Gapsin Coup (甲申政変)

The Gapsin Coup is an event which happened in Korea in December, 1884. It is also known as the Kapsin Coup.

History and background

At that time in the Joseon Dynasty of Korea, as Heungseon Daewongun was abducted to Qing under the Imo Incident (1882), the Min clan of Yeoheung, including the Empress Myeongseong, had turned to serving the great Qing from the pro-Japanese policy.

Ok-gyun KIM, Yong-hyo PAK, and Jae-pil SEO of the Progressive Party (Independent Party), who had doubts about the modernization of Korea under this situation, reached the political and financial leaders of the early-modernized Japan, including Yukichi FUKUZAWA and Shigenobu OKUMA, and deepened exchanges with them. Some people in the Japanese political and financial worlds found the modernization of Korea more valuable as a neighbor and came to provide positive support, and this formed the foundation of reform.

The aim of the Progressive Party was to establish a modern constitutional monarchy with the king at the top as Japan was. While the government leaders (the Min family) were serving the Great, Ok-gyun KIM planned to take aim at Gojong-King of Korea only. As things did not go his way with the Min family who were his maternal relatives and Qing at the helm, Gojong readily accepted this measures for modernization.

Ok-gyun KIM and his colleagues planned the coup as follows. First, at the celebration party for opening the 'Post Bureau (not a 'Central Post Office' as some say but a central government office involved in postal services)' scheduled in December of that year, fire was to be set at some distance from the venue so that they could overthrow the high officials in the confusion to eliminate the Conservative Party. Then, the king of Korea was to ask Japan to protect him in the name of the coup. After Japan protected the king of Korea by sending the troops for guarding the legation, the Progressive Party was to form a new government, establish a constitutional monarchy with the king of Korea at the top, and rush toward a modern state with Japanese assistance. Although Qing was considered as the obstruction of this plan, it was expected that Qing could not afford to send the military to the different fields at the same time during the Sino-French War for hegemony over Vietnam. Moreover, because only half the normal troops left in Qing due to the war, the plan was set into action in December, 1884.

Unfortunately at this stage, however, Qing lost the Sino-French War and Indochina of the French possessions was born. Qing, which would like to keep the hegemony in Korea, could not give in the battle over Korea at any cost. The Progressive Party felt depressed but kept on the schedule. Since the plan generally went smoothly in cooperation with Japan, headed by the Japanese ambassador to Korea Shinichiro TAKEZOE, in spite of the failure of the fire-setting, the Progressive Party killed the Min family including Yeong-ik MIN and stated the establishment of a new government. The ringleader Ok-gyun KIM announced that Jae-won Lee, one of the Heungseon Daewongun's relatives, would be appointed to be the 'supreme leader' as the prime minister, Yong-hyo PAK to be the deputy prime minister, and himself to be the minister of finance. On the same day right after the king's approval by ringi decision-making system, the new cabinet announced the innovation policy of 14 articles including the followings for realizing the reform to refurbish the conservative.

The king shall conduct himself as his Imperial Majesty, a monarch of the independent country, rather than Imperial Highness.

Shall abolish ceremonies of paying tribute to Qing.

Shall dissolve the Cabinet, reform tax systems, and abolish the eunuch system.

Imperial Household Ministry shall be newly created for transparency of royal events.

However, the Qing army led by Shikai YUAN attacked the Japanese army which was guarding the imperial palace as it was expected, and the coup group was defeated. The Japanese army also drew off at last, and the pro-Qing Conservative Party established a tentative government. New government by the Progressive Party collapsed within only three days, and the key figures of the plan such as Ok-gyun KIM went into exile to Japan. The rest of the sophisticated people of the Progressive Party and the third-degree relatives of them and the exiles in general were executed in a cruel way.
(However, it is said that Ok-gyun KIM's wife and their children were protected by Japan.)
After traveling across Japan, Ok-gyun KIM went over to Shanghai, then he was killed by the assassin sent by Queen. His body was transferred to the Korean peninsula, executed by slow slicing, ripped apart, and then laid open in various locations.

The influece of the event

Saying that it was useless for both to stick to Korea, Japan and Qing Dynasty agreed to the Tientsin Convention in April 1885, which stopped sending military advisers from both nations, banned stationing forces, and obliged prior notification to the other side in case of sending troops to Korea necessarily. Ten years later, Qing and then Japan sent the troops to Korea according to this prior notification and it triggered the Sino-Japanese War.

Yukichi FUKUZAWA and his colleagues, who had kept supporting Ok-gyun KIM and the Progressive Party, came to give up Korea and China completely as hopeless due to this affair. As FUKUZAWA and his colleagues were deeply disappointed by the cruel execution to the sophisticated people of the Progressive Party and their relatives including children in particular, FUKUZAWA came to publish Datsua ron (a theory of turning away from Asia) in the Japanese newspaper Jiji Shinpo led by himself, on the previous month of the Tientsin Convention. In a way, it is valued as one of the events which caused Japan to set a direction to some extent. This event clarified that the Japanese military was on the backfoot, and the experience at that time was helpful in the future Sino-Japanese War.