Reformer meets his demise; Japan claims Tokto

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Reformer meets his demise; Japan claims Tokto

Feb. 22, 1894
Kim Ok-gyun, born in 1851, was a dreamer with the ambition to change his country for the better. He wanted the Joseon Dynasty to open a whole new era with an injection of Western civilization. This ambition, however, was not welcome in an age when the court maintained an isolationist policy, keeping the country a “hermit kingdom.” And he was unable to fulfill his ambition, being assassinated on this date in Shanghai.
After studying orthodox Confucianism, Mr. Kim seemed to embark on a typical political career after passing a state exam. But, he had a different agenda than that of the senior politicians of the Joseon court. Sensitive to things new and Western, Mr. Kim soon developed a curiosity about the outside world, which grew into his ambition to modernize the country. He soon established a group of like-minded cohorts and went to Japan, where he caught glimpses of an East-meets-West civilization. Deciding to take Japan as his model for a new Joseon, Mr. Kim returned home, but found a new obstacle ― a conservative political group with close links to China’s Qing Dynasty.
He decided to act decisively. In 1884, under the guise of celebrating the opening of a modern postal administration, Mr. Kim and his supporters, known as Gapsin Jeongbyeon, staged an uprising. After killing several leaders of the conservatives, Mr. Kim seemed to have succeeded in opening up a whole new world. The following day, he started a new administration with himself as finance minister. The glory, however, lasted only three days as Chinese armed forces took control and wiped out his supporters. Mr. Kim fled, ending up on a ship to Japan to begin a 10-year period in exile.
In Japan, he made several friends among young Koreans, including one Hong Jong-u, who, unbeknownst to Mr. Kim, turned out to be an assassin sent by the conservative party and the Joseon court. Persuaded by Mr. Hong, Mr. Kim moved to Shanghai, where Mr. Hong shot him three times in the chest in a hotel.
Mr. Hong brought Mr. Kim’s body back to Korea on a ship, without paying him the due respect of a funeral, which actually turned public opinion against him. But it did not matter much to Mr. Hong, whose top priority was to earn personal advancement in the world after spending five years in Japan and Paris, where he performed low -level jobs ranging from a typographer at a newspaper to a handyman at the Louvre.
Returning to Korea, Mr. Hong craved worldly fame and wealth, which had led him to willingly agree to assassinate Mr. Kim, the reward being appointment as a government official. After getting the job done on this date, however, Mr. Hong did not quite receive a welcome from the royal court, which disappointed him a great deal. Yet he could not do much about it and ended up meeting a tragic death, allegedly by starvation, in 1913.

Feb. 22, 1905
One of the smallest, yet among the most controversial, islands in the world is Tokto, in the East Sea off the Korean Peninsula. The small island, really just an islet, along with the neighboring bigger Ulleung Island, has been the source of a feud between Korea and Japan for centuries. The first confrontation recorded in history dates back to when the Goryeo Dynasty ruled Korea. A solitary fisherman named An Yong-bok earned the court’s support to maintain the island against continuous attacks from Japan. Goryeo won out the first time, with Japan reporting that it would keep its fishermen from the area.
Centuries later, however, Japan again claimed sovereignty over the island on this date, by placing it under the control of its Shimane prefecture and giving it a new name ― Takeshima Island.
To this day, the Japanese government uses the name Takeshima, while Korea maintains the name Tokto. Even in this year when the two countries are busy celebrating the 40th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations, the island remains a point of contention.


by Chun Su-jin

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