First Advisor

Morris K. Webb

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Diplomatic relation, Korea -- Foreign relations -- United States, United States -- Foreign relations -- Korea



Physical Description

1 online resource (181 p.)


This study is an attempt to combine the disciplines of Asian history and United States diplomatic history in analyzing the 1871 Korean-American Incident. The Incident revolves around the Low-Rodgers expedition to Korea, and the subsequent breakdown of peaceful negotiations into a military clash of arms.

To describe the Incident as merely another example of American "imperialism,'' or as a result of narrow-minded Korean isolationism, is to oversimplify its causes and miss the larger implications that can be learned from it. A basic premise of this paper is that the 1871 Incident is an example of East-West cultural conflict. As such, the forces that helped to determine the attitudes and behavior of both the Americans and Koreans were of a broad nature reflecting their respective cultural differences. At times, these differences were so basic and general that the specialist in history can easily overlook them.

To better understand this conflict of cultures, Chapters II and III discuss elements of Korean and American diplomacy before the 1860’s, and how their unique experiences led to widely different attitudes toward foreign relations. Chapter II concentrates on traditional Chinese-Korean relations, and their effect upon Korea's approach to diplomacy; Chapter III emphasizes the nature of America's first contacts with East Asia and the important influence of the activities of the United States in the Mediterranean region.

Chapters IV and V deal with domestic politics in Korea and the United States, and how these internal conditions affected each nation's attitude toward the other. Chapter VI is a detailed description of the immediate events that culminated in the 1871 Incident. Chapters I and VII are the introduction and conclusion.

In researching this paper, government documents, memoirs, diaries, personal accounts, contemporary newspapers, books, and articles were all used. When writing the chapters that deal primarily with Korea, Korean sources have been used as much as possible.

The Korean and American officials, though communicating in the same language (Chinese characters), were negotiating from completely different cultural norms. Both sides felt that their positions and actions were morally justified. In studying the official documents concerning the Incident, the reader is indeed impressed by the sincerity and honesty of all parties involved. In this sense, it is difficult to label one group "guilty" and the other group "innocent." It must be remembered, however, that the Americans were carrying out naval activities in Korean waters, and not the Koreans in American waters.

The student of history is reminded that American-East Asian relations, unlike most American-European relations, must constantly confront and overcome wide cultural differences. To ignore these differences, or to impose one's own cultural views on another society, is to invite misunderstanding, raise suspicions, and increase the possibility of conflict.


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