Wednesday, August 14, 2013

New Source Material from the Russian Archives on the Assassination of Queen Min
Date: Fri, 6 Oct 1995 13:21:24 -0400 (EDT)
From: Gari Keith Ledyard
Subject: Queen Min: 100 Years Since...

Dear Friends,
On the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of Queen Min's
assassination, you may be interested in the following. Comments are
welcome, but PLEASE don't copy the message back to me. Gari Ledyard.

New Source Material from the Russian Archives on the Assassination of Queen Min

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the
assassination of Queen Min, the Center for Korean Research of
Columbia University is pleased to circulate the translation of
a Russian eyewitness account of the events in Seoul's Ky@ngbok
Palace in the early morning hours of October 8, 1895, during
which Queen Min was murdered by intruding Japanese soldiers
and civilians. This account was written by Aleksey Seredin-
Sabatin, a Russian civilian who was in the service of the
Korean government, and who during the period in question
worked under the American, General William Dye, who was also
under contract to the Korean government, in the training of
the Korean royal guard. Both Sabatin and General Dye were on
duty during the night of October 7-8 (September 25-26 in the
calendrical Old Style then followed in the Russian Empire).
The flow of events happened to place Sabatin in view of the
queen's quarters.
Sabatin's written statement of what he saw that night was
included as Appendix VI in the long report soon sent by the
Russian Minister, Karl I. Waeber, to St. Petersburg. It is
now found in the archives of the Foreign Ministry of the
Russian Federation. A photocopy of this statement has recently
been acquired by the Center for Korean Research through the
efforts of Mr. Alexandre Mansourov, a candidate for the Ph.D.
degree in Political Science at Columbia, who also made the
English translation which follows.
This document is a small part of Minister Waeber's bulky report
on the Queen Min affair, and the only part of it that I have actually
seen. An article in the on May 10, 1995, citing Imperial
Russian archives, presented a document similar to the one given here, but
with various differences in detail, some of them contradictory. The
document is not specifically identified, appears not to
have been given in its entirety, and may be a different document from the
one given here. The Center is making an effort to obtain the entire file
of Waeber's report, which reportedly contains some 150 pages, to clarify
this and other issues.

Imperial Russian Legation, Seoul 1895, Telegram 211, Appendix

Testimony of the Russian citizen Seredin-Sabatin,
in the service of the Korean court,
who was on duty the night of September 26

During the night of September 24-25, 1895, at about midnight
when I was accompanying the patrol around the inner palace
buildings, I heard an unusual noise in back of me, near the
southern gate, and noticed a large mob of newly recruited
Korean soldiers that had gathered in front of the gate, with a
detachment of Japanese soldiers some distance behind them.
The Korean soldiers kept shouting and making noises in front
of the gate until 2:00 a.m., and then gradually dispersed.
The captain of the Palace Guard on duty, Chin, explained to me
that the Korean soldiers, who had provoked a brawl with local
police a few days before, were alarmed by the rumor that both
of their regiments would be disbanded, and had gathered in
front of the palace in order to seek pardon and to petition
for some of their claims. Chin said that the demonstration
had ended in nothing, thanks to the presence of the Japanese,
who allegedly had persuaded the Korean soldiers to disperse.
After returning home, I learned that one of my Chinese
acquaintances had come by to warn me about some trouble that
was to take place in the palace the next night. But I paid no
special attention to this warning, and left for the palace at
7:00 the next evening. Again I ran into the above-mentioned
Chinese, who tried persistently to dissuade me from proceeding
to the palace, and in particular advised me not to stay there
overnight. However, the Chinese could not provide me any
concrete explanation for his warning. All I could get from
his rather incoherent and broken talk was that some kind of
plot was being prepared, that this plot was to be implemented
this very night, and that the Korean soldiers were the main
In the palace, there was not the slightest sign of trouble,
or of any preparations for such. As night fell, only the
guards remained to stand by the wall and on the paths. The
only Europeans who stayed overnight in the palace were General
Dye and myself. At four o'clock in the morning, the Colonel
of the Palace Guard, Yi Hagyun, burst into our office and
declared that the whole palace was surrounded by rebelling
soldiers. I had been sleeping with most of my clothes on, so
I quickly collected myself and went outside to see what was
happening. However, I heard no noise anywhere, and everything
appeared calm. But a little later, General Dye came out and
asked me to accompany him to the nearest gates. We set out on
the path along the wall to the northwestern gate. In the
bright moonlight, we could clearly see through the wide cracks
in the wall that there was a detachment of Japanese soldiers
deployed several steps back on the other side of the wall;
they were standing almost motionless, chatting among
themselves in very low voices. But upon hearing our steps and
voices and noticing us watching them, they split up and
reformed on either side of the gate so that we could hardly
see any of them. Realizing that we could not learn anything
more here, we rushed to the opposite northeastern gate, where
we saw gathered in front of the gate a mob of approximately
three hundred Korean soldiers from among the troops being
newly trained by the Japanese. Judging by their numbers, they
must have constituted the major striking force of the Korean
soldiers surrounding the palace. Having now confirmed that
this was a matter of serious concern, we hurried back to the
inner palace, where the alarm had already been sounded.
General Dye immediately began to develop measures for the
defense of the palace, but unfortunately none of them could be
carried out. There was no one in the guard room, Captain Chin
was absent, the rest of the officers and some of the guards
had also gone off somewhere, and the guards that remained were
uncooperative. It was a madhouse: no one paid the slightest
attention to the orders of their superior.
Suddenly, at five o'clock in the morning, we heard gunshots
in the western palace grounds. Several Korean soldiers had
placed logs and ladders against the palace wall, climbed over
it, then penetrated the inner palace wall. At the very first
shots, the guard patrols all fled, and most of the other
palace guards followed suit. As the soldiers crawled over the
wall and unlocked the gates for their co-conspirators, General
Dye, having assembled a few guards who had remained, managed
with great difficulty to deploy them in defense of the
palace. However, when the coup plotters who had broken in
through the southern and northeastern gates fired repeated
gunshots (they were aiming their guns into the air, evidently
not wanting to kill but only to scare away), these palace
guards scattered in all directions, drawing along everyone who
happened to be in their way. Some ran to the gate where
General Dye was standing, while another group rushed through
the gate where I was standing, pushing me along with them in
through the wall of the royal compound, and had almost turned
the corner of the king's European-style house when they were
met with gunfire. The whole crowd of them then rushed back
and turned to the door connecting the king's and queen's
private chambers, where I noticed at once several Japanese in
peculiar gowns who were running back and forth as if they were
looking for someone. In the middle of the inner courtyard,
there was a detachment of 40 Korean soldiers headed by a
Japanese officer. In addition, each of the two doors, one
leading to the park and the other to the inner part of the
palace, was guarded by two Japanese soldiers. Just at that
moment, I was squeezed against a small wooden extension of the
building, and I grabbed instinctively for boards to keep my
balance. The mob then ran past me and disappeared into the
park. I remained, the only outside witness of the drama which
was taking place in the queen's chambers.
The courtyard where the queen's wing was located was filled
with Japanese, perhaps as many as 20 or 25 men. They were
dressed in peculiar gowns and were armed with sabres, some of
which were openly visible. In command was some kind of
Japanese with a long sword, apparently their chief. While
some Japanese were rummaging around in every corner of the
palace and in the various annexes, others burst into the
queen's wing and threw themselves upon the women they found
there. They pulled them out from inside their windows by the
hair and dragged them across the mud, questioning them about
Fearful of a feint by the Japanese against myself as an
eyewitness to their outrages, I went up to the Japanese
officer standing nearby and asked, in English, for his
protection. When the Japanese officer did not understand me
or pretended not to understand me, I tried to explain myself
in my broken Japanese. He turned away at once and left,
seemingly letting me know that I would be there on my own. My
attempt to address the Japanese guards also bore no fruit;
they simply pretended not to notice or hear me. Then I
resolved to address the Japanese chief. I explained to him
the precariousness of my situation and asked him to provide
someone who could help me get out of the palace. After
hearing me out, the Japanese asked me, "What is your name?" I
gave him my name. "What is your profession?" --"Architect."
--"All right, we will not touch you." He called over two
Korean soldiers, who were apparently also under his command,
and ordered them to guard me. "Stand still on this spot and
do not move," he added to me, and then left to give further
orders to his men.
I stayed where I was, and continued to observe the Japanese
turning things inside out in the queen's wing. Two Japanese
grabbed one of the court ladies, pulled her out of the house,
and ran down the stairs dragging her along behind them. They
were running fast, and then took a few extra steps and came
to a stop right in front of where I was standing, just thirty
feet from the house. Only at that moment did they notice my
presence, and immediately addressed a question to me. I
responded that I could not understand Japanese and pointed to
the two soldiers guarding me. After talking to them, the
Japanese went away, leaving me unharmed. Just then a Korean
acquaintance of mine, who served in the palace as a scribe or
secretary, came into the courtyard. Seeing me in such unusual
circumstances and at the very center of the trouble, he was
positively overcome with shock and surprise. But he quickly
composed himself and ran off to catch up with the two Japanese
who had just left. He must have told them that, far from
being an architect, I was employed at the palace, and
therefore might well know its interiors and inhabitants. Both
of the Japanese, and a new one who had just joined them, ran
up to me again, grabbed me by my gown, and dragged me off to
the queen's chambers, demanding that I show them where she was
hiding. Moreover one of the Japanese repeatedly asked me in
English, "Where is the queen? Point the queen out to us!" I
tried to convince them to leave me alone because I did not
know and could not know where the queen was. But they did not
listen to me, and just kept repeating, "Where is the queen?
Point the queen out to us!"
To my great luck, the Japanese chief showed up again close
by. He noticed what was happening to me and at once
approached us. The Japanese and the Korean who had dragged me
in there began to tell him something in Japanese. He then
turned to me and said harshly, "We cannot find the queen. You
know where she is! Point out to us where she is hiding!" I
asked him to hear me out, and explained that not only did I
not know where the queen was, but because of the secluded life
of Korean women of the upper classes, I had never actually
seen her, and that this was the first time in my life that I
had ever found myself in the queen's wing. The chief seemed
to accept my arguments. I asked him to let me go. He agreed,
and gave me two soldiers, who, in order to avoid new
encounters with the Japanese soldiers deployed along the
central path, got me out of the palace by secondary paths.
While passing by the main Throne Hall, I noticed that it was
surrounded shoulder to shoulder by a wall of Japanese soldiers
and officers, and Korean mandarins, but what was happening
there was unknown to me.

>From the archives of the Foreign Ministry, Russian Federation,
Yaponskiy stol, 487, 6, 73-75.
Translation from the Russian by Alexandre Mansourov, Center
for Korean Research.

Some comments:
The "newly recruited Korean soldiers" mentioned at the
beginning, and all other instances of "Korean soldiers" in the
statement, refer to the "training units"
established the year before (1894) by one of the Kabo decrees.
This force was trained by Japanese instructors and was for all
practical purposes under Japanese control. To the original
force of two battalion-sized units, two more
were added in the weeks preceding Queen Min's assassination,
whence Sabatin's phrase "newly recruited." During the summer
and early fall of 1895, Queen Min was maneuvering to reduce
Japanese influence, and these troops would understandably have
feared dissolution. In the events surrounding Queen Min's
assassination, they constituted the Korean troops under
Japanese command and in support of the Taew@ngun.
The "Throne Hall" mentioned in the last sentence would seem
to have been the Audience Hall, or K&nj@ngj@n, the formal
center of the palace. It is known that shortly after the
Queen's murder, the Taew@ngun, who had entered the palace with
the Japanese, had summoned the king and forced him to sign a
number of decrees. Perhaps it was in the "Throne Hall,"
protected by a large group of "Japanese soldiers and officers,
and [pro-Taew@ngun] Korean Mandarins," that this scene took

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