Peasant Uprising of 1893-94

Peasant Uprising of 1893-94


(or Tonghak Revolt), one of the largest antifeudal and anticolonial uprisings in the history of the Korean people. The revolt was caused by a deterioration in the position of the peasantry after Japan and Korea concluded the Kanghwa Treaty of 1876, which laid the basis for the colonial enslavement of Korea by the Japanese bourgeoisie. The center of the revolt was Chungju District, in the province of Chungchong-do.

As a result of poor harvests, spontaneous peasant uprisings against landowners and Japanese merchants broke out in the southern areas in January 1893. By spring peasant disturbances had spread to the central and northern provinces. On May 23, 1893, the government sent troops into these areas. The uprising was crushed, partly because of the capitulationist position of those of its leaders who belonged to the Tonghak religious sect.

In January 1894 a peasant uprising began in the province of Cholla-do (South Korea) under the leadership of a minor government official, Chon Pong-jun. The rebels established headquarters on Mount Paesang in Taein District and organized a regular army of several thousand men. By the end of May the rebels had taken nine districts in southern Cholla-do. They distributed the contents of government storehouses and landowners’ granaries to the poor and destroyed account books.

At the same time peasant disturbances resumed in the province of Chungchong-do, in Monu, Singchon, Hwedok, and Chongsan districts. The government sent troops to Cholla-do. On May 31 the rebels stormed and captured the center of the province, Chonju. There they found themselves blockaded by government troops, which forced the rebels to conclude a truce with the government. The truce included concessions to the people’s demands: equal distribution of land among the population, reform of the local bodies of self-government, abolition of the requirement that the social class known as the “despised people” wear special headgear, and so forth. The authorities carried through only the reform of local self-government. They created new local governing bodies, the district-based chip-kangso, which included representatives of the insurgents; the chipkangso examined deeds of land ownership, opened the granaries and distributed their contents to the peasants, and freed those who had been imprisoned for nonpayment of debts.

In early June 1894 the Korean government turned to China for help. China sent a detachment of troops into the area of the revolt. Using this move as a pretext, Japan sent large military forces into Korea and, with the cooperation of the USA and Great Britain, began a war against China in August 1894 (the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95). Korea was occupied by Japanese troops. The aim of the insurgents’ movement now became a struggle for national independence, since the rulers of feudal Korea had capitulated to the foreign interventionists. During this period all the patriotic forces of the country joined the rebels, including low- and middle-ranking government officials, merchants, Confucian scholars, and impoverished nobles.

By September 1894 the peasant army held the greater part of the provinces of Cholla-do, Chungchong-do, Kyongsang-do, and Kyonggi-do. Other centers of the rebellion were in the northern provinces of Hamgyong-do (K yongsong, Hamhung, Pukchong, Kapsan), Hwanghae-do (Chunghwa), and Pyongang-do (Anju and Sunchon), where partisan detachments composed of peas-ants, artisans, and soldiers not wishing to serve with government troops conducted military operations.

After a series of defeats inflicted upon enemy troops, the insurgents became a direct threat to Seoul, occupied by the Japanese, in October 1894. The Japanese interventionists hastily threw in new troops from Japan. On Nov. 23, 1894, Japanese units, combined with government detachments and with volunteer punitive detachments of landowners and government officials, defeated the insurgents. The last position held by the rebels was the city of Nonsan, which they heroically defended for 11 days. In December, Japanese troops, having superiority in training and equipment, crushed the revolt. However, isolated armed peasant uprisings continued until late 1895.


Tiagai, G. D. Kresrtanskoe vosstanie vKoree, 1893-1895. Moscow, 1953.