Diplomatic Missions of Joseon Envoy Min Yonghwan
Min Yonghwan (1861-1905), was a minister of the Korean Empire and known as a conservative proponent for reform. He is remembered today for his efforts on behalf of Korean independence in the waning days of the Joseon dynasty and a statue to his memory now stands near the gates of Seoul's Changdeok Palace. In 1895, Min was appointed as the first ambassador to the United States. However, the murder of his aunt, the Empress Myeongseong, by Japanese troops in October 1895, prevented his taking up the post. In April 1896, Min was appointed special ambassador and sent to Russia to attend the coronation of Czar Nicholas II. After a six month journey Min returned to Korea in late October of the same year. In January 1897, Min was again sent to Europe as Korean envoy to the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. These journeys served to further convince Min of the necessity of modernization. Upon his return to Korea, Min was an active supporter of the Independence Club.
On November 17, 1905, Japan succeeded in foisting upon Korea the Eulsa Treaty making Korea a Japanese protectorship. Min and many other officials pleaded with King Gojong to annul the treaty and execute the five Korean officials who had signed it, now widely referred to as the "Five Traitors of Eulsa" (Eulsa ojeok). But, his remonstrations were silenced by Japanese force, Min decided to commit suicide as a final act of resistance and protest by a loyal official. On November 30, 1905 Min cut his own throat. After his death, in his pockets were found five identical messages on the back of his calling cards to the representatives of China, Great Britain, the United States, France, and Germany in which he pleaded with those powers to recognize the true situation within Korea. He also left a final message directed towards the people of Korea, in which he promised to help his fellow countrymen "from the nether world" if they would strengthen their collective will and spirit and exercise their learning in an all out effort to "restore our freedom and independence." - Wiki
Plea found on the back of envoy calling cards:
Our twenty million citizens may be annihilated in the midst of their struggle for survival. Noble envoys, how can you not recognize Japan's purpose and also ignore Japan's actions? November 30th 1905
*Note all connection descriptions are from the personal travel diaries of Min Yonghwan during his travels as a Joseon envoy.
- Istanbul 13 May 1897 (Lunar date: 12/4) Bright and cold like yesterday. "At 6:00 A.M. we passed the old capital of Turkey, Constantinople. It is situated along the western shore. Continuously for several hundred leagues there is luxuriant, bright countryside. The fields are like inlay or embroidery. Moreover, we passed two royal palaces. These were many-storied buildings that rose up halfway to the sky with whitewashed brick battlements. They were exceedingly marvelous. There were gun batteries on both shores, scattered like stars or chess pieces. It is rightly called a great wonder."
- Kew Gardens 23 June 1897 (Lunar date: 24/5) Bright. "At 6:00 P.M. together with our official companion, Cavendish, we went to a large park ..Inside the park there was a greenhouse. It was more than ten chang high and was covered with glass. Inside, it was a spacious circular shape with a spiral staircase going upward. There were many rare plants and flowers from every country: azalea three or four chang high, hemp palms, bay trees all several chang high, olive palms, orange trees, mandarin orange trees, and a type of plantain, which were double the usual size."
- Kremlin and Red Square 21 May 1896 (Lunar date: 9/4. Russian date: 9/5) Clear weather. "The streets and roads of this capital city are not so clean and beautiful, but they say that all the people of this country regard the old capital as important because all important ceremonies are performed here." 26 May 1896 (Lunar date: 14/4. Russian date: 14/5) Clear weather. "All the envoys gathered together, and then we entered the Kremlin Palace. The Russian style of coronation ceremony takes place in a cathedral. If you do not remove your hat, however, you are not allowed to enter the cathedral. The envoys of our country, China, Turkey, and Persia are not permitted to remove our hats, and so we could not enter. Therefore, we watched as before from a balcony outside the cathedral. The cathedral is not far from the palace grounds."
- Lake Baikal 14 September 1896 (Lunar date 8/8. Russian date 2/9) Morning rain, afternoon clear. "We travelled 120 leagues and at 5:00 A.M. arrived at the great Lake Baikal (160 leagues across and 400 leagues in length)..All day long we travelled along the lake through rocky passes and around mountain peaks. It was difficult to endure the severe rocking of the carriage. At nightfall it rained."
- Liverpool 16 May 1896 (Lunar date 4/4) Overcast ..At 6:00 A.M. we anchored at Liverpool in Britain. From New York to here is 9,400 leagues. For 24 leagues along the river both shores were lined by a continuous stone waterfront. There was a forest of buildings and ships packed close together like fish. It was dazzlingly colorful. Liverpool is densely populated and is the biggest port we have seen since coming to the West.
- St. Petersburg 9 June 1896 (Lunar date: 28/4. Russian date: 28/5) Clear with slight rain later. "The area of this city is more than a hundred leagues. The population is over a million. The streets and buildings are large and magnificent. The River Neva encircles the whole city, and the imperial palace stands by the river. Each government building and all the schools are laid out in an orderly, symmetrical way. The design is excellent. It is truly an outstanding city." 14 July 1896 (Lunar date: 4/6. Russian date: 2/7) Clear weather. "At 2:00 P. M. we arrived at Peterhof after travelling 140 leagues. Two carriages from the Imperial household were already waiting for us. The ceremonial official accompanied us to the grand imperial palace. At that time the emperor was in the small imperial palace (Alexander palace).. In front of the grand imperial palace there is a water course on three sides-east, south, and north. In it there are several fountains of all kinds." 20 July 1896 (Lunar date: 10/6. Russian date 8/7) Clear weather. "At 8:00 A.M. Admiral Huosudov invited us to go to the estuary gun batteries. We left the River Neva on a steamship. This ship belongs to the Imperial Household and is very luxurious and comfortable. We travelled toward the southwest for 140 leagues and arrived at Kronstadt harbor. There were village dwellings all in a row and ships.. masts bristling like a forest. In the middle of the sea on the left and right at regular intervals were gun batteries. There were also gun emplacements on the nearby mountains, which were guarded by soldiers. There was a test-firing of several guns. Their sound rumbled and exploded like thunder. This newly founded city will expand and later become impregnably strong." 31 July 1896 (Lunar date: 21/6. Russian date: 19/7) Clear weather. "At 7:00 P.M. I went together with Planson to Kolpino (more than 30 leagues distant from here). There is a round observatory building there with four or five telescopes. The roof is covered with glass, which opens and shuts so that you can see things magnified 250 to 260 times"
- Tower of London 28 June (Lunar date: 29/5) Bright and warm. "At 2:00 P.M. our official companion Cavendish met our party with a carriage, and we travelled around the streets. We passed one iron bridge called London bridge. The bridge spans the river Thames. There are four vertical towers containing machines weighing several hundred thousand tons. One person can open and shut the bridge so that people may cross over it. There are two sides of the bridge that rise and fall through the air like a pair of rainbows. Also, on the banks of the river there are gun batteries and a lighthouse more than 100 chang high. They are all magnificent sights." (Min yonghwan confuses the London and Tower bridges, while also offering a short, but unique description of the Tower of London)
- Warsaw 18 May 1896 (Lunar date: 6/4) Clear weather. "At 11:00 A.M. we set off again, travelling 400 leagues. At 2:00 P.M. we arrived in Warsaw, the former capital of Poland...I heard that this country used to be a most enlightened and independent country, but more than a hundred years ago it gradually became politically weakened. Officials and nobles mistreated the people, and there were frequent rebellions. These could not be suppressed, and finally the three countries Russia, Austria, and France divided the land between them. Perhaps this is a warning to those who are governing our country ..At night outside the shops on either side of the street, torches can be seen burning like a continuous rope of fire. This is the first time we have seen such a thing since we came to the West."
- Westminster 22 June 1897 (Lunar date: 23/5) Bright. Diamond Jubilee Celebratory Parade along the Imperial Route "I arose early, finished a cup of tea, and put on ceremonial dress. Together with both secretaries and our accompanying official, we went inside the palace gates. We paused there for a while, when suddenly from the palace twenty ceremonial cannon were fired. All the officials came out of the gates riding horses. After a short while the Empress appeared seated in a gold-wheeled carriage with a band marching in front. The princes, ministers, and envoys of each nation all lined up behind in columns and set off. At the sides were columns of horse guards wearing armor and helmets, holding their horses' reins in front of them and moving slowly. Soldiers bearing arms and standing close together lined the imperial route on the left and the right..On either side of the street the walls of the buildings were festooned with an abundance of ribbons and rosettes of every color. In addition, the entire imperial route was strewn with flowers. A sea of ten thousand people all took off their hats and cheered, 'Hoorah!' (a kind of mansei!). The sound shook the streets. The empress gazed around nodding her head. We travelled around one circuit."
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