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200DEUCHLER Confucian Gentlemen and Barbarian Envoys: The Opening of Korea, 1875-1885. By Martina Deuchler. Seattle: University of Washington Press for the Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch, 1977. xiv, 310 pp. Appendixes, notes, bibliography, index. $20.00. Martina Deuchler's Confucian Gentlemen and Barbarian Envoys: The Opening ofKorea, 1875-1885 is a welcome addition to Korean studies. It is a lucid, scholarly study of a crucial decade in Korean history—ten years during which Korea was forced to begin contacts with the outside world and to prepare herself for a new century. Deuchler states her objective simply: To examine the questions "when did Korea's modernization begin, and what was the course and nature of Japanese imperialism in the Korean peninsula" (p. xii). In the process of answering these questions , she provides an insightful analysis not only of Korean politics but also of Japanese and Chinese foreign relations. Students of this period have portrayed Korea as powerless to defend herself against Japanese imperialism and Chinese ambition. Deuchler refuses to despair over the difficulties Korea endured. She matter-offactly demonstrates how a combination of Chinese encouragement, Japanese pressure, and admonitions from the monarch Kojong secured the opening of Korea in 1876. But with the Kanghwa Treaty signed, its interpretation became a lesson in selective reading. Japan used it to gain as many privileges as possible on the Korean peninsula; China reasserted her belief that Korea was still a dependent tributary state; and Korea continued to uphold the assumption that nothing had changed, certain that seclusion was still in her best interests. If 1876 was a crucial date for Korea's opening, 1880, according to Deuchler, was equally significant for Korea's modernization. Kojong, aware that policies of the past were insufficient to secure peace and security for Korea and encouraged by and fearful of his neighbors, China and Japan, launched Korea on a program of modernization. Consensus for reform, however, was not achieved until 1882 and then only after intense opposition from the literati and a revolt instigated by the Taewön'gun. Two groups, the Min clan, which was committed to the introduction of new technology, and the enlightenment party, which saw modernization as "fundamental reform of society as a whole" (p. 152), vied for control of the program. A schism developed and led to the coup d'état of 1884 and further foreign involvement in Korea. As a result of the dissension among the leaders of Korea, the Chinese secured the dominant role in Korean politics by the close of 1885. Deuchler has made a number of contributions in her study. She has given us a revisionist interpretation of Kojong's early rule. Even recent BOOK REVIEWS201 scholars of Korea such as James B. Palais in his Politics and Policy in Traditional Korea have characterized Kojong as a weak monarch. Deuchler, however, describes him as pragmatic, flexible, and decisive in asserting leadership during the late 1870s and early 1880s. Deuchler appreciates the dangers that confronted Kojong, leaving the reader convinced that in him Korea had a leader capable of dealing with both foreign intervention and modernization. Deuchler also challenges the notion of the supremacy of the Min clan. She feels that the royal in-laws did not dominate the king until 1882, when they began to accumulate offices that gave them control of the dynasty. Equally intriguing are the insights into diplomatic history presented by this study. Deuchler provides a new assessment of China's role in Korean politics. Beginning in 1879, China sought to make Korea more of a "vassal state" than Korea had ever been during the heyday of the tribute system. China's leadership molded internal Korean policy to suit China's ends. When Korea balked, China abandoned the less coercive tribute system for military force in the peninsula. Deuchler also challenges the hackneyed thesis that Japan sought to annex Korea in this period. She states emphatically, "Japanese priorities during these ten years did not and could not include the annexation of Korea. Japan was not prepared to risk defending militarily what she had won from Korea diplomatically" (p. 219). Deuchler deals with a variety of fascinating historical material and topics seldom discussed by western scholars...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1529
Print ISSN
0145-840X
Pages
pp. 200-202
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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