All that Chinese and Korean History....

There has been much ado and even more indignation regarding Chinese-Korean history, ie the supposed Chinese dominance of Korea throughout the centuries.   Much of it from the Korean side. 
Well, I’m a few weeks late to this party, but I’m here to say sorry folks, it’s pretty straight forward and not at all pretty.  So let’s just ask one question:

Who paid tribute to whom?

And that should answer the question.

The Chinese thoroughly dominated Korea for hundreds of years, and if you don’t want to believe any certain individual stating as such, please see above. 

The Han ruled North Korea for 400 years.  

Nevermind the Qing dominance of Korea.  The Joseon dynasty that ruled for over 500 years, from 1392 to 1910 actually began paying tribute to the Ming in 1401.  Basically right away.  That is, to shore up the stability of his newfound dynasty, the first true king Taejo found it more important to “pay off” his powerful Northern neighbor than he did to immediately quell internal dissent.   After all, paying off China gave him free rein to do as he pleased internally.

When the Qing came to power, the Koreans inexplicably refused to pay tribute to China.  Most unwise.  After running roughshod through Korea, the Joseon quickly came to its senses and reestablished a tributary relationship with China.

Meanwhile, who was China paying tribute to?

Quick segue way here, that is perhaps why much of Asia showed little if any sympathy for China’s troubles during the 19th century.  To them it was comeuppance pure and simple.

As late as the first decade of the 20th century the Chinese put up a fight in Korea.   Not for altruistic reasons, or something as benign as “let’s help a buddy out”, but because to the Qing, Korea was within their well established and unchallenged sphere of influence.  

And it was unchallenged.  For the longest damn time, until 1895.

The cruelest of ironies is the forced opening of Japan to America in the 1850’s.   Up until that timeframe Japan had closed itself of from the world.  Indeed there was a time in history when both China and Japan both concurrently had the same policy.

One country opens up.  Learns how backward it has become.  Prospers due to Free Trade.  Than uses its newfound power to bully the rest of Asia.  I need to remind myself we are talking of Japan here.
This unwelcome kicking open of the door of Japan’s isolation by America indirectly led to China’s loss of Korea as part of its sphere of influence. 

Meanwhile back to China:  If Korea was not defacto part of China’s kingdom, why did China fight so hard to “keep it”?  Only the forceful attack of Japan against Korea in 1894 brought about the end of modern day Chinese domination of Korea. 

Korea is right to be nationalistic in its approach to China.  Many Chinese still want to even reclaim Vladivostok.   Many Chinese openly dream of having Asia submit to its historical role of submission. It is their own version of Manifest Destiny.   This is another reason why China really does not want Korea unified.  Because it very much likes the fact that North Korea is dependent upon China.  Call it historical nostalgia.  And well, a unified Korea would simply be too independent.  Nevermind the probability that American troops would most likely finally be able to return home and close all those bases. 

Korea however, has really only now enjoyed true independence for the first time in 600 years.  Can one really blame it for its own sensitivity towards outsiders?   Especially China, with whom it can rightly blame for its failure to unify Korea.  It is unfortunate that North Korea is still reliant upon China.  Yes, South Korea is reliant to a degree upon America, but not in any economic sense compared to the North Korean-Chinese relationship.

Meanwhile, can we not show a tinge of sympathy for China?  It certainly did not plan on having to support North Korea like it has.   With the passing of time, one can certainly challenge Mao for his decision to go into North Korea.  Not only did he gain a liability, he also lost the far more important prize of Taiwan.

Truman, a legendary detector of bullshit, properly called out the corrupt and incompetent Chiang Kai Shek for what he really was, a murderous son of a bitch, maybe even a minor Chinese version of Stalin.  Complemented by his scheming silver tongued wife.   Alas Mao badly misplayed his hand.   Mao was no diplomat.  I’m sure he rather would have preferred regaining Taiwan rather than creating a welfare state on his border.   If only he could’ve read the future!


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