After the death of the Chosŏn Queen Dowager Cho in 1890, a Qing mission arrived in Seoul to present the Guangxu emperor’s letter of condolence. In accordance with established precedent King Kojong greeted the envoys outside the city and publicly prostrated before the imperial missive. Western scholars have long understood this event as an illustration of Kojong’s willing submission to the Qing Empire and evidence of the persistence of “traditional” tributary relations into the modern era. The Chosŏn government, however, actively negotiated for months with Qing officials in an ultimately failed effort to cancel the mission. Chosŏn and Qing officials devoted such time and energy in debate not because they were especially concerned with maintaining ancient ritual forms but rather because they were acutely aware of the impact the public display of tributary ritual would have on Western interpretations of Qing claims to imperial dominion over Chosŏn. Despite continual Chosŏn resistance, Qing officials thus planned and executed the condolence mission as a propaganda exercise for Western consumption in order to secure recognition of Qing authority over Chosŏn. This Qing representation of the condolence mission and the tributary relationship in turn has come to inform decades of Western scholarship on late nineteenth-century Chosŏn-Qing relations.

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