Korea: Political And Economic Reports 1882–1970

ISBN:  (13) 978-1-84097-110-1    Published: 2005
Extent:  14 volumes, 10,000 pages   Editor: R.L. Jarman
Paper: Printed on acid free paper
Binding: Library bindings
See sample pages: not available


This comprehensive collection of facsimile documents contains all available diplomatic reports regarding Korea that are housed in the British National Archives. The period covered by the collection begins with the Korean monarchy, and includes the time spent under Japanese rule, the split into north and south Korea, and the Korean War.
From the documents it can be seen that the history and status of Korea was dependent upon the rivalries between, and the comparative strengths of, the three countries that lie adjacent to Korea - Russia, China and Japan. After the Second World War, the vacuum caused by the elimination of Japan from this equation meant that the Soviet Union, the USA and Communist China now vied for influence in Korea, and the post-1945 division of the peninsula into North and South Korea and the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 are symbols of that rivalry. The entrenchment of the division between the Communist North and the non-Communist South, and their respective supporters in the Soviet bloc and the capitalist West, is the central issue from the armistice in 1953 to the final report in this collection in 1970.


The history, and status, of Korea during the period from 1882 to 1910 was dependent on the rivalries between, and the comparative strengths of, the three countries that lay adjacent to Korea - Russia, China, and Japan. Korea was a weak country militarily and economically, and its only recourse was to use this great power rivalry for its own interests and to try and play the three competing powers off against each other. If we substitute the USA for Japan after 1945, this analysis will survive until 1970.
At the beginning of this period Korea was a kingdom but the king was theoretically subservient to the Emperor of China, although in practice this meant little. However, Chinese suzerainty in Korea finally ceased with the defeat of China by Japan in the war of 1894/1895 enabling Korea to declare its formal independence.
This new Empire of Korea did not enjoy its independence for long, for the equilibrium between Japan and Russia on which Korea’s independence was based was shattered by the defeat of Russia by Japan in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904/1905. In 1908 the Emperor of Korea (who was still trying to get outside support against the Japanese) was forced to abdicate and in 1910 the process of increasing Japanese control was completed by the formal annexation of Korea by Japan.
From 1910 to 1945 Korea was part of Japan and no challenge to this occupation was possible from either China, suffering from civil war and military weakness, or from Russia, suffering from military defeat in the First World War and then revolution and civil war. However, a challenge did come from the people of Korea who rose up in 1919, this insurrection being sparked by the sudden and mysterious death of the Korean Emperor who had been forced to abdicate in 1908. This insurrection was put down with much cruelty and Japanese rule continued unchallenged thereafter until the end of the Second World War.
The military defeat of Japan in 1945 again altered the external forces influencing Korea. The vacuum caused by the elimination of Japan meant that the Soviet Union, the USA and Communist China now vied for influence in Korea, and the post-1945 division of the peninsula into North and South Korea and the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 are symbols of that rivalry. The entrenchment of the division between the Communist North and the non-Communist South, and their respective supporters in the Soviet bloc and the capitalist West, is the central issue from the armistice in 1953 to the final report in this collection in 1970.


From 1882 to 1910
For the period 1882 to 1910 there are four types of documents during this period - occasional reports, annual trade reports, intelligence reports, and the annual (political) reports.
Occasional Reports comprise the despatches from the British diplomats in Seoul, Peking, or Tokyo, written as and when circumstances required, together with the memoranda that emanated from the Foreign Office in London as a result of these despatches. Sometimes these despatches and/or memoranda were kept in files at the Foreign Office, sometimes they were given wider distribution by being included in the Foreign Office Confidential print, and sometimes they were published as British Parliamentary Papers.
Annual trade reports from every British Consul and Vice-Consul started in the 1840s, but from 1886 onwards they were published as part of an annual series of Diplomatic and Consular Reports. They continued without a break until the outbreak of war in 1914. For Korea, the first one was the Trade Report for 1885 published in 1887, and they continued even after Korea became part of Japan in 1910.
The Quarterly Intelligence Reports were written for the benefit of the British Ambassador in Peking, to give him information on events and personalities in the different consular areas. They were started in 1893 (when Korea was nominally part of the Chinese Empire) and ceased, by definition, when Korea became independent from China in 1894/1895.
The Annual (political) Report was started in 1906 as a result of a request by Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, and was written by the British representative in every independent country. They were stopped for the duration of the First World War.

From 1910 to 1945
For the period 1910 to 1945 there were five types of report. Occasional Reports (the despatches from Seoul or Tokyo and the memoranda from the Foreign Office in London) continued to be the most important. These occasional reports were supplemented by Periodic Reports (usually a Monthly Report) which were written from September 1921 to August 1924 - they were started because of British interest and concern about the methods used by the Japanese after their suppression of the 1919 insurrection; they were stopped in 1924 because nothing much was then happening in Korea.
The annual series of separate Korean Trade Reports that were published as Parliamentary Papers continued until 1914 (the Korean one for 1915 was written but never published as a Parliamentary Paper - it is published here for the first time) and then they were discontinued for the duration of the war. After 1918, the trade reports continued in slightly different format - as reports on economic conditions, published every 18 months or so by the Department of Overseas Trade as an annex to the main report on Japan. The last one was published in 1936.
A new series of Annual Economic Reports was started in 1936, and from then until the outbreak of war in 1939 a separate report for Korea was produced.

The Annual (political) Report was intended for independent countries. After Korea became part of Japan in 1910 no further separate annual reports were then produced for Korea (the annual report for 1910 being only for the period in 1910 prior to annexation). From 1911 to 1913 there was, however, a review of Korea contained in the Japan Annual Report. The annual reports were discontinued in 1914 with the outbreak of war. In 1919 they were revived and Korea was included in the Japan Annual Report. From 1920 onwards, until 1941, there was also a separate report for Korea.

From 1945 to 1970

For the period 1945 to 1970 there were four types of report. Occasional Reports (the despatches from Seoul or Tokyo and the memoranda from the Foreign Office in London) continued to be the most important. With the outbreak of the Korean War, many of these occasional despatches were published in seven Parliamentary Papers from 1950 to 1953.
These occasional reports were supplemented by Periodic Reports which seemed to have been started (and finished) as a result of departmental decisions. The first series of such reports started in January 1946 with the monthly reports from the UK Liaison Mission in Japan with its section on Korea; the second series was the monthly report from Seoul which lasted for three months, from May to July 1946; the third series of periodic reports were fortnightly/weekly situation reports which began in January 1949 and continued until June 1950. The fourth series, however, had more staying power - beginning in November 1951 and continuing until December 1963; this was one of the few fortnightly reports that survived the Foreign Office abolition of this type of report in February 1955.
Although Personality Reports had been written for Japan since the 1920s, nothing had been written on Korea. This was remedied after 1945, and such reports were produced at regular intervals - for 1947, for 1949, for 1951, for 1952, and annually thereafter - but these reports after 1952 are not available as they are not declassified for 50 years (the one for 1958 included in this collection seems to have been declassified by mistake).
Annual (political) Reviews were started in 1949 but were interrupted by the Korean War. These reports were resumed after the armistice in 1953, and annual reports were produced every year from 1953 to 1970. These reports were for South Korea where there were British diplomats. North Korea was not covered. This gap was filled by the Foreign Office Research Department from 1965 onwards.
These volumes conclude with documents from 1970, although there is one final report, a forty-year retrospective, dated 1989.


Volume 1: 1882–1884
Volume 2: 1885–1892
Volume 3: 1893–1894
Volume 4: 1895–1897
Volume 5: 1898–1903
Volume 6: 1904–1910
Volume 7: 1911–1921
Volume 8: 1922–1926
Volume 9: 1927–1944
Volume 10: 1945–1950
Volume 11: 1951–1953
Volume 12: 1954–1958
Volume 13: 1959–1961
Volume 14: 1962–1970


From Volume 1: Extract from British Confidential Print: ‘Memorandum Respecting Corea’, 1882: report on the opening of Korea
“The Great King of Chosen makes a communication.
He begs to say as regards Chosen, that it is simply a dependency of China, but that its internal administration and its external intercourse are entirely and in all respects within his discretion and control as an independent King. In now making a Treaty with each other, the States of Great Chosen and Great England shall conduct their intercourse in every respect on the footing of equality.”
From Volume 4: Extract from despatch No. 86 dated 10 October 1895, from Seoul to Peking concerning the fate of the Queen of Korea: after the China–Japan war the Queen of Korea was opposed to the faction which favoured Japanese interests, and a plot was hatched to assassinate her:
“…civilians …guarded by Japanese officers and soldiers, with a number of soldiers in Corean uniform… [took] possession of the King and the Crown Prince while others made for the Queen’s sleeping room…The Queen ran off down a corridor, but was pursued and knocked down, her assassin jumping on her breast several times while he repeatedly stabbed her with his sword…”
From Volume 6: Extract from Occasional Despatch No. 165: a report by Henry Cockburn, Seoul, to Marquess of Landsdowne, 1 December 1905:
“For some days after the conclusion of the Agreement, by which the Emperor of Corea accepted the transfer to Japan of the control of the foreign relations of his country, even those best acquainted with Corea were in doubt whether popular disapproval would find active and violent expression or whether it would confine itself to passive resignation. It gradually became evident that the resentment felt was strong enough to lead a section of the people into open protest…[but] … the only effect of open resistance will be to strengthen … the Japanese Military Party, whose policy is supposed to be to be the treatment of Corea as a conquered land, rather than as a country…Japan must try to conciliate…”
From Volume 6: Extract from Occasional Despatch No. 22, dated March 28, 1910
“Prince Ito’s assassin.
An’s execution took place on 26 [March] though he had asked to have execution of sentence postponed to enable him to write a history or explanation of his deed…No doubt the result of his labours would not have been allowed to see the light of day…It has also struck me as curious that photos of An in the shape of pictorial post-cards, [which I enclose], should be allowed to be publicly sold. Many a Corean will gloat over the representation of a man who has, unknowingly, done so much harm to Japan by depriving her of a remarkable and successful statesman.”
From Volume 6: Extract from an enclosure in Sir C. MacDonald to Sir Edward Gray, 28 December 1905, regarding the new power structure in Korea under the Japanese Empire:
“From the Japan Times, 22 December 1905
Imperial Ordinance No. 267
Signed (Count Taro Katsura, Minister President of State and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs)
(Masahiro Terauchi, Minister of State for War)
Article 1. The Residency-General (Tokan-fu) shall be established at Soul, Corea
Article 2. Resident-General (Tokan) shall be appointed to the Residency-General. The Resident-General shall be of the ‘Shin-nin’ rank. The Resident-General shall be under the direct control of the Emperor.
…Article 9. The Resident-General shall have general control of the functionaries under him. As to the appointment or dismissal of officials of ‘Sonin’ rank, he shall make representations to the Emperor through the Minister President of State. As for officials of the ‘Hannin’ rank and below, he shall have the sole right to appoint or dismiss them.
…Article 11. Such Coreans as may be appointed to the Residency-General…may be accorded the treatment of high officials or officials of ‘Hannin’ rank.”

From Volume 7: from Despatch No. 614, 5 September 1919, announcing proclamation of Korean Independence:
“Republic of Korea
Be it known, that I, Syngman Rhee, President of the Republic of Korea, responding to unanimous demand from our people, and by and with the approval of the Korean Commission for the Republic of Korea, have made, executed and proclaimed, the Proclamation and Demand for Continued Independence of the Korean Nation, bearing date August 27, 1919, a true copy of which is here transmitted…
At this critical period in the struggle for universal Democracy; when the great war to crush Prussian Autocracy and Militarism has been gloriously won…when the Autocratic and Militaristic Government of Japan is pretending to promise… autonomy and federalization, to the dissatisfied and democratic Korean Nation and people, in order to deceive the Koreans and Christian peoples of other democratic nations as to its real intentions and designs, with respect to its attempted conquest of Korea and its relations and dealings with the Korean people…”
From Volume 10: British Parliamentary Papers: Extract from “Summary of Events Relating to Korea, No. 1, 1950:
Table of Contents
Part I: Summary of events relating to Korea up to the outbreak of hostilities on 25th June, 1950
Introduction: Pre-1945 status of Korea
Allied Agreements, 1943–45 (Cairo, Potsdam and Moscow declarations) and the first session of the Joint Commission, March-May 1946
Administration of North and South Korea after the Japanese surrender, and the separate elections of November 1946, in both parts of Korea
Revival of the Joint Commission, May–September 1947, and the Marshall–Molotov correspondence, culminating in the reference of the Korean question to the United Nations by the United States Government
The Korean question before the United Nations, October–November 1947
The United Nations Temporary Commission, January–December, and the elections in South Korea, May 1948
Political situation in North Korea, 1948
The United Nations Commission, December 1948–January 1950, and the withdrawal of United States troops, June 1949
Security situation in the Republic of (South) Korea, 1948-50
Elections in South Korea, May 1950, and the reactions in North Korea
From Volume 14: Although the main reports series end in 1970, the final document in this collection is a Foreign Office Research Department report entitled “North Korea: 40 years on”, dated June 1989. In it the Research department report the following:
That after 40 years as leader of North Korea, President Kim Il Sung’s grip on power is still so strong that there is little likelihood of change while he is alive…
That in 1984 he designated his son, Kim Jong Il, as his successor – an unprecedented move for a Communist country…
That it is estimated that there are probably well over 100,000 political dissidents and ‘undesirables’ in concentration camps in north-east Korea…
That since the end of the Korean War, when the country was devastated, the quantity, if not the quality, of construction work has been impressive…
That the party still sees ‘any deviation from collectivism (as) undermining the socialist system’
And that in spite of her public condemnations of chemical weapons and her accession in 1989 to the Geneva Protocol on Chemical Weapons, North Korea is believed to have the world’s third largest chemical warfare force, as well as a limited biological warfare capability…