Shimojo Masao (4): An Jung-geun’s On Peace in East Asia
Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 6, 2009
An Jung-geun’s On Peace in East Asia
Ito Hirobumi, Japan’s first prime minister, was assassinated at a Harbin train station in Manchuria by the Korean An Jung-geun in October 1909. There is a tendency in South Korea to excessively praise An’s essay, On Peace in East Asia, for its resemblance to the concept of an East Asian entity promoted by Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio.
From a historical perspective, On Peace in East Asia, which An finished in 1910, is similar to Prime Minister Hatoyama’s idea in that it is based on a trite concept that ignores reality. The concept of an East Asian entity had already been elucidated in 1880 by Chinese diplomat Huang Zun-xiang in his Joseon Strategy. In the year before the 1894 war between Japan and China, Tarui Tokichi also wrote the Treatise on Unifying (Japan and Korea into the State of) The Great East. The problem, however, was whether the historical conditions were in order in Korea at that time to create such an entity.
Huang Zun-xiang in his Joseon Strategy viewed an alliance of Qing Dynasty China, Korea, and Japan as indispensable for the survival of Korea, located to the south of Russia. But the Joseon ruling class fiercely opposed his strategy, and his concept of an East Asian entity was not realized. Indeed, in Korea, Queen Min (Empress Myeongseong) and her clan wielded arbitrary political power over the peninsula. She sold public positions in the bureaucracy to the highest bidder, which created turmoil in the realm. That turmoil in turn led eventually to the Japanese war with China.
After the Japan-China War, the Liaodong Peninsula in China was ceded to the Japanese. Negotiations with Russia, Germany, and France after the territory came under Japanese control resulted in a stronger Russian influence on the Korean Peninsula. Russia’s “Southern Policy”, about which Huang Zun-xiang expressed concern in his Joseon Strategy, had become a reality.
In 1904, Japan began hostilities with Russia, which had extended its influence into Mongolia. The Korean Lee Ki had a vision of dividing Mongolia into three spheres of influence if it came under Japanese control. According to his vision, giving the eastern part of Mongolia to Japan, the southern part to Korea, and the western part to Qing Dynasty China would prevent an invasion by Russia.
At that time, both China and Korea were ruled by monarchies from the Middle Ages. Only Japan had a constitutional government. Ignoring the differences in social structure and the phases of historical development, and assassinating Ito in the name of On Peace in East Asia, was an act that beggars belief.
- Shimojo Masao
Afterwords: This short essay is an excellent example of a point I sometimes try to make here: relations between Japan, China, and Korea have been so complex for such a long period of time that contemporary conditions do not admit of superficial analysis by outside observers, particularly those unfamiliar with the historical background. Some additional information of interest: An was a converted Catholic, an admirer of the Meiji Tenno (emperor), and was anxious to create an East Asian entity as a defense against the “White Plague”. Contemporary South Korea’s view of Queen Min tends to the hagiographic; her life was used as the basis for a popular musical, in which she was depicted as a tragic heroine and the mother of her country. Also, Russia, France, and Germany intervened after the Japan-China War to persuade Japan to return the Liaodong Peninsula to China. The almost immediate occupation of the peninsula by Russia after its return was a casus belli for the war between Japan and Russia.