Korean Military Mutinies Against Japanese Rule Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Korean resentment of widening Japanese influence and infighting at the royal court led to a military mutiny that turned against the Korean queen and the Japanese. Suppression of the rebellion brought in Japanese and Chinese troops and humiliated Korea. A later coup by Japanese and progressive Koreans, who were keen on modernization, failed because of Chinese intervention, and Japan and China agreed to withdraw their troops from Korea.

Summary of Event

After 1876, when Japan forcibly opened the kingdom of Korea to foreign trade with the Treaty of Kanghwa Kanghwa, Treaty of (1876) , Japanese influence grew in Korea. The treaty ended Korea’s status as a vassal state of China and made it independent. Yet Japan engineered the treaty to increase its own opportunities in Korea. Korea;and Japan[Japan] Japan;and Korea[Korea] Korea;military mutiny Min, Queen Kojong Taewon-gun Li Hongzhang [p]Li Hongzhang;and Korea[Korea] Yoshimoto, Hanabusa [kw]Korean Military Mutinies Against Japanese Rule (July 23, 1882-Jan. 9, 1885) [kw]Military Mutinies Against Japanese Rule, Korean (July 23, 1882-Jan. 9, 1885) [kw]Mutinies Against Japanese Rule, Korean Military (July 23, 1882-Jan. 9, 1885) [kw]Japanese Rule, Korean Military Mutinies Against (July 23, 1882-Jan. 9, 1885) Korea;and Japan[Japan] Japan;and Korea[Korea] Korea;military mutiny Min, Queen Kojong Taewon-gun Li Hongzhang [p]Li Hongzhang;and Korea[Korea] Yoshimoto, Hanabusa [g]Japan;July 23, 1882-Jan. 9, 1885: Korean Military Mutinies Against Japanese Rule[5230] [g]Korea;July 23, 1882-Jan. 9, 1885: Korean Military Mutinies Against Japanese Rule[5230] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;July 23, 1882-Jan. 9, 1885: Korean Military Mutinies Against Japanese Rule[5230] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;July 23, 1882-Jan. 9, 1885: Korean Military Mutinies Against Japanese Rule[5230] [c]Government and politics;July 23, 1882-Jan. 9, 1885: Korean Military Mutinies Against Japanese Rule[5230] Kim Ok-kyun Pak Yong-hyo So Chae-p’il Horimoto Reizō

Kojong, the Korean king who signed the treaty, was a weak person. Initially, he was dominated by his father, who is known by the name for “grand prince,” Taewon-gun. Taewon-gun selected a noble orphan girl, Myongsong Hwanghu, to be his son’s wife. She was from the powerful Min clan, whom Taewon-gun sought to dominate. Myongsong Hwanghu became Queen Min at her wedding in 1866 at the age of fifteen. Queen Min suspected that Taewon-gun had poisoned their firstborn son, and in 1873, he pushed Kojong to assume power for himself.

Li Hongzhang (right) with former U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant during the latter’s visit to China in June, 1879.

(The S. S. McClure Company)

Queen Min permitted Japanese lieutenant Horimoto Horimoto Reizō Reizō to set up an elite Japanese-style Korean army unit in May, 1881. Quickly, the preferential treatment given to these one hundred Korean soldiers led by a Japanese commander caused resentment. On July 19, 1882, in Seoul, regular Korean soldiers were given their first salary in more than one year. Min Kyom-ho Min Kyom-ho , a relative of Queen Min, sold the rice that was earmarked as the soldiers’ pay and instead distributed to them an inedible mix of grains and sand. Early in the morning of July 23, angry soldiers marched toward Min Kyom-ho’s house. He arrested their leaders and announced their pending execution.

Enraged by Min’s orders, soldiers stormed his house and broke into an armory. Freshly armed, mutineers stormed Seoul prison and freed their comrades. Augmented by poor and dissatisfied citizens, the rebellion rose to three thousand men and developed an anti-Japanese character. Soldiers killed Lieutenant Horimoto, Horimoto Reizō and then the rioters surrounded the Japanese legation. The Japanese minister to Korea, Hanabusa Yoshimoto Yoshimoto, Hanabusa , ordered the building to be burned as cover and escaped with his men to the harbor of Inchon. With six Japanese killed, Yoshimoto and his group fled to the sea, where they were rescued by a British ship.

On July 24, the mob stormed the royal palace, killing Min Kyom-ho Min Kyom-ho and others. Queen Min escaped in disguise. After siding with the rebels, Taewon-gun assumed power, and soon ordered a state funeral for Queen Min, who was presumed dead. He then abolished the Japanese-led army unit.

Japan sent four warships and fifteen soldiers to accompany Minister Yoshimoto back to Seoul. Queen Min secretly contacted King Kojong to ask for Chinese help. Li Hongzhang, China’s viceroy responsible also for Korea, sent three warships. A Japanese ship reached Inchon before the three Chinese warships arrived on August 10. When the main Japanese fleet arrived on August 12, the Chinese withdrew and then returned with reinforcements of four thousand infantry on August 22 and two hundred soldiers the next day. On August 22, Yoshimoto had met with King Kojong and conveyed Japan’s demands. Among them, Korea was to pay 500,000 yen for the deadly anti-Japanese riot Race riots;anti-Asian[antiAsian] . King Kojong asked for more time, but Yoshimoto refused and returned to his fleet at Inchon. Japan then refused a Chinese offer at mediation.

On August 26, the Chinese asked Taewon-gun into their camp, but they kidnapped him upon his arrival and then deported him to China. He was interrogated by Li Hongzhang and kept for three years. After Chinese soldiers stormed the royal palace on August 29, killing nearly four hundred Korean soldiers and executing ten rebel leaders, Queen Min returned to power.

On September 30 Korea signed the Treaty of Chemulpo (now called Inchon) with Japan, agreeing to all Japanese demands, and Japan received the right to station soldiers to protect its rebuilt legation. Queen Min shifted her allegiance to the Chinese. In October, Korea and China signed an agreement on trade that restored Korea’s vassal status to China.

The conservative policies of Queen Min antagonized a group of progressive Koreans around their intellectual leader Kim Ok-kyun, Kim Ok-kyun who began plotting a coup in 1883. A regional commander, fellow plotter Pak Yong-hyo Pak Yong-hyo , trained a five-hundred-man force that impressed the king. A suspicious Queen Min amalgamated the force into the regular army. Conspirator So Chae-p’il So Chae-p’il went abroad and returned a graduate from Japan’s military academy in June, 1884.

The plotters saw their chance after China reduced its troop strength in Seoul in May, 1884, so that it could have more soldiers to block French claims over Vietnam. With the outbreak of the Sino-French-Vietnamese War over the status of Vietnam in September, 1884, the plotters moved ahead. The new Japanese minister to Korea, Takezoe Shinichiro, arrived in Seoul on October 30 and sided with the plotters. On December 4, the Kapsin coup—named for the year of the event in Korean—was staged. The plotters used the inauguration of Seoul’s new post office to assassinate invited conservative politicians. The plotters failed to kill all their main targets but took King Kojong and Queen Min into custody in a small palace.

On December 5, the conspirators announced a new government. The Chinese contacted Queen Min, who agreed to receive their help. She advised King Kojong to ask to be moved to the large, less defensible main palace, and Takezoe agreed. On December 6, the king issued a fifteen-article reform proclamation drafted by the progressives. In the afternoon, Chinese troops and conservative Korean troops attacked the palace held by the insurgents. The troops of the progressives were overwhelmed. Under fire, the Japanese under Takezoe withdrew to Inchon after burning their legation, and they took Kim, Pak Pak Yong-hyo , and So with them to safety, and eventually to Japan.

Family members of the Korean plotters were executed in the plotters’ stead. Japanese forces returned to Korea with seven warships and three thousand infantry. Restitution demands were small because the Koreans did not mention Japanese complicity in the Kapsin coup. The Protocol of Seoul Seoul, Protocol of (1885) between Japan and Korea was signed on January 9, 1885, and fifteen hundred Japanese soldiers landed in Korea. With both Chinese and Japanese troops in Korea, tension was resolved by negotiations. The Treaty of Tientsin (Tianjin) Tianjin, Treaty of (1858) was signed in China on April 18, 1885, between Li Hongzhang and Japanese prime minister Itō Hirobumi. China and Japan agreed to remove their respective troops from Korea, agreed to train Korean soldiers, and agreed to notify the other if either country sent new troops to Korea.


By 1882, the failure of Queen Min to do the near impossible and modernize Korea without giving in to Japanese aggression subjected her country to hardship. What began as a riot against a corrupt court official quickly turned into anti-Japanese violence. The killing of Japanese people gave Japan a pretext to humiliate Korea. Turning from one foreign power to the next for her survival, Queen Min brought in the Chinese, who saw a chance to help China reassert its own lost authority.

The Korean progressives who staged the Kapsin coup of 1884 sincerely believed in the benefits of modernizing Korea along Japanese lines. Queen Min’s alignment with China was seen as a harmful tie to a stagnant nation. Kim Ok-kyun Kim Ok-kyun and his followers trusted the Japanese propaganda that promoted Japan as the Asian country whose modernization would enable it to prevent Western imperialism. What Kim failed to see was that Japan acted as an imperialist itself.

The Treaty of Tientsin Tianjin, Treaty of (1885) brought temporary peace. In the end, the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895)[Sino Japanese War (1894-1895)] between China and Japan would break out over Korea’s status. Japan’s victory would threaten further Korean autonomy until Japan’s subsequent victory over Russia in the early twentieth century ultimately led to Korea’s annexation by Japan in 1910.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hatada, Takahashi. A History of Korea. Translated by Warren Smith and Benjamin Hazard. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 1969. Chapter 6 places the event in the context of foreign imperialist ambitions in Korea. Appendix, index, maps, and tables.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Joe, Wanne. A Cultural History of Modern Korea. Elizabeth, N.J.: Hollym Press, 2000. Passionately pro-Korean, very detailed rendition of the event in chapter 2. Illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Keene, Donald. Emperor of Japan. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. Biography of the Meiji emperor of Japan. Chapter 36 and the beginning of chapter 44 give detailed accounts of the event from a Japanese point of view. Notes, index, bibliography, illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Oliver, Robert. A History of the Korean People in Modern Times. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1993. Chapter 3 examines the event, outlining foreign interests in Korea and competition between imperialist nations. Notes, references, indexes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shin, Yong-ha. Modern Korean History and Nationalism. Translated by N. N. Pankaj. Seoul, Republic of Korea: Jimoondang, 2000. Chapter 2 provides a detailed analysis of the failed 1884 coup, which is seen as a progressive nationalist move independent of Japanese influence. Bibliography, glossary, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tennant, Roger. A History of Korea. London: Kegan Paul, 1996. Chapters 27 through 29 examine and discuss the event. Very readable, with notes, a bibliography, and an index.

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