Korea was not an independent country from 668 AD, by when "Silla" () got
hold of the entire Korean peninsula, up to the establishment of the "Daehan Jegug" ( Great Han Empire) in 1897.
"Silla" was one of the three Korean kingdoms situated in the Korean
peninsula. By 668 it had succeeded in defeating the other two (first "Baegje"
() and then "Goguryeo" ()). In doing so, it had used the military help of the
Chinese "Tang" () dynasty. So after helping "Silla" defeat the other two
kingdoms, the "Tang" dynasty sought to defeat "Silla" to take over the entire
Korean peninsula. However, their attempt to get direct control of the
Korean peninsula failed due to a determined resistance by "Silla". Instead
of sacrificing a lot of lives and resources in order to take over the
peninsula, the "Tang" dynasty decided to compromise by gaining just an
indirect control over it. "Silla" could maintain some of its independence
as long it served and did not go against the interest of the Chinese
Empire. The partial independence "Silla" retained was not enough to save
"Silla" from becoming a "satellite country" vis-à-vis the Chinese
Empire, which was to be its "head country". Thus, overall, "Silla" formed
to be a highly dependent and submissive kingdom. This marked the beginning
of the Korean submission to the Chinese dynasties as its head.
In order for a Korean prince to become king, he required the permission
of the Chinese emperor. Thereby, the Chinese could maintain a pro-Chinese
Korean prince at the top of the Korean leadership.
The status of the Korean king was lower than that of the Chinese
supervisor residing in Korea to direct Korean political and military
matters. This shows the extent of Chinese grip over the Korean kingdom, and
the semi-puppetness of the Korean monarchy.
Korea was to use the era names used by China, and incorporate
Confucianism as their national ideology. Korea was to periodically send a
delegation to the Chinese emperor to reaffirm Korea's loyalty to the
emperor, and to offer a massive amount of tributes to their quasi-ruler.
After centuries of such routine, the Koreans felt no longer much, if
any, humiliation or repulsion in the Chinese quasi-domination over their
kingdom. Thus they developed the idea that they were the smaller but
nevertheless part of the central country of the world with China as a sort
of fatherland and most central country. With the destruction and subsequent
replacement of the "Ming" () dynasty by the Manchurian "Qing" () dynasty in 1644, the
Koreans came to feel a near missionary favor to be the true embodiment of
the spirit of Chinese cultural, historical and political centrality.
However, Korea nevertheless remained a submissive satellite kingdom toward
China until 1897, when it gained considerable national independence.
By the 19th Century, the tide of European and American (especially
European) colonialism was intensifying its invasive activity over Asia and
the Pacific. To this movement, China could do little. When it sought to
counter-act actively, the British stroke them down hard with the Opium War
(1840 – 1842), which divulged or confirmed the weakness of the
Chinese Empire. China was no longer a "Sleeping Lion" but a "Paper
Tiger". This event worked as a catalyst which fastened the invasive tide
and the splitting of China.
Meanwhile, faced with the danger of colonization, Japan had successfully
effectuated the Meiji Restoration which catapulted them into a solid
process of modernization which saved them from the hands of foreign
Even though the "Qing" Dynasty made some efforts to learn from the West,
it was still over-estimating or was overly optimistic or blind about the
capacity of China in dealing with the new foreign threat from those China
had looked down to for so long. The Korean "I"(or "Ri") Dynasty () was no better in
evaluating the gravity of the situation and of the power for China and
itself in dealing with the imperial forces.
The modernized Meiji Japan sought to establish an alliance with Korea
and then with China in countering the tide of colonization threatening
their respective sovereignty and independence. But the Koreans were too
proud and corrupted to follow the advice of Japan who they had looked down
to as being an inferior neighbor. They refused the Japanese proposal
thinking that they could successfully deal with the westerners, who's
power they underestimated. On the other hand, Japan could not afford Korea
being invaded by one or another foreign power because of Korea's pride and
corrupted politics led by a corrupted aristocracy ( the "Ryangban"). As
Japan saw that it could not convince the Korean leadership in becoming
realistic, it decided to use military pressure. With the "Ganghwa-do"
Incident (1875) as impetus, Japan began the process of Korean modernization
through signing of the amity treaty of Japano-Korean
In signing the amity treaty of Japano-Korean, Japan recognized
Korea as an independent country. Till then, Korea was a mere satellite of
China, and thus it was not considered as an independent state.
The Chinese Empire was crumbling down as imperialism invaded its lands
and markets, and as inefficiency and corruption lagged behind the necessity
of modernization. If Korea remained a satellite of China, it could fall
with the aging Empire. This would mean that Japan would be alone in facing
the foreign threat. In order to prevent this, Japan had to separate Korea
from China by all means. The negation of Chinese semi-ownership and
dominance of Korea was completed with the Japanese victory in the
Sino-Japanese War (1894 – 1895). With this defeat, China abandoned
it's "right of dominance" over Korea. In 1897, the "I"(or "Ri") Dynasty changed
its country name from "Joseon" () to "Daehan Jegug" (), its king's rank
name from "King" to "Emperor", and established itself as an independent
country. The independence of Korea, the Korean liberation from the actual
Chinese dominance and the possible Russian invasion was realized by the
Japanese victory in the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese War (1904 –