In the previous class, we briefly covered history of Korea and also the end of Chosun dynasty. Anybody remember when Korea declared itself as an empire and who was the Korean emperor? Ironically, it was when Korea’s power was weakest in its entire history and King Kojong didn’t have meaningful political power over his country. And when Choson’s fate was declining, Kojong was trying to save his country by balancing great powers such as Qing China and Russia. However, his policy was counterproductive. First of all, the balance of power strategy was not for a small and weak country but for great powers. When he tried to take advantage of great powers, it created more dependency toward foreign countries and undermined independent political powers in domestic politics. The war between Qing China and Japan in 1894, and the Russo-Japanese war in 1904 were hegemonic war among great powers and Chosun became a war trophy for the winner, Japan.
Was there any possible solution to maintain Chosen’s independence? If Korea had great compromise and alliance between traditionalists and reformers which happened in Japan, it could be possible. However, political powers in Korea were so divided: Reformers like Kim Ok-gyun, traditional political power represented by Daewonkun, and grassroots movement such as Tonghak movement could never compromise or formulate combined political force to save declining country. Inside struggle among Korea’s political powers weaken Korea’s independent political power and outside competitions among great powers made Korea more dependent.