Korea becomes battlefield; gangster repents

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Korea becomes battlefield; gangster repents

June 23, 1894
It was on this date that Japan and China officially began a war over Korea. Stuck between two bigger powers, Korea found itself transformed into a battlefield. The war went until April of the following year.
The war broke out as a result of a long-lasting tug-of-war between China’s Ching Dynasty and Japan. After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, which was the catalyst for its fast development and modernization, Japan started to dream about taking over Asia, using the Korean Peninsula as the stepping stone. In 1876, Japan forced the Joseon rulers to open their sea ports to trade by signing the Ganghwado Treaty, which was tilted in Japan’s favor.
Korea’s Joseon Dynasty, however, had long kept friendly ties with China’s Ching Dynasty. And Japan’s advance further provoked China. Complicating matters, however, was that the Joseon Dynasty was divided into two groups of pro-China and pro-Japan factions.
Korea’s ruling family was in the middle of turmoil, a series of uprisings combined with modernization clashing against more conservative groups. In one such uprising, called the Donghak Farmers’ Movement, the court of Joseon asked China to send backup forces.
Japan also sent an army, ostensibly in the name of protecting their people in Korea, but had ulterior motives in restraining China’s influence on the peninsula.
Even after the riots were put down, the Japanese Army did not withdraw from Korea. It stayed and went on to antagonize China. The war ended in Japanese victory, and resulted in the Simonoseki Treaty that saw China surrender to Japan. It was not long after that Japan officially colonized Korea in 1910.
June 25, 1999
Jo Yang-eun, now 53, is a living legend in the world of gangsters. In 1978, Mr. Jo became the godfather of the Yang-eun Faction, which ruled the world of Korean gangsters with the Seobang Faction and OB Faction.
Known as the man of iron fists, Mr. Jo was king of the underworld until 1980, when he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
It was there Mr. Jo seemed to have enough time to reflect on his life as a gangster. He later wrote a letter to the prosecution, saying, “When I get out of prison, I’ll break up my faction official.”
And so when Mr. Jo emerged from prison in 1995, he looked like an entirely new person. He married a 29-year-old simultaneous interpreter, with whom he got engaged while in prison. Then he started to go to church and even entered a theology college, taking an active role as a volunteer.
Watching this gangster-turned-missionary washing the feet of the homeless was enough to make people believe that Mr. Jo was born again. He also made a movie based on his own experience, titled “Boss,” in which he starred.
Everything looked rosy for this former godfather, but it all crashed down again in 1996, when Mr. Jo was once again arrested, accused of importing drugs and taking an illegal ski resort membership worth several hundred million won. People felt betrayed by his behavior, and he earned himself another two years in jail.
After his release, Mr. Jo appealed to the Supreme Court, and on this date the verdict was upheld.
Mr. Jo has been trying hard to maintain his image as the reformed gangster, continuing his religious activities. He told the press last February that he is thinking about going to Canada to get a degree in theology.


by Chun Su-jin
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