Imo Incident (壬午事変)

The Imo incident, (also known as the Jingo incident) was a massive soldiers' revolt that occurred under the incitement of Daewongun on July 23, 1882, in Seoul special city during the Joseon Dynasty (same as the later Seoul Special City), during which many people such as high-ranking government officials of Queen Min's, a Japanese military advisor, and Japanese diplomat were killed, and the Japanese legation was attacked.

It is also called the Imo Munity or the Joseon Korean Incident, or more simply just the Korean Incident. For the reasons mentioned below, some people also call it the Daewongun's Rebellion.

The Origins of the Incident
In Korea at the time, the government had been divided between two factions even since the Ganghwa Island incident: the 'Conservative Party' (also known as the Sadaedang, or 'Serve the Great' Party) which advocated that Korea should remain a vassal state of Qing China and 'the Gaehwadang' (Progressive Party, also called the Independence Party) that was anxious about the current situation and hoped to modernize Korea.

In addition, there was a severe conflict at court between Heungseon Daewongun, the biological father of Gojong (king of the Joseon Dynasty), and Gojong's wife Queen Min (also known as Empress Myeongseong), as well as between their supporters, over who should hold power.

In May 1881, five years after Korea ended its seclusion policy, the government, which was actually controlled by King Gojong's wife Queen Min and her clan members, started substantial military reforms. Queen Min and her clan members took leading roles in the Progressive Party, and aimed to make their army as modern as Japan's. They invited a military advisory group from Japan, which had been one step ahead in achieving modernization (members: First Lieutenant of Army Infantry 菊地節蔵, Second Lieutenant of Army Engineers Reizo HORIMOTO and Second Lieutenant of Army Engineers 美代清濯). Under the advisors' instruction, they set up the 'Byeolgigun' (a modernized special military force) apart from the existing traditional army, organized it in a new way and had it newly-equipped, continuing with such efforts as performing Japanese-style training and sending some members to Japan for study.

As the Progressive Party aimed to modernize the army, it was natural for the weapons and tools given out to the Byeolgigun to be of the new style. Besides, as the members of the unit were mainly young people from the yangban (literally, "the two groups", an elite class at the peak of society during the Joseon Dynasty), the way they were treated could not be the same as the soldiers of the Conservative Party. However, the Conservative Party's troops were dissatisfied at being treated differently than the Progressive Party's military unit.

The following explanation matches the one given in "History of Korea (new edition): Government-designated textbook for Korean high schools" (Textbooks of the World, first series), published by Akashi Shoten in 2000.

In addition to the above, Korea was financially troubled at the time and the armed forces had not received their salaries (which were paid in rice) for thirteen months. Furthermore, when the salary rice was finally paid on July 23, they found sand and other things mixed in with it because the warehouse keepers charged with distributing it had tried to embezzle some rice by inflating the amount of it using sand. This made soldiers of the Conservative Party furious, and they assaulted the warehouse keepers, shutting them in the warehouse. This riot ended quickly, but the leaders of the assault were arrested later and sentenced to be executed. For that reason, the soldiers rioted again. This was the plot of Daewongun, the former political leader and the head of the Conservative Party who intended to take advantage of the revolt to wipe out political opponents such as Queen Min and take over the administration again.

The Soldiers' Revolt
The soldiers who started rioting also turned their discontent against the Japanese who had supported the Byeolgigun. Joined by the poor and the homeless, the mobs even killed some people such as Second Lieutenant Horimoto, employees of the Japanese legation, and Japanese students, who had no connection with the affair. They also badly injured Min Yeong-ik, a biological nephew of Queen Min and the head of the Byeolgigun training center, who had taken shelter in the Changdeokgung palace, and killed several high-ranking Progressive Party officials.

When the Korean government informed the Japanese legation of the revolt by the traditional army, it requested that the Korean government send their guards to protect the legation. However, as the protection was insufficient, the members of the Japanese legation fought back against the attack of the mob on their own.

It is said that the group of legation staff members who had managed to protect themselves during the daytime, 28 people, including the Minister Yoshimoto HANABUSA, set fire to the legation that night. Although mobs attacked them again and again on their way from Seoul special city to Incheon Metropolitan City and their casualties increased, they finally got out of trouble and escaped to Nagasaki with the help of a British survey ship.

According to a detailed record of the circumstances owned by the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records (in the National Archives of Japan), some Japanese civilian residents who had nothing to do with the incident were also killed or injured.

Response of the Qing Dynasty
Catching wind of the incident, Queen Min immediately escaped from the palace and got herself out of harm's way with the support of YUAN Shikai of Qing China who was stationed in Korea at the time. While Daewongun and his sympathizers who had incited the incident failed to catch Queen Min, they seized power from Gojong and it looked as if their plot had succeeded.

However, the escaped Queen Min contacted Gojong and sent a secret messenger to the Qing. In response to this, the Qing dispatched troops. Japan also sent its army there to deal with the incident. Here occurred a conflict between Japan and the Qing over which country was to subdue the revolt, but the Qing troops went ahead and did so on the basis that Korea was a Qing's vassal state. The Qing put Daewongun under house arrest, and power and administration reverted to Queen Min and her clan members. Seeing Japan's powerlessness during the incident, Queen Min and her clan members changed their policy from open-door to pro-Qing.

Daewongun was seized by the Qing troops, put through a hearing, and confined in Tianjin City.
(Daewongun's confinement continued for another three years despite Gojong's petitions appealing for his release, and when he returned home it was with YUAN Shikai, Resident in Korea for Diplomatic and Commercial Relations.)

How Japan Dealt with the Incident
The Japanese government appointed Minister HANABUSA as a plenipotentiary and dispatched him to Korea with four warships, an infantry battalion belonging to the 11th Regiment of Infantry and a naval landing party under the command of Army Major General Tomonosuke TAKASHIMA and Rear Admiral Kagenori NIRE.

The Japanese government at first requested that the Korean government make an apology, give grants to the families of the dead, punish the culprits, and cede either Geoje Island or Ulleungdo Island. However, they dropped the request for territory due to discouragement by Qing troops and an American warship, and brought the negotiations to a conclusion. Japan concluded the Jemulpo Treaty with Korea, and Korea promised in it to let the Japanese military guard the Japanese legation, leading to the stationing of Japanese troops in Korea.

This was also meant to act as a restraint on the Qing, who acted according to the principle that Korea was a Qing vassal state. Thus, they were able to avoid military clashes between the Japanese and Qing troops facing each other on the Korean Peninsula. However, this incident resulted in a severer confrontation between Japan and China, one of which wanted to ensure influence on Korea and the other of which wanted to maintain the vassal-state system. Later, this confrontation would lead to the Sino-Japanese War.

The Japanese who were Killed
Several dozen people or more were killed, and the survivors withdrew from the capital and fled to Incheon. Some Japanese victims were women and children killed by Qing soldiers. Among the Japanese victims, the following men such as legation staff who were killed by the angry Korean mob were, regardless of being soldiers or not, enshrined at the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine as war dead.

People who were enshrined at the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine
Second Lieutenant Reizo HORIMOTO (promoted to First Lieutenant due to his death in action)

水島義, an employee of the Japanese legation
Kintaro SUZUKI, age 31
An employee of the Japanese legation (due to death in action: enshrined at the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine on November 2, 1882)

Tamakichi IIZUKA, age 27
An employee of the Japanese legation (due to death in action: enshrined at the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine on November 2, 1882)

Masakatsu HIROTO, age 33
A first-rank policeman (due to death in action: enshrined at the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine on November 2, 1882)

Chikatomo HONDA, age 22
A third-rank policeman (due to death in action: enshrined at the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine on November 2, 1882)

Kotaro MIYA, age 18
A second-rank policeman in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (due to death in action while staying on guard for Minister Resident Yoshimoto HANABUSA: enshrined at the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine on November 2, 1882)

Kensho KAWAKAMI, age 27
A second-rank policeman in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (due to death in action: enshrined at the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine on November 2, 1882)

Tameyoshi IKEDA, age 28
A second-rank policeman in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (due to death in action: enshrined at the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine on November 2, 1882)

Shohachiro TOYA A second-rank policeman in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (due to death in action: enshrined at the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine on November 2, 1882)
Doken KONDO, age 22
A language student studying at his own expense (due to death in action; fell on his own sword after getting two severe wounds when he was cut twice from one shoulder down to his opposite armpit: enshrined at the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine on November 1, 1882)

Morinobu KUROSAWA, age 28
A language student studying at his own expense (due to death in action: enshrined at the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine on November 2, 1882, one-thousand and five-hundred yen was given to his family to support them.)

Hiranoshin IKEDA, age 21
An army language student (due to death in action: enshrined at the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine on November 2, 1882)

Kaku OKAUCHI, age 23
An army language student (due to death in action: enshrined at the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine on November 6, 1882)

People who were enshrined later
First-class Private Ichijuro FUJISHIRO (enshrined at the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine in 1885)
First-class Private Tarikichi MEGURO (enshrined at the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine in 1885)
Infantry Sergeant Major Sekitaro IIJIMA (enshrined at the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine in 1885)

Punishment for the Munity
In August 1882, Daewongun was taken to Qing, and was confined in Tianjin City after a hearing by Li Hongzhang.

Officers such as Jeong Hyeon-deok, Jo Ta-ha, Heo Kon, and Jang Sun-gil, and Confucian scholars such as Pak Nak-kwan, Gim Jang-son, Jeong Eui-gil, Gang Myeong-jun, Hong Cheon-seok, Yu Bok-kal, Heo Min-dong, Yun Sang-yong and Jeong Ssang-gil were executed by slow slicing for having committed the crimes of 'high treason and lèse-majesté'. Their corpses were exposed to public view for three days. Furthermore, their families and their whole clans were beheaded in October 1882.