Seoul, Korea, Tuesday, April 7th, 1896.
The Independent. A Journal of Korean Commerce, Politics, Literature, History and Art.
Issued every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
The time seems to have come for the publication of a periodical in the interests of the Korean people. By the Korean people we do not mean merely the residents of Seoul and vicinity nor do we mean the more favored classes alone, but we include the whole people of every class and grade. To this end three things are necessary: first, that it shall be written in a character intelligible to the largest possible number; second, that it shall be put on the market at such a price that it shall be within the reach of the largest possible number; third, that it shall contain such matter as shall be for the best interests of the largest possible number.
To meet the first of these requirements it has been put in the native character called the En-mun, for the time is shortly coming, if it is not already here, when Koreans will cease to be ashamed of their native character, which for simplicity of construction and phonetic power compares favorably with the best alphabets in the world. Difficulty is experience by those not thoroughly acquainted with the En-mun from the fact that ordinarily there are no spaces between words. We therefore adopt the novel plan of introducing spaces, thus doing away with the main objection to its use. We make it bilateral because this will act as an incentive to English speaking Koreans to push their knowledge of English for its own sake. An English page may also commend the paper to the patronage of those who have no other means of gathering accurate information in regard to the events which are transpiring in Korea. It hardly needs to be said that we have access to the best sources of information in the capital and will be in constant communication with the provinces.
To meet the second requirement we have so arranged the size of the sheet as to be able to put it on the market at a price which will make it unnecessary for anyone to forego its advantages because of inability to buy.
To meet the third requirement is a more difficult matter. What Korea needs is a unifying influence. Now that the old order of things is passing away, society is in a state which might be described as intermediate between two forms of crystallization. The old combinations of forces have been broken up or are rapidly breaking up and they are seeking new affinities. The near future will probably decide the mode of rearrangement of social forces.
It is at this moment when Korean society is in a plastic state that we deem it opportune to put out this sheet as an expression at least of out desire to do what can be done in a journalistic way to give Koreans a reliable account of the events that are transpiring, to give reasons for things that often seem to them unreasonable, to bring the capital and the provinces into greater harmony through a mutual understanding of each other’s needs, especially the need that each has of the other.
Our platform is – Korea for the Koreans, clean policies, the cementing of foreign friendships, the gradual though steady development of Korean resources with Korean capital, as far as possible, under expert foreign tutelage, the speedy translation of foreign textbooks into Koreans that the youth may have access to the great things of history, science, art, and religion without having to acquire a foreign tongue, and LONG LIFE TO HIS MAJESTY, THE KING.
It has become evident that the disturbances in the country are not the result of disaffection toward the government, but are simply the excesses indulged in by lawless characters who take advantage of the present lack of strong central control, knowing that for the moment they will go unpunished. We could wish that they might take warning from the fate of similar attempts in the past and remember that sooner or later their sins will find them out. We decidedly refuse to believe that any large fraction of the country people are willing actors in these anarchical proceedings. The better informed Koreans in the Capital are of this opinion.----------------The Admiralty Court of Inquiry into the sinking of the Edgar pienace at Chemulpo found that the launch was overladen and badly managed.----------------We learn with regret that a case of insubordination in the police force was condoned rather than punished because the offender had been given his position by a powerful official. Such things tend to bring into discredit an otherwise effective force.----------------The promptness with which the governor of Haju was dismissed from his office when evidence of his malfeasance was forthcoming tends, insofar, to disprove the charge of inactivity which has been made against the present government.----------------At the Easter service in the Union Church, Hon J.M.B. Sill, U.S. Minister delivered an able address. The children rendered some Easter music very prettily. The altar was handsomely decorated with potted plants.
Edict. Alas, of late the minds of the people have been disturbed by the wrong ideas conveyed to them by the hands of bad characters calling themselves the “Righteous Army.” These unscrupulous men incite to trouble and keep the country in an uproar. This is due to Our being unable to rule them properly and we consequently feel ashamed. We have sent Royal messengers in all directions and have ordered the people to go back to their vocations in peace, but they do not seem to know what is right to do. We also sent the Royal troops to the disturbed district but we did not wish them to fight unless the people should resist the Royal Edict. The time has come for tilling the soil but the people have not yet returned to their duties and We fear that famine will follow. In that case We would not people to eat or sleep in peace for thinking of the suffering of Our people. We are told that some foreigners have been killed by these rebellious bands and that some of Our people have been killed by foreigners, all of which shocks and pains us. As We have opened up intercourse with the world, We consider that we are all brothers, whether foreign or native born. For brothers to hate and kill one another is an offence to Heaven and will bring its punishment. Our messengers tell us that the governors and magistrates have received Our orders to protect the people regardless of nativity.
Ye people, cast away all savage customs and become peaceful and obedient children. Cast aside the doubts and suspicions which you entertain against foreigners. The names of those killed, whether natives or foreigners, should be reported to us.
One example of Korea's modernization prior to annexation, one which I did not mention in this post, is that of the boom in newspapers that occurred in the late 1890s. What is reprinted above is the lion's share of the first page of the first issue of the Independent. Writing in 1897, Isabella Bird Bishop relates that
One of the most important events in Seoul was the establishment in April, 1896, by Dr. Jaisohn of the Independent, a two-page tri-weekly newspaper in English and the Korean script, enlarged early in 1897 to four pages, and published separately in each language. Only those who have formed some idea of the besotted ignorance of the Korean concerning current events in his own country, and of the creduility which makes him the victim of every rumor set afloat in the capital, can appreciate the significance of this step and its probable effect in enlightening the people, and in creating a public opinion which shall sit in judgement on regal and official misdeeds. It is already fulfilling an important function in unearthing abuses and dragging them into daylight, and is creating a desire for rational education and reasonable reform, and is becoming something of a terror to evildoers. Dr Jaisohn (So Chai Pil) is a Korean gentleman educated in America, and has the welfare of his country thoroughly at heart.Philip Jaisohn (Seo Jae-pil) himself commented on his publication of the Independent in F.A. McKenzie's Korea's Fight For Freedom:
The sight of newsboys passing through the streets with bundles of a newspaper in En-mun under their arms, and of men reading them in their shops, is among the novelties of 1897. Besides the Independent, there are now in Seoul two weeklies in En-mun the Korean Christian Advocate, and the Christian News; and the Korean Independence Club publishes a monthly magazine, The Chosen, dealing with politics, science, and foreign news, which has 2000 subscribers. Seoul also has a paper, the Kanjo Shimbo, or Seoul News, in mixed Japanese and Korean script, published on alternate days, and their are newspapers in the Japanese language, both in Fusan and Chemulpo. All these, and the Korean Repository, are the growth of the last three years.
I started the first English newspaper, as well as the first Korean newspaper, both being known as The Independent. At first this was only published semi-weekly, but later on, every other day. The Korean edition of this paper was eagerly read by the people and the circulation increased by leaps and bounds. It was very encouraging to me and I believe it did exert considerable influence for good. It stopped the government officials from committing flagrant acts of corruption, and the people looked upon the paper as a source of appeal to their ruler. This little sheet was not only circulated in the capital and immediate vicinity, but went to the remote corners of the entire kingdom. A pathetic but interesting fact is that it was read by a subscriber, and when he had finished reading it, turned it over to his neighbours, and in this way each copy was read by at least 200 people. The reason for this was that most of the people were too poor to buy the paper, and it was also very hard to get it to the subscribers, owing to the lack of proper transportation facilities at that time.Actually, the Independent wasn't the first Korean newpaper. According to Chong-Sik Lee's Syngman Rhee: The Prison Years of a Young Radical, Pak Yeong-hyo, who became Seo's mentor, initiated the printing of the first newspaper, the Hanseong Sunbo (Seoul tri-monthly) in October 1883. The coup attempt of December 1884, in which Pak was involved, doomed the paper (Percival Lowell's lengthy account of the coup can be found here). Publication resumed in January 1886 as the Hanseong Chubo (Seoul weekly), but ceased in July, 1888. Of course, this refers to the first Korean-run newspaper; as Andrei Lankov tells us, the Chosun Shinbo, a Japanese newpaper which occasionally published stories in classical Chinese or even Hangeul, began publication in Pusan in 1881.
It's probably worth mentioning that more about Seo Jae-pil can be found here, which reveals what happened after he took part in the 1884 coup mentioned above:
In the short-lived reformist government, Sǒ, despite his youth, became a deputy military minister. This automatically made him a dangerous state criminal after the government’s demise. He was lucky to escape to Japan. But his family, according to the traditional law, was held responsible for his actions. His parents, elder brother, and wife were ordered to commit suicide (nobility was normally saved the humiliation of public execution). His younger brother was killed and even his son, only two years old, was starved to death.Perhaps one gets a better idea of why he wanted to reform, among many things, the justice system when he returned to the country in 1896. Worth noting also is that he began to deliver weekly lectures at the Paejae school in May 1896, where student Syngman Rhee was captivated by the ideas of political liberty that Seo espoused. The Independence Club, of which Rhee became a leader, would eventually become locked into a life or death struggle with the conservatives, one which became marked by sit-ins, large demonstrations, and attacks by government- supported thugs on stone-throwing demonstrators (doesn't sound familiar at all, does it?).
The impact of newspapers should not be underestimated. When Bishop spoke of the "gusts of popular feeling which pass for public opinion in a land where no such thing exists", she was referring to the lack of newspapers, a 'technology' every modern country possessed. Thus the importance of her observation that "The sight of newsboys passing through the streets with bundles of a newspaper in En-mun under their arms, and of men reading them in their shops, is among the novelties of 1897. " Mass communication creates the illusion of unity, the realm of public opinion a consensual hallucination which most living in 'modern' societies today have grown up with all their lives. For Koreans 110 years ago, however, this was rather revolutionary stuff, as it saw the beginning of a mediated landscape which helped create the perception of similarity between distant cities and played a large part in the construction of a national identity - or would have been if the king and conservatives hadn't seen fit to outlaw the Independence Club, which led to the demise of its newpaper. The Korea Daily News (in Korean and English) , published by Ernest Bethell between 1904 and 1909, picked up the slack, but collapsed after Bethell's death, which was no doubt helped along by an imprisonment brought on by a Japanese resident general who was tired of the paper's blatantly anti-Japanese stance. Of course, by then it didn't matter, as the Japanese had annexed the country and banned Korean newpapers, which would not be allowed to publish again until ten years later, in the wake of the Samil movement. The Japanese battle against The Korea Daily News, which included starting the Seoul Times (an English-language pro-Japanese propaganda paper) and imprisoning Bethell, made clear how important these newpapers were, and why the Japanese were seeking to cease their publication. This fits in comfortably with the other examples I brought up here of Japanese attempts to bring to an end Korea's early attempts at modernization, and substitute their own form of modernization which, at that time, was more to Japan's benefit that Korea's. Newpapers help create a public space shared by thousands, and this homogenization across long distances began the process by which a Korean national identity would form - which is why, of course, the Japanese sought to wipe them out. Later, in 1920, they would be revived but strictly contolled, until their demise at the height of World War II, when Korean national identity would again be sacrificed for the greater good of imperial Japan.