Japanese colonization not just traitors’ faultOn Nov. 17, 1905, when the so-called Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty was forcibly signed, Deoksu Palace and the meeting room were besieged by fully armed Japanese soldiers, with 800 cavalry, 5,000 artillery and 20,000 infantry exerting control over the whole metropolitan area of Seoul. When Prime Minister Han Gyu-seol, who was roaring with rage, was pulled into a separate room, Japan’s former Prime Minister Hirobumi Ito said in a chilly voice while looking at other ministers, “If he keeps grizzling, kill him.” Han Gyu-seol, Min Young-ki and Lee Ha-young never passed under the yoke. But they could not convince other government officials to remain loyal. By Nov. 18, the “Five Eulsa Traitors,” led by Yi Wan-yong, had betrayed their country by stripping Korea of its sovereignty.
In 1906, the French scholar Francis Rey had already pointed out the treaty was invalid from the moment it was signed in his article “The International Legal Status of the Daehan Empire.” He argued: “It is said that this treaty had been forced with shameful mental and physical violence by Japan that is regarded as a civilized country. The signature of the treaty was granted from the Emperor of the Daehan Empire and ministers under the siege of the Japanese Army led by Ito and Commander Senjuro Hayashi. Although the cabinet members threw up their hands and signed the treaty after two days of resistance, the Emperor desperately raised his objection to unjust Japanese oppression by dispatching a high-level delegation to Washington without delay. We do not hesitate to insist that the treaty is invalid based on the special situation under which the signature was made.”
The emperor’s right upon the treaty was prescribed under Article 9 of the Constitution of the Daehan (Korean) Empire promulgated in 1897. At that time, the Emperor Gojong had granted neither approval nor ratification to the treaty.
“My testimony will be the most important one in Korean history. Gojong never yielded under pressure of Japanese imperialism nor defamed the holy national polity. He took some risks to inspire greater cooperation from the United States and asked the Hague Peace Conference for its help. However, his efforts were in vain. I notify all people that they should remember the eternal loyalty extended by Gojong for good.” As shown in the above testimony made by Special Envoy for the Emperor Homer B. Hulbert in 1942, Emperor Gojong spared no effort to restore his country but was later found poisoned to death.
However, strictly speaking, the Daehan Empire was a state like a sand castle based on the balance of power between Russia and Japan. Responsibilities for a ruin of the country should fall on Gojong, who enjoyed the inviolable rights of sovereignty, and the aristocrats who enjoyed privileges for the preceding 500 years. The history of the Daehan Empire remains sad in our minds, because it relied on others without its own strength and was degraded to the status of Japan’s colony.
The writer is the dean of the school of liberal arts at Kyung Hee University.
By Huh Dong-hyun