[KS] "Sugi" Flag Issue

Thomas Duvernay bluelake at handong.edu
Fri Oct 14 23:51:02 EDT 2005

At the time, the U.S. was not at war with Korea.  However, it did not have 
to be the case in order for Korea to believe the U.S. had hostile 
intentions.  To begin with, over the preceding five years Korea had very bad 
interactions with the West (the "General Sherman" incident and also the 
French military action in 1866, along with the Ernst Oppert attempted tomb 
robbery in 1868); all of those events were of a hostile nature.  Also, Korea 
considered the Kanghwa Straits to be a highly restricted area (and still has 
some military control to this day).  Pak Kyusu (the governor of P'yongan 
Province at the time) wrote an entry that appeared in the "Kojong Sillok" 
(as shown in Y.K. Kim, 2001, "The Five Years' Crisis, 1866-1871" pgs. 

"The Korean government had received Low's (U.S. Minister Plenipotentiary 
Frederick Low) communication through the Chinese Board of Rites and speedily 
sent a reply that it hoped would be transmitted to Minister Low through the 
same channels.  Korea is aware that the United States is the greatest 
country in the world when it comes to maintaining proper courtesies and 
etiquette.  It is well known that Minister Low is a person of the greatest 
discretion and would never act dishonorably.  Given these considerations, 
Korea does not understand why America is now crossing the vast ocean to 
penetrate the territory of a sovereign nation.  Even though the United 
States disclaims any intention of killing or harming Korean people, who 
could help but be puzzled and suspicious of her current actions?  The 
barriers of defense of a country are important places within which it is not 
permissible for foreign vessels to make their way.  This is the fixed rule 
of all nations.  It was the action of U.S. vessels attempting to navigate 
their way up the mouth of the Han River that first brought Korea and America 
into confrontation.  Since Minister Low has stated that the U.S. arrival in 
Korea 'came with the best of intentions,' it is regretful that an engagement 
such as this should have occured.  These American vessels, ignoring the 
generally accepted regulations of other countries, penetrated a key 
defensive position of Korea and Korean officers, acting to guard the 
frontier, took the necessary measures..."

The Americans and Koreans were constantly in contact with each other.  The 
U.S. had an American who could read and write Chinese, and also had two 
Chinese scribes; letters were exchanged many times during the U.S. stay in 
Korean waters.  The problem was most likely caused by a cultural 
misunderstanding.  On May 31, 1871, three Korean envoys of the third rank 
visited the U.S.S. Colorado to find out why the U.S. was in their territory. 
The U.S. told them of their intentions to sail up the Kanghwa Straits and 
take soundings.  The envoys were silent, which the U.S. took as meaning they 
had no objection.  In many cases in Korean culture, as I'm sure list members 
are well aware (and many have probably experienced), a lack of assent can 
have the same meaning as "no."  Also, the envoys, due to their relatively 
low rank, probably only had the powers of a messenger, with little or no 
authority to say yes or no; that is a guess on my part.

In any case, Korea felt threatened and reacted accordingly.  I believe the 
shots the Koreans fired on June 1 were more of a warning than anything else, 
as they came from unaimed hand-carried cannons (ch'ongt'ong) that were laid 
out on the ground with a train of gunpowder from one to another.  They had 
larger, aimable cannons in the fortress (Yongdudondae) nearby, which 
evidently were not fired.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "William Brown" <wmbbrown at hotmail.com>
To: <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
Sent: Friday, October 14, 2005 10:52 AM
Subject: Re: [KS] "Sugi" Flag Issue

> Thomas Devernay wrote:
> "As for foreign warships sailing up the Potomac, I should have stated that 
> clearer.  I meant foreign warships sailing up the Potomac with hostile 
> intent.  Such was the case in the War of 1812, and defenses for it were 
> maintained up into the 20th century"
> I didn't know we were at war with Korea at the time or that the ship had 
> hostile intent. With no way to communicate, it would seem rather natural 
> for ships to sail up rivers and visit foreign harbors. But I'm no expert 
> on such things.
> #A0C6E5 2px solid; MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px'><font 
> style='FONT-SIZE:11px;FONT-FAMILY:tahoma,sans-serif'><hr color=#A0C6E5 
> size=1>
>>From  <i>"Thomas duvernay"
> <bluelake at handong.edu></i><br>Reply-To:  <i>Korean Studies 
> Discussion List <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws></i><br>To: 
> <i>"Korean Studies Discussion List" 
> <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws></i><br>Subject:  <i>Re: [KS] 
> "Sugi" Flag Issue</i><br>Date:  <i>Thu, 13 Oct 2005 09:40:52 
> +0900</i><br><br>I would have responded sooner, but for some reason 
> anything I post to the list, or is replied to, I do not receive by e-mail. 
> I had to check the KS archives.<br><br>William Brown 
> wrote:<br><br>"No doubt we would like the flag back, and probably 
> woulld give it to Seoul<br>if asked, but, and correct me if I'm wrong, 
> didn't foreign warships<br>regularly sail up the Potomac to Alexandria in 
> the 1700 and 1800s, without<br>being fired upon?"<br><br>Regarding 
> the first part of your response, the problem is the U.S. has not been 
> willing to return the flag.  They have been asked several times, both 
> officially and 
> unofficially.<br><br>(http://www.nps.gov/fowa/coastdefense.htm).  An 
> example of such an encounter: "A British squadron made an attempt to 
> ascend the Potomac in July 1813 but turned back after meeting some 
> resistance from militia..." 
> (http://www.nps.gov/fowa/warburton.htm).<br><br><br>Thomas<br><br><br><br><br></font></BLOCKQUOTE>

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