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  • P-ISSN0023-3900
  • E-ISSN2733-9343

Early American Perceptions of Korea and Washington’s Korea Policy, 1882-1905

Korea Journal, (P)0023-3900; (E)2733-9343
2011, v.51 no.4, pp.110-131
https://doi.org/10.25024/kj.2011.51.4.110
Andrew S. JOHNSON (Give2Asia)
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Abstract

This study explores the cultural and ideological factors that conditioned U.S. policy in Korea during the early period of U.S.-Korean relations (1882-1905) and Washington’s de facto pro-Japan policy. Key officials in Washington possessed negative perceptions of Korea that influenced their policymaking on an ideological level. These men perceived Korea to be a backward country averse to progress and generally believed that Japan should guide Korea to civilization. This article suggests that Washington’s perceptions of Korea were firmly rooted in a cultural discourse on Korea, which was shaped largely by dominant representations of Korea in popular texts of the period. Representations of Korea in newspaper articles and commercial texts were influenced by Americans’ early hostile encounters with the “hermit nation,” colored by ethnographic descriptions of Korea’s “backwardness,” and informed by racial stereotypes and the ideologies of imperialism prevalent in the West. It was also mediated by Japanese information channels. These texts generated a popular discourse on Korea that likely impacted Washington’s perceptions of Korea and conditioned its pro-Japan policy. They help to explain the perceptual rift that developed between policymakers in Washington and the American diplomatic community in Korea. In focusing on the nature and origins of the early American discourse on Korea, the purpose of this article is to contribute to scholarship on early U.S.-Korean relations by exploring how cultural facts may have conditioned U.S. foreign policy in Korea. It also aims to start a conversation about public awareness of Korea during the period and the importance of public opinion as a political force in the United States.

keywords
Corea hermit nation/hermit kingdom early U.S.-Korea relations U.S. popular texts about Korea U.S. ethnographic reporting on Korea

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