History of Korea
Donghak RebellionKorean Peninsula
The Donghak Peasant Revolution in Korea, sparked by the oppressive policies of local magistrate Jo Byeong-gap in 1892, erupted on January 11, 1894, and continued until December 25, 1895. The peasant uprising, led by followers of the Donghak movement, began in Gobu-gun and was initially spearheaded by leaders Jeon Bong-jun and Kim Gae-nam. Despite early setbacks, such as the suppression of the revolt by Yi Yong-tae and Jeon Bong-jun's temporary retreat, the rebels regrouped on Mount Paektu. They reclaimed Gobu in April, notched victories at the Battle of Hwangtojae and the Battle of the Hwangryong River, and captured Jeonju Fortress. A tenuous peace ensued following the Treaty of Jeonju in May, though the stability of the region remained precarious throughout the summer.
The Joseon government, feeling threatened by the escalating revolt, sought help from the Qing dynasty, leading to the deployment of 2,700 Qing soldiers. This intervention, contravening the Convention of Tientsin and going undisclosed to Japan, sparked the First Sino-Japanese War. This conflict significantly reduced Chinese influence in Korea and undermined China's Self-Strengthening Movement. The growing presence and influence of Japan in Korea following the war increased the anxieties of the Donghak rebels. In response, rebel leaders convened in Samrye from September to October, eventually amassing a force of 25,000 to 200,000 soldiers to attack Gongju.
The rebellion faced a major setback when the rebels suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Ugeumchi, followed by another defeat at the Battle of Taein. These losses marked the beginning of the end for the revolution, which saw its leaders captured and most executed by mass hanging in March 1895, as hostilities continued into the spring of that year. The Donghak Peasant Revolution, with its profound resistance against domestic tyranny and foreign intervention, ultimately reshaped Korea's socio-political landscape at the close of the 19th century.