Episode 156 – Best of Frenemies, Part 2

This week, Korea encounters the West. We’ll introduce the early Western forays into Korea, explain how Japan came to sign the first unequal treaty with its neighbor, and look into the factionalization of the Korean royal court.

Listen to the episode here.


Cumings, Bruce. Korea’s Place in the Sun.

Duus, Peter. The Abacus and the Sword: Japan’s Penetration of Korea, 1895-1910.


The Daewongun, father of King Gojong and head of the arch-conservative, isolatonist faction of the royal court.
Queen Min, wife of King Gojong. Her approach to international relations was based off the Chinese notion of “using the barbarian to control the barbarian.”
Caught between his powerful wife and his domineering father, King Gojong was, for most of his reign, something of a political non-entity. He is shown here in 1884, in the midst of his career as a political football between his more powerful relatives.
The USS General Sherman, c. 1864.
A North Korean stamp commemorating the burning of the General Sherman. The incident features prominently in anti-American rhetoric in the north.
A North Korean monument on the site of the burning of the General Sherman. According to North Korean propaganda — almost certainly untrue — the mob which burned the General Sherman was led by none other than the grandfather of Kim Il-sung, founder of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea.
Japanese marines from the IJN Un’yo come ashore to gather water on Ganghwa Island. A skirmish between Korean and Japanese forces broke out; tensions between the two sides were defused by Queen Min’s decision to accept an unequal treaty with Japan.
The Japanese language translation of the Treaty of Ganghwa of 1876, the first unequal treaty signed by Korea. It would not be the last.