On January 22, 1864, a twelve year old nephew of the late king became King KoJong with his father as regent. His father, Yi Ha-ung, was commonly known as the Taewon-gun. The period of his reign of the years 1864-1873 was known as the Dark Age Period. The economy was poor and Korea was also isolated from the rest of the world with the exception of China and Japan. Soon after the opening of Japan to the West in 1854 and the opening of northern ports of China, made it impossible for Korea to maintain her isolation. Korea was reluctant and unwilling to open the country to the West because they had negative views of China and Japan which had given way to Western pressure.

After 1867, the Japan created a serious problem for the Korea. Japan made several requests for Korea to establish new diplomatic and commercial relations. Korea's refusal to accept the wishes of Japan and coupled with other issues such as disrespectful treatment of Japanese envoys by Korean local officials at Tongnaebu caused the uprise to the Seitan-ron, or Conquer Korea Agitation. The Unto-kan incident also had major effects during the period of time. When Japanese warships, involved in secret marine survey projects in Korean and Chinese waters, arrived at a small island on Korean islands, the Koreans fired at the ship, thinking that the intruders were Westerners. This led the Japanese to take advantage of the situation and demanded a treaty establishing new diplomatic and commercial relations between Korea and Japan.

Although, Taewon-gun was in opposition of this, King Kojong was persuaded by Pak Kyu-su, and O Kong-sok, to pursue a peaceful solution. As a result, Korea and Japan signed the Kang hwa treaty on February 26, 1876, in which Japan recognized Korea as an independent nation. Japan gained many special privileges under these treaties similar to those gained by the Western powers in China and Japan In 1876 and 1881, missions were sent to Japan to study the conditions there, including economic, military strength and foreign policy. Following the visits made to Japan in 1876 and 1881, King Kojong issued a proclamation in which he stated his new policy for enlightenment and progress. After long periods of Chinese dominance in Korea, the Korean government acted with defiance, ignoring instructions from China. Anti-Chinese riots took place in Seoul, and Chinese shops were looted and burned down.

However, the more the Koreans tried to shake off Chinese control, the stronger Chinese efforts were to keep Korea as their protectorate. The Japanese government rejected the Chinese notion that Korea was a vassal to China and stated that Japan had never recognized Korea as a vassal state of China. The Chinese refused the Japanese proposal for join actions in Korea to bring about reforms, restore peace, and improve the internal relations of the Korean government. The Japanese threatened Korea to make her independence from China clear and when Korea opposed, on August 1, Japan and China declared war. The Japanese troops quickly demonstrated their superiority over Chinese troops and the Korean government became helplessly dominated by the Japanese. A peace treaty was concluded in which the Chinese recognized Korean independence, agreed to pay a large war indemnity, cede Taiwan, and lease the Liaotung Peninsula to Japan for twenty-five years.

Soon after Japan had established firm control over Korea, the influence of the Japanese collapsed, and the reformers faced increasing difficulties in the wake of the Triple Intervention and the October incident of 1895. With the cooperation of France and Germany, the joint demand to the Japanese government cancelled the Liaotung lease. This action taken by three Western powers was known as the Triple Intervention. Japan had no choice but to meet the demands of the three powerful Western nations. The cancellation of the Liaotung lease by Japan was regarded by the Koreans as a demonstration of Japans weakness.

Anti-Japanese sentiments grew in Korea, and the Japanese began to abandon its Korean projects. The influence of Japan declined sharply with the influence of the Russian government.