Joseon in its late period had to seek survival among four powerful nations including China, Russia, Japan, and the U.S. Since Joseon was ignorant of international affairs due to its long-time isolationism, it consulted with Hwang Jun-hyeon, an official of the Qing Dynasty residing in Japan. The writing Hwang sent to Kim Hong-jib was, “Joseon Strategy.”
The gist of the writing was, “It is Russia that is threatening Joseon at the moment. In order for Joseon to survive, it should maintain its conventional submission-to-the-stronger relations with China, establish ties with Japan, and embrace the U.S. as its new ally.” The Joseon Strategy reflected China’s position and exaggerated the power of China, which had already become a paper tiger. There are many parts to be criticized in each item. But the lesson to be learned from the writing was that it is impossible to survive independently in the international community and because Joseon was in a crisis, do not get stuck in the past and look for future benefits. Less than 30 years later, Joseon became a battlefield of wars with China, Japan, and Russia, and eventually lost the country.
There was a huge backlash in Joseon after the writing was introduced. A case in point was the public appeals from the students of Confucianism in the southeastern region of the nation. The first thing that provoked Confucian scholars was the sense of crisis that an open-door policy would allow Christianity to enter the country and undermine the foundation of Joseon, a Confucian state. They were also discontent with the fact that Western learning encouraged the promotion of commerce and industry. Confucian scholars believed that agriculture is the foundation of all industries and production should be moderated rather than promoted for financial soundness. They thought that there are fixed amount of goods in the world so if a few dominate them, by conjuring magic called technology, the king would eventually go hungry.
The most frustrating part of all is their perception on international relations. They are concerned that if Joseon forms ties with Japan, an enemy, and the U.S., a stranger, they could persecute the country and take their property. It may sound like they have a point but there is a serious error here. Wouldn’t other countries bother us if we cut off all ties and stand on our own? It appears this stand-alone theory is taking root in our society again. Are we being arrogant now that our economy and national power grew stronger? History teaches us that even the world’s strongest country cannot survive alone.