13 Pages


Compared to its neighbours, modernizing influences entered Korea relatively late, they came piecemeal, and they were delivered by many hands. In the case of China, defeat in the Opium War in 1842 began a sustained process of Western penetration, and in Japan, the Perry mission in 1853 likewise announced the beginning of Western challenge. In Korea’s case, however, it was not until 1876 that the Choson court signed the Treaty of Kanghwa with Japan, opening Korea to important currents of change. This treaty provided the basis for the subsequent opening of Korean ports to Japanese and Western ships, and this led to further sporadic, limited intercourse with various foreign powers. Over the ensuing decades, Western missionaries and businessmen, Japanese colonizers, Soviet political and military cadres, US soldiers and legions of Koreans returning home after foreign study all constituted the human face of modernization. Korean leaders and would-be reformers have laboured amid, and often against, the defining currents of political, economic and intellectual life in the twentieth century – capitalism, Marxism-Leninism, colonialism, nationalism, hot and cold war, the rise and collapse of global Communism, and Asia-Pacific economic dynamism. Meanwhile, even as such people sought to impose their visions on Korea, Korean cultural values continued to shape their outlook. They continue to reform the reformers.