No Korean Fishermen on Ulleungdo in 1901

On the left is a picture of a Korean history book on Dokdo and Ulleungdo entitled, "The History of Dokdo & Ulleungdo" (독도, 울릉도의 역사), by Kim Ho-dong (김호동), who is the head of the Dokdo Research Center at Yeongnam University in Korea.

Even though Mr. Kim makes many of the same wild assumptions and jumps to many of the same wrong conclusions as Korea's other "Dokdo" researchers, he does present a great deal of useful information in the book, especially on the settlement of Ulleungdo after Lee Gyu-won's inspection mission in 1882.

In a section of the book entitled, "The Truth of the Settlement of Ulleungdo and its Settlers" (울릉도 개척의 실제와 이주민 실태), there is a paragraph on pages 157 and 158 that I have translated below:
From the beginning, the settlers avoided the seashore and went deep into the valleys to continue the same kind of farming life they had had on the mainland. They plowed fields they had slashed and burned, built dugouts, and worked hard until the winter, but the only thing they got in return was cold and starvation. They could not return to the mainland, so it is said that one after another they starved to death. Actually, if you look at an April 29, 1902 article in the Hwangseong Sinmun (皇城新聞), it says that among the August 1901 Customs Official Dispatch (海關派員士) articles, there was an article that said, “The Japanese population is about 550 people, who are all shipbuilders/loggers (造船伐木者)…. The Koreans are about 3,000 families, but they are all tenant farmers (佃戶農氓).” From this we can know that most of Ulleungdo’s residents at the time were farmers who lived a difficult life of jeon-ho, that is, tenant farming. At that time, they survived on wild edible greens and ggak-sae (a kind of seabird), which were their salvation. In spite of suffering this kind of starvation, it is said that the settlers would not fish. Even though the Japanese were gathering abalone and squid from right under their noses, the settlers did not take notice, and if their children tried to imitate the Japanese by trying to fish, they got their calves beaten until they bled in order to stop them from imitating disgusting sailors. It is said that the people on Ulleungdo did not start trying to fish until after the start of Japanese imperialism. Through testimony saying that the settlers shunned fishing because they came as emigrant farmers, we can determine that instead of Ulleungdo fishermen taking the lead in fishing the waters around Ulleungdo and Dokdo, Japanese fishermen, violating international law, illegally took the lead. We probably have to view the ill-conceived settlement policy at the time as what finally led to Japan’s declaring Dokdo ownerless in 1905 and incorporating it into her territory.
개척민들은 처음부터 해변을 피하고 깊은 산골로 들어가 뭍에서와 같은 농촌생활을 이어가려고 했다. 그들은 화전을 일구고 움막을 짓고 겨울이 오기 전까지 열심히 일했으나 찾아온 것은 굶주림과 추위였다. 육지로 되돌아갈 수도 없어 굶어죽는 사람들이 잇따랐다고 전한다. 실제 “황성신문”[皇城新聞] 1902년 4월 29일자의 기사를 보면 1901년 8월 해관파원사(海關派員士) 기사 가운데 “일본인구 약 550인이 모두 조선벌목자 (朝鮮伐木者)이고 (중략) 한민(韓民)은 대략 3,000구에 이르나 모두 전호농맹(佃戶農氓)이라”고 한 것은 당시 울릉도민이 대부분 농업을 생업으로 하고 전호, 즉 소작농으로 존재하면서 어려운 생활을 하였음을 알 수 있다. 이때에 개척민들의 목숨을 이어준 것이 명이라는 산나물과 깍새였다. 이 같은 굶주림에 시달려도 개척민은 물고기를 잡지 않았다고 한다. 일본인들이 코 앞에서 전복과 오징어를 거두어 가도 거들떠보지 않았고 아이들이 일본인을 흉내 내어 고기를 잡으면 종아리에 피가 맺히도록 때려 비린 뱃사람 흉내를 내지 못하게 했다. 그러다가 울릉도 사람들이 고기잡이에 손을 대기 시작한 것은 일본 제국주의시대에 들어와서 이루어졌다고 한다. 개척민이 농업이민이었기 때문에 어업에 종사하는 것을 꺼렸다는 증언을 토해 독도를 비롯한 울릉도 해역의 어업은 울릉도 어민의 주도하에 이루어지지 않고 알본어민들이 국제법을 위반하면서 불법적으로 주도하게 되었음을 알 수 있다. 이러한 잘못된 개척정책으로 인해 결국 1905년 일본이 독도를 ‘무주지(無主地)’라고 하여 자국의 영토에 편입시킬 수 있었다고 보아야 할 것이다.
As you can see from the above paragraph, the Koreans on Ulleungdo at the turn of the century were not fishermen, and even seemed to despise the profession, so they would have had little or no reason or desire to travel to Liancourt Rocks. In fact, the paragraph says that they avoided even settling on the shores of Ulleungdo and would not fish in spite of starving. It also says that the Koreans did not start fishing until "after the start of Japanese imperialism," which stongly suggests that it was the Japanese who first introduced Koreans to Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo/Takeshima). Here is a link to an appendix of a 1902 Japanese trade document, which described Koreans on Ulleungdo in much the same way as Mr. Kim did above.


  1. Anonymous10/5/08 15:24

    I disagree with many assumptions this author has made, and it seems he bases much of his data on just one or two documents. If we read historical records from a broader base we can get a clearer historical background on all Koreans on Ulleungdo, not just the newbie settlers.

    The numerous historical documents we have on Korean life on Ulleungdo classifies two different kinds of residents there.

    First we have a agrarian based population who survived on Ulleungdo Island year round and engaged in farming for their livelihood. These people rarely fished. This article seems to talk more about "settlers" who were probably newcomers to the island that were brought in after Chosun decided to repopulate the island.


    The second group of Koreans were much the same as the Japanese. These people were fishermen, boat-builders, sealers and gathered seaweed along the shorelines. They voyaged around 550kms each year from Geumundo, Chodo and Namyang on the Korea's South coast. Even decades earlier these transient Cholladamdo people were recorded by Lee Gyuwon. In fact there was a Korean elder who talked of visiting Dokdo to gather seaweed before the Japanese seized the island.


    Fishing declined in the early 20th Century and both Japanese and Koreans fished less and less at this point. However, reading documents from the decades prior to the decline of Ulleungdo's marine resources we can see many Koreans lived in much the same manner as the Japanese fishermen did. The Korean fishermen were pushed out of the trade by the Japanese who overwhelmed the locals. Other Japanese brought in special diving equipment and could more efficiently harvest the marine resourses.

    Gerry, what were the Japanese doing fishing on Ulleungdo in the first place? I've gotta say it's pretty humorous watching you try to bolster Japan's claim to Dokdo Island by using documents that repeatedly reference Japan's invasion of Ulleungdo. Reams of Chosun historical data that discuss Ulleungdo almost always include some information about how the Japanese were trespassing on Ulleungdo. Yet on this forum, the Japanese invasion of Chosun's Ulleungdo is treated as peripheral issue. This is a pretty shameful approach to studying/resolving the Dokdo Takeshima issue. Not academic at all, just lobbying....

  2. Steve (Dokdo-Takeshima),

    The people from the Jolla region came to Ulleungdo to build boats and gather seaweed, not to fish.

    Did you miss the quote from the 1902 Hwangseong Sinmun article that said, "The Koreans are about 3,000 families, but they are all tenant farmers" [한민(韓民)은 대략 3,000구에 이르나 모두 전호농맹(佃戶農氓)이라)]. Therefore, it was more than just assumptions on the part of the author.

    Steve, you have obviously not read the book because the author does a lot of referencing, and he even includes an index at the back, which is something many of Korea's other "Dokdo" authors neglect to do.

    Why do you find it funny that we translate and post documents that talk about Japanese being on Ulleungdo? Unlike you and your "no-comment" Web site, we are not trying to hide anything on this blog. Afterall, we even allow goofballs like you to post here.

    By the way, what I find funny is your criticizing us for not being academic enough when it would take a neutral party just a few minutes of looking at your silly site to realize what a big joke you are.

  3. Anonymous10/5/08 17:54

    Gerry, it was recorded Koreans where fishing around the shores of Ulleungdo at least 30 years before the year 1900. They were not just building boats, the Koreans were gathering abalone, seaweed and hunting seals as well. Adams book in 1870 describes Koreans on Ulleungdo quite well.

    Koreans onUlleungdo

    The British China Pilot (Sea Directory) said the Koreans built boats and collected large quantities of shell fish as well. The would of course be abalone or sea-ears. It states.

    "..During the spring and summer months some Koreans reside on the island, and build junks (Chinese style sailboats) which they take across to the mainland; they also collect and dry large quantities of shell-fish.."

    Lee Gyuwon also recorded Koreans gathering seaweed on the coast of Ulleungdo in 1882. Here it was written.

    I saw a man in a tent and asked who he was, he replied he was from South Cholla province, Heung Yang region Samdo (Geomundo~Port Hamilton) his name was Kim Dae Gun leading 23 workers and they were making boats and gathering seaweed.."

    In the Japanese report on Ulleungdo it was also recorded Koreans come to Ulleungdo from Chollanamdo to gather seaweed as well.

    "...But many come each year from Samdo (三島) in Cholla Province (全羅道) to collect the brown seaweed (wakame) which grows thickly on the seashore. [Samdo (三島) was present-day Keomundo (巨文島).].."

    Gerry, the Koreans like most Japanese were not deep sea fishermen. The were more like marine gatherers who harvested ocean creatures in shallow water in coastal areas. This shore gathering of seaweed and abalone was also recorded on Dokdo Island in the early 20th Century again in the Japanese 1902 report on Ulleungdo.


    Gerry, your blog states on the front page:

    "...All views are welcome, and comments may be made in any language, but personal attacks, foul language, and comments dealing with unrelated issues will be unwelcome and may be deleted. The goal is civil discussion and debate...."

    Why should we accept your posts as unbiased data when you clearly can't be trusted to abide by such basic social concepts as courtesy and respect to those who post contrary views on this forum? Seriously, what wrong with you Gerry?

  4. Steve Barber (Dokdo-Takeshima),

    You're right. I should not have called you a "goofball," so in the future, I will try to keep my personal opinions of you to myself.

  5. Gerry,

    This is an academic document which matches Japan's document 通商彙纂 (1902).
    The latter was introduced by Kaneganese here:

    It says, "Their (= Koreans') homes were scattered, and they cultivated the land in earnest, engaging wholly in farming. There are only a few who engaged in fishing" (section 2) and it also says "There are absolutely no Korean fishermen on the island, but many do come each year from Samdo (三島) in Cholla Province (全羅道) to collect the brown seaweed (wakame) which grows thickly on the seashore" (section 7).

    Fishery in Ulleungdo was mainly engaged by Japanese fishermen. Korean fishermen only collected seaweeds because they didn't have big ships to go ocean fishing.

  6. What I'm going to write is almost same as pacifist already wrote...

    Thank you for introducing interesting part of Korean book for us, Gerry.

    The description that there were no fishermen on Ulleundo around 1902 perfectly matches with the contents with "Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department of Trade, Document Section: Trade Documents" (外務省通商局編纂 通商彙纂). It also says that the Korean residents on the island had no ships to go back mainland and boats of Korean fishermen from mainland were too full to load them, so they had to hire Japanese ship.

    The most interesting part for me was "In spite of suffering this kind of starvation, it is said that the settlers would not fish. Even though the Japanese were gathering abalone and squid from right under their noses, the settlers did not take notice, and if their children tried to imitate the Japanese by trying to fish, they got their calves beaten until they bled in order to stop them from imitating disgusting sailors. ". As I've been telling that Choson dynasty put importance heavily on Agriculture, they ignored fishing because of Confusious. Fishermen were looked down upon by Choson people. They were the lowest of the "良民" class. It was natural for farmer prohibit their kids to imitate "filthy" fishermen in order to protect their family's Honour.

    "Since there is absolutely no (Korean) transportation between the island and the Korean mainland, Korean residents on the island hire Japanese ships to come to the island, but it is only two or three times a year. Even though about twenty (Korean) ships from Samdo (三島) in Cholla Province (全羅道) come to the island to collect the brown seaweed (wakame) in the winter, they all return to the mainland fully loaded (without passengers). Other than those ships (from mainland), there is no one who owns a ship adquate enough to make the voyage."(外務省通商局編纂 通商彙纂, 1902)

    Korean fishermen from mainland collected seaweeds which Japanese traders bought a lot from them when they go back to mainland. They were full loaded of seaweeds, so it is illogical to consider those seasonal fishermen who's already travelled long went beyond fertile Ulleundo to Liancourt Rocks 92km far from there for risking their lives. It was economically unrealistic.

    The only testimony made by old Korean fishermen on Ulleundo was recorded after territorial dispute had occured and it has no evidence to back up.

    I'd like to see "an April 29, 1902 article in the Hwangseong Sinmun (皇城新聞)"says what exactly.

  7. Steve,

    You quoated Japanese document but you forgot to read the rest of the document.

    It says, "This year fishermen from Amakusa and Oki brought eight boats equipped with diving gear and set up a base at Dodong (道洞). There were also two boats with divers (蜑船) from Shima and a one boat with divers (海士船) from Amakusa, who set up a temporary base at Jeodong (苧洞). All of these fishermen cruised around the island fishing, but compared to last year, the haul of fish was poor; thus, not much profit is expected this year".

    You know, there were many Japanese deep sea fishermen tried to catch deep sea products while a few Korean fishermen kept collecting seaweeds at sea shore.

    BTW, there were female Korean seaweeds hunters (or woman divers) at Takeshima/Dokdo in the early 20th century, as the photo in the following site shows.


    This was the only proof that there were Korean seaweeds hunters (or woamn divers) at Takeshima/Dokdo.

    But the photo proves that they were brought by Japanese because the men in the photo were Japanese and the photo was taken in June 1934. The 7th man from right is Yoshiyama Takeshi (96 y.o. last year), who was a fisherman from Oki island.

    He recalled "We hired these women from Jeju-do and a Korean boatman (from Korean peninsula) brought them (to Takeshima/Dokdo). Koreans were made to recognise by Japan that the island was a fishing ground."

    I don't know why they didn't bring women divers from Ulleungdo - it may have been because there were no such professional woman divers at Ulleungdo. Anyway, the Yoshiyama's testimony supports the theory that Koreans were late comers to Takeshima/Dokdo. They got to know about the island after being hired by Japanese.

  8. Correction:

    The site is:

  9. Correction again:

    the site is:


  10. Anonymous11/5/08 00:48

    Pacifist, as I've said above. There were two kinds of Korean residents on Ulleungdo at the turn of the 20th Century.

    Resident farmers who lived there year around. Some of those were new settlers (farmers) who obviously were having trouble adapting to their new homes. Also some Japanese who tried to live on Ulluengdo found life there and also faced starvation on the island.

    The others Koreans were transient fishermen who arrived in the spring. They gathered seaweed, harvested abalone, hunted seals and built boats. They most likely left in the fall. These people were much like the Japanese who harvested marine resources along coastal areas.

    You can see that this agrees with the document you've quoted the Japanese set up a "temporary base" on Ulleungdo to dive for abalone.

    If the Koreans "got to know" about Dokdo from Japanese it must have happed more than five years before the Japanese annexed the island in 1905. This is because the Japanese Black Dragon Fishing Manual proves Korean cognizance of Liancourt Rocks in 1900.

    Read this document.


    Pacifist, I've asked posters on this forum numerous time and nobody seems to have an answer. What exactly were hundreds of Japanese fishermen doing on Korea's Ulleungdo Island in the early 1900s? You know it was illegal for Japanese to live on Korean land outside of treaty areas. So why don't you explain to us why so many Japanese lived on Ulleungdo as this time?

    Wouldn't explaining the historical circumstances surrounding Japanese involvement in Korea be an importand part of the Dokdo Takeshima problem?

  11. We've just recorded 230000 hits !!! There are nearly 300 hits every day constantly.

    Maybe, we should celebrate Anniversary soon?

  12. Thank you, Pacifist and Kaneganese.

    Yes, I see we broke 230,000, but I think much of that was due to Korean and Japanese sites sending people our way to vote on our survey question. However, these days people may be stopping by because we are pretty much the only site left that seems to be discussing Dokdo-Takeshima. Many Korean sites seem to have stopped saying much about the issues, possible at the request of the Korean government or possible because they have come to realize that Liancourt Rocks was not historically Korean territory.

    I have a feeling that the Korean government and media finally realized that publicly discussing the history of Dokdo-Takeshima was hurting Korea more than helping her. For example, whenever Korean scholars would present an old map or document that supposedly supported their claim on Dokdo, it often turned out not to be the case, and, sometimes, even turned out to be more evidence supporting the Japanese claim. At best, Korea's claims often turned out to be just wishful thinking.

    Anyway, I think it is good that the Korean and Japanese governments have taken the focus off Dokdo-Takeshima, but that should not stop the historians from discussing the issues. Afterall, it is their job. Besides, President Roh Mu-hyun essentially let the genie out of the bottle by making Dokdo-Takeshima such a big issue, so I do not think the debate can be put back into the bottle now.

  13. I am really concerned that Japanese imperialism is rising again.

  14. Kaitlin,

    Why do you think so?

    Only Korea and China insist so but it is based on the reason in their own governemnts - they claimed neighboring country to let their people see outside, not accusing their government. It is a kind of propaganda.

  15. Gerry,

    Welcome back!
    I hope these Korean new comers will recognise the real problems in the dispute.


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