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Modern Times

The modern history of Korea started with the struggle to beat back the invasions of the United States and other capitalist powers in the 1860s and put an end to the feudal ruling system.

The Korean people burnt down the US aggressive ship General Sherman which intruded into Pyongyang along the Taedong River in 1866. This was a prelude to the modern h:story of Korea. In the wake of this incident, the Korean people repelled the invasions of French and British fleets and Japanese warships one after another.

However, in 1876 the feudal rulers infected with flunkyist subservience concluded the Kanghwado Treaty, an unequal treaty, with Japan, with the result that Korea was reduced to a colony of Japan.

Vigorous struggles were launched against the Japanese aggressors and the feudal rulers who yielded to them.

Typical of them is a mutiny in 1882. And in 1884 the Enlightenment Group led by Kim Ok Gyun carried out a coup in the Year Kapsin, the first bourgeois reformist movement in Korea, which was followed by the Kabo Reform in 1894.

Entering the period of the late 19th century-early 20th century, fierce anti­aggression and anti-feudal struggles, including the Kabo Peasant War in 1894, were waged in different parts of Korea under the banner of “Defending the country and providing welfare for the people” and “Driving out Westerners and the Japanese,” dealing telling blows to the Japanese imperialists and the feudal rulers.

Through the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) the Japanese imperialists drove the forces of Qing China and Russia out of Korea and then stepped up the invasion of Korea.

They fabricated the Ulsa Five-Point Treaty in November 1905 and the Korea­Japan Annexation Treaty in August 1910, and thus occupied Korea completely.

The Korean people launched ceaseless struggles against the Japanese imperialists. The nationwide anti-Japanese popular uprising on March 1, Juche 8 (1919) delivered a heavy blow to the Japanese invaders.

Entering the 1920s when the working class took an active part in the struggle and their revolutionary idea was spread widely, the national liberation movement gained further momentum.

Imo Mutiny
In June 1882 (the Year of Imo by the lunar calendar), the Korean soldiers who had been discontent with the invasion of the Japanese imperialists and the misgovernment by the feudal rulers rose up in revolt against a pay delay. After they attacked the arsenal and armed themselves, the rioters killed their Japanese military drill instructors, laid siege to the Japanese legation and overthrew Empress Myongsong and her party who held sway over the state power.

However, the soldiers of Qing China who were stealthily dispatched at the request of Empress Myongsong, in conspiracy with Japanese troops, mercilessly suppressed and killed the mutineers. The mutinous soldiers fought bravely against heavy odds, but in the end were crushed.

The mutiny gave a strong impetus to the anti-aggression and anti-feudal struggle of the Korean people.

Coup in the Year of Kapsin
With the development of capitalist relations in the latter half of the 19th century, an idea of enlightenment grew in Korea. The idea of enlightenment was furthered by Kim Ok Gyun in the idea of bourgeois reform.

The enlightenment group instituted new state administration bodies and schools, and inaugurated the newspaper Hansong Sunbo to introduce modern civilization. It took measures to train a modern army while dispatching inspection groups and students to foreign countries.

The Enlightenment Group led by Kim Ok Gyun staged a coup d’etat on October 17, 1884 (December 4 by the solar calendar). It ousted the conservative government officials and established a new government. However, the enlightenment government was in power for only three days owing to the intervention of the army of Qing China in collusion with the remnants of the conservative group.

Though unsuccessful, the coup d’etat, the first attempt at a bourgeois reform in Korea, was of historic significance in that it provided a great stimulus to the people’s efforts for modern reform.

Kabo Peasant War
The Kabo Peasant War started with a peasant uprising in 1894 {the Year of Kabo by the lunar calendar). Some 8 000 peasants led by Jon Pong Jun routed government troops and won many battles under the banner of “Driving out Westerners and the Japanese” and “Defending the country and providing welfare for the people,” and finally seized Jonju, the seat of Jolla Province, in the southern part of the Korean peninsula. The peasant army adopted a reform programme which set forth measures for punishing vicious government officials and pro-Japanese elements, burning up slave-owning documents, equal distribution of land and other demands against aggression and feudal abuses.

The Japanese imperialists, who had been watching for a chance to invade Korea, made an armed intervention on the pretext of protecting the Japanese residents in Korea, with the result that the Kabo Peasant War ended in failure. But it delivered a heavy blow at the Japanese imperialists’ moves for aggression and propelled the modernization of Korea.

Ulsa Five-Point Treaty
In November 1905, the Year of Ulsa, Ito Hirobumi, special envoy of the Japanese king, with Japanese troops besieging the Korean imperial palace, forced Emperor Kojong and the Cabinet ministers to accept a treaty. Even though the emperor and some ministers rejected it Ito forced them to agree to conclude the illegal treaty.

The Ulsa Five-Point Treaty stipulates transferring the Korean government’s diplomatic rights to the Japanese government and setting up Japanese Residency-General in Korea, thus stripping the Korean government of all its actual power.

The treaty is an illegal and invalid document as it lacks the Korean emperor’s approval and signature and the affixing of the Seal of the State. On the basis of the treaty the Japanese imperialists concocted in July 1907 the Jongmi Seven-Point Treaty which stripped Korea of its administrative power and the Korea-Japan Annexation Treaty in August 1910, with result that Korea was reduced to a colony of Japan.

March First Popular Uprising
The March First Popular Uprising was a nationwide anti-Japanese uprising for independence, an outburst of the pent-up indignation and fury of the Korean people who had been humiliated by Japanese military rule.

The uprising that started with an anti-Japanese mass demonstration in Pyongyang on March 1, Juche 8 (1919), swept across Korea. The demonstrators marched out onto the streets shouting “Japanese and Japanese troops, go home!” “Long live the independence of Korea!” and “Korea belongs to Koreans. Long live freedom and equality!” and destroying the Japanese government offices.

The bare-handed demonstrators bravely fought against the Japanese army and police. The uprising lasted to the end of that year, attended by more than two million people from all walks of life.

In the wake of the uprising over 3 200 demonstrations and riots took place across the country. The Japanese imperialists cracked down on the uprising in a brutal manner and killed over 100 000 Koreans.

The uprising left a bitter lesson that it is impossible to emerge victorious in the national liberation struggle when it is conducted separated from the correct guidance of an outstanding leader.