Koakai hokoku, Issue 14, 1881, January 6


Oku Gisei (a Japanese resident of Wŏnsan and Koakai member) letter to Kim Gisu, County Magistrate of Tŏgwŏn-bu


í░Autumn wind blows into the window, refreshing the body anew. What kinds of thoughts come to you these days? (íŽ)

6-7 days ago a foreign military ship came close to the harbor. It was seen staying in the Yŏnghŭng Gulf. As it was staying on rather long distance, it was only vaguely visible for an unaided eye, and its shape was not clear. I think, your esteemed office has earlier sent an official in order to investigate what ship it was. Yesterday, the ship suddenly moved into the harbor, and, for the first time, Italian flag could be distinguished.

In recent years, foreign military ships come to conduct measurements of your countryí»s shores, and that failed to cause apprehension.

Earlier, when our country still did not conclude the treaties with various Western states, we also were objects of such visits. We recklessly considered them trouble-making barbarians, and both officials and people rolled up their sleeves in preparation to the righteous struggle against them. When they urged us to open up for mutual trade, indignant and wrathful gentlemen were even more exasperated and enraged. Some called to pacify [the barbarians], but should we have tried that, our country could have become scorched earth. How could we turn our backs on the testaments of the Emperors of the past? Some called to ally us with [the barbarians], but that would not tally with the Imperial testaments, and besides, could not be realized at that time. To insist stubbornly on that would not have been loyalty. We looked at European and American states of varied strength. (íŽ). While they were flourishing, we were in decline. The situation was such that it was totally impossible to win a war against them (íŽ). With all possible losses and gains, glories and shame counted, we decided that peace should be sought before the war started. (íŽ). [Nevertheless], the debates of that day generated lots of contradictory opinions, and the officials had a hard time worrying about these matters.

As to the situation in your country today, it is beyond all comparisons. You, my lord, exhaust yourself on the royal service, agonizing over the lofty issues on mornings and evenings. Should not you set up the plans, which will give real fruits? It is impossible to call í░trouble-making barbariansí▒ these Americans and Europeans that come from faraway places seeking treaties and trade. It is only natural that the globe is opening up and human intelligence is gradually progressing. í░Barbariansí▒ and í░Chineseí▒ – did not these two words come from the same idea? The Creator of Things originally did not distinguish between í░barbariansí▒ and í░Chineseí▒. Earlier, in our country we pointed out that the Westerners í«straighten up their coats in the wrong wayí» and did not wish to consider them equals. But on having heart their words, reading their books, and investigating fruits [of their activities], we realized that they are good in ethics and have strict etiquette. Moreover, in their countries the food and cloth are abundant, technical and artistic skills are exquisite, states are rich, and armies are strong. We in the East are still far from this. How can we consider them í«barbariansí»? We suddenly realized yesterdayí»s mistakes, and fixed todayí»s course.

Today, we cannot say that Asia brims over with good spirits. Situations in various countries, such as India and Persia, are all different. The only independent, self-ruling countries – moreover, having same letters, customs, and understanding each other well – are your country, Chí»ing, and us. Indeed, our three states should rely on each other and be mutually helpful! If they will assist each other in their efforts, advance the underdeveloped industry, expand their slowly-growing wealth and strength, make both gentry and commoners to rouse themselves and not to stick to the ignoble peace, thus the fertile plains of our Eastern lands, these granaries of the world, will become the best in the whole universe. How can we not think about the wealth and strength? If we do like this, how can we fail in speedily recovering the declining fortunes of Asian continent? It can be even expected that we will surpass Europe and America. On todayí»s calculation, it would be foolish to say that our Eastern continent can be in mutual peace with Europe and America, but cannot become their match.

A group of lofty-intended gentlemen of our country has established a society, under the name <Rise Asia>. Its aim, as it can be seen from the name is to advance Asia. Such people as Chí»ingí»s Imperial envoy currently residing in our Eastern capital, Ho Ju-chang, and his assistance, are also affiliated with our Society. I, Gisei, am also a member. Now I dare to beg You to honor the Society by bestowing on it the favor of Your affiliation too. I am relating our intentions to many honorable gentlemen, and if they agree to join the ranks of our comrades, what happiness it is! (íŽ).

Begging to generously excuse my impudence,

Yours Faithfully and Respectfully,

Oku Gisei.