Alternate History

Korean Empire: The Different Choice

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Korean Empire

OTL equivalent: Korean Peninsula, Manchuria, Northern Philippines, Southern Vietnam, Malay Peninsula, Formosa, Haninan Island
Flag of Korea 1882 Emblem of South Korea
Flag Emblem
Korean Empire-1930, a different choice
Location of Korea

부국강병 (富國强兵 Buguk Gangbyong) (Korean)
("Economic Development and Military Strengthening")

Capital Seoul
Largest city Pyongyang
Other cities Pusan, Wonsan, Incheon, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Brunei, Kharbin, Shanghai, Mukden
  others Chinese
  others Confucianism, Lutheranism, Buddhism, Catholicism
Ethnic Groups
  others Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Malay, Tagalog
Demonym Korean
Government Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy
  legislature National Assembly
President Park Keun-hye
Prime Minister Kim Yong-sam
Population 1,01,691,000 (6th largest) 
Established 1857
Independence from 1858
  declared 1848
  recognized 1884
Currency Korean won
Time Zone Korea Standard Time (UTC+9)
Internet TLD .kr
Organizations Eight-Nation Alliance, League of Nations, Triple Entente

Korea, officially the Korean Empire (Hangul: 대한제국), is a nation located in East Asia, primarily on the Korean Peninsula. It shares borders with the Russian Empire and its protectorate Mongolian Republic to the north, and Qing China to the west, as well as maritime borders with the Empire of Japan, Republic of China, French Indochina, American East Indies and Dutch East Indies to the east and south.

History of the Korean Empire (The Different Choice)

History before the 1843 Incident

Modern Korea's beginnings can be traced to the three-kingdom unification under the Koguryo Kingdom in 688 AD, and the subsequent Goryeo and Chosun Dynasties. A major turn in history for China was when the Dutch contacted Korea for trade in 1499. When Portugal was chosen over the Netherlands in 1601 by Japan, Korea became the Netherland's only partner for trade in the Far East. While the Dutch were confined to the port of Pusan, they gave many important The two nations deepened its relations with each other when Korea protected many Dutch merchants against the British after its fall in 1810. Unike Japan's Sakoku policy of forcing the country to only allow trade with the Portuguese, Korea remained active in trade with the Dutch and spread its trade network into the East Indies. Due to this constant trade between Korea and other Southeast Asian nations, numerous Korean enclaves were established along the South China Sea, and Korea was diplomatically active in the East Asian region.

French Infiltration and Onwards

In 1843, fourteen French Catholic priests were executed along with several other Koreans for conspiring against the kingdom with plans such as assassination of a key governmental official and introduction of Catholicism as a national religion. Coincidentally, one of the priests was a cousin of the French emperor Charles X. Taking this as intentional offense against the French Kingdom, a expeditionary force was established and launched against Chosun in 1844, eighteen months and six days after the incident. After arriving in Kanghwa Island and destroying the fortifications, the French Far East Expeditionary Force fought deep into the peninsula, reaching Seoul and claiming over 9,000 lives of both civilians and soldiers. While a stubborn Korean resistance and shrewd negotiating process allowed Korea to reduce unequal elements within the Franco-Korean bilateral treaty to the minimal, the general population were greatly angered by the backwardness of the Korean government under the Cheol-jong regime. Within the treaty, some key elements were: i) Extraterritoriality of foreigners in Korea, and their freedom to trade any materials except opium; ii) Exchange of ambassadors between the countries; iii) Fixed low tariffs rates. Next were bi-lateral treaties with the following countries: Great Britain (1845), Russian Empire (1849), United States (1850),and Prussia (1853).

Inaction from Government and resulting Revolution

When the Cheol-jong regime resorted to inaction with influence from the Andong Kim clique, much of the people were infuriated with the lack of modernization; an ensuing revolution was spearheaded by Lee Ha-eung, who was also a man of royal blood. Through the Glorious Restoration, the influence of various political factions were wiped clean and Lee began to initiate various modernization programs from 1857, along with proclamation of the Korean Empire. The modernization was led by a small group of young men from Pusan, the city that was most open to globalization. The 'Tonglai Seven' actually have studied in King' College London from 1849 to 1855, with financial support from the merchant-scholar Park yul-sung. Some of the modernization included disbanding of the old army and emancipation of the social class system, with a land reform. Such radical movements toward westernization embroiled the previous soldier class and the artisan class into rebellion; the revolt began in Chunju and was quickly suppressed by the new 'Byolki-gun'.

Clashes between Korean and Japan in 1873

From the time on, the only Korean Empire competed with the Empire of Japan in its modernization and hiring of foreign experts into their countries. The competition led to an atmosphere of diplomatic tension between the countries, and the minor skirmishes led to escalation into the Korea-Japanese War in 1873. The war was over the small island of Dokdo, which both countries claimed for fishing rights. After a decisive victory in the battle of Hiroshima, the Korean Empire was able to win over Dokdo, along with Tsushima and claimed dominance over the Ryukyu Islands. The Korean Empire continued to develop its public infrastructure and military, becoming an emerging power by the early 1880s. It should be noted, however, that the financing behind these developments were backed by the agriculture sector of economy.

The Sino-Korean War of 1891

When Korea denied its subordinate status to China in 1891, the Qing Dynasty launched a preemptive attack upon Inchon only 6 months after the proclamation with its Peiyang Fleet. However, the attack became unsuccessful as defensive gun batteries were located around the port and led only to the Peiyang Fleet fleeing to the Yellow Sea. Around the same time, the northern border of Korea was attacked by a large number of Chinese forces; After the Chinese forces went too deep into the peninsula, it was cut in support by the Korean army and became isolated north of Pyongyang. In this Battle of Pyongyang, the Chinese lost after a grueling siege against the Koreans for 3 days. During the next six months, the speculated Chinese victory was unrealized and the Korean Empire territorially gained much from the war, such as Formosa and the Liaotung Peninsula. Japan's secret alliance with China and its attack on the port of Wonsan, Pohang and Pusan had varying results; however, it turned out to be a bad choice for Japan to attack Korea because the Chinese lost more quickly than expected. Therefore, after decisive Chinese defeat in the Yellow Sea, Korea turned most of its fleet towards the Home Islands of Japan, and extracted a peace treaty from Japan and China, with Britain and Russia as observers of the Treaty.

Boxer Rebellion and Korea-Russian War of 1904~05

Korea and Japan, along with countries such as Austria-Hungary, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Italy and Germany, participated in defeating the Imperial Army and ending the Boxer Rebellion. During the Boxer Rebellion and onwards, Russia kept increasing the number of soldiers in Manchuria despite the request of various nations to remove their military from the region. From the large flow of Koreans that were spilling out into Southern Manchuria, and their territorial claims often overlapped with the Chinese plots of land. Because of the skirmishes that often happened between the Chinese and Koreans, both Russians and Koreans sent their armies into the region. Sensing the time to be ripe for attack, the Korean army sent a preemptive strike against the Russians in Changchun, on a spring night in 1904. As the first war between a Western and non-Western nation, also as the first major war after mechanization of the military, the Russo-Korean War was closely watched by all Great Powers. After several strenuous weeks of diplomacy and negotiations, Japan entered the War on Korea's side and started to attack Vladivostok and Sakhalin while Korea was pushing north into Harbin. After the Russian army was forced north of the 39th parallel, Korea immediately began to establish garrisons along the front, such as Harbin and Mukden.

Russian Defeat and the moments before WWI

Because of critical Russian defeat and loss of its Manchurian sphere of influence by 1905, many Russians began to believe the Czar regime ineffective in administration. The success of an alliance between Korea and Japan was shown by Japan gaining the various islands of the north. During that time, the Korean-American backed independence of the Philippines from Spain led Korea and the United States to agree on a division of the nation between themselves, causing annexation of Northern Philippines in 1910 by Korea. With Formosa (1884), the Philippines (1910) and Ryukyu Islands (1874), Korea became one of the major powers in the world. At the same time, a formation of two major alliances in Europe foreshadowed an incoming major conflict. On one side was the Britain-France-Turkey alliance, against the Germany-Russia-Austria-Italian Grande Entente on the other. Korea chose the German alliance while Japan chose the British alliance.

The Great War and Korea-Japanese colonial success

In 1914, when Austria attacked Turkey, Russia was dragged into the war against Turkey because of its alliance with Austria. Then France and Great Britain was brought to fight against Austria in the Balkans because of its alliance with Turkey. Italy entered war by attacking France in the west; finally, because of its pact with Austria, Germany fought against France and Great Britain at the same time. Because Korea was against both Britain and France, it had no reasons not to attack all the colonies of Malaya and French Indochina. While the expedition to the french colony only resulted in occupation of southern Vietnam, the fight for Malaya was more successful, with occupation of all region of the British colony except Singapore. On the other hand, Japan had good reasons to go against Russia and acquire territory from the vast land of Siberia. While Russia was busy in the Eastern Front, Japan acquired the Kamchatka Peninsula and the land east of the Omolon river, thereby acquiring land abundant with natural resources.

Rise of Communism in Russia and the Russian Civil War

As the war became more severe, communist revolts occurred along St.Petersburg and Moscow. When the Red Army led by Trotsky marched into Moscow, they found that the imperial family, along with numerous Czarist bureaucrats and supporters, fled east of the Baikal and to Chita. There, they were supported by both Japan and Korea, who needed a buffer state between them and the new Soviet Russia. With the Angara River and Baikal lake acting as the border between themselves and the Communists, the Czarist Russian forces went deep into Mongolia, in desperate need for arable lands and warmer weather. Around the same time, the Russian Empire (or Czarist Russia) was able to fend off incessant Soviet attackes by establishing garrisons along the border. A reason Czarist Russia was able to repel the Communist forces so well was because of Korean and Japanese military support.

Post WWI Global situation and Japanese Colonial Expansion

While this was happening, with Russia inert, the stable stalemate was unsettled, resulting in German loss and British victory in the end of 1920. Although the British tried to gain back its Malayan colonies, they were too devastated to put effort in it. By the end of the First World War, several corporate conglomerates, or Chaebol, began to emerge from the sea of medium-sized businesses. Some of the most notable Chaebols were Yongpung, Boryong, Koryo and Samik. These conglomerates began to cooperate with the Korean government in development of the economy. With its self-sufficient economy, the conglomerates sold products to colonial market while acquiring raw materials from those colonies, such as coal, rubber and oil. In the meantime, the Empire of Japan began its vast expansion across the Pacific, gaining islands such as the Mariana Islands (1901), Carolina Islands (1904), Marshall Islands (1904) and the Hawaiian Islands (1905), after a brief war with the United States for sphere of influence over the Republic of Hawaii. The Empire of Japan also successfully gained sphere of influence in North America by colonizing the Alaska Peninsula with military bases and supporting a pro-Japanese sectarian movement in Mexico, resulting in a division between the Federation of Mexican States and the Third Mexican Empire in 1920.

Global Situation during The Different Choice: 1931

There were several differences between the real world and the parallel world in 1931. The first major difference are these:

i) Portugal has started colonization of Australia after its discovery in 1654. In 1931, it is divided between East Australia (British) and West Australia (Portugal).

ii) Great Britain has successfully conquered Argentina in 1807. Like the Transvaal Nation for the Dutch, the Quebec Republic for the French and West Australian Republic for the Portuguese, Paraguay acted as a Spanish exodus destination after fall of the Spanish regime in Argentina and Uruguay.

iii) The Kingdom of Sardinia, instead of reuniting Italy, became a major maritime power in the Western Mediterranean, establishing territories in Savoy, Genoa, Switzerland, Sardinia, Catalonia, Sicily and Tunisia.

iv) The Kingdom of Venice reunited the Italian Peninsula, conquering Slovenia and Croatia in the process.

v) much more colonists were sent from France to Quebec than was in our history, making Eastern Canada heavily populated with French native speakers.

vi) Russia never sold Alaska to the United States, thereby retaining Alaska even after the Russian Civil War and its devastation.

vii) By 1931, China was divided into four major territories: The Qing Dynasty in the north with the heavily militarized landlords, with the capital city in Peking; the Republic of China in the southeast, with the capital city in Nanking; and the Democratic People's Republic of China, with its communist capital city in Chungking.

ix) The colonies Spain lost up to 1931 were the Philippines (by the United States and Korea), Cuba (by the United States), Argentina (by the British) and Mexico (by the independence movement). During the Scramble for Africa, Spain gained some colonies along the west coast of Africa.

x) Belgium does not exist in this parallel universe. While the Belgian territories were taken by the Netherlands in Europe, the Congo colony in Africa was administered by the Kingdom of Sardinia.

Countries by National Power Index in 1931

  • 1. British Empire
  • 2. United States of America
  • 3. French Empire
  • 4. German Empire
  • 5. Japanese Empire
  • 6. Dutch Empire
  • 7. Portuguese Empire
  • 8. Korean Empire
  • 9. Republic of China
  • 10. United Soviet Socialist Republics

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