Posted by: rbbadger | November 25, 2009

Korea’s penultimate Emperor

In 1897, King Gojong of what was then known as Joseon (McCune-Reischauer: Chosŏn) announced the end of Korea’s tributary status and thus proclaimed the Dae Han, or Great Korean Empire.  Today’s South Korea is known as the Dae Han Min Guk.  Back then, it was Dae Han Je Guk. 

During that time period, the new Korean Empire began to experiment with westernization and modernization.  Emperor Gojong began to dress much like how western European monarchs dress, even today.  At Deoksu Palace, there were some photos of the late Gwangmu Emperor.  In East Asian society, it would have been unthinkable to address a king by his name.  Often, emperors have a ceremonial name by which they are known.  It is unthinkable in Japan to refer to Emperor Hirohito by his name.  As is common with all his ancestors, he is known as the Emperor Showa, the posthumous name given him.  When he dies, Emperor Akihito will be known as the Hesei Emperor. 

Here is the Gwangmu Emperor in all his western finery complete with decorations.

Here’s a more traditional shot with the royal family.

The Gwangmu Emperor was to be forced to abdicate.  The throne passed to his son, Sunjong who became the Emperor Yunghui.  The Yunghui Emperor was not mentally sound, perhaps relating to his poisoning by the Japanese in the infamous coffee poisoning plot.  Gojong tasted his coffee and noticed it tasted strange so he didn’t drink it.  Sunjong drank his as was poisoned.  He was never quite the same after and was thus an easily malleable figurehead for the Japanese to manipulate.  The Gwangmu Emperor, King Gojong, died in Deoksu Palace under mysterious circumstances, having seen his proud country’s sovereignity lost and the Japanese haven taken control.  Both emperors are buried not far from my home in an exquisitely beautiful park near city hall.  The tombs are modelled on those of the Ming and Qing emperors of China.


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