Below is the first issue of the first English newspaper in Korea, the Independent, published beginning in 1896. I will admit, the first issue is the least interesting of those I have read so far.. and I have read about a year’s worth of news already… However, it does do a good job of setting the stage. I will explain a little of the background of the stories mentioned at the end of passages where I think necessary to help with the general understanding of what is going on and of the events to come which become progressively more exciting and complex. This will be writtin in italics to keep it separate from the text.
Tuesday, April 1, 1896–
Local Items: – It has become evident that the disturbances n 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 on the past and remember that sooner or later their sins will find them out. We decidedly refuse to 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 Egar pinnace at Chemulpo found that the launch was overladen and badly managed. <<Chemulpo refers to the area now called Incheon and was of great importance because of the port.>>
– We learn to 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 of which the governor of Ha Ju was dismissed from his office wehn 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 wrong ideas conveyed to them by the bands 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 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 be able to eat or sleep in peace for thinking of the suffering of Our people. We have been told that some foreigners have been killed by these rebellious bands and that some 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 ond suspicions which you entertain against foreigners. The names of those killed, whether natives or foreigners, should be reported to Us. <<At the beginning of 1895, a peasant rebellion, known as the Donghak Uprising was quashed. Donghak was a kind of philosphy/religion that taught all men were equal regardless of birth and the poor rose up against the nobles (yangban). The rebels demanded four things– that their lives and property would be protected from greedy landlords; that they would be given equal rights as the rich, to drive Japanese and western people for Korea and; to purge the government of Seoul from corruption. The Korean army failed to stop them and China sent 3000 soldiers to Seoul to assist. Japan took this as a threat to its own security and this sparked the first Sino-Japanese War. Japan also sent soldiers into Korea and set a trap for the rebels at Gongju where they were wiped out. This resulted in changes in the yangbans’ power for a while, but they started falling back into their old ways and the peasants were soon rising up again. In the coming months we will see them organize and become a powerful movement>> <<The King writing this is Gojong–lots more on him later>>
Editorial– 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 matters 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 on-moon 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 experienced by those not thoroughly acquainted with the onmun 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 biliteral 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 gaining accurate information in regard to the events which are traspiring 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 s 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 anyoe to forego is advantages because of inablity 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 crystalliation. 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 the social forces.
It is at this moment when Korean society is in a plastic state that we deem it appropriate to put out this sheet as an espression at least ofour desireto do what can be done in a journalistic way to give Koreans a reliable account of the events that are traspiring, to give reasons for things that often seem to them unreasonable, to bring the capital and the provinces into greater harmony through a mutal understanding of each other’s needs, especially the need of each has of the other.
<<By on-mun– which in later issues, editor Jaisohn will spell ‘unmun’, he is, of course, referring to what we now call ‘hangul’–Korean characters used in writing. Up to this time, all newspapers were written in Chinese. The Korean/English versions of the newspaper was printed until the end of 1896. They were then enlarged and separated into two distinct papers.>><<I now realize that typing nearly the entire newspaper will make for very long posts– It might be wiser to divide it into differnt sections: Local News one day, the Editorial the next…>>