Story of Korea told century ago

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Story of Korea told century ago


By Kim Ji-myung

The July 25, 1897, issue of the New York Journal carried a sizable story headlined "Prince of Corea Comes to America Wearing a Coat of Mail for Fear of Assassins." It features large drawings of a Korean prince and the imaginative protective steel wire undershirt, two Korean royal women (both dead), and two suspected assassins from Korea.

The prince, Uihwa, was a secondary prince born to a consort of the Korean King Gojong. The article argues that Prince Uihwa was marked for death, because the Crown Prince (later King Sunjong) feared him. The two women are Queen Min (known as Empress Myeongseong), the mother of the Crown Prince, and Lady Jang, a royal consort and the mother of Prince Uihwa.

That is why, according to the article, two men follow the prince with the mission to murder him when they had the chance, and why the U.S Secret Service and the detective force of every city in which Prince Uihwa visited were instructed to look out for his safety.

While quite favorable in describing the prince, such as "a gentle, cultured youth, fond of afternoon and appreciative, of the attentions of the society of this Western land," the article bluntly despises the people and history of Korea, the king, and his consort Queen Min. It villainizes Queen Min, demeans King Gojong, and claims that Queen Min's death was the doing of King Gojong's father, Prince Regent Heungseon Daewongun.

The writer states, "She [Queen Min] knew the whirling character of Korean politics, but womanlike, she attributed the rise of Prince Eiu Hwa Gun to a woman," and suggests that "Maybe jealousy had something to do with it."

The story continues, "At any rate she had the young prince's beautiful mother killed. Next she caused the death of his sister and brother. Though she dominated poor, slow, stupid old King Li, she could not touch the Prince (Uihwa), who was safe on his Japanese diplomatic mission."

As for the assassination of Queen Min, the writer takes the official argument of the Japanese that it was the king's father, Daewongun, who was indeed the queen's principal opponent in the game of Korean politics. The article describes "a hardy, clever old villain, by the name, Tai Won Gun [Daewongun]…. headed a riot in Seoul, the mob stormed the castle and brutally murdered Queen Min, and Tai Won Gun took possession of the government and the King."

The article even goes so far as to state that Korea has "a history so bloody that you have to go back to the Middle Ages to find a parallel. Murder, intrigue, poisoning, strangling, kidnapping ― all these are more naturally the environment of the pensive young Oriental than the small conversation of Washington and afternoons."
The story is impressive enough to draw attention of the readers with provocative headlines and exotic drawings. But there is no name of the writer.

This is just one of a number of stories published around the turn of the 20th century in the West leading up to Japan's illegal colonization of Korea in 1910. It is an example of the story of Korea and the image of Koreans being first shared to the world not by Koreans, but by pro-Japanese foreign authors.

Because the presentation of the assassination matched the official story told by Japan at the time, Korean scholars suspect Japan bought many foreign journalists around that time to hide the true story. Now we can see that the American media were spreading this information worldwide although reports sent by foreign legations in Seoul included first-hand eye-witness reports on Japan's role as masterminds.

At the time, these kinds of outrageous stories were spread widely and influenced the international image of Korea prior to its colonization. However, now the time seems ripe to search for deeper layers of historical records and resources for a more objective analysis and storytelling. As more diplomatic memos and documents are now de-classified, the details of the real facts can be found, and many pages of Korean stories such as those in old "pulp magazine" novels and century-old newspaper articles await a serious review.


The writer (heritagekorea21@gmail.com) is the chairwoman of the Korea Heritage Education Institute (K*Heritage).



By Kim Ji-myung

The July 25, 1897, issue of the New York Journal carried a sizable story headlined "Prince of Corea Comes to America Wearing a Coat of Mail for Fear of Assassins." It features large drawings of a Korean prince and the imaginative protective steel wire undershirt, two Korean royal women (both dead), and two suspected assassins from Korea.

The prince, Uihwa, was a secondary prince born to a consort of the Korean King Gojong. The article argues that Prince Uihwa was marked for death, because the Crown Prince (later King Sunjong) feared him. The two women are Queen Min (known as Empress Myeongseong), the mother of the Crown Prince, and Lady Jang, a royal consort and the mother of Prince Uihwa.

That is why, according to the article, two men follow the prince with the mission to murder him when they had the chance, and why the U.S Secret Service and the detective force of every city in which Prince Uihwa visited were instructed to look out for his safety.

While quite favorable in describing the prince, such as "a gentle, cultured youth, fond of afternoon and appreciative, of the attentions of the society of this Western land," the article bluntly despises the people and history of Korea, the king, and his consort Queen Min. It villainizes Queen Min, demeans King Gojong, and claims that Queen Min's death was the doing of King Gojong's father, Prince Regent Heungseon Daewongun.

The writer states, "She [Queen Min] knew the whirling character of Korean politics, but womanlike, she attributed the rise of Prince Eiu Hwa Gun to a woman," and suggests that "Maybe jealousy had something to do with it."

The story continues, "At any rate she had the young prince's beautiful mother killed. Next she caused the death of his sister and brother. Though she dominated poor, slow, stupid old King Li, she could not touch the Prince (Uihwa), who was safe on his Japanese diplomatic mission."

As for the assassination of Queen Min, the writer takes the official argument of the Japanese that it was the king's father, Daewongun, who was indeed the queen's principal opponent in the game of Korean politics. The article describes "a hardy, clever old villain, by the name, Tai Won Gun [Daewongun]…. headed a riot in Seoul, the mob stormed the castle and brutally murdered Queen Min, and Tai Won Gun took possession of the government and the King."

The article even goes so far as to state that Korea has "a history so bloody that you have to go back to the Middle Ages to find a parallel. Murder, intrigue, poisoning, strangling, kidnapping ― all these are more naturally the environment of the pensive young Oriental than the small conversation of Washington and afternoons."
The story is impressive enough to draw attention of the readers with provocative headlines and exotic drawings. But there is no name of the writer.

This is just one of a number of stories published around the turn of the 20th century in the West leading up to Japan's illegal colonization of Korea in 1910. It is an example of the story of Korea and the image of Koreans being first shared to the world not by Koreans, but by pro-Japanese foreign authors.

Because the presentation of the assassination matched the official story told by Japan at the time, Korean scholars suspect Japan bought many foreign journalists around that time to hide the true story. Now we can see that the American media were spreading this information worldwide although reports sent by foreign legations in Seoul included first-hand eye-witness reports on Japan's role as masterminds.

At the time, these kinds of outrageous stories were spread widely and influenced the international image of Korea prior to its colonization. However, now the time seems ripe to search for deeper layers of historical records and resources for a more objective analysis and storytelling. As more diplomatic memos and documents are now de-classified, the details of the real facts can be found, and many pages of Korean stories such as those in old "pulp magazine" novels and century-old newspaper articles await a serious review.


The writer (heritagekorea21@gmail.com) is the chairwoman of the Korea Heritage Education Institute (K*Heritage).




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