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Min Yong-hwan

Min Yong-hwan: A Political Biography

Copyright Date: 2002
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    Min Yong-hwan
    Book Description:

    The diplomat and scholar-official Min Yông-hwan (1861-1905), described by one contemporary Western observer as "undoubtably the first Korean after the emperor," is best remembered in Korean historiography for his pioneering diplomacy at the courts of Tsar Nicholas II and Queen Victoria in the late 1890s. Furthermore, he is considered to be the foremost patriot of Korea's Taehan era (1897-1907). This pioneering study of Min Yông-hwan is long overdue and provides us with a new perspective on a period of Korean history that still casts its shadow over the region today. This new biography of Min contributes substantially to our understanding of this period by looking beyond the established view of Korea as being polarized between reformists and reactionaries in the late Choson era. In doing so, it provides us with deeper insight into the full range of responses of the late Choson leadership to the dual challenges of internal stagnation and external intervention at the juncture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It will be essential reading for anyone interested in the recent history of Korea, late nineteenth century imperialism, and Russian, Japanese, American, and British foreign policy in northeast Asia.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6361-6
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Note on the Romanization Systems Used in This Work
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-8)

    The original motivation behind this biographical study of the late Chosŏn official Min Yông-hwan came from an interest in Min’s aunt Queen Myŏngsŏng (Queen Min), the consort of King Kojong. Even a casual visitor to Seoul is likely to visit Kyŏngbok Palace and come across the site of her miserable death on 8 October 1895. In the precincts of this royal palace she was brutally murdered by a band of Japanesesōshi¹ and their Korean collaborators under the direction of the Japanese minister in Seoul, Miura Gorō. Her violent death under cover of darkness at the hands of a foreign...

    (pp. 9-38)

    To understand the course of Min Yōng-hwan’s life, which culminated in his suicide in 1905 at the age of forty-four, it is necessary to be aware of the immense changes that were taking place in Northeast Asia during the fifty-year period from 1860 to 1910. These changes, which have been described by Martina Deuchler, Key-hiuk Kim, M. Frederick Nelson, Han-Kyo Kim, Eugene Kim, and many others, made the opening of Korea to Japan and the Western powers an apparent inevitability and ultimately resulted in Korea’s loss of sovereignty and subjection to thirty-five years of Japanese colonial rule.

    Until the end...

    (pp. 39-71)

    To understand the full significance of Min Yŏng-hwan’s major extant essay on reform,Ch’ŏnilch’aek,¹ it is first necessary to solve the problem of when it was actually composed. The original text itself is undated, and no mention is made of its date of composition by the compilers ofMin Ch’ungjŏnggong yugo. As the second section of the compilation, however,Ch’ŏnilch’aekprecedesHaech’ŏn ch’ubŏm(1896) andSagu sokch’o(1897), which form the third and fourth sections. Nevertheless, the Korean historian Kang Sŏng-jo surmises thatCh’ŏnilch’aekwas written around the time of Min’s two journeys to the West as Chosŏn’s minister planipotentiary...

    (pp. 72-114)

    Before examining Min Yŏng-hwan’s mission to Russia in 1896, it is worth taking a cursory view of the evolution of Russo-Korean relations during the preceding decades. Since 1864, twenty years before the signing of the first Russian-Korean treaty on 7 July 1884, Russia had made numerous unsuccessful efforts to establish trade relations with Korea across the latter’s northern border.¹ As a result of the 1884 treaty, Russians were permitted to trade at Korea’s open ports, although the northern border remained closed to overland trade because of Chinese opposition. It was not until 3 October 1885, however, that Karl Waeber arrived...

    (pp. 115-154)

    On 20 September 1896, even before his return from Russia, Min was appointed a minister in the State Council (Ŭijŏngbu ch’anjŏng),¹ and on 12 November, soon after his return to Seoul, he was appointed minister of war.² This second appointment was apparently at the prompting of the Russian military adviser Colonel Putiata, who had gained a favorable impression of Min during the journey across Siberia back to Korea.³ For some reason, however, Min’s appointment was opposed by the Russian chargé d’affaires, Karl Waeber.⁴ According to Jordan there was “considerable friction between the Russian Minister, M. Waeber, and some members of...

    (pp. 155-182)

    After leaving Britain in July 1897, Min Yŏng-hwan traveled directly to the United States and spent almost a year in Washington, D.C., where, according to theIndependent,he stayed together with Min Sang-ho and Min Yŏng-ch’an at “the Hamilton House.”¹ To avoid the displeasure of King Kojong and possible punishment if he returned to Seoul, Min Yŏng-hwan and his colleagues remained in Washington in self-imposed exile for more than a year. As has been mentioned in the previous chapter, Min even requested that he be appointed Korea’s minister at Washington, a post that he had originally been chosen for in...

  11. APPENDIX 1. Min’s Family Tree
    (pp. 183-184)
  12. APPENDIX 2. English-Language Works on the Late Chosŏn Era
    (pp. 185-188)
  13. APPENDIX 3. Diplomatic Correspondence and Dispatches
    (pp. 189-194)
  14. APPENDIX 4. Min’s Telegrams to King Kojong on His Departure from Europe in 1897
    (pp. 195-196)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 197-224)
  16. Glossary
    (pp. 225-234)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-244)
  18. Index
    (pp. 245-256)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-257)