Gojong of the Korean Empire

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Gojong of the Korean Empire : biography

8 September 1852 – 21 January 1919

His full posthumous name

  • His Imperial Majesty Emperor Gojong Tongcheon Yung-un Jogeuk Donyun Jeongseong Gwang-ui Myeonggong Daedeok Yojun Sunhwi Umo Tanggyeong Eungmyeong Ripgi Jihwa Sinryeol Oehun Hong-eop Gyegi Seonryeok Geonhaeng Gonjeong Yeong-ui Honghyu Sugang Munheon Mujang Inik Jeonghyo Tae of Korea
  • 대한제국고종통천융운조극돈윤정성광의명공대덕요준순휘우모탕경응명립기지화신렬외훈홍업계기선력건행곤정영의홍휴수강문헌무장인익정효태황제폐하
  • 大韓帝國高宗統天隆運肇極敦倫正聖光義明功大德堯峻舜徽禹謨湯敬應命立紀至化神烈巍勳洪業啓基宣曆乾行坤定英毅弘休壽康文憲武章仁翼貞孝太皇帝陛下
  • Daehan Jeguk Gojong Tongcheon Yung-un Jogeuk Donyun Jeongseong Gwang-ui Myeonggong Daedeok Yojun Sunhwi Umo Tanggyeong Eungmyeong Ripgi Jihwa Sinryeol Oehun Hong-eop Gyegi Seonryeok Geonhaeng Gonjeong Yeong-ui Honghyu Sugang Munheon Mujang Inik Jeonghyo Tae Hwangje Pyeha

Reign

King of the Joseon

Gojong took the throne in 1863 when still a child. As a minor, his father, the Regent Heungseon Daewongun (or more commonly, the Daewongun), ruled for him until Gojong reached adulthood.

During the mid-1860s the Heungseon Daewongun was the main proponent of isolationism and the instrument of the persecution of native and foreign Catholics, a policy that led directly to the French invasion and the United States expedition to Korea in 1871. The early years of the Daewongun’s rule also witnessed a concerted effort to restore the largely dilapidated Gyeongbok Palace, the seat of royal authority. During the Daewongun’s reign, factional politics, the Seowon (learned academies that often doubled as epicenters of factional power), and the power wielded by the Andong Kim clan, completely disappeared.

In 1873, Gojong announced his assumption of direct royal rule. With the retirement of Heungseon Daewongun, Gojong’s consort, Queen Min (later Empress Myeongseong), gained complete control over her court, placing her family members in high court positions.

External Pressures and Unequal Treaties

In the 19th century tensions mounted between Qing China and Japan, culminating in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895). Much of this war was fought on the Korean peninsula. Japan, after the Meiji Restoration, had acquired Western military technology and had forced Joseon to sign the Treaty of Ganghwa in 1876. Japan encroached upon Korean territory in search of fish, iron ore, and natural resources. It also established a strong economic presence in the peninsula, heralding the beginning of Japanese imperial expansion in East Asia.

The French campaign against Korea of 1866, United States expedition to Korea in 1871 and the Incident of Japanese gunboat Unyo put pressure on many of Joseon’s officials, including King Gojong.

The Treaty of Ganghwa became the first unequal treaty signed between Korea and foreign country; it gave extraterritorial rights to Japanese citizens in Korea and forced the Korean government to open three ports, Busan, Incheon and Wonsan, to Japanese and foreign trade. With the signing of its first unequal treaty, Korea became easy prey for many imperialistic powers, and later the treaty led to Korea being annexed by Japan.

Imo Rebellion and Gapsin Coup

King Gojong began to rely on newer, rifle-equipped armies, who were paid. The old army, which used spears and old matchlocks, eventually revolted as a result of their mediocre wages and loss of prestige, and Heungseon Daewongun was restored to power. However Chinese troops led by the Qing Chinese general Yuan Shikai soon abducted the Daewongun and took him to China, thus foiling his return to power. Four years later the Daewongun returned to Korea.

On 4 December 1884, five revolutionaries initiated a coup d’etat by leading a small anti-old minister army to Empress Myeongseong’s brother’s house. The coup failed in 3 days. Some of its leaders, including Kim Okgyun, fled to Japan, and others were executed.

Peasant Revolts

Widespread poverty presented significant challenges to the 19th century Joseon Dynasty. One indication of this poverty was the average life expectancy of Koreans around the close of the Joseon period: 24 years for males and 26 for females."…before the introduction of modern medicine in the early 1900s the average life expectancy for Koreans was just 24 for males and 26 for females." A number of factors, including famine, poverty, high taxes and corruption among the ruling class, led to several notable peasant revolts in the 19th century. King Gojong’s predecessors had suppressed an 1811–1812 revolt in the Pyeongan Province, led by Hong Kyong-nae."Peasant uprising in northern Korea in 1812 organized by Hong Kyong-nae, a fallen yangban (court official), in response to oppressive taxation and forced labour during a time of famine caused by crop failure. The rebels prevailed for several months and were put down only after a concerted military campaign. A similar rebellion occurred in the 1860s."