Japanese Annexation of Korea Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Japan forced Korean officials to acknowledge a series of questionable if not illegal treaties, culminating in the Annexation Treaty of 1910, which formally ceded Korean sovereignty to the empire of Japan.

Summary of Event

In 1904, the Russo-Japanese War Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)[Russojapanese War] broke out, a war in which Korea and its territory were part of the stakes. Russia southward advances and Japan’s incursion onto the continent brought the two countries to a collision course on the Korean peninsula. Surprisingly, the war turned in Japan’s favor. In May, 1905, near Tsushima Island, the Japanese navy defeated a Russian armada that had come all the way from the Baltic Sea, halfway around the world. Tsushima, Battle of (1905) During the Russo-Japanese War and thereafter, Japan imposed numerous treaties on Russia and Korea, each time infringing further on Korean territories. Concerned with Japanese aggressions, the head of the American legation in Seoul, Horace N. Allen, Allen, Horace N. asked his government to intercede on Korea’s behalf. It was President Theodore Roosevelt’s opinion, however, that Japanese domination over Korea was an appropriate safeguard against Russian expansion. Great Britain, too, was eager to block Russia’s advance and allied with Japan. Japan;annexation of Korea Korea, annexation Annexation Treaty (1910) [kw]Japanese Annexation of Korea (Aug. 22, 1910) [kw]Annexation of Korea, Japanese (Aug. 22, 1910) [kw]Korea, Japanese Annexation of (Aug. 22, 1910) Japan;annexation of Korea Korea, annexation Annexation Treaty (1910) [g]East Asia;Aug. 22, 1910: Japanese Annexation of Korea[02660] [g]Korea;Aug. 22, 1910: Japanese Annexation of Korea[02660] [c]Colonialism and occupation;Aug. 22, 1910: Japanese Annexation of Korea[02660] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Aug. 22, 1910: Japanese Annexation of Korea[02660] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;Aug. 22, 1910: Japanese Annexation of Korea[02660] Kojong Sunjong It{omacr} Hirobumi Terauchi Masatake Yi Wan-yong Roosevelt, Theodore [p]Roosevelt, Theodore;Nobel Peace Prize

Britain and the United States saw Russia’s defeat to be more advantageous to their respective countries. The United States had its own ambitions for Southeast Asia and thought it necessary tacitly to permit Japan’s domination of Korea in return for Japan’s recognition of U.S. hegemony over the Philippines. Therefore, in the secret Taft-Katsura Agreement Taft-Katsura Agreement (1905)[Taft Katsura Agreement (1905)] of July, 1905, the U.S. secretary of war, William Howard Taft, Taft, William Howard [p]Taft, William Howard;Taft-Katsura Agreement[Taft Katsura Agreement] and Japanese prime minister Katsura Taro stipulated that Japan would have a free hand in Korea and that the U.S. would have equal freedom from outside interference in the Philippines. Next, in September, 1905, with President Roosevelt as a mediator, Russia and Japan concluded the Portsmouth Treaty, Portsmouth Treaty (1905) thereby ending the Russo-Japanese War. Roosevelt won the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation of the treaty. Nobel Prize recipients;Theodore Roosevelt[Roosevelt]

Japan’s victory over Russia was another milestone not just for Japan but also for Korea; it brought Japan’s scheme to annex Korea one step closer to fruition. By the Taft-Katsura Agreement, Japan was guaranteed special favor in Korea’s politics, economy, and military affairs and received the right to guide, protect, and supervise the Korean people. After Japan attained this control over Korea, it formed a pro-Japanese group in Korea, called Il-jin-hoe, in preparation for the next treaty, the so-called Protectorate Treaty Protectorate Treaty (1905) of November 17, 1905.

To obtain the Protectorate Treaty for his government, Japan’s resident military commander in Korea, Itō Hirobumi, appeared at the Korean emperor’s palace with his troops in tow. He threatened Emperor Kojong and his ministers and demanded that they sign the treaty. When they refused, Itō had his troops drag the prime minister, Han Kyu-sŏl, out of the room, sent his soldiers to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to fetch the official seal, and personally affixed the seal to the treaty. The Protectorate Treaty was “signed” in this manner at about 1:00 a.m. on November 18, 1905. Japan then announced to the world that the agreement had been accepted “voluntarily” by the Koreans. The treaty stipulated that Japan would take complete control of Korea’s foreign affairs: Korea thus lost the ability to enter into any treaty with any other country without the Japanese government’s approval. A Japanese governor-general was placed at the Korean Imperial court to enforce this provision: The governor-general handled Korea’s foreign affairs.

The reaction to the Protectorate Treaty was tremendous. The treaty caused wrath from the entire Korean population. There came endless memorials to the emperor, protests and demonstrations against the Japanese “protectorate” were held, and guerrilla movements arose throughout the country to fight the Japanese. In spite of strict censorship, Korea’s newspapers took the lead in increasing public awareness of the treaty. In mortification and despair, Prince Min Yŏng-hwan and other high officials took their lives. The emperor announced in a letter of February 1, 1906, in the English-language newspaper Korea Daily News, that he had not consented to the treaty and that it was sealed illegally.

In June, 1907, the Second Hague Peace Conference Second Hague Peace Conference was held in the Netherlands. The emperor gave credentials to three envoys, Yi Sang-sŏl, Yi Jun, and Yi Wi-jong, and dispatched them to appeal to the international community for assistance. However, Korea was not allowed to participate in the conference, because under the terms of the Protectorate Treaty it no longer had sovereign power or authority over its own diplomatic affairs. The envoys protested that without the seal of the emperor, the treaty was not valid, but to no avail. One of the envoys, Yi Jun, overcome by grief, died at the Hague.

However, the event succeeded in exposing the illegal nature of Japanese conduct, which generated worldwide condemnation. The furious Japanese used the Hague incident as an excuse further to tighten their grip on Korea. Japan blamed the emperor for the incident and demanded that he accept responsibility by yielding his throne to his son, the crown prince. When the emperor refused, Japan forced Kojong to designate the prince to rule as regent, ruling in his place, an unprecedented event in the annals of Korean history. There had never been a case of a prince acting as regent for his reigning father. Nevertheless, under great pressure, the emperor finally agreed to allow his son to be named regent, only to find that his acquiescence was manipulated by the Japanese into a full abdication of his throne to the prince. By the time he realized what was happening, however, it was too late to prevent it.

Thus, one month after the Hague incident, Prince Sunjong became the twenty-seventh and final monarch of the Chosŏn Dynasty. When the news was made public, there was again public uproar and demonstrations. Two years later, in 1909, the main orchestrator of the Protectorate Treaty, Itō Hirobumi, was assassinated by An Jung-gŭn at Halbin Railroad Station in Manchuria.

The next Japanese resident general in Korea, Terauchi Masatake, was sent to the country for the express purpose of securing another forced treaty—this time one agreeing to the complete annexation of Korea by Japan. Upon his arrival, Terauchi suspended the publication of all newspapers to prevent the public from discovering Japan’s plans. He drafted the Annexation Treaty together with Prime Minister Yi Wan-yong. In addition to co-authoring the treaty, Yi Wan-yong—rather than the emperor—signed the document on August 22, 1910, making himself infamous in the annals of Korea. The treaty officially ended Korea’s status as an independent country. Yi Wan-yong, the national traitor who had sold his country, continued to serve under the new Japanese rule. He was attacked by a compatriot and his house was burned down.

The Annexation Treaty consisted of eight articles, but its central stipulations were that “Korea makes complete and permanent cession to Japan of all rights of sovereignty over the whole of Korea” and “Japan assumes the entire government and administration of Korea.” Fearful of an outburst by the populace following the Annexation Treaty’s signing, it was not announced immediately to the nation. A week later, on August 29, Emperor Sunjong was forced to announce the annexation and relinquish both his throne and his country. Thus ended the Chosŏn Dynasty, which had been founded by General Yi Sŏng-gae in 1392, had lasted 518 years, and was served by twenty-seven sovereigns.


Japan’s desire to annex Korea went back at least as far as 1572, when Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi had invaded the country. The 1910 annexation was thus the culmination of more than three hundred years of overt and covert maneuvering by Japan. After it was completed, Japan tried to assimilate Koreans under the slogan Nai-Sen-ittai (“Japan and Korea are one entity”). To carry out this assimilationist policy, throughout the thirty-five years of its imperial rule over Korea, Japan banned all forms of Korean cultural expression that might be considered nationalistic, and Koreans were forced to change their names to resemble those of their Japanese rulers. Japan aimed at the total eradication of a Korean national consciousness.

Instead, the annexation awoke otherwise-complaisant Koreans and spurred a major independence movement in 1919 called the March 1 Independence Movement. This spontaneous national movement surprised the whole world and shocked Japan. Japan’s response, however, was severe, as the Korean independence movement was suppressed with an unprecedented level of brutality and atrocity. Japan;annexation of Korea Korea, annexation Annexation Treaty (1910)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dudden, Alexis. Japan’s Colonization of Korea. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005. Boldly calls Korea after the 1905 Protectorate Treaty “Illegal Korea,” yet fails to emphasize the illegal status of the treaty itself. Lacks scholarly objectivity.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hatada, Takashi. A History of Korea. Translated and edited by Warren W. Smith, Jr., and Benjamin H. Hazard. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio Press, 1969. Presents Korean history from the Japanese perspective, a perspective counter to that of the Dudden work cited above.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hulbert, Homer B. Hulbert’s History of Korea. 2 vols. Edited by Clarence N. Weems. New York: Hillary House, 1962. History after the year 1904 appears in the “Editor’s Profile of Hulbert” section, which deals with Hulbert’s involvement as Emperor Kojong’s adviser and confidant until 1909.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lee, Ki-baik. A New History of Korea. Translated by Edward W. Wagner. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984. General history of Korea with good coverage of the Japanese advance on Korea during the nineteenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McKenzie, F. A. Korea’s Fight for Freedom. 1920. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1970. Chronicles the personal observations of what the Japanese were actually doing in Korea during the occupation. Written from the perspective of a supporter of Japan.

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Categories: History