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In Session: New Architects of Empire: Reconfiguring Sovereignty and Authority in Nineteenth-Century East Asia
2: Chosŏn-Qing Brush Talk, informal Diplomacy, and rethinking the 1876 Chosŏn-Japan Agreement
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Song Yeol Han
East Asia International College, Yonsei University , Republic of Korea
As a result of vexed encounters with Western powers in the nineteenth century, Japan took steps to create new bilateral relations with the Qing and Chosŏn using the Western notion of sovereign nation-state and international relations. The discursive practice of disseminating the knowledge of Western civilization in East Asia was at the heart of making Japan both an international and imperial power. How did literary elites in Chosŏn respond to this? This paper addresses dialogues between Chosŏn envoys and Qing scholar-officials as a central medium for the Chosŏn court’s changing awareness of its sovereign power and geopolitical circumstances on the eve of the 1876 Chosŏn-Japan agreement.
Focuses are given to brushtalk records (筆談記) by Kang Wi (姜瑋, 1820-1884) during his envoy missions to the Qing between 1873 and 1875, such as《北渣談草》(Notes from the mission to north), and his memoir on the negotiation of the 1876 Chosŏn-Japan Treaty. While questioning the conventional historical narrative that the Chosŏn side played simply passive roles in the agreement with Japan, I situate Kang Wi’s discursive practice in its sociopolitical context—Chosŏn’s tributary missions to the Qing in the age of high imperialism and Kang’s status as a non-yangban scholar.