|Revised Romanization||Choi Ik-hyeon|
Choi Ik-hyun (Hangeul:최익현, Hanja:崔益鉉, Pen name: Myonahm 1833-1906) was a Korean Joseon Dynasty scholar, politician, philosopher, and general of the Korean Righteous Army guerrilla forces. He was a strong supporter of Neo-Confucianism and a very vocal nationalist, who defended Korean Sovereignty in the face of Japanese Imperialism.
Choi Ik-hyun was born in Pocheon city, Gyeonggi Province and passed the civil service examination in 1855, beginning his service under the 25th Joseon King, Cheoljong of Joseon, as a government official and administrator of various offices. He continued serving under the Heungseon Daewongun and later his son, King Gojong of the Korean Empire.
Impeachment of Daewongun
In 1872, 20-year-old Gojong son of regent Daewongun seemed ready to take the throne, but the Daewongun showed little inclination to give up his power. Junior minister Choi put out a fiery impeachment pointing out the Daewongun’s many wicked deeds such as the selling of political offices and positions, the unnecessary using of people’s taxes to reconstruct the Gyeongbokgung Palace, the closing of Confucian academies, and his unsuccessful attempts at preventing foreign ships from entering Korea.
Ironically, Choi’s ideology was very similar to that of the Daewongun, in that they were both highly anti-foreign. Nevertheless, Choi was severely disappointed with the actions of the Regent, and his political backing by the family of soon-to-be Queen Myeongseong also inspired his impeachment of the Regent.
Daewongun's supporters banished Choi to Jeju Province Island but his initiation allowed others who were discontent to speak out against the Regent, as a result leading to the Daewongun's retirement to Yangju, and Choi was soon reinstated to office by King Gojong.
Opposition to the Kanghwa Treaty
In 1876, King Gojong called his trusted advisers together previous to the signing of the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876, a treaty which would open the doors of Korea to Japan, for advice. Choi led conservative gentry opposition to the Treaty, declaring that the Treaty would be harmful to the nation, in that it would lead to the influx of Western thought such as Catholicism, and the economic invasion of Korean markets by Japanese goods. As a result of his outspokenness against the Treaty, Choi was taken out of office by the Japanese soon after it was signed.
The signing of the Treaty and his subsequent banishment caused Choi to re-initiate traditional Uijong Jeoksa movements among the people to revive Confucian values and cast out western and Japanese ideas.
Uijong Cheoksa Activities
During the period 1876-1894, Choi Ik-hyun along with other conservative Yangban who had studied under Yi Hang-no, initiated anti-Japanese movements across the country with the purpose of ousting anything foreign from the country and reinstating traditional Confucian values. These movements were generally violent as they, Choi included, considered the Japanese as no better than the “western barbarians” for adopting their ways.
Righteous Army Activities
After the murder of Queen Min in 1895, Japanese-backed Gabo Reformers forced the King to sign an edict decreeing that all Korean males must cut their topknot. Choi and other Confucian conservative officials were outraged, with Choi himself declaring that he would rather cut off his head before cutting his hair. Choi and his colleagues led armed resistance, known as Righteous Army among the countryside, attacking Japanese soldiers, merchants, and pro-Japanese Koreans known as Chinilpa.
Choi's Call to Arms and Exile
Shortly following the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1905 which made Korea a Protectorate of Japan, then 70-year-old Ch’oe Ikhyon sent a letter to King Gojong pleading for him to resist the Japanese incursions and shortly thereafter wrote, An Appeal to Arms. Choi's An Appeal To Arms was a declaration written to the Korean people to take up arms against the invasion of the Japanese and to revitalize the spirit of the Righteous Army.
Choi quickly gained 400 supporters and personally fought the Japanese initially in Taein, and later in Sunchang County in 1906. He was soon arrested, however, and was sent to Tsushima Island where he refused to eat the food given to him by the Japanese and died in exile 3 months later.
Choi's efforts in encouraging armed resistance through the Righteous Army Movement would last well until 1911, years after he died, in no small part as a result of his instilling of nationalism and the hatred for Japan in his supporters. His works contained in Myunam Jip, would also be preserved by his disciples despite multiple purges of nationalistic books by Japanese officials.
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