An American Adviser in Late Yi Korea: The Letters of Owen Nickerson Denny

An American Adviser in Late Yi Korea: The Letters of Owen Nickerson Denny

An American Adviser in Late Yi Korea: The Letters of Owen Nickerson Denny

An American Adviser in Late Yi Korea: The Letters of Owen Nickerson Denny

Excerpt

The last five decades of the Yi dynasty (1392-1910) proved to be one of the most turbulent periods in all of Korean history. During that time Korea changed from an isolated, Confucian-oriented country to one struggling to maintain its autonomy amid the harsh realities of both Western and Asian imperialism. And while this international competition over who might control the peninsula was developing--a competition which would ultimately lead to Tokyo's seizure of Korea in 1910 as a Japanese colony--domestic conflicts within the troubled kingdom were also increasing. King Kojong, ruler of Korea during most of these years, was often deeply involved in many of the critical problems of his nation.

A controversial issue facing King Kojong during the early years of his rule, and one which was tied to both foreign and domestic considerations, was whether or not to open the country to foreign contacts. Kojong's father, the Taewŏn'gun (Yi Ha-ŭng), who had ruled the country as a de facto regent from 1864 to 1873 before the King came of age, had strongly opposed such contacts. In fact he had successfully thwarted both French (1866) and American (1871) attempts to penetrate Korea's self-imposed isolation with military force.

Despite the short-term success of the Taewŏn'gun's foreign policy King Kojong, who took over the controls of government from his father by 1874, realized that it would be increasingly difficult to turn aside future foreign pressures to open the country. This realization was supported by recent developments in China, where opposition to Western advances during the middle nineteenth century had only led to one defeat after another for the Chinese. Japan, on the other hand, had pragmatically opened its doors to the West and thus seemed well on its way to great national strength and development.

A turning point in Korean history occurred in 1876 when Kojong and the Korean government accepted the Kanghwa Treaty with . . .

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