Empress Myeongseong of Korea

Empress Myeongseong
Empress of Korea (posthumously)

File:Myeong.jpg
Regent of Korea
Reign 1 November 1873 – 1 July 1894 (20 years, 242 days)
6 July 1895 – 10 October 1895 (96 days)
Spouse King Gojong of Joseon
Issue
a son
a daughter
Emperor Sunjong of the Korean Empire
a son
a son
Posthumous name
Short: Empress Myeongseong
*명성황후
*明成皇后
*Myeongseong Hwanghu
Full: The Filial and Benevolent, the Origin of Holiness, the Proper in Changes, the Uniter of Heaven, the Immensely Meritorious, and the Sincerely Virtuous Grand Empress Consort Myeongseong
*효자원성정화합천홍공성덕명성태황후
*孝慈元聖正化合天洪功誠德明成太皇后
*Hyoja Wonseong Jeonghwa Hapcheon Honggong Seongdeok Myeongseong Taehwanghu
Father Min Chi-rok
Mother Lady Hanchang of Yi clan
Born (1851-10-19)19 October 1851
Yeoju County, Gyeonggi Province, Joseon
Died 8 October 1895(1895-10-08) (aged 43)
Okhoru Pavilion, Geoncheonggung, Gyeongbok Palace, Seoul, Joseon Dynasty
Burial Hongneung

Empress Myeongseong (19 October 1851 – 8 October 1895), also known as Queen Min, was the first official wife of King Gojong, the twenty-sixth king of the Joseon dynasty of Korea. In 1902 she received the posthumous name Hyoja Wonseong Jeonghwa Hapcheon Honggong Seongdeok Myeongseong Taehwanghu (Korean Hangul: 효자원성정화합천홍공성덕명성태황후, Hanja: 孝慈元聖正化合天洪功誠德明成太皇后),[1] often abbreviated as Myeongseong Hwanghu (Hangul: 명성황후, Hanja: 明成皇后), meaning Empress Myeongseong.

The Japanese considered her an obstacle against its overseas expansion.[2] Efforts to remove her from the political arena, orchestrated through failed rebellions prompted by the father of King Gojong, Heungseon Daewongun (an influential regent working with the Japanese), compelled the Empress to take a harsher stand against Japanese influence.[3]

After Japan's victory in the First Sino-Japanese War, Queen Min advocated stronger ties between Korea and Russia in an attempt to block Japanese influence in Korea, which was represented by Daewongun. Miura Gorō, the Japanese Minister to Korea at that time and a retired army lieutenant-general, backed the faction headed by the Daewongun, whom he considered to be more sympathetic to Japanese interests.

In the early morning of 8 October 1895, sword-bearing assassins, allegedly under orders from Miura Gorō, entered Gyeongbok Palace. Upon entering the Queen's Quarters (Okhoru Pavilion), the assassins "killed three court [women] suspected of being Empress Myeongseong. When they confirmed that one of them was the Empress, they burned the corpse in a pine forest in front of the Okhoru Pavilion, and then dispersed the ashes."[4] She was 43 years old.[5]

The assassination of the Korean Empress ignited outrage among other foreign powers.[6] To appease growing international criticism, the Japanese government "recalled Miura and placed him under a staged trial at the Hiroshima District Court, while the military personnel involved were tried at a military court. All were given the verdict of not-guilty on the grounds of insufficient evidence."[5]

However, the assassination promoted anti-Japanese sentiments in Korea with "Short Hair Act Order" (단발령, 斷髮令), and some Koreans created the Eulmi righteous army and actively set up protests nationwide.[7] After assassination, King Gojong and the crown prince (later Emperor Sunjong) fled for refuge to the Russian legation in 1896, this led to the general repeal of the Gabo Reforms, which controlled by Japanese influence.[7] In October 1897, King Gojong returned to Gyeongungung (modern-day Deoksugung). There, he proclaimed the founding of the Korean Empire.[7]

In South Korea, there is renewed interest in her life because of recent novels, TV drama and musical.

Background

End of an era

In 1864 King Cheoljong was dying, and there were no male heirs, the result of suspected foul play by a rival branch of the royal family, the Andong Kim clan. The Andong Kim clan had risen to power through intermarriage with the royal Yi family. Queen Cheonin, the queen consort of Cheoljong and a member of the Andong Kim clan, claimed the right to choose the next king, although traditionally the eldest queen dowager is the one with the authority to select the new king. Cheoljong's cousin, Grand Royal Dowager Queen Sinjeong (the widow of Heonjong's father (posthumously entitled Ikjong) of the Pungyang Jo clan, who too had risen to prominence by intermarriage with the Yi family, currently held this title.

Queen Sinjeong saw an opportunity to advance the cause of the Pungyang Jo clan, the only true rival of the Andong Kim clan in Korean politics. As Cheoljong fell deeper under his illness, the Grand Royal Dowager Queen was approached by Yi Ha-eung, an obscure descendant of King Yeongjo through his son Crown Prince Sado.

The branch that Yi Ha-eung's family belonged to was an obscure line of descendants of the Yi clan, which survived the often deadly political intrigue that frequently embroiled the Joseon court by forming no affiliation with any factions. Yi Ha-eung himself was ineligible for the throne due to a law that dictated that any possible heir to the kingdom have to be part of the generation after the most recent incumbent of the throne, but Yi Myeong-bok, Yi Ha-eung's second son (later became King Gojong and Gwangmu Emperor), was a possible successor to the throne.[8]

The Pungyang Jo clan saw that Yi Myeong-bok was only 12 and would not be able to rule in his own name until he came of age, and that they could easily influence Yi Ha-eung, who would be acting as regent for the to-be boy king. As soon as news of Cheoljong's death reached Yi Ha-eung through his intricate network of spies in the palace, he and the Pungyang Jo clan took the hereditary royal seal (an object that was considered necessary for a legitimate reign to take place and aristocratic recognition to be received) —- effectively giving her absolute power to select the successor to the throne. By the time Cheoljong's death had become a known fact, the Andong Kim clan was powerless according to law as the seal lay in the hands of the Grand Royal Dowager Queen Sinjeong.

In the autumn of 1864, Yi Myeong-bok was crowned the new king of the Kingdom of Joseon, with his father entitled as the Heungseon Daewongun (大院君; 대원군; Daewongun; Grand Internal Prince).

The strongly Confucian Heungseon Daewongun proved to be a wise and calculating leader in the early years of Gojong's reign. He abolished the old government institutions that had become corrupt under the rule of various clans, revised the law codes along with the household laws of the royal court and the rules of court ritual, and heavily reformed the military techniques of the royal armies. Within a few short years, he was able to secure complete control of the court and eventually receive the submission of the Pungyang Jos while successfully disposing the last of the Andong Kims, whose corruption, he believed, was responsible for ruining the country.

A new queen

The future empress was born into the aristocratic Min family of the Yeoheung branch on 19 October 1851[9][10][11][12] in Yeoju County, in the province of Gyeonggi Province (where the clan originated).[13]

The Yeoheung Mins were a noble clan, boasting of many highly positioned bureaucrats in its illustrious past, even having 2 Queens Consort: Queen Wongyeong (wife of Taejong) & Queen Inhyeon (wife of Sukjong[13]).

The daughter of Min Chi-rok (민치록, 閔致祿) is how Empress Myeongseong was known before her marriage. Some fictional accounts name her Min Ja-yeong (민자영) but this has not been confirmed by historical sources.[13] At the age of eight she had lost both of her parents.[13] Little is known of her mother, her childhood, or the causes of her parents' early deaths.

When Gojong reached the age of 15, his father decided it was time for him to be married. He was diligent in finding a queen without close relatives, who would harbour political ambitions and yet have a noble lineage, in order to justify his choice to the court and the people. Candidates were rejected one by one, until both the Daewongun's wife (Yeoheung, the Princess Consort to the Prince of the Great Court; Yeoheung Budaebuin; 여흥부대부인, 驪興府大夫人)[14] and mother proposed a bride from their own clan (the Yeoheung Mins).[13][15] Both his mother & his wife's descriptions of the girl was quite persuasive: orphaned, beautiful features, healthy body, ordinary level of education (no less than that of the most noble in the country).[13]

The bride had undergone a strict selection process, with the culminating process of meeting the Daewongun on 6 March, and on 20 March 1866,[16] the girl, barely 16, married the boy king and was invested in a ceremony (책비, chaekbi) as the Queen Consort of Joseon.[17] Two places assert claims on the marriage and ascencion:

  1. Injeong Hall (인정전) at Changdeok Palace.[13]
  2. Norak Hall (노락당) at Unhyeon Palace.

It is known that the wig (which was usually worn by royal brides at weddings) was so heavy that a tall court lady was specially assigned to support it from the back. The wedding ceremony was barely finished when another three-day ceremony for the reverencing of the ancestors started.[18]

Older officials then noticed that the new Queen Consort was an assertive and ambitious woman, unlike other Queens Consort that came before her. She did not participate in lavish parties, rarely commissioned extravagant fashions from the royal ateliers, and almost never hosted afternoon tea parties with the powerful aristocratic ladies and the various princesses of the royal family, unless politics beckoned her to. As Queen Consort, she was expected to act as an icon to the high society of Korea, but she rejected this belief. She, instead, read books reserved for men (examples of which were Spring and Autumn Annals and its accompanying Commentary of Zuo,[13]) and taught herself philosophy, history, science, politics, and religion.

The beginnings

Court domination

Even without parents, the Queen Consort (as she was then now known) was able to secretly form a powerful faction against Heungseon Daewongun as soon as she reached adulthood. At 20, she began to wander outside her apartments at Changgyeong Palace and play an active part in politics. At the same time, she defended her views against high officials who viewed her as becoming too meddlesome. Heungseon Daewongun was also upset by the Queen Consort's aggressiveness.

The political struggle between the Queen Consort and Heungseon Daewongun became public when the son she bore (in 1871) for Gojong died prematurely at 4 days. Heungseon Daewongun publicly stated that the Queen Consort was unable to bear a healthy male child (while she blamed her father-in-law for the many ginseng he had brought her[13]). He directed Gojong to have intercourse with a royal concubine, Lee gwi-in from the Yeongbo Hall (영보당귀인 이씨). In 16 April 1868, the concubine gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Prince Wanhwa (완화군), whom Heungseon Daewongun entitled as Crown Prince.

The Queen Consort responded with a powerful faction of high officials, scholars, and members of her clan to bring down Heungseon Daewongun from power. Min Seung-ho, one of the Queen Consort's relatives, with court scholar Choe Ik-hyeon, wrote a formal impeachment of Heungseon Daewongun to be presented to the Royal Council of Administration, arguing that Gojong, now 22, should rule in his own right. With the approval of Gojong and the Royal Council, Heungseon Daewongun was forced to retire to his estate at Yangju in 1872. She then banished the royal concubine and her child to a village outside the capital, stripped of royal titles. The child soon died (1880) afterwards (some had accused the Queen Consort of involvement).

With the retirement of Heungseon Daewongun and the expelled concubine and her son, the Queen Consort had gained complete control over her court, placing her family in high court positions. This action proved that she was a Queen Consort who ruled with her husband, but was distinctly more politically active than her husband was.

The "Hermit Kingdom" emerges

After the Korean refusal to receive Japanese envoys announcing the Meiji Restoration, some Japanese aristocrats favored an immediate invasion of Korea, but the idea was quickly dropped upon the return of the Iwakura Mission on the grounds that the new Japanese government was neither politically nor fiscally stable enough to start a war. When Heungseon Daewongun was ousted from politics, Japan renewed efforts to establish ties with Korea, but the Imperial envoy arriving at Dongnae in 1873 was turned away.

The Japanese government, which sought to emulate the empires of Europe in their tradition of enforcing so-called Unequal Treaties, responded by sending the Japanese battleship Unyō towards Busan and another battleship to the Bay of Yeongheung on the pretext of surveying sea routes, meaning to pressure Korea into opening its doors. The Unyō ventured into restricted waters of Ganghwa Island, provoking an attack from Korean shore batteries. The Unyō fled but the Japanese used the incident as a pretext to force a treaty on the Korean government. In 1876 six naval vessels and an imperial Japanese envoy were sent to Ganghwa Island to enforce this command.

A majority of the royal court favored absolute isolationism, but Japan had demonstrated its willingness to use force. After numerous meetings, officials were sent to sign the Ganghwa Treaty, a treaty that had been modeled after treaties imposed on Japan by the United States. The treaty was signed on 15 February 1876, thus opening Korea to Japan.

Various ports were forced to open to Japanese trade, and Japanese now had rights to buy land in designated areas. The treaty also permitted the opening of Incheon and Wonsan to Japanese merchants. For the first few years, Japan enjoyed a near total monopoly of trade, while Korean merchants suffered serious losses.

A social revolution

In 1877, a mission headed by Kim Gwang-jip was commissioned by Gojong and his Queen Consort to study Japanese westernization and its intentions for Korea.

Kim and his team were shocked at how large the Japanese cities had become. Kim Gi-su noted that only 50 years before, Seoul and Busan of Korea were metropolitan centers of East Asia, dominant over underdeveloped Japanese cities; but now, in 1877, with Tokyo and Osaka westernized, Seoul and Busan looked like vestiges of the ancient past.

When they were in Japan, Kim Gwang-jip met with the Chinese Ambassador to Tokyo, Ho Ju-chang and the councilor Huang Tsun-hsien. They discussed the international situation of Qing China and Joseon's place in the rapidly changing world. Huang Tsu-hsien presented to Kim a book he had written called Korean Strategy.

China was no longer the hegemonic power of East Asia, and Korea no longer enjoyed military superiority over Japan. In addition, the Russian Empire began expansion into Asia. Huang advised that Korea should adopt a pro-Chinese policy, while retaining close ties with Japan for the time being. He also advised an alliance with the United States for protection against Russia. He advised opening trade relations with Western nations and adopting Western technology. He noted that China had tried but failed due to its size, but Korea was smaller than Japan. He viewed Korea as a barrier to Japanese expansion into mainland Asia. He suggested Korean youths be sent to China and Japan to study, and Western teachers of technical and scientific subjects be invited to Korea.

When Kim Gwang-jip returned to Seoul, the Queen Consort took special interest in Huang's book and commissioned copies be sent out to all the ministers. She had hoped to win yangban approval to invite Western nations into Korea.

She wanted to first allow Japan to help in the modernization process but towards completion of certain projects, be driven out by Western powers. She intended for Western powers to begin trade and investment in Korea to keep Japan in check.

However, the yangban still opposed opening the country to the West. Choe Ik-hyeon, who had helped with the impeachment of Heungseon Daewongun, sided with the isolationists, saying that the Japanese were just like the "Western barbarians" who would spread subversive notions like Catholicism (which had been a major issue during Heungseon Daewongun's reign that ended in massive persecution).

To the scholars and the yangban, who were social conservatives, the Queen Consort's plan meant the destruction of social order. The response to the distribution of "Korean Strategy" was a joint memorandum to the throne from scholars in every province of the kingdom. They stated that the ideas in the book were mere abstract theories, unrealizable in practice, and that the adoption of Western technology was not the only way to enrich the country. They demanded that the number of envoys exchanged, ships engaged in trade and articles of trade be strictly limited, and that all foreign books in Korea should be destroyed.

Despite these objections, in 1881, a large fact-finding mission was sent to Japan to stay for seventy days observing Japanese government offices, factories, military and police organizations, and business practices. They also obtained information about innovations in the Japanese government copied from the West, especially the proposed constitution.

On the basis of these reports, the Queen Consort began the reorganization of the government. Twelve new bureaus were established that dealt with foreign relations with the West, China, and Japan. Other bureaus were established to effectively deal with commerce. A bureau of the military was created to modernize weapons and techniques. Civilian departments were also established to import Western technology.

In the same year, the Queen Consort signed documents for top military students to be sent to Qing China. The Japanese quickly volunteered to supply military students with rifles and train a unit of the Korean army to use them. The Queen Consort agreed but reminded the Japanese that the students would still be sent to China for further education on Western military technologies.

The modernization of the military was met with opposition. The special treatment of the new training unit caused resentment among the other troops. In September 1881, a plot was uncovered to overthrow the Queen Consort’s faction, depose Gojong, and place Heungseon Daewongun's illegitimate (third) son, Yi Jae-seon on the throne. The plot was frustrated by the Queen Consort but Heungseon Daewongun was kept safe from persecution because he was still the father of the King.

The insurrection of 1882

In 1882, members of the old military became resentful of the special treatment of the new units and so attacked and destroyed the house of Min Gyeom-ho, a relative of the Queen Consort who was the administrative head of the training units. These soldiers then fled to Heungseon Daewongun, who publicly rebuked but privately encouraged them. Heungseon Daewongun then took control of the old units.

He ordered an attack on the administrative district of Seoul that housed Gyeongbokgung, the diplomatic quarter, military centers, and science institutions. The soldiers attacked police stations to free comrades who had been arrested and then began ransacking private estates and mansions belonging to relatives of the Queen Consort. These units then stole rifles and began to kill Japanese training officers, narrowly missed killing the Japanese ambassador to Seoul, who quickly escaped to Incheon. The military rebellion then headed towards the palace but both Queen Consort and the King escaped in disguise and fled to her relative’s villa in Cheongju, where they remained in hiding.

Numerous supporters of the Queen Consort were put to death as soon as the Daewongun arrived and took administrative control of Gyeongbokgung. He immediately dismantled the reform measures implemented by the Queen Consort and relieved the new units of their duty. Foreign policy quickly turned isolationist, and Chinese and Japanese envoys were forced out of the capital.

Li Hung-chang, with the consent of Korean envoys in Beijing, sent 4,500 Chinese troops to restore order, as well as to secure Chinese interest in Korean politics. The troops arrested Heungseon Daewongun, who was then taken to China to be tried for treason. The royal couple returned and overturned all of the Daewongun's actions.

The Japanese forced King Gojong privately, without the Queen Consort's knowledge, to sign the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1882 on 10 August 1882, to pay 550,000 yen for lives and property that the Japanese had lost during the insurrection, and permit Japanese troops to guard the Japanese embassy in Seoul. When the Queen Consort learned of the treaty, she proposed to China a new trade agreement, granting the Chinese special privileges and rights to ports inaccessible to the Japanese. She also requested that a Chinese commander take control of the new military units and a German adviser named Paul Georg von Möllendorff to head the Maritime Customs Service.

The Mission to America

In September 1883, the Queen Consort established English language schools with American instructors. She sent a special mission July 1883 to the United States headed by Min Yeong-ik, one of her relatives. The mission arrived at San Francisco carrying the newly created Korean national flag, visited many American historical sites, heard lectures on American history, and attended a gala event in their honor given by the mayor of San Francisco and other U.S. officials. The mission dined with President Chester A. Arthur and discussed the growing threat of Japan and American investment in Korea. At the end of September, Min Yeong-ik returned to Seoul and reported to the Queen Consort,

The reformist vs. the conservatives

The Progressives were founded during the late 1870s by a group of yangban who fully supported Westernization of Joseon. However, they wanted immediate Westernization, including a complete cut-off of ties with Qing China. Unaware of their anti-Chinese sentiments, the Queen Consort granted frequent audiences and meetings with them to discuss progressivism and nationalism. They advocated for educational and social reforms, including the equality of the sexes by granting women full rights, issues that were not even acknowledged in their already Westernized neighbor of Japan. The Queen Consort was completely enamored by the Progressives in the beginning, but when she learned that they were deeply anti-Chinese, she quickly turned her back on them. Cutting ties with China immediately was not in her gradual plan of Westernization. She saw the consequences Joseon would have to face if she did not play China and Japan off by the West gradually, especially since she was a strong advocate of the Sadae faction who were pro-China and pro-gradual Westernization.

However, in 1884, the conflict between the Progressives and the Sadaes intensified. When American legation officials, particularly Naval Attaché George C. Foulk, heard about the growing problem, they were outraged and reported directly to the Queen Consort. The Americans attempted to bring the two groups to peace with each other in order to aid the Queen Consort in a peaceful transformation of Joseon into a modern nation. After all, she liked the ideas and plans of both parties. As a matter of fact, she was in support of many of the Progressive's ideas, except for severing relations with China.

However, the Progressives, fed up with the Sadaes and the growing influence of the Chinese, sought the aid of the Japanese legation guards and staged a bloody palace coup on 4 December 1884. The Progressives killed numerous high Sadaes and secured key government positions vacated by the Sadaes who had fled the capital or had been killed.

The refreshed administration began to issue various edicts in both the King and Queen Consort's names and they were eager to implement political, economic, social, and cultural reforms. She, however, was horrified by the bellicosity of the Progressives and refused to support their actions and declared any documents signed in her name to be null and void. After only two days of new influence over the administration, they were crushed by Chinese troops under Yuan Shih-kai's command. A handful of Progressive leaders were killed. Once again, the Japanese government saw the opportunity to extort money out of the Joseon government by forcing Gojong, again without the knowledge of his wife, to sign a treaty. The Treaty of Hanseong forced Joseon to pay a large sum of indemnity for damages inflicted on Japanese lives and property during the coup.

On 18 April 1885 the Li-Ito Agreement was made in Tianjin, China between the Japanese and the Chinese. In it, they agreed to both pull troops out of Joseon and that either party would send troops only if their property was endangered and that each would inform the other before doing so. Both nations also agreed to pull out their military instructors to allow the newly arrived Americans to take full control of that duty. The Japanese withdrew troops from Korea, leaving a small number of legation guards, but the Queen Consort was ahead of the Japanese in their game. She summoned Chinese envoys and through persuasion, convinced them to keep 2,000 soldiers disguised as Joseon police or merchants to guard the borders from any suspicious Japanese actions and to continue to train Korean troops.

The Innovator

Education

Peace finally settled upon the once-renowned "Land of the Morning Calm." With the majority of Japanese troops out of Joseon and Chinese protection readily available, the plans for further, drastic modernization were continued. Plans to establish a palace school to educate children of the elite had been in the making since 1880 but were finally executed in May 1885 with the approval of the Queen Consort. A palace school named "Yugyoung Kung-won" (육영공원, 育英公院, Royal English School) was established, with an American missionary, Homer B. Hulbert, and three other missionaries to lead the development of the curriculum. The school had two departments, liberal education and military education. Courses were taught exclusively in English using English textbooks. However, due to low attendance, the school was closed shortly after the last English teacher, Bunker, resigned in late 1893.[19]

The Queen Consort also gave her patronage to the first all-girls' educational institution, Ewha Academy, established in Seoul, 1886 by American missionary, Mary F. Scranton (later became the Ewha University). In 1887, the Queen Consort personally gave the name "Ewha" (literally "pear blossom"; the symbol of the royal Jeonju Yi clan) and sent a tablet to encourage Ms. Scranton's effort and its future. Ms. Scranton accepted the bestowed name to correspond to the Queen Consort's grace. This was the first time in history that any Korean girl, commoner or aristocratic, had the right to an education. In reality, as Louisa Rothweiler, a founding teacher of Ewha Academy observed, the school was, at its early stage, more of a place for poor girls to be fed and clothed than a place of education.[19] This was a significant social change.[20]

The Protestant missionaries contributed much to the development of Western education in Joseon Korea. The Queen Consort, unlike her father-in-law who had oppressed Christians, invited different missionaries to enter Joseon. She knew and valued their knowledge of Western history, science, and mathematics, and was aware of the advantage of having them within the nation. Unlike the Isolationists, she saw no threat to the Confucian morals of Korean society by the advent of Christianity. Religious tolerance was another one of her goals.

The press

The first newspaper to be published in Joseon was the "Hanseong Sunbo", an all-Hanja newspaper. It was published as a thrice monthly official government gazette by the Bakmun-guk (Publishing house), an agency of the Foreign Ministry. It included contemporary news of the day, essays and articles about Westernization, and news of further modernization of Joseon.

In January 1886, the Bakmun-guk published a new newspaper named the Hanseong Jubo (The Seoul Weekly). The publication of a Korean-language newspaper was a significant development, and the paper itself played an important role as a communication media to the masses until it was abolished in 1888 under pressure from the Chinese government.

A newspaper in entirely Hangul, disregarding the Korean Hanja script, was not published until 1894. Ganjo Sinbo (The Seoul News) was published as a weekly newspaper under the patronage of both Gojong & the Queen Consort, it was written half in Korean and half in Japanese.

Medicine, religion, and music

The arrival of Horace Newton Allen under invitation of the Queen Consort in September 1884 marked the official beginning of Christianity rapidly spreading in Joseon. He was able, with the Queen Consort's permission and official sanction, to arrange for the appointment of other missionaries as government employees. He also introduced modern medicine in Korea by establishing the first western Royal Medical Clinic of Gwanghyewon in February 1885.[21]

In April 1885, a horde of Christian missionaries began to flood into Joseon. The Isolationists were horrified and realized they had finally been defeated by the Queen Consort. The doors to Korea were not only open to ideas, technology, and culture but also to other religions. Having lost immense power with Heungseon Daewongun (still in China as captive), the Isolationists could do nothing but simply watch. Horace Grant Underwood and his wife, William B. Scranton, his wife, and his mother (Mary Scranton), made Korea their new home in May 1885. They established churches within Seoul and began to establish centers in the countrysides. Catholic missionaries arrived soon afterwards, reviving Catholicism which had witnessed massive persecution in 1866 under Heungseon Daewongun's rule.

While winning many converts, Christian missionaries made significant contributions towards the modernization of the country. Concepts of equality, human rights and freedom, and the participation of both men and women in religious activities were all new to Joseon. The Queen Consort was ecstatic at the prospect of integrating these values within the government. The Protestant missions introduced also Christian hymns and other Western songs that created a strong impetus to modernize Korean ideas about music. She had wanted the literacy rate to rise, and with the aid of Christian educational programs, it did so significantly within a matter of a few years.

Drastic changes were made to music as well. Western music theory partly displaced the traditional Eastern concepts. The organ and other Western musical instruments were introduced in 1890, and a Christian hymnal was published in Korean in 1893 under the commission of the Queen Consort. She herself, however, never became a Christian, but remained a devout Buddhist with influences from shamanism and Confucianism; her religious beliefs would become the model, indirectly, for those of many modern Koreans, who share her belief in pluralism and religious tolerance.

Military

Modern weapons were imported from Japan and the United States in 1883. The first military factories were established and new military uniforms were created in 1884. Under joint patronage of Gojong & his Queen Consort, a request was made to the US for more American military instructors to speed up the military modernization of Korea. Out of all the projects that were going on simultaneously, the military project took the longest. To manage these simultaneous projects was in itself was a major accomplishment for any nation. Not even Japan had modernized at the rate of Joseon, and not with as many projects going on at once, a precursor to modern Korea as one of East Asia's Tigers in rapid development into a first class nation during the 1960s-1980s.

In October 1883, American minister Lucius Foote arrived to take command of the modernization of Joseon's older army units that had not started Westernizing. In April 1888, General William McEntyre Dye and two other military instructors arrived from the US, followed in May by a fourth instructor. They brought about rapid military development.

A new military school was created called "Yeonmu Gongwon", and an officers training program began. However, despite armies becoming more and more on par with the Chinese and the Japanese, the idea of a navy was neglected. As a result, it became one of the few failures of the modernization project. Due to the neglect of developing naval defence, Joseon's sea borders were open to invasion. It was an ironic mistake since nearly 300 years earlier, Joseon's navy was the strongest in all of East Asia, having been the first nation in the world to develop massive iron-clad warships equipped with cannons. Now, the Korean navy was nothing but ancient ships that could barely defend themselves from the advanced ships of modern navies.

However, for a short while, hope for the Korean military could be seen. With rapidly growing armies, Japan itself was becoming fearful of the impact of Korean troops if her government did not interfere soon to stall the process.

Economy

Following the opening of all Korean ports to the Japanese and Western merchants in 1888, contact and involvement with outsiders increased foreign trade rapidly. In 1883, the Maritime Customs Service was established under the patronage of the Queen Consort and the supervision of Sir Robert Hart, 1st Baronet of the United Kingdom. The Maritime Customs Service administered the business of foreign trade and collection of tariff.

By 1883, the economy was now no longer in a state of monopoly conducted by the Japanese as it had been only a few years ago. The majority was in control by the Koreans while portions were distributed between Western nations, Japan and China. In 1884, the first Korean commercial firms such as the Daedong and the Changdong Company emerged. The Bureau of Mint also produced a new coin called "tangojeon" in 1884, securing a stable Korean currency at the time. Western investment began to take hold as well in 1886.

The German A.H. Maeterns, with the aid of the Department of Agriculture of the US, created a new project called "American Farm" on a large plot of land donated by the Queen Consort to promote modern agriculture. Farm implements, seeds, and milk cows were imported from the United States. In June 1883, the Bureau of Machines was established and steam engines were imported. However, despite the fact that Gojong and his Queen Consort brought the Korean economy to an acceptable level to the West, modern manufacturing facilities did not emerge due to a political interruption: the assassination of the Queen Consort. Be that as it may, telegraph lines between Joseon, China, and Japan were laid between 1883 and 1885, facilitating communication.

Personal life

Early years

Both The National Assembly Library of Korea and records kept by Lilias Underwood[22](1851–1921), an American missionary who came to Korea in 1888 and was appointed the Queen’s doctor (she enjoyed the Empress' full trust and intimate friendship), left very sincere and vivid descriptions of the Queen.

Both described what the Empress looked like, what her voice sounded like, and her public manner. She was said to have had a soft face with strong features, a classic pretty but far from the sultry taste Gojong enjoyed. Her speaking voice was soft and warm, but when conducting affairs of the state, she would immediately assert her points with strength. Her public manner was also formal and heavily adhered to court etiquette and traditional law. Underwood described the Empress in the following:[23]

To put it simply, Gojong and the young Queen Consort did not get along at first. Both found each other's ways repulsive, she preferring to stay within her chambers studying, he enjoying his days and nights drinking and attending banquets and royal parties. The two, in the beginning, were incompatible. She was genuinely concerned with the affairs of the state, immersing herself within philosophy, history, and science books that were normally reserved for yangban men. She once remarked to a close friend, "He disgusts me."

Court officials remarked that when the Queen Consort ascended the throne, she was extremely exclusive in choosing who she associated with and confided with. In this remark, her relationship with the royal court from the very beginning strongly resembles the relationship of Marie Antoinette with her court. Both women found court etiquette restricting but both women strictly adhered themselves to traditional laws to impress and to gain respect of the aristocracy. Both women also did not consummate their marriage on their wedding night, as court tradition dictated them to. Adding onto their frustrations, both women found immense difficulty in conceiving a healthy heir. The Queen Consort's first attempt ended in despair and humiliation; she conceived a male heir but he shortly died after his birth due to poor health. Her second attempt found success, but Sunjong was never a healthy child, often catching illnesses and lying in bed for weeks. Both Marie Antoinette and the Queen Consort also never were able to truly connect and fall in love with their husbands until their times of troubles brought them together. In the end, both women were destined for tragic endings; one being guillotined by her people, misunderstood and her name wrongly distorted; the other brutally assassinated by the Japanese.

Later years


Both began to grow affections for each other during their later years. Gojong was pressured by his advisers to take control of the government and administer his nation. However, one has to remember that Gojong was not chosen to become King because of his acumen (which he lacked because he was never formally educated) or because of his bloodline (which was mixed with courtesan and common blood), but because the Pungyang Jo clan had falsely assumed they could control the boy through his father. When it was actually time for Gojong to assume his responsibilities of the state, he often needed the aid of his wife to conduct international and domestic affairs. In this, Gojong grew an admiration for his wife's wit, intelligence, and ability to learn quickly. As the problems of the kingdom grew bigger and bigger, Gojong relied even more on his wife, she becoming his rock during times of frustration.

During the years of modernization of Joseon, it is safe to assume that Gojong was finally in love with his wife. They both began to spend an immense amount of time with each other, privately and officially. They shared each other's problems, celebrated each other's joys, and felt each other's pains. They finally became husband and wife.

His affection for her was undying and it has been noted that after the death of his Queen Consort, Gojong locked himself up in his chambers for several weeks, refusing to assume his duties. When he finally did, he lost the will to even try and signed away treaty after treaty that was proposed by the Japanese, giving the Japanese immense power. When his father was able to take back some political power after the death of his daughter-in-law, he presented a proposal with the aid of certain Japanese officials to lower his daughter-in-law's status as Queen Consort all the way to commoner posthumously. Gojong, a man who had always been used by others and never used his own voice for his own causes, was noted by scholars as having said, "I would rather slit my wrists and let them bleed than disgrace the woman who saved this kingdom." In an act of defiance, he refused to sign his father's and the Japanese proposal, and turned them away.

The Eulmi Incident


The Eulmi Incident (을미사변, 乙未事變) is the term used for the assassination of Empress Myeongseong, which occurred in the early hours of 8 October 1895 at Okho-ru (옥호루, 玉壺樓) in the Geoncheonggung (건청궁, 乾淸宮), which was the rear private royal residence inside Gyeongbokgung Palace.[24]

In the early hours of 8 October, Japanese agents under Miura Goro carried out the assassination. Miura had orchestrated this incident with Okamoto Ryūnosuke (岡本柳之助), Sugimura Fukashi (杉村 濬), Kunitomo Shigeaki (國友重章), Sase Kumadestu (佐瀨熊鐵), Nakamura Tateo (中村楯雄), Hirayama Iwahiko (平山岩彦), and over 50 other Japanese men. They were said to have also collaborated with the pro-Japanese general U Beom-seon (우범선, 禹範善) and Yi Du-hwang (이두황, 李斗璜).[24]

In front of Gwanghwamun, the assassins battled the Korean Royal Guards led by Hong Gye-hun (홍계훈, 洪啓薰) and An Gyeong-su (안경수, 安駉壽).[24] Hong Gye-hun and Minister Yi Gyeong-jik (이경직, 李耕稙) were subsequently killed in battle and the assassins proceeded to the Okhoru (옥호루, 玉壺樓) in Geoncheonggung and killed Empress Myeongseong. The corpse of the Empress was then burned and buried.[24]

An eye-witness account


Sunjong, the first son of Gojong and Empress Myeongseong, reported he saw Korean troops and General Woo Beom-seon (禹範善 우범선; father of Woo Jang-choon (禹長春 우장춘), an agricultural scientist) at the assassination spot, and accused General Woo as the "Foe of Mother". In addition to his accusation, Sunjong sent two Korean men to kill General Woo, an effort that succeeded in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1903.

In 2005, professor Kim Rekho (김려춘; 金麗春) of the Russian Academy of Sciences came across a written account of the incident by a Russian architect Afanasy Seredin-Sabatin (Афанасий Иванович Середин-Сабатин) in the Archive of Foreign Policy of the Russian Empire (Архив внешней политики Российской империи; AVPRI).[25] Seredin-Sabatin was in the service of the Korean government, working along with the American general William McEntyre Dye who was also under contract to the Korean government. In April, Kim made a request to the Myongji University (명지대학교; 明知大學校) Library LG Collection to make the document public. On 11 May 2005 the document was made public.

Almost five years prior to the document's release in South Korea, a translated copy was already in circulation in the United States, having been released by the Center for Korean Research of Columbia University on 6 October 1995 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Eulmi Incident.[26]

In the account, Seredin-Sabatin recorded:

[27]

Involved parties

In Japan, fifty-six men were charged, but all were acquitted by the Hiroshima court due to a lack of evidence.[28]

They included below;[29]

  • Viscount Miura Gorō, Japanese legation minister.
  • Okamoto Ryūnosuke (岡本柳之助), a legation official[30] and former Japanese Army officer
  • Hozumi Torakurō, Kokubun Shōtarō, Hagiwara Shujiro, Japanese legation officials[30]
  • Sugimura Fukashi (杉村 濬),[31] a second Secretary of the Japanese Legation[32]
  • Adachi Kenzo, editor of Japanese newspaper in Korea, Kanjō Shimpō[33] (漢城新報, also called Hanseong Shinbo in Korean)
  • Kusunose Yukihiko, a general of Imperial Japanese Army
  • Kunitomo Shigeaki (國友重章),[34] one of the original Seikyōsha (Society for Political Education) members[35]
  • Shiba Shirō[31](柴四朗), private secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce of Japan, and writer who studied political economy at The Wharton School and Harvard University[36]
  • Sase Kumadestu (佐瀨熊鐵), a physician[36]
  • Terasaki Yasukichi (寺崎泰吉), a medicine peddler[37]
  • Nakamura Tateo (中村楯雄)
  • Horiguchi Kumaichi (堀口 九萬一)
  • Ieiri Kakitsu (家入嘉吉)
  • Kikuchi Kenjō (菊池 謙讓)
  • Hirayama Iwahiko (平山岩彦)
  • Ogihara Hidejiro (荻原秀次郎)
  • Kobayakawa Hideo (小早川秀雄), editor in chief of Kanjō Shimpō[38]
  • Sasaki Masayuki
  • Isujuka Eijoh [39]

and others

In Korea, King Gojong declared that the following were the Eulmi Four Traitors in 11 February 1896:

  • Jo Hui-yeon (趙羲淵 조희연)
  • Yoo Gil-joon (兪吉濬 유길준)
  • Kim Hong-jip (金弘集 김홍집)
  • Jeong Byeong-ha (鄭秉夏 정병하)

Aftermath

The Gabo Reform and the assassination of Empress Myeongseong generated anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea; also, it caused some Confucian scholars, as well as farmers, to form over 60 successive righteous armies to fight for Korean freedom on the Korean peninsula.

After the assassination of Empress Myeongseong, Gojong and Crown Prince (later Emperor Sunjong) fled for refuge to the Russian legation in 11 February 1896. Also, Gojong declared the Eulmi Four Traitors. However, In 1897, Gojong, yielding to rising pressure from both overseas and the demands of the Independence Association-led public opinion, returned to Gyeongungung (modern-day Deoksugung). There, he proclaimed the founding of the Korean Empire. However, after Japan's victories in the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars, Korea succumbed to Japanese colonial rule between 1910 and 1945.

Empress Myeongseong Funeral Procession and Tomb

In 1897, King Gojong, with Russian support, regained his throne, and spent "a fortune" to have his beloved Queen Min (Empress Myeongseong) remains properly honored and entombed. Her mourning procession included 5,000 soldiers, 650 police, 4,000 lanterns, hundreds of scrolls honoring her, and giant wooden horses intended for her use in the afterlife. The honors King Gojong placed on Queen Min( Empress Myeongseong) for her funeral was meant as a statement to her diplomatic and heroic endeavors for Korea against the invading Japanese, as well as, a statement of his own undying love for her. Queen Min's (Empress Myeongseong) recovered remains are in her tomb located in Namyangju, Gyeonggi, South Korea.[40]

2005 to 2010

May 2005, 84-year old Tatsumi Kawano (川野 龍巳), the grandson of Kunitomo Shigeaki, paid his respects to Empress Myeongseong at her tomb in Namyangju, Gyeonggi, South Korea.[36][41] He apologized to Empress Myeongseong's tomb on behalf of his grandfather.[36]

Since 2009, Korean organizations have been trying to adjudicate the Japanese government for their documented complicity in the murder of Empress Myeongseong. "Japan has not made an official apology or repentance 100 years after it obliterated the Korean people for 35 years through the 1910 Korea-Japan Annexation Treaty," the statement said. The lawsuit will be filed if the Japanese government does not accept their demands that the Japanese government issue a special statement on 15 August offering the emperor's apology and mentioning whether it will release related documents on the murder case.[42]

Family

  • Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather
    • Min Gwang-hun (Hangul: 민광훈, Hanja: 閔光勳) (1595–1659), scholar during the reign of King Injong.
  • Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandmother
    • Lady Yi (Hangul: 이씨, Hanja: 李氏), daughter of Yi Gwang-jeong (Hangul: 이광정, Hanja: 李光庭).
  • Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather
    • Min Yu-jung (Hangul: (민유중), Hanja: 閔維重) (1630–1687).
  • Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandmother
    • Lady Song (Hangul: 송씨, Hanja: 宋氏); Min Yu-jung's second wife; daughter of Song Jun-gil (Hangul: 송준길, Hanja: 宋俊吉), Yeonguijeong during the reign of King Hyojong.
  • Great-Great-Great-Grandfather
    • Min Jin-hu (Hangul: 민진후, Hanja: 閔鎭厚) (1659–1720), eldest brother of Queen Inhyeon (second consort of King Sukjong).
  • Great-Great-Grandfather
    • Min Ik-su (Hangul: 민익수, Hanja: 閔浸沒) (1690–1742).
  • Great-Grandfather
    • Min Baek-bun (Hangul: 민백분, Hanja: 閔百奮) (1723–?).
  • Grandfather
    • Min Gi-hyeon (Hangul: 민기현, Hanja: 閔耆顯) (1751–1811).
  • Father
    • Min Chi-rok (Hangul: 민치록, Hanja: 閔致祿) (1799–1858).
  • Mother
    • Lady Hanchang of Yi clan, Min Chi-rok's second wife.
  • Husband
    • King Gojong (later Emperor Gojong).
  • Sons
    • Unnamed son (born 1871).
    • Emperor Sunjong (25 March 1874 – 24 April 1926).
    • Unnamed son (born 1875).
    • Unnamed son (born 1878).
  • Daughter
    • Unnamed daughter (born 1873).

Titles from birth to death

Throughout her life, Empress Myeongseong held several different titles: as a member of the yangban aristocracy, as Queen Consort, and as regent of Korea. More titles were granted to her posthumously and after the creation of the Korean Empire.

  • 19 October 1851 – 20 March 1866 - Lady Min, the daughter of Min Chi-rok, of the Yeoheung Min clan
  1. "Lady Min"
  2. "The daughter of Min Chi-rok"
  • 20 March 1866 – 1 November 1873: Her Royal Highness, the Queen Consort of Joseon
  • 1 November 1873 – 1 July 1894: Her Royal Highness, the Queen Regent of Joseon
  • 1 July 1894 – 6 July 1895: Her Royal Highness, the Queen Consort of Joseon
  • 6 July 1895 – 8 October 1895: Her Royal Highness, the Queen Regent of Joseon

(the above four titles & styles were 王妃殿下 왕비전하 wangbi jeonha / 中殿媽媽 중전마마 jungjeon mama / 中宮殿媽媽 중궁전마마 junggungjeon mama applicable)

  • Empress Myeongseong of Korea (posthumous name; see her full title above)

Photographs and illustrations


Documents note that she was in an official royal family photograph. A royal family photograph does exist, but it was taken after her death, consisting of Gojong, Sunjong, and Sunjong's wife the Princess Consort of the Crown Prince. It is believed that the Japanese destroyed all photographs of her after her death. There is a rumor that a photograph of the Empress exists in the Japanese archives but the Japanese government has denied its existence .

Another photograph surfaces

There was a report by KBS News in 2003 that a photograph allegedly of the Empress had been disclosed to the public.[43] The photograph was supposedly purchased for a large sum by the grandfather of Min Soo-gyeong that was to be passed down as a family treasure. In the photo, the woman is accompanied by a retinue at her rear. Some experts have stated that the woman was clearly of high-rank and her clothing appears to be that that is worn only by the royal family. However, her outfit lacked the embroideries that decorates the apparel of the empress.

Japanese illustration

On 13 January 2005, history professor Lee Tae-jin (이태진, 李泰鎭) of Seoul National University unveiled an illustration from an old Japanese magazine he had found at an antique bookstore in Tokyo. The 84th edition of the Japanese magazine Fūzokugahō (風俗畫報) published on 25 January 1895 has a Japanese illustration of Gojong and the then-Queen Consort receiving Inoue Kaoru, the Japanese charge d'affaires.[44] The illustration is marked 24 December 1894 and signed by the artist Ishizuka (石塚 ) with a legend "The [Korean] King and Queen, moved by our honest advice, realize the need for resolute reform for the first time." Lee said that the depiction of the clothes and background are very detailed and suggests that it was drawn at the scene as it happened. Both the King and Inoue were looking at the then-Queen Consort as though the conversation were taking place between the Queen and Inoue with the King listening.

In popular culture

According to the TV drama Empress Myeongseong and musical, her name was Min Ja-yeong (민자영; 閔紫英), but there is no evidence of that name in written documents.

The 2009 film The Sword With No Name is a romanticized fictional story centered around Empress Myeongseong.[45]

See also

References

Further reading

  • OCLC 15109843
  • Dechler, Martina. (1999). Culture and the State in Late Choson Korea. ISBN 0-674-00774-3
  • Duus, Peter. (1998). The Abacus and the Sword: The Japanese Penetration of Korea, 1895-1910. Berkeley: University of California Press. 13-OCLC 232346524
  • Han, Young-woo, Empress Myeongseong and Korean Empire (명성황후와 대한제국)(2001). Hyohyeong Publishing ISBN 89-86361-57-4
  • Hann, Woo-Keun. (1996). The History of Korea. ISBN 0-8248-0334-5
  • OCLC 46731178
  • Lewis, James Bryant. (2003). Frontier Contact between Choson Korea and Tokugawa Japan. ISBN 0-7007-1301-8
  • MacKensie, Frederick Arthur. (1920). Korea's Fight for Freedom. Chicago: Fleming H. Revell. Project Gutenberg.)
  • __________. (1908). The Tragedy of Korea. London: Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 1-901903-09-5
  • Nahm, Andrew C. (1996). A History of the Korean People: Tradition and Transformation. (1996) ISBN 0-930878-56-6
  • _________. ( 1997). Introduction to Korean History and Culture. ISBN 0-930878-08-6
  • Schmid, Andre. (2002). Korea between Empires, 1895-1919. New York: Columbia University Press. 10-OCLC 48618117
  • Yu, Hongjong. (2003). The Last Empress of the Lost Empire: A Comprehensive Study of Empress Myeongseong Hwanghu (2003)

External links

  • Making of an Asian hit: A Korean royal tragedy in the Broadway style by Ricardo Saludo, Asia Week ( 18 December 1998)
  • The New York Times, 10 November 1895.
  • Japanese Document Sheds New Light on Korean Queen's Murder by Yoo Seok-jae, The Chosun Ilbo ( 12 January 2005)
  • YouTube

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