This paper seeks to balance the regional and thematic focus of cholera historiography by examining maritime quarantine in Busan, as it was devised and implemented by Japanese officials and doctors during the pre-colonial period. It also places the relationship between Korea and Japan in the context of relations with China, Russia and Britain. This paper shows that quarantine measures in Busan and other Korean ports reflected the rise of Japanese imperial power and the increasing desire on the part of the Japanese to establish an effective borderline for their regional empire.
From 1879 Japan began to impose maritime quarantine in Busan, where Japanese influence was very strong even before the colonial period, though at that time Japan was unable to perform quarantine in its own ports independently due to the objections of Western powers, particularly Britain. Victories in the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars established Japan as a regional power on equal terms with the West, and as the dominant power in Korea and Eastern Asia. With the acquisition of the right to impose quarantine in its homeland, Japan strengthened and extended the range of quarantine from Japan to Korea, China and Russia. Now quarantine screened Japan from potentially harmful agents – pathogenic and political – and its functions diversified further as modernisation and imperial expansion gathered pace. The reliance which Japan placed upon quarantine in maintaining its empire explains why it was increasingly out of step with other powers regarding international sanitary precautions. The Japanese maritime quarantine in Busan during this period therefore shows many aspects of Japan’s ‘national empire’.