I’ve been reading a lot of historical witness accounts of Korea. When I was skimming through the book Charles Dallet’s History of the Korean Church, published in French in 1874. I felt like I was reading a book about today’s North Korea…..
During the years 1871 and 1872 a terrible famine desolated Korea. The poverty was so great that the inhabitants of the West Coast sold their girls to Chinese smugglers, a bushel of rice per head. Some Koreans came to Leao-tong through the forests of the northern border,were missionaries a frightening picture of the state of the country, claiming that on every road we met corpses. But the Seoul government would leave destroyed half of the people, rather than allowing to source in China or Japan. Force alone can impose a system change. The various expeditions or rather demonstrations in the last thirty years, poorly combined, without mind away without serious political views, have not resulted so far only irritate and exasperate her pride, without tame.
It is obvious that such a situation can not last, and that the excess of evil will take the remedy. Civilized nations, forced to protect in the Far East their navy and trade, not indefinitely tolerate a miserable little kingdom, no navy, no serious army, burning ships that touch its shores, killing foreigners because they are strangers, and take force outside of humanity. Very probably, the trial will be emptied by the Russians whose conquests in north-east Asia, are taking every day a greater development. Since 1860, their possessions are contiguous Korea. There have been several problems between the two countries for border and trade issues; these questionsmay fail to renew, and one day or another, they will end with the annexation of Korea in the Russian territory. Perhaps the British or the Americans, driven to desperation by some new insult to their flag, will impose free trade strength.
Japan was far from perfect, but it was better for the interests of mankind that Korea and lower Manchuria should develop under Japanese influence than under Russian.
“.. whether or not Korea has on the whole been well governed can be determined only from a study of the available data. From such a study, which has occupied me for more than three years, and of which the results are presented in this volume, I have formed the opinion that Korea is today infinitely better governed than it ever was under its own native rulers, that it is better governed than most self-governing countries, that it is as well governed as any of the British, American, French, Dutch, and Portuguese dependencies which I have visited, and is better governed than most of them, having in view as well the cultural and economic development of the people as the technique of administration.”
“In the case of Korea the matter was complicated by the question of the Chinese suzerainty. Was Korea a vassal state of China, or was she not? The answer made by Korea and China was at one time yes, at another time no. Thus, whenever it suited the purpose of the Koreans to claim the protection of China, the plea was made that the suzerain must defend the vassal; when, however, China sought to make its suzerainty effective for some purpose of her own, the Korean argument was that the suzerainty was a mere figment, the annual tribute being paid solely on sentimental grounds in perpetuation of an ancient custom which had completely lost its practical significance.
Conversely, when Peking saw some advantage to be gained by insisting on the living force of the suzerainty the point was made very clear to the Koreans; but when, as occurred from time to time–as, for example, when French and American punitive expeditions attacked Korea in 1866 and 1871, respectively–foreign nations sought redress from Korea for wrongs done to their citizens, China disclaimed any kind of bond with Korea which made her responsible for the latter’s acts. No country had more reason to be irritated by the posture of Korean affairs than had Japan. ”
Sounds very familiar… except this time it’s “China and Russia vs USA”.