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Korean Calamity Retribution

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Chikanobu Yoshu, Japanese, (1838–1912)
Korean Calamity Retribution, 1882
Ink on Paper
35.8 cm x 71.8 cm (14 1/8 in. x 28 1/4 in.)

Object Type: Print
Technique: Wood-block Printing
Period: Meiji (Japan, 1869-1912)
Credit Line: Purchased with funds from the Aoki Endowment for Japanese Arts and Cultures
Accession Number: 2001.2.27

Alternate Title: Chosen henpo

Fine impression.

Signed “Yoshu Chikanobu hitsu” with red toshidama seal

Colored ink woodblock on off-white paper. Oban triptych.

Object Description
Following the destruction of the Japanese legation buildings in Seoul and the escape from Incheon of the minister and his staff, the Japanese government decided to retaliate. Hanabusa Yoshimoto was sent back to Korea with 3 warships and several hundred troop, shown here landing on the Incheon coast near the capital city. Although the Japanese minister was able to enter Seoul, he was not allowed to present Japanese demands for compensation. He warned that Japanese forces would attack if Daewongun's government did not accept responsibility for damages and lives lost during the recent rioting.

Queen Min's faction had already appealed to Chinese military leaders for assistance, and when 4 Chinese warships with 3000 troops appeared near Busan, the Japanese fleet realized it was outnumbered and withdrew. The Japanese eventually secured a new treaty, though, which required indemnity payments, opened more ports to Japanese traders, and allowed Japanese officials unrestricted travel in Korea. In the mean time, the Chinese stationed troops in Seoul, executed the Korean rebels, took Daewongun to Beijing for questioning, and restored Queen Min's faction to office. The Manchu government also imposed trade treaties on behalf of American and European interests as a way to counter Japanese influence in Korea.

Both these prints appear crude in comparison with Chikanobu's other works from the early 1880's; the figures are small, awkwardly drawn and flat, and the landscape is overly exaggerated. While Chikanobu had not visited Korean himself and probably was unfamiliar with the details of Japanese warships and British trading vessels, this does not account for the peculiar style used here. His work a few years later with Kobayashi Tetsujiro, who published Plate 45, is entirely different and indicates the unusual style is not due to the publisher's inabilities. Perhaps the somewhat primitive appearance of the "Korean Calamity" prints deliberately harks back to the thin outlines and stiff figures of Yokohama-e produced in the 1860-1870's by Yoshikazu and Hiroshige III, in order to recall that era when colonial imperialism threatened Japan. What is also possible, in a time before copyright laws, is that Chikanobu's name was used to sell prints that he did not, in fact, personally design, but were products perhaps of his students.

For more information, please refer to the Chikanobu exhibition catalogue.

Shikajima Hisajiro

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