Kim Yunshik (金允植, 김윤식, 1835-1922) was a late Chosun dynasty bureaucrat, diplomat, and reformist. He was of the Cheongpung Kim Clan (淸風金氏, 청풍김씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Sungyeong (洵卿, 순경); and his pen name was Unyang (雲養, 운양).
Kim Yunshik was born into an impoverished family in Gwangju (廣州, 광주) in Gyeonggi Province (京畿道, 경기도). At the age of 8, he lost both his parents and was adopted by his younger uncle. At the age of 14, he started learning Chinese classics together with his cousins. In 1874, he passed the civil service examination (科擧, 과거) and quickly rose through the ranks. In 1881, Kim Yunshik was made a Delegate to the Qing Dynasty (領選使, 영선사) to observe China’s modernization efforts, which thoroughly impressed him. During his visit, he also had an audience with Viceroy Li Hongzhang (李鴻章, 이홍장, 1823-1901) to discuss opening diplomatic connections with the United States. When the Imo Mutiny (壬午軍亂, 임오군란) arose the following year, Kim Yunshik returned to Korea with Chinese troops to quash the mutineers. That year, he oversaw modernization of Korea’s army and his diplomatic efforts lead to the signing of the United States-Korea Treaty of 1882 (朝美修好通商條約, 조미수호통상조약). In 1884, when the Gapsin Coup (甲申政變, 갑신정변) occurred, Kim Yunshik requested military assistance from General Yuan Shikai (袁世凱, 원세개, 1859-1916). His diplomatic efforts lead to the signing of the Russia-Korea Treaty of Amity and resolution of the Port Hamilton Incident (巨文島事件, 거문도사건). Regardless, in 1887, Kim Yunshik was banished to Myeoncheon (沔川, 면천) for his pro-Qing stance and opposition to closer ties with Russia. Upon his release and return to the capital in 1894, he was appointed as a minister in the Foreign Office (外務省, 외무성). However, just one year later, when Empress Myeongseong (明成皇后, 명성황후, 1851-1895) was assassinated by Japanese troops, Kim Yunshik was accused of not acting upon foreknowledge of the plot and was banished to Jeju Island (濟州島, 제주도). He was released from exile in 1907 by a general amnesty order for those above the age of 70.
In 1910, upon the news that the treaty annexing Korea had been signed, Kim Yunshik lamented sighing, “This cannot be! This cannot be!” (不可, 不可 불가, 불가). Pro-Japanese collaborators spread the misinterpretation that he meant “It cannot be any other way,” having parsed the characters as 不可不, 可(불가불, 가). The colonial general-government offered him a pension and the Japanese nobility title of viscount (子爵, 자작). He initially refused, but later accepted at the advice of the deposed Emperor Sunjong (純宗, 순종, 1874-1926, r. 1907-1910). Japan also later offered him a position at the Institute of Confucian Classics Studies (經學院, 경학원), an organization for collaborationist Confucian scholars, and the Central Council (中樞院, 중추원), an arm of the general-government. He again accepted both positions, but did not participate much in their activities. Nevertheless, viewing Kim Yunshik as an ideal collaborationist, the Japanese-established Bank of Chosen (朝鮮銀行, 조선은행) chose him as the face on the Yen currency notes.
Despite his associations, Kim Yunshik was somewhat active in independence activist movements. He was acquainted with some of the independence activist leaders. One of his pupils was Na Cheol (羅喆, 나철, 1863-1916), an independence activist and the founder of Daejonggyo (大倧敎, 대종교), a religion centered around Dangun (檀君, 단군), the mythical founder of Korea. Furthermore, in 1919, when Emperor Gojong (高宗, 고종, 1852-1919, r. 1863-1907) passed away, he denounced the posthumous title that Japan bestowed, because it included the words “of Former Korea” (前韓國, 전한국). Later that year, Kim Yunshik joined the March 1 Movement independence protests and wrote a letter entitled A Long Letter to Japan (對日本長書, 대일본장서) supporting the independence. For this act, he was sentenced to two years in prison and stripped of his aristocratic title, but was released early on probation because of his old age. (The Korean government commission investigating colonial era activities chose not to formally recognize him as a pro-Japanese collaborator because of his opposition albeit passive.) He spent the remainder of life in solitude and passed away in Seoul. Kim Yunshik is survived by still living grandchildren.
Kim Yunshik also was well renowned for his Classical Chinese. Through his diplomatic career, he became acquainted with intellectuals from China, Korea, and Japan. In 1915, Kim Yunshik received enormous praise for publishing his opus magnum, Collection of Unyang’s Writings (雲養集, 운양집). Critics acclaimed him as “The Han Yu (韓愈, 한유, 768-824) and Ouyang Xiu (歐陽脩, 구양수, 1007-1072) of the Eastern Country.” The Japan Academy (日本學士院, 일본학사원), which is still existent, awarded him the Japan Academy Prize. Below is just one of the poems from his widely lauded work. It is set to the tonal meter of the well-known Chinese lyric poem (詞, 사), Filling the River Red (滿江紅, 만강홍), typically associated with the Southern Song Dynasty’s (南宋, 남송, 1127-1279) General Yue Fei (岳飛, 악비, 1103-1142), famous for having curbed the Jurchen Jin invasions. Kim Yunshik wrote this poem in 1900, during his exile on Jeju Island. In it, he reminiscences about his hometown of Gwangju and the not too distant Seoul. He also alludes to the Pure Brightness Festival (淸明, 청명) and the Cold Food Festival (寒食, 한식). Both of these festivals fall on consecutive days around April 4-5 on the Western Gregorian Calendar.
Filling the River Red, the Last Month of Spring in Namseong (南城, 남성)
- 南城(남성) – Another name for Gwangju in Gyeonggi Province.
With the doors closed for the three months of spring,
Already gone through and passed:
Are the blossoming morning of the First Snake Day (上巳, 상사),
And again passed:
Are the Pure Brightness and the Cold Food Festivals.
Time is like the flowing waters.
- 上巳(상사) – Refers to the first day with the character 巳(사) in a month in the sexagenary cycle. More specifically, he is referring to the third day of the third month on the Lunar calendar.
- 光陰(광음) – Literally, “light and darkness.” Refers to time.
Atop the grassy banks of the brook, carefully laid out, I set out a farewell soiree;
The forest breeze blows gently to hurry along the servants.
Again, how sorrowful it is!
That spring has provoked the wanderer’s sorrows,
And keeps me waiting in longing.
- 觸忤(촉오) – To be angered by someone else’s disobedience.
Turning my head, are six avenues and three markets.
I do not see ten-thousand roses or thousand violets.
I try to find flowery blossoms;
Instead, there are only orchids on the riverbank and angelicas on the hills.
- 六街三市(육가삼시) – Literally, “six avenues and three markets.” Rewording of the four character idiom 六街三陌(육가삼맥). The idiom originally referred to the busy, bustling scene of Chang’an (長安, 장안), the capital of many Chinese dynasties, which is modern day Xian (西安, 서안). During the Tang dynasty (唐, 당, 618-907), Chang’an had six main avenues and three markets, the grand market (大市, 대시), morning market (朝市, 조시), and evening market (夕市, 석시). Here, the poem is referring to Seoul.
Fumbling through spring’s traces, as if searching for long-departed dreams,
Having cast me off, will spring ever willingly turn back and retrace her fragrant steps?
I quietly ponder:
That my transient life’s brief glories,
Are all like this.
- 恍疑(황의) – Literally, “to be bewildered and stupefied.”
- 解携(해휴) – Literally, “to dissolve a connection.” Refers to someone cutting off connections with another.
- 滿江紅(만강홍) – The tonal meter specified by the lyric poem Filling the River Red is:
〇仄平平, 平〇仄, 〇平〇仄. 平仄仄, 仄平平仄, 仄平〇仄.
〇仄〇平平仄仄, 〇平〇仄平平仄. 〇〇〇, 〇仄仄平平, 平平仄.
〇〇仄, 平仄仄. 平仄仄, 平平仄. 仄平平〇仄, 仄平平仄.
〇仄〇平平仄仄, 〇平〇仄平平仄. 〇〇〇, 〇仄仄平平, 平平仄.
In the third line, although Kim Yunshik has the proper number of characters, he did not exactly follow the line specifications.
- Korean translation available here.