Korean Empire

The Korean Empire (Korean대한제국; Hanja大韓帝國; RRDaehan Jeguk; MRTaehan Jeguk; lit. Great Korean Empire) was a Korean monarchical state proclaimed in October 1897 by Emperor Gojong of the Joseon dynasty. The empire stood until Japan's annexation of Korea in August 1910.

Great Korean Empire
Daehan Jeguk
Motto: 광명천지
"Let the land be enlightened"
Anthem: 대한제국 애국가
"Patriotic Hymn of the Great Korean Empire"
Imperial emblem of Korean empire.svg
Territory of the Korean Empire 1903–1905. The disputed Gando and Samjiyon regions are shaded in lighter green.
Territory of the Korean Empire 1903–1905. The disputed Gando and Samjiyon regions are shaded in lighter green.
StatusSovereign state
Protectorate of Japan
CapitalHanseong (present-day Seoul)
Common languagesKorean
Cheondoism (recognized in 1907)
GovernmentUnitary absolute monarchy
• 1897–1907
Gojong (first)
• 1907–1910
Sunjong (last)
Prime Minister[a] 
• 1896–1898
Yun Yong Seon (first)
• 1907–1910
Yi Wan-yong (last)
(until 1907)
None (rule by decree)
(from 1907)
Historical eraNew Imperialism
• Empire proclaimed
13 October 1897
17 August 1899
17 November 1905
July 1907
29 August 1910
• 1900[1]
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea
Today part ofNorth Korea
South Korea
Korean Empire
Revised RomanizationDaehanjeguk
Seal of the Korean Empire

During the Korean Empire, Emperor Gojong oversaw the Gwangmu Reform, a partial modernization and westernization of Korea's military, economy, land system, and education system, and of various industries. In 1905, the Korean Empire became a protectorate of the Empire of Japan. After annexation in 1910, the Korean Empire was abolished.



Hwangudan in c. 1906.

After the Japanese victory of First Sino-Japanese War, Joseon won the independence from Qing dynasty. And the form of the Empire was wanted by many politicians because they thought that it was the best way to maintain the independence. By request of many officials, Gojong of Korea proclaimed the Korean Empire.[2] In 1897, Gojong had his coronation in Hwangudan and proclaimed the Korean Empire.[3] The new Empire's name, Dahan, was decided by Gojong. And the Regnal year was changed to Gwangmu, and 1897 became the first year of Gwangmu.[4] This led to conflict with Qing dynasty but by not mentioning the title, the conflict was resolved.[5] Gojong made the Definition of the country in 1898, which gave the whole authority to the Emperor.[3]


Gwangmu ReformEdit

Rise of Civil Rights and Independence ClubEdit

Even though the whole authority was given to the Emperor, people's influence in politics got bigger than Joseon era. Many newspapers such as Tongnip Sinmun were established. This helped the people to have bigger attention to the politics. Many organizations were established by people. Independence Club is an example. Moreover, protests were not banned. People protested for reforms in Seoul.[6] The Independence Club tried to bring many reforms to the country so that people will have more rights than before. The club established Junchuwon, which was a westernized senate of the Korean Empire.[7] In October 1898, six requests to the emperor. The six were following:[8]

  1. Neither officials nor people shall depend upon foreign aid, but shall do their best to strengthen and uphold the imperial power.
  2. All documents pertaining to foreign loans, the hiring of foreign soldiers, the granting of concessions, etc., in fact every document drawn up between the Korean government and a foreign party or firm, shall be signed and sealed by all the Ministers of State and the President of the Privy Council.
  3. Important offenders shall be punished only after they have been given a public trial and ample opportunity to defend themselves.
  4. To his Majesty shall belong the power to appoint Ministers, but in case a majority of the Cabinet disapproves of the Emperor's nominee he shall not be appointed.
  5. All sources of revenue and methods of raising taxes shall be placed under the control of the Finance Department, no other department, officer or corporation being allowed to interfere therewith; and the annual estimates and balances shall be made public.
  6. The existing laws and regulations shall be enforced without fear or favour.

The rival of Independence Club, which was Sugu party, spread false rumors that the Independence Club was trying to abdicate Gojong of Korea and establish a Republic by making Bak Jeongyang as a President and Yun Chi-ho as a Vice President.[7] Because of the false rumor, the Independence Club was banned in December 1899. This made the people to protest for revival but, it was never formed again.[6] The Hwanguk Club, which was the rivalry of Independence Club rose to power and some members of Independence Club were arrested. The new cabinet was formed with many conservative politicians who did not wanted reforms.[7]


The Baby Riots of 1888 took place in the summer of 1888 in Joseon Korea.[9] Even though the Independence Club was banned, reforms was not stopped. The Gwangmu Reform was continued, which started from the establishment of the Empire. However the cabinet was radically changed. Under officials such as Min Young-hwan, Han Kyu-seol, Yi Yong-ik, Shim Soon-taek, Yun Ung-nyeol, Shim Sang-hun etc, the reform was led. But most of these officials were conservative except Min Young-hwan, Han Kyu-seol, Yun Ung-nyeol. Yi Yong-ik and Shim Sang-hun were officials that were hated by Independence Club.[7] These officials tried to reform the country conservatively.[10] New York Times wrote that the new cabinet formed in early 1900s leaded by Yi Yong-ik to be pro Russian. There still were some ministers that were either pro Japanese or pro French. Pak Chesoon, who was the minister of foreign affair was pro Japanese and Gwon Jung-hyeon, who was the minister of agriculture, and industry was pro-French. The cabinet tried to neutralize Korean Empire.[11]

The new cadet wanted to strengthen the power of the Emperor. This required to get more taxes from the citizens. Many minor taxes that were abolished by Gabo Reform revived. These increased taxes enabled the Imperial Government to be rich enough to run the country.[10]

The new cadet emphasized that the Korean Empire is an Independent Country. From the definition of the country, being independent state was emphasized. In order to maintain the independence, Imperial Korean Army was enlarged.[10] From Russia, Colonel Dmitry Putyata and some officers were sent from Russia to Korea. However, Putyata had conflicts with Min Young-hwan, who used to be the ambassador to Russia.[12] He returned to Russia on 26 November 1897 after helping modernizing army.[13] In 1898, 10 more battalions were formed.[14] By sending troops, the Empire tried to protect its people. Officials were sent to Jiandao, where many Koreans lived.[10] By establishing an intelligence consisted of 200 men in 1903, stronger guards were accomplished.[15]

The new cabinet also wanted to make a modernized Navy by buying ships. KIS Yangmu was the first to be bought. 451,605 won was used to buy the ship.[15]

First Naval Ship of Korean Empire, KIS Yangmu

The government tried to industrialize the country by sending many students abroad to study about industry. Many new technologies were brought in to Korea and many companies were established.[10] Also by making new systems that well defined the ownership of land, enabled more taxes to be paid for land ownerships.[7]

These reforms were able to bring changes to the Korean Empire. It made the country richer and stronger.

Tax revenue of Korean Empire during Gwangmu Reform:[16]

Year 1897 1898 1899 1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905
Amount of Tax Revenue in Won 4,191,192 4,527,476 6,473,222 6,162,796 9,079,456 7,586,530 10,766,115 14,214,573 14,960,574
Foreign AffairsEdit

However, the problem of the Korean Empire was its foreign affairs. Korean Empire proclaimed its neutrality but actually, the country had many polices which was friendly to Russia. This led Russia to interrupt Korea a lot. Many resources that were found in Korea were sent to Russia.[7]

What was the real intention of Russia for Korea is still a mystery. According to a dispatch sent from Shanghai, Russia tried to make the Korean Empire a protectorate of Russian Empire.[17] But, the Czar of Russian Empire, Nicholas II of Russia, did not wanted to colonize Korea. In 1901, Nicholas told Prince Henry of Prussia "I do not want to seize Korea but under no circumstances can I allow Japan to become firmly established there. That will be a casus belli."[18]

Taft-Katsura Agreement and Russo Japanese WarEdit

Before the Russo-Japanese War, Korea tried to show her neutrality to different Western countries. On 27 January 1904, Russia, France, Germany, and England formally commended the declaration.[19]

On August 22, 1904, the first treaty between Japan and Korea, known as First Japan–Korea Convention, was signed. This led the Japanese army to station in Korea. The settled army was Japanese Korean Army. However, there were no right reason for settling army in Korea for Japan.[20] The Taft–Katsura Agreement (also known as the Taft–Katsura Memorandum) was issued on July 17, 1905 and was not actually a secret pact or agreement between the United States and Japan, but rather a set of notes regarding discussions on U.S.-Japanese relations between members of the governments of the United States and Japan.[21] The Japanese Prime Minister Taro Katsura used the opportunity presented by Secretary of War William Howard Taft's stopover in Tokyo to extract a statement from (representative of the Roosevelt Administration) Taft's feeling toward the Korea question.[22] Taft expressed in the Memorandum how a suzerain relationship with Japan guiding Korea would "contribute to permanent peace in the Far East".[22]

In September 1905, Russia and Japan signed the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the Russo-Japanese War and firmly establishing Japan's consolidation of influence on Korea. Secret diplomatic contacts were sent by the Gwangmu Emperor in the fall of 1905 to entities outside of Korea presenting Korea's desperate case to preserve their sovereignty because normal diplomatic channels were no longer an option due to the constant surveillance by the Japanese.[23]

The Eulsa TreatyEdit

Until 1905, the Korean Empire was advancing by the reforms that were made. However, things changed after the Eulsa Treaty. By Taft–Katsura agreement, America and Japan agreed with American colonization of Philippines and Japanese colonization of Korea. Also through many treaties, Japan isolated Korea. Gojong of Korea did not agreed with the treaty but the conference for the treaty was progressed without Gojong. There were eight ministers in the conference room. Prime Minister Han Kyu-seol, Minister of Army Yi Geun-taek, Minister of Interior Yi Ji-yong, Minister of Foreign Affairs Park Je-sun, Minister of Agriculture, Commerce and Industry Gwon Jung-hyeon, Minister of Finance Min Yeong-gi, and Minister of Justice Yi Ha-yeong were the Korean ministers in the conference room. Except Han Kyu-seol, Min Yeoung-gi, and Yi Ha-young, all the ministers agreed with the treaty. This made the Korean Empire to be the protectorate of Japan.[24] After the treaty was signed, Waebu, which was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Korean Empire, was dissolved. All the foreign affairs of the Korean Empire was moved to Tokyo.[25] Many embassies were pulled back from Korea by the treaty. And on 1 February 1906, Itō Hirobumi, who led the treaty, became the first Japanese Resident-General of Korea.[26]

The Eulsa Treaty made a lot of people to be angry. Some, such as Min Young-hwan, protested with death for this treaty.[27] Many joined the Righteous army and some even tried to assassinate the five ministers but they failed.[28]

Emperor Gojong tried to show the unequalness of Eulsa treaty to the world. He sent many messages to monarchs of European countries such as Wilhelm II, George V, Nicholas II etc.[29] He sent Hulbert to repudiate the treaty.[30] In June 1906, Nicholas II secretly sent Gojong an invitation for the Hague Conversation of 1907. He sent Hague Secret Emissary Affair in order to proclaim that the Eulsa treaty is not a radical treaty. However the secret emissaries failed to cancel the treaty.[31] People were angry at the ministers and they even tried to assassinate them. Houses of Ye Wanyong were burned by people. The Japanese Korean Army was involved to suppress angry public. Forces of General Hasegawa garrisoned the palace. Some regiments of Imperial Korean Army was disarmed. The Pyeongyang Jinwidae, which was the best of Imperial Korean Army was disarmed.[32] These acts against the treaty led to the abdication of Gojong and Sunjong replaced him on 19 July 1907.[31] And there were conflicts between those who did not knew the abdication and who knew the abdication.[33]

State funeral of Min Young-hwan who committed suicide for protest against the treaty

As a Protectorate of JapanEdit

After Sunjong became the emperor, Japan–Korea Treaty of 1907 was signed. By the treaty, more Japanese were employed in the Korean Government and started to interrupt Korea more. Most of the Imperial Korean Army was dissolved.[34] These Japanese interruption led to increase of Righteous army. These righteous armies fought against Japan but was not successful.[35] From 1909, the Japanese suppressed all the righteous army. This made many members of righteous army to fly away to China or Manchuria to join the Independence Army.[36] Under Terauchi Masatake, Japan got ready to colonize Korea. By the treaty on 22 August 1910, Korean Empire was colonized. The colonization was announced on 29 August 1910.[37]


The Imperial Armed Forces (대한제국군) was the military of the Korean Empire.[38]


It was composed of the Imperial Korean Army, and the Imperial Korean Navy.


Succeeding the former Joseon Army and Navy, the Gwangmu Reform reorganized the military to a modern Western-style military. Unlike in the Joseon Dynasty, service was voluntary. It had a size of about 30,000, including soldiers and cadets.


The military disbanded on August 1, 1907, due to the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1907. Major Park Seung-hwan protested by committing suicide, and it sparked a revolt led by former imperial soldiers leading to the battle at Namdaemun Gate. Emperor Sunjong incorporated the remaining soldiers Imperial Guards until 1910, while others formed the foundations of the Righteous armies.


Some modern enterprises emerged in Korean Empire. Some manual machines had started to be used in Korea. But they were not big enough to clarify that capitalism grew. These enterprises faced a crisis when Japanese products were imported to the country. Also their capital power was lacking. Some officials established banks to help them. But these banks were not able to play a big role helping modern enterprises in Korea.[39]

Still the Korean Empire was able to have great economic growth. GDP per Capita of the Korean Empire was $850 in 1900. It was 26th place in the world and 2nd in Asia.[40]

This great economic growth was perceived by the Japan, which made Hayashi Gonsuke to send secrete report to Aoki Shūzō that Korea is becoming a country that it became participant of global competition.[41]

Tax revenue of Korean Empire during 1895-1905:[16]

Year 1895 1896 1897 1898 1899 1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905
Amount of Tax Revenue in Won 4,557,587 4,809,410 4,191,192 4,527,476 6,473,222 6,162,796 9,079,456 7,586,530 10,766,115 14,214,573 14,960,574

Annual Expenditure of Korean Empire during 1895-1905:[42]

Year 1895 1896 1897 1898 1899 1900 1901 1902 1903 1904 1905
Amount of Annual Expenditure in Won 3,244,910 5,144,531 3,967,647 4,419,432 6,128,229 5,558,972 8,020,151 6,932,037 9,697,371 12,370,795 12,947,624

Diplomatic relationshipsEdit


In popular cultureEdit

  • The King: Eternal Monarch explores an alternate reality where the country continues to the modern world.
  • 2018 South Korean TV series Mr. Sunshine is set in the last days of the Korean empire.
  • 2018 South Korean TV series The Last Empress portrays the modern-day Korean empire along with the dark secret to the imperial family leading to its demise.[43]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Style: Naegak chongri daesin (1894–96); Ui jeong (1896–1905); Ui jeong daesin (1905–07); Chongri daesin (1907–10)



  1. ^ 권태환 신용하 (1977). 조선왕조시대 인구추정에 관한 일시론 (in Korean).
  2. ^ Yi 2012, pp. 189–190.
  3. ^ a b Yi 2012, p. 187.
  4. ^ "조선왕조실록". sillok.history.go.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-02.
  5. ^ "한국사데이터베이스". db.history.go.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-05.
  6. ^ a b Yi 2012, pp. 193–196.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "대한제국(大韓帝國) - 한국민족문화대백과사전". encykorea.aks.ac.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-03.
  8. ^ Hulbert 1906, p. 161-163.
  9. ^ Neff, Robert D. Korea Through Western Eyes. Seoul: SNU Press, 2009.
  10. ^ a b c d e "광무개혁(光武改革) - 한국민족문화대백과사전". encykorea.aks.ac.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-05.
  11. ^ "KOREAN CABINET CHANGES.; The Party Now in Power Said to be Pro-Russian -- Seoul a Hotbed of Intrigues". The New York Times. 1901-12-09. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-06-20.
  12. ^ "한국사데이터베이스". db.history.go.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-05.
  13. ^ "한국사데이터베이스". db.history.go.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-05.
  14. ^ "한국사데이터베이스". db.history.go.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-05.
  15. ^ a b "한국사데이터베이스". db.history.go.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-20.
  16. ^ a b "한국사데이터베이스". db.history.go.kr. Retrieved 2022-03-12.
  17. ^ "Russia's Intentions in Corea". The New York Times. 1896-02-18. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-06-19.
  18. ^ Clark, Christopher (2012-09-27). The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. Penguin Books Limited. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-7181-9295-2.
  19. ^ Hulbert 1904, p. 77.
  20. ^ "우리역사넷". contents.history.go.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-20.
  21. ^ Nahm 1985, p. 9.
  22. ^ a b Nahm 1985, p. 10.
  23. ^ Kim 2006, p. 239.
  24. ^ "을사조약(乙巳條約) - 한국민족문화대백과사전". encykorea.aks.ac.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-10.
  25. ^ "한국사데이터베이스". db.history.go.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-14.
  26. ^ "통감부(統監府) - 한국민족문화대백과사전". encykorea.aks.ac.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-10.
  27. ^ "을사늑약". terms.naver.com (in Korean). Retrieved 2022-06-14.
  28. ^ "을사조약반대운동(乙巳條約反對運動) - 한국민족문화대백과사전". encykorea.aks.ac.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-14.
  29. ^ "빌헬름 2세는 고종을 '왕' 아닌 '황제'로 칭했다". 중앙일보 (in Korean). 2009-09-29. Retrieved 2022-06-20.
  30. ^ "KOREA REPUDIATES TREATY.; Emperor Wires to Mr. Hulbert That Japan Obtained It by Force". The New York Times. 1905-12-13. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-06-20.
  31. ^ a b "헤이그특사사건(─特使事件) - 한국민족문화대백과사전". encykorea.aks.ac.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-20.
  32. ^ "Front Page 4 -- No Title; Attempt to Murder Ministers. Korean Regiment Disarmed. Crown Prince Now Emperor". The New York Times. 1907-07-21. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-06-20.
  33. ^ "Excitement at Ping-Yang". The New York Times. 1907-07-21. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-06-20.
  34. ^ "한일신협약(韓日新協約) - 한국민족문화대백과사전". encykorea.aks.ac.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-20.
  35. ^ "정미의병(丁未義兵) - 한국민족문화대백과사전". encykorea.aks.ac.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-20.
  36. ^ "남한폭도 대토벌작전(南韓暴徒 大討伐作戰) - 한국민족문화대백과사전". encykorea.aks.ac.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-20.
  37. ^ "한일합병(韓日合倂) - 한국민족문화대백과사전". encykorea.aks.ac.kr. Retrieved 2022-06-20.
  38. ^ Seth, Michael J. (2010-10-16). A History of Korea: From Antiquity to the Present. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7425-6717-7.
  39. ^ Chu, Zin-oh. "독립협회와 대한제국의 경제정책 비 연구" (PDF). Retrieved 30 January 2022.
  40. ^ "Countries Compared by Economy > GDP per capita in 1900. International Statistics at NationMaster.com". www.nationmaster.com. Retrieved 2022-01-30.
  41. ^ 배, 영대 (2017-12-03). "1901년 서울은 이미 서양인도 감탄한 '근대적 대도시'". 중앙일보 (in Korean). Retrieved 2022-02-19.
  42. ^ "한국사데이터베이스". db.history.go.kr. Retrieved 2022-03-12.
  43. ^ "[왜냐면] '미스터 션샤인'과 구한말 한미관계 왜곡 / 최형익". Hankyoreh. 2018-08-20.


External linksEdit

Coordinates: 37°32′N 126°59′E / 37.533°N 126.983°E / 37.533; 126.983