[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]A fateful treaty with Japan; fading royal bandNov. 18, 1905
The ominous shadow of a declining national destiny that had been cast over the Korean Peninsula turned even darker on this date.
After an extended power struggle among Great Britain, Japan, the United States and Russia, the dawn of the 20th century saw Japan staking claim to the peninsula.
After gaining the other world powers’ consent or through connivance, Japan forced Korea’s Joseon Dynasty to sign a preliminary protocol in 1904, which was followed by what is known as the Eulsa Treaty on this date.
According to the five articles of the treaty, the Joseon Dynasty lost both diplomatic rights and international negotiating powers.
The following year, however, when the Japanese established a supervising agency headed by Ito Hirobumi, Japan’s intervention went beyond diplomacy and reached every area of state affairs.
Joseon did not just sit idly by while the country, and the dynasty’s 500-year history, was subjugated. The treaty was only signed as a result of Japan’s determined efforts.
The dynasty tried every means possible to prevent the acquiescence. Even with Japanese soldiers walking around inside the palace, officials of the court tried to resist.
A few Joseon officials, however, were sympathetic to Japanese ambitions, suggesting that Korea agree to the treaty with a few revisions.
Ito Hirobumi gathered these officials and had them sign the treaty without the approval of King Gojong. After inking the documents, they even took a souvenir photograph.
The news spread quickly. It was enough to stir up the entire country and make the treasonous officials public enemies.
King Gojong, who opposed the treaty to the end, tried to send an American named H.B. Hulbert with a message containing the throne’s opposition to the treaty. But in the meantime, Japan dethroned the king, making the letter irrelevant.
The officials who signed the treaty became known as the Five Enemies of Eulsa ― Lee Wan-yong, Lee Geun-taek, Lee Ji-yong, Park Je-sun and Gwon Jung-hyeon.
Some officials loyal to the failing dynasty called for the death penalty to be meted out to the traitors. The courts, however, were already under Japanese control.
Gi San-do and Na Cheol, who were leaders of grassroots movements, tried to assassinate the Five Enemies, but their efforts were unsuccessful.
Thus began 36 years of colonial rule, after the official annihilation of the Joseon Dynasty in 1910.
Nov. 18, 1918
As the Joseon Dynasty fell, so did its royal brass band. Started in 1900, the band was first led by German musician Franz von Eckert, who was invited by Min Yeong-cheon, a relative of Queen Myeongseong.
Mr. Eckert, who had been based in Japan, moved to Seoul and composed pieces such as “Song of Patriotism for the Korean Empire.” The band was the first to introduce Western music and composers, such as Wagner and Mozart, to Korea.
When Japanese colonial rule officially began in 1910, the band began to feel the same influence of history as the entire Korean Peninsula. Without a dynasty to play for, the royal band was dismissed.
The members, however, continued to perform under the name Lee Wang-jik Brass Band, which once again in 1915 was forced to stop performing.
Proving its resiliency, the band was reborn yet again under the name Gyeongseong (Seoul) Brass Band. After Mr. Eckert died in 1916, the band took on a new leader, Baek U-yong.
In a country still unfamiliar with Western music, the band started to hold public performances every Thursday in what is now Pagoda Park in the Jongno district of central Seoul.
The band also made official stage performances in Jongno, like the one on this date, dubbed “A Performance to Console the Public.”
In 1924, the band played its last notes. Its legacy, however, is that of modern brass performers that Korean history still holds dear.
by Chun Su-jin