Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876

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Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876
The treaty on display
Signed February 26, 1876; 142 years ago (1876-02-26)
Effective February 26, 1876; 142 years ago (1876-02-26)
Signatories  Empire of Japan
 Kingdom of Joseon
Japan-Korea Treaty of Amity
Japanese name
Kanji 日朝修好条規
Hiragana にっちょうしゅうこうじょうき
Korean name
Hangul 강화도 조약
Hanja 江華島條約

The Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876, also known as the Japan-Korea Treaty of Amity in Japanese or Treaty of Ganghwa Island in Korean, was made between representatives of the Empire of Japan and the Korean Kingdom of Joseon in 1876.[1] Negotiations were concluded on February 26, 1876.[2]


Ascendancy of the Daewongun[edit]

In January 1864, King Cheoljong died without an heir and Gojong ascended the throne at the age of 12. However, King Gojong was too young and the new king's father, Yi Ha-ŭng, became the Daewongun or lord of the great court, and ruled Korea in his son's name.[3] Originally the term Daewongun referred to any person who was not actually the king but whose son took the throne.[3] The Daewongun initiated reforms to strengthen the monarchy at the expense of the Yangban class.

Even before the nineteenth century, the Koreans had only maintained diplomatic relations with its suzerain, China, and with neighboring Japan. Foreign trade was mainly limited to China, conducted at designated locations along the Korean-Manchurian border[4] and with Japan, through the Waegwan in Pusan.[5] By the mid-nineteenth century Westerners had come to refer to Korea as the Hermit Kingdom.[6] The Daewongun was determined to continue Korea's traditional isolationist policy and to purge the kingdom of any foreign ideas that had infiltrated into the nation.[4] The disastrous events occurring in China, including the First (1840–1842) and Second Opium wars (1856–1860), reinforced his determination to separate Korea from the rest of the world.[4]


After the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, European nations began to colonize many other nations in Africa and Asia under the political ideology known as imperialism. Almost all of Africa was colonized by European Powers; most of Central, South and Southeast Asia including India were taken over by various European nations. East Asia also was invaded by foreign powers, beginning with the (1839–1842) Opium War against China provoked by the British Empire and other western powers. Meanwhile, the American Asiatic Squadron under the leadership of Matthew C. Perry pressured Japan to open its ports to western trade in 1854.[7]

Humiliated by unequal treaties and confident that it can become a powerful imperial power, Japan embarked on a rapid transformation, successfully turning itself from a feudal society into a modern industrialized state.

Ganghwa incident[edit]

The Japanese gunboat Un'yō

In Korea, the strong dictatorship of Heungseon Daewongun was overthrown by Queen Min, who instituted a policy of closing doors to European powers. France and the United States had already made several unsuccessful attempts to begin commerce with the Joseon dynasty, all of them happening during Heungseon Daewongun's era. However, after he was removed from power, many new officials who supported the idea of opening commerce with foreigners took power. While there was political instability, Japan developed a plan to open and exert influence on Korea before a European power could. In 1875, their plan was put into action: the Un'yō, a small Japanese warship under the command of Inoue Yoshika, was dispatched to survey coastal waters without Korean permission.

On September 20, the ship reached Ganghwa Island, which had been a site of violent confrontations between Korean forces and foreign forces in the previous decade. In 1866, the island was briefly occupied by the French, and also in 1871 subject to American intervention. The memories of those confrontations were very fresh, and there was little question that the Korean garrison would shoot at any approaching foreign ship. Nonetheless, Commander Inoue ordered a small boat launched – allegedly in search of drinkable water. The Korean forts opened fire. The Un'yō brought its superior firepower to bear and silenced the Korean guns. Then it attacked another Korean port and withdrew back to Japan.

Treaty provisions[edit]

Japan-Korea Treaty of Amity, February 26, 1876, Diplomatic Record Office of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Japan employed gunboat diplomacy to press Korea to sign this unequal treaty. The pact opened up Korea, as Commodore Matthew Perry's fleet of Black Ships had opened up Japan in 1853. According to the treaty, it ended Joseon's status as a tributary state of the Qing dynasty and opened three ports to Japanese trade. The Treaty also granted the Japanese people many of the same rights in Korea that Westerners enjoyed in Japan, such as extraterritoriality.

The chief treaty negotiators were Kuroda Kiyotaka, Governor of Hokkaidō, and Shin Heon, General/Minister of Joseon-dynasty Korea.

The articles of the treaty were as follows:

  • Article 1 stated that Korea was a free nation, "an independent state enjoying the same sovereign rights as does Japan". The Japanese statement is in an attempt to detach Korea once and for all from its traditional tributary relationship with China.
  • Article 2 stipulated that Japan and Korea would exchange envoys within fifteen months and permanently maintain diplomatic missions in each country. The Japanese would confer with the Ministry of Rites; the Korean envoy would be received by the Foreign Office.
  • Under Article 3, Japan would use the Japanese and Chinese languages in diplomatic communiques, while Korea would use only Chinese.
  • Article 4 terminated Tsushima's centuries-old role as a diplomatic intermediary by abolishing all agreements then existing between Korea and Tsushima.
  • In addition to the open port of Pusan, Article 5 authorized the search in Kyongsang, Kyonggi, Chungcheong, Cholla, and Hamgyong provinces for two more suitable seaports for Japanese trade to be opened in October 1877.
  • Article 6 secured aid and support for ships stranded or wrecked along the Korea or Japanese coasts.
  • Article 7 permitted any Japanese mariner to conduct surveys and mapping operations at will in the seas off the Korean Peninsula's coastline.
  • Article 8 permitted Japanese merchants residence, unhindered trade, and the right to lease land and buildings for those purposes in the open ports.
  • Article 9 guaranteed the freedom to conduct business without interference from either government and to trade without restrictions or prohibitions.
  • Article 10 granted Japan the right of extraterritoriality, the one feature of previous Western treaties that was most widely resented in Asia. It not only gave foreigners a free rein to commit crimes with relative impunity, but its inclusion implied the grantor nation's system of law was either primitive, unjust, or both.


The Imperial Japanese Navy, in Pusan, on its way to Ganghwa Island, Korea, January 16th, 1876. There were 2 warships (Nisshin, Moshun), 3 troop transports, and one liner for the embassy led by Kuroda Kiyotaka.
Four Gatling guns set up in Ganghwa by Japanese troops, 1876 Kuroda mission

The following year saw a Japanese fleet led by Special Envoy Kuroda Kiyotaka coming over to Joseon, demanding an apology from the Korean government and a commercial treaty between the two nations. The Korean government decided to accept the demand, in hope of importing some technologies to defend the country from any future invasions.

However, the treaty would eventually turn out to be the first of many unequal treaties signed by Korea; It gave extraterritorial rights to Japanese citizens in Korea, and forced the Korean government to open 3 ports to Japan, specifically Busan, Incheon and Wonsan. With the signing of its first unequal treaty, Korea became vulnerable to the influence of imperialistic powers; and later the treaty led Korea to be annexed by Japan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chung, Young-lob. (2005). Korea Under Siege, 1876–1945: Capital Formation and Economic Transformation, p. 42., p. 42, at Google Books; excerpt, "... the initial opening of Korea's borders to the outside world came in the form of the Korea-Japan Treaty of Amity (the so-called Ganghwa Treaty)."
  2. ^ Korean Mission to the Conference on the Limitation of Armament, Washington, D.C., 1921–1922. (1922). Korea's Appeal, p. 33., p. 33, at Google Books; excerpt, "Treaty between Japan and Korea, dated February 26, 1876."
  3. ^ a b Kim 2012, p. 279.
  4. ^ a b c Kim 2012, p. 281.
  5. ^ Seth 2011, p. 193.
  6. ^ Kim, 2002 & p-279.
  7. ^ Bauer, Susan Wise; Park, Sarah (2005). The Modern Age: From Victoria's Empire to the End of the USSR. Peace Hill Press. p. 17. ISBN 9780972860338. 


  • Duus, Peter (1998). The Abacus and the Sword: The Japanese Penetration of Korea. University of California Press. ISBN 0-52092-090-2. 
  • Keene, Donald (2002). Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852–1912. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-12341-8. 
  • Kim, Jinwung (2012). A History of Korea: From "Land of the Morning Calm" to States in Conflict. New York: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-00024-6. 
  • Jansen, Marius B. (2002). The Making of Modern Japan. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-6740-0334-9. 
  • Jansen, Marius B. (1995). The Emergence of Meiji Japan. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-5214-8405-7. 
  • Seth, Michael J. (2011). A History of Korea: From Antiquity to the Present. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-742-56715-X. 
  • Sims, Richard (1998). French Policy Towards the Bakufu and Meiji Japan 1854–95. Psychology Press. ISBN 1-87341-061-1. 
  • Chung, Young-lob. (2005). Korea Under Siege, 1876-1945: Capital Formation and Economic Transformation. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-517830-2; OCLC 156412277
  • Korean Mission to the Conference on the Limitation of Armament, Washington, D.C., 1921-1922. (1922). Korea's Appeal to the Conference on Limitation of Armament. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office. OCLC 12923609
  • United States. Dept. of State. (1919). Catalogue of treaties: 1814-1918. Washington: Government Printing Office. OCLC 3830508

Further reading[edit]

  • McDougall, Walter (1993). Let the Sea Make a Noise: Four Hundred Years of Cataclysm, Conquest, War and Folly in the North Pacific. New York: Avon Books. ISBN 9780380724673; OCLC 152400671