SSC Research Seminar


Maritime Customs and China’s Indirect Imperialism toward Korea in the 1880s

Speaker: Prof. Wayne Patterson (Visiting Scholar in Asian Studies, Department of Social Science)
Date: 16 April 2020 (Thursday)
Time: 14:00 – 15:00
Venue:  D301 & Online Seminar
Medium: English


The recent discovery of the correspondence of the first commissioner of customs in Pusan from 1883 to 1886 has revealed new evidence of the Chinese attempt to dominate Korea in the 1880s. The resulting book, based upon those papers, In the Service of His Korean Majesty: William Nelson Lovatt, the Pusan Customs, and Sino-Korean Relations, 1876-1888 (Berkeley: University of California Institute of East Asian Studies Korea Research Monograph 35, 2012), reveals that the newly-formed maritime customs service of Korea was targeted for takeover by China, specifically by the Imperial Maritime Customs Inspector General, Sir Robert Hart, as the first step in the process of eventually absorbing Korea into the Chinese empire. His plan went further than that of Li Hongzhang who was content to control Korea indirectly through Chinese “Resident” Yuan Shikai. The plan to take over Korea’s customs service was conceived in a conspiracy of silence, but Lovatt was able to learn of the plan, which included the termination of the commissioners at Korea’s three treaty ports, including Lovatt in Pusan This insider knowledge allowed Lovatt to blackmail Hart to obtain a generous severance package by threatening to act as a whistle-blower, revealing Hart’s plan to the anti-Chinese faction in the Korean government, to Western diplomats based in Seoul, and even to Viceroy Li himself. In the end, Hart was unable to carry out his plan and Korea retained its de facto independence, during what came to be called Korea’s “Chinese Decade.”



Prof. Wayne Patterson is a visiting scholar of Asian studies at the Department of Social Science. He is an expert in modern East Asian history and has held visiting professorships at Harvard University, University of Chicago, University of California-Berkeley, Korea Univesity, and Yonsei Univesity, among others. His research publications cover imperialism, immigration and diaspora, and the missionaries in Asian countries. More recently he co-authored the book, Modern East Asia: A History (San Diego: Cognella Academic Publishing, 2019).

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