A peninsula protruding southward from the northeastern corner of the Asian continent, Korea was long a victim of imperial aspirations and colonial subjugation. China was considered in Korea as not only the supplier for culture and civilization but also a military conqueror. The history of Sino-Korea relations can be traced back to the early Han Dynasty (206 B.C .–219 A.D .), when China destroyed Weiman Joseon and built four Chinese prefectures in the northern part of Korea in 108 B.C . In 1392, a Korean general, Yi Seonggye, was sent to China to campaign against the Ming Dynasty, but instead he allied himself with the Chinese and returned to overthrow the Goryeo king and establish a new dynasty. The Joseon Dynasty moved the capital to Hanseong, the present-day capital city of Seoul in 1394 and adopted Confucianism as the state religion, resulting in much loss of power and wealth by the Buddhists. During this period, King Sejong invented the Hangul alphabet in 1443. The Joseon Dynasty dealt with invasions by Japan from 1592 to 1598. Korea ’ s most famous military figure, Admiral Yi Sun-sin was instrumental in defeating the Japanese. After the invasions from Manchuria in 1627 and 1636, the dynasty submitted herself to the Qing Empire. On the other hand, Korea permitted the Japanese to trade at Pusan and sent missions to the capital of Edo in Japan. Europeans were never permitted to trade at Korean ports until the 1880s. In spite of some efforts to introduce Western technology through the Jesuit missions at Beijing, the Korean economy remained backward as a result of weak currency circulation. Peasants suffering from famine and exploitation often fled to Manchuria.
   The Chinese world order in which Sino-Korean tributary relations were built met the fundamental challenge from Japan and Western powers. They demanded the “independence” and “reform” of Korea. Faced with such pressures and threats from competing powers, some reform-minded Korean leaders attempted in the 1880s to implement the Chinese suggestions on Korea’s foreign relations called the “Korean Strategy.” The idea in the Korean Strategy was the suggestion from China that Korean leaders should open up diplomatic relations not only with Russia but also with Japan and the United States on the condition that traditional Sino-Korean tributary relations be maintained. Russian influence could be balanced by Japan, and Japan could be constrained by the United States. The strategy turned out to be a grand failure, because both China and Korea were too weak to defend themselves against rising imperialist pressures. The Chinese defeat in the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) meant the collapse of the Chinese world order, as well as Chinese loss of suzerain status in Korea. Indeed, China was forced to agree that Korea be “an independent state,” which led progressively to Korean dependence on Japan. After Japanese victories in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, Japan’s hegemonic in-fluence over Korea increased, as the Treaty of Portsmouth recognized is a Japanese protectorate. Hiroboumi Itō was appointed the first resident governor in 1905. In 1907, the Hague Conference recognized Japan’s takeover, and in 1908 the Root-Takahira Agreement confirmed American acceptance of Japan’s position on the peninsula in return for Japanese recognition of the position of the United States in the Philippines. Korea was redefined under Japanese colonial rule. Even before the country was formally annexed, the Japanese forced the last ruling monarch, King Kojong, to abdicate the throne in 1907 in favor of his feeble son, who was soon married to a Japanese woman and given a Japanese peerage. Itō attempted in vain to promote liberal reforms and was in 1909 rewarded for his efforts by assassination at the hands of Korean nationalist. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea outright. In theory the Koreans, as subjects of the Japanese emperor, enjoyed the same status as the Japanese, but in fact the Japanese government tried to assimilate Korea into the so-called Greater Japan. Threat to the Korean identity gave rise to nationalist sentiments and Korean students demonstrated in Japan. On March 1, 1919, street demonstrations erupted throughout the country to protest Japanese rule.
   See also <>; <>; <>.
    Cumings, Bruce. Korea ’ s Place in the Sun. New York: W. W. Norton, 1998;
    Fairbank, J. K., ed. The Chinese World Order. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968;
    Hsu, Immanuel C. Y., ed. Readings in Modern Chinese History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971;
    Nahm, Andrew C. Korea: Tradition and Transformation: A History of the Korean Peopl e. Seoul: Hollym International Corporation, 1996;
    Wells, Kenneth M. New God, New Nation: Protestants and Self-Reconstruction Nationalism in Korea, 1896–193 7. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1991.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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