Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Assassination of Empress Myeongseong

   No, it's not the post about it. I just came across the review of one book that probably could revolt thinking of this one October day in 1895. 

If I could get my hands on this book, I would be happy. The tragic story of Queen Min was somehow a mystery to me, and I would love to delve deeper.
And I like the author's statement that she thinks she should write history with rage. With our latest thoughts on history and its subjectivism.
Oh well, and I didn't like the movie "Like Fireworks Like Butterflies" (forgot the official title, mianhae).

“The Assassination of Empress Myeongseong and the Japanese”
By Kim Mun-ja, Translated by Kim Seung-il, Taehaksa Publishing Co., 432 pages, 20,000 won 
"As I grew up as a second-generation Korean-Japanese I endured the humiliation of having a Japanese name forced upon me. And as I read history with pain, I think I should write history with rage." This statement seems the furthest from what one would expect from a scholar of history. Yet the author made this impassioned statement during the publication interview for this very book. I inquired again by email.

- If one is emotional about history, doesn`t the sense of objectivity become clouded?
"For a Korean to read or write modern Korean history without emotion is a far greater impropriety. Every time I read Japanese historical materials on Korea I feel rage until it hurts. Those who read these materials without emotion clearly do not understand the very meaning of what they read. Objectivity in historical research? That is a matter of a different order. Objectivity is a problem in the investigative process, one of strict criticism supported by adducible rationality in relation to the materials. Objectivity is the very basis by which resources are examined when studying history."

This book, as the author has stated, harbors "pain and rage," and from first to last, is armed with "strict examination of resources." What has hurt and angered this author so much? It is the assassination of the mother of Joseon in the heart of Seoul 116 years ago. [With the 1897 proclamation of the Korean Empire, Joseon's Queen Min was posthumously named Empress Myeongseong.]

In the wee hours before dawn on October 10, 1895, a gang of Japanese forced their way into Gyeongbok Palace. King Gojong [Emperor Gwangmu] came out and positioned himself at the entryway to the reception room near the garden to block the intruders. The intruders shoved the king aside and advanced into the palace. The queen was hiding in her quarters, the Jangandang. They advanced on and fired upon Yi Gyeong-jik, the minister of royal household, who stood in their way. The night guards fought to protect the queen, but fell by her side under the guns and swords of the intruders. The queen was dressed as one of her court servants so as to avoid the invaders. Three of them were dragged out to the garden and hacked to death by sword.

The queen was among them. She heaved for air as she looked skyward. The assassins compared the three with the photo they had brought of the queen. The queen hid her face with both hands. Later, her corpse was burned by the gang. She was 45 years old. As the sun revealed what had transpired, even the Japanese consulate framed this violent event as a "barbarity unprecedented in the course of history." The foreign press in residence reported that the gang acted on the order of Miura Goro, the Japanese minister to Joseon. Those involved were subpoenaed to Japan, but all of them were released eventually. At its denouement the incident was clear: at the very least the incident came under the jurisdiction of the criminal court.

This is the point at which the author calls for a “reinvestigation.” Could the assassination as ordered by Minister Miura actually be the whole story? Those involved with the incident are recalled to the court of history. The clues are Miura's professional achievements previous- and post-incident. Records of telephone calls made between the minister to Joseon and Tokyo`s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the top level military brains in the Imperial General Headquarters, and secret documents, and other resources are submitted as proof.

The “true nature” of the incident revealed exceeds what has been known. Miura was not the principle offender, but an accomplice. Operating in the background was the Imperial General Headquarters under the direct command of Emperor Meiji; at the top were General Kawakami Soroku, the deputy chief of staff, and others. These powers positioned Miura, former lieutenant general of the Imperial Japanese Army, as minister to Joseon, and it was on their behalf he would act as ordered, along with eight extreme right-wing Japanese officers, to commit the barbarity that camouflaged a coup d'état.

This is the author's conclusion. And it speaks to the motive as well: the Japanese needed control of a telegraph network in order to invade the continent. At the time telegraph lines were established from the northwestern city of Uiju, bordering on Qing China across the Amnok River (Yalu River), to the southeastern city of Busan, closest to Japan by the East Sea. A telegraph hub was required for the Japanese military to command large forces dispatched after crossing the sea from Japan.

The First Sino-Japanese War was ended easily because the Japanese had taken control of Joseon's telegraph service located in front of Gyeongbok Palace by seizing the palace two days before the war started. Yet, due to intervention by Russia, France and Germany, Japanese interests were endangered and the queen, who was partial to Russia, needed to be eliminated. Miura's predecessor advocated the “return of telegraph lines to Joseon,” and this was the reason he was replaced by Miura. "At times it must be done." This is the response attributed to the Japanese emperor upon receiving report of the assassination.
The author was born in Osaka exactly 100 years later than Empress Myeongseong. She was raised there and attended Nara Women's University, earning a master`s degree in East Asian history. After seven years of working as a research assistant, she says, she was unable to become a full-time researcher. She even refers to herself as a failure. However, Lee Tae-jin, president of the National Institute of Korean History, commented on her work: "Beyond welcome, I feel a shudder. It has the power to completely change the frame of modern history of Korea-Japan relations."
Jeon Byeong-geun
Staff Reporter
The Chosun Ilbo

(from: Korea Focus)