Organized Panel Session
On Cheju Island in May 1901, furious rebels slaughtered several hundred native Catholics. This paper examines the power dynamics at play in the locale in the face of ecclesiastical imperialism at the turn of the century. The priests’ prejudice against the islanders, the confrontational evangelical approach of a Korean priest, and French missionaries’ preemptive attack on the rebels resulted in a fierce backlash from the islanders, who had long maintained a strong sense of regional identity. Unlike urban cosmopolitans, who saw Christianity as a bringer of modernization to Korea, the provincial elites were infuriated by the “uncivil” nature of Christianization and joined the anti-Catholic rebellion. Although the priests were not necessarily in lockstep with French imperial policy, the system of foreign privilege institutionalized by the 1886 French-Chosŏn treaty enabled them to work in conjunction with French diplomats in Korea under the protection of local officials and the central government. Further, Emperor Kojong sent Korean soldiers from the mainland accompanied by his American advisor, William Sands, to quell the rebellion and prevent French military intervention. Convicted at the first western-style trial in Korea, the three rebel leaders were executed, and the islanders forced to pay an enormous indemnity to the French Church. Voices from Cheju, often silenced in the national narratives of Korean history, deserve more attention for a better understanding of the islanders’ plight and of the nation’s struggle to maintain its sovereignty at times complicit with foreign powers to the detriment of its own people.