Lecture Video: The Foreign Disturbance of 1866

Following the execution of nine Catholic missionaries, the French Far Eastern Squadron undertook a punitive expedition against Korea in 1866. This famous event of the late Chosŏn period came to be known as the “foreign disturbance of the pyŏngin year” (pyŏngin yangyo) and it is still perceived in Korean historiography as the first foreign attempt to invade the peninsula since the seventeenth century. The French chargé d’affaires in Beijing, Henri de Bellonnet, officially planned to establish a protectorate in Chosŏn, but the naval campaign failed and the French troops finally withdraw. It is no wonder that the expedition was doomed to failure from the beginning, since the French fleet did not count more than 500 men, and most of them contracted smallpox. But this point precisely suggests that deeper reasons conducted the French to undertake an ill-conceived six-week campaign just before the onset of winter. My presentation will explore the geopolitical factors that led to the expedition, beginning with the Russian threat in the North and the protection of French nationals in China. But I will also demonstrate that, contrary to previous studies, the “foreign disturbance” of 1866 did not just confirm Korea in its policy of isolation. Next to a military response, the Chosŏn government also requested diplomatic support from Qing China and Edo Japan with more or less success. More generally, this presentation will move beyond the traditional issue of Catholicism and revisit the early encounters of Korea with the West in an East Asian perspective.

Pierre-Emmanuel Roux (Ph.D. 2013) is an associate professor and the director of the Korean Studies Section at Paris Diderot University. He is an historian of late Chosŏn Korea and Qing China, with a focus on religion and law. He also published an award-winning monograph on French-Korean encounters in the 19th century (La Croix, la baleine et le canon : La France face à la Corée au milieu du XIXe siècle. Paris: Cerf, 2012).


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