however, intended to remain by his side, and to rule through him. In less than a week the Japanese had prepared a new treaty, providing still more strictly for the absolute control of everything in the country by Japan. The six curt clauses of this measure were as far-reaching as they could possibly be made. No laws were to be acted upon or important measures taken by the Government unless the consent and approval of the Resident-General had been previously given. All officials were to hold their positions at the pleasure of the Resident-General, and the Government of Korea agreed to appoint any Japanese the Resident-General might recommend to any post. Finally, the Government of Korea was to engage no foreigner without the consent of the Japanese head.
A few days later a fresh rescript was issued in the name of the new Emperor, ordering the disbandment of the Korean Army. This was written in the most insulting language possible. "Our existing army which is composed of mercenaries, is unfit for the purposes of national defence," it declared. It was to make way "for the eventual formation of an efficient army." To add to the insult, the Korean Premier, Yi, was ordered to write a request to the Resident-General, begging him to employ the Japanese forces to prevent disturbances when the disbandment took place. It was as though the Japanese, having their heel on the neck of the enemy, slapped his face to show their contempt for him. On the morning of August 1st some of the superior officers of the Korean Army were called to the residence of the Japanese commander, General Hasegawa, and the Order was read to them. They were told that they were to assemble their men next morning, without arms, and to dismiss them after paying them gratuities, while at the same time their weapons would be secured in their absence.
One officer, Major Pak, commander of the smartest and best of the Korean battalions, returned to his barracks in despair, and committed suicide. His men learnt of what had happened and rose in mutiny. They burst upon their Japanese military instructors and nearly killed them. They then forced open the ammunition-room, secured weapons and cartridges, posted themselves behind the windows of their barracks, and fired at every Japanese they saw. News quickly reached the authorities, and Japanese companies of infantry hurried out and surrounded their barracks. One party attacked the front with a machine-gun, and another assaulted from behind. Fighting began at half-past eight in the morning. The Koreans defended themselves until noon, and then were finally overcome by a bayonet charge from the rear. Their gallant defence excited the greatest admiration even among their enemies, and it was notable that for a few days at least the Japanese spoke with more respect of Korea and the Korean people than they had ever done before.
Only one series of incidents disgraced the day. The Japanese soldiers behaved well and treated the wounded well, but that night parties of low-class bullies emerged from the Japanese quarter, seeking victims. They beat, they stabbed and murdered any man they could find whom they suspected of being a rebel. Dozens of them would set on one helpless victim and do him to death. This was stopped as soon as the Residency-General knew what was happening, and a number of offenders were arrested.
Late in August the new Emperor of Korea was crowned amid the sullen silence of a resentful people. Of popular enthusiasm there was none. A few flags were displayed in the streets by the order of the police. In olden times a coronation had been marked by great festivities, lasting many weeks. Now there was gloom, apathy, indifference. News was coming in hourly from the provinces of uprisings and murders. The Il Chin Hoi—they call themselves reformers, but the nation has labelled them traitors—attempted to make a feast, but the people stayed away. "This is the day not for feasting but for the beginning of a year of mourning," men muttered one to the other.
The Japanese authorities who controlled the coronation ceremony did all they could to minimize it and to prevent independent outside publicity. In this they were well advised. No one who looked upon the new Emperor as he entered the hall of state, his shaking frame upborne by two officials, or as he stood later, with open mouth, fallen jaw, indifferent eyes, and face lacking even a flickering gleam of intelligent interest, could doubt that the fewer who saw this the better. Yet the ceremony, even when robbed of much of its ancient pomp and all its dignity, was unique and picturesque.