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Daebak – Factionalism and The Reigns of Kings Sukjong and Yeongjo

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Since the beginning, the Joseon Dynasty was characterized by factional strife within the government (tangjaeng), between those who supported Yi Bang Won (King Taejong) who wanted a strong monarchy and those who supported Jeong Do-jeon (aka Sambong) who wanted a government led by trained Confucian scholars with a figurehead monarch – or something akin to today’s constitutional monarchies. While Yi Bang Won won the battle and became king, the factional strife and enmity continued as each side struggled for power.

However, in 1575 a major dispute first arose between two political cliques, the Easterners (Tongin) and Westerners (Soin) over appointments to powerful middle-level positions in the Ministry of Personnel. The dispute became a hereditary conflict, passed from one generation to another, and from Confucian teachers to their students. The Easterners quickly gained dominance over the Westerners but an internal split developed in the Western faction between Northerners and Southerners.

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In 1674, King Sukjong took the throne. Born on October 7, 1661, he became Crown Prince Myeongbo in 1667 at the age of seven and ascended the throne at 14. His reign was marked with intense factional fighting at court, and he frequently replaced faction in power with another one to strengthen the royal authority.

The chaotic changes of government did not affect the general populace significantly, and his reign is considered one of more prosperous times. Sukjong made tax system reform (大同法), promoted the use of coin (Korean mun) and allowed the middle class and children of concubines to advance to higher governmental positions in provinces. In 1712, Sukjong’s government worked with the Qing Dynasty in China to define the national borders between the two countries at the Yalu and Tumen Rivers. The Japanese government recognized Ulleung Island as Joseon’s territory in 1696 (Korean Government insists that Liancourt Rocks was also recognized. But Japanese Government insists that Liancourt Rocks was not recognized as Joseon’s territory.) Sukjong’s reign also saw agricultural development of far provinces and increased cultural activities including publications.

Sukjong’s first Queen, Ingyeong, whom he married while still a child, died of small pox eight days after being crowned. Inghyeong had three daughters but all died at childbirth. He married his second queen, In Hyeon, in 1681, when she was 14. However, no children were born of this marriage.

The first factional battle of his reign occurred between the Western vs Southern factions. The Southern party lost and was purged from government and was driven out of politics with numerous executions and exiles. The Western faction, then, split into Noron (Old Learning, i,e, conservative) and Soron (New Learning, i.e. progressive).

After nine years in power, the Noron collapsed when Sukjong deposed Queen Inhyeon and named Consort Hui of Jang clan (also called Consort Jang or Jang Hui-Bin) as the new queen. The Noron faction, who supported Queen Inhyeon, opposed Sukjong’s deposing Inhyeon while the Soron faction, who supported Lady Jang, approved.

Following a visit with his step-great-grandmother (Grand Dowager Queen Jangnyeol), King Sukjong saw Jang Ok-Jeong and gave her the rank of favored sang-goong, which meant she had been favored for the king, but since she and her family belonged to the contrary faction, Soron, the Queen Mother (mother of King Sukjong), who belonged to Noron, was afraid of the influence she could have on the king and expelled her from the palace. Jang (later known as Jang Heebin) stayed out of the palace until 1683 when the Queen Mother died and Queen Inhyeon allowed her to come back. In 1686, she became Sukjong’s concubine with the title of Suk-Won (숙원, 淑媛) and in 1688, she was elevated again after giving birth to a son (the future King Gyeongjong), the same year Queen Inhyeon was exiled.

Jang Hui Bin gave birth to Crown Prince Hwiso, Yi Yun (1688-1724) to become King Gyeongjong of Joseon, only known son of Royal Noble Consort Hui of the Indong Jang clan. After the birth of Gyeongjong, Sukjong asked Queen Inhyeon to adopt Jang Hui-Bin’s child, a common procedure at the time. But because Queen Inhyeon was still young at 21 years old at the time of Gyeongjong’s birth, this action was opposed by the Court as being an inappropriate, legitimizing promotion of the infant. Queen Inhyeon refused to adopt Gyeongjong as her own son and, thus, was demoted from her position due to the political machinations of the time.

In 1690, Gyeongjong’s designation as heir to the throne precipitated another struggle between the Noron and the Soron political factions, the latter of which supported Gyeongjong of Joseon.

These events created a bloody factional dispute and upheaval known as the Gisa Hwanguk. Nevertheless, Consort Jang Hui-Bin was promoted to the position of Queen Bu-ok of Joseon in 1688 as a result of these changes, and the Soron faction came to power in the court.

Many, including Inhyeon and her family, were forced into exile. Jang Hui-Bin came from the middle class (chungin) and is widely thought to be one of the most beautiful women in Joseon. Her charm was mentioned in the Annals. A book called In-Hyeon Wanghu Jeon (Queen In-Hyeon’s Biography), written by one of the queen’s lady’s maids, as well as folk tales about Lady Chang’s avarice and ultimate demise have been the subject of numerous traditional Korean dramas, songs, and poems. Jang Hui-Bin was known for her greed for power, wanting the queen consort title, but some would argue that she was the victim of political struggle present during this time.

Nevertheless, five years later, Sukjong began to regret deposing Queen Inhyeon as well as favor Consort Suk Bin of Choe clan (Consort Choe), an ally of Queen Inhyeon and the Noron faction. Sukbin had entered the palace at the age of 7. She belonged to the “cheonmin” class, the lowest class during the Joseon Dynasty. How she and the King had their first encounter is unknown. The most accepted version is that she was a “musuri“, i.e. a water maid (a palace slave), during the time when Queen Inhyeon was deposed and exiled, and the concubine, Jang Hui-Bin, acquired the status of queen. Noone knows exactly how Sukjong met Consort Choe Dong Yi. . However, one tale has it that Sukjong happened to be passing by her room where he saw her kneeling before a small alter praying for the health and safety of Queen Inhyeon. Sukjong was so taken by her kindness and modesty that he took for his consort.

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Regardless, in 1693, Choe became Sukjong’s concubine with the rank of Suk-won, after giving birth to Prince Yeongsu; however, he died young. (Edit note: Dae-gil supposedly is this son, Prince Yeongsu, in the drama Daebak.)

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The next year, Choe Suk-won was elevated again after giving birth to a son, Prince Yeoning, to the rank of Suk-Bin. These two events caused another faction dispute. The Soron faction supported Crown Prince Gyeonjgong, Consort Jang’s son, while the Noron faction supported Consort Choe‘s son, Prince Yeonying (Yi-Geum), later to become Yeongjo of Joseon. The result of this factional dispute was that the Soron faction was purged after Sukjong demoted “Queen Jang” to Consort “Jang Hui-bin” and he reinstated “Queen Inhyeon”. (Another concubine, Royal Noble Consort Myeong of the Miryang Park clan (명빈 박씨), daughter of the Yangban (noble) class, gave birth to a prince in 1699.)

In 1701, Queen Inhyeon died of unknown causes; some historiographers believe she was poisoned, but this is unconfirmed. It has been said that Sukjong, while mourning for Inhyeon, dreamed of her in a sobok dress drenched with blood. Sukjong asked Inhyeon of how she died, but Inhyeon didn’t say anything, instead pointing in the direction of Jang Hui-bin’s chambers. Sukjong awoke and then went into Jang’s chambers. While approaching, he heard music and sounds of laughter. Eavesdropping, he saw Jang Hui-bin with Shamanist priestesses in her chambers, praying for the Queen’s death, while striking a figurine with arrows. The registers show that Sukjong found Jang Hui-Bin in her room with a shaman priestess cursing the Queen and making merry over having caused her death with black magic. Consort Jang was eventually executed (with poison) for cursing Queen Inhyeon to her death. After sentencing Hui-Bin, King Sukjong passed a law forbidding a concubine with the rank of “bin” to become Queen.

Sukjong married his third queen, Inwon, in 1702. She, however, was childless and adopted Prince Yeoning Geum, who was known to be her favorite and whom she regarded as her own son. King Sukjong was very proud of his son with Lady Choe and his treatment of him tended towards the lavish. All the officials, who were born in noble houses and had noble wives, maintained a condescending view of the Prince and his mother and were quick to lecture Sukjong on frugality and modesty. The King ignored them.

When Queen Inwon came down with smallpox nearly a decade later, Choe Suk-bin ordered the gungnyeo to go out of the palace and look for remedies among the commoners to save the queen, who in the end survived.

In 1716, Choe Suk-bin was taken out of the palace while ill. Later that same year, Sukjong received a message from Yeoning Geum informing him that his mother’s health had worsened and asking for more medical help. Royal Noble Consort Choe Suk-bin died at the age of 49 in Inhyeon Palace in 1718, and Sukjong allowed the crown prince, soon to be Gyeongjong of Joseon, to rule the country as regent. Sukjong died after reigning for 46 years in 1720 at age 60.

Following the death of King Sukjong, Royal Prince Successor Hwiso (Yi Yun) ascended the throne at age 33 as King Gyeongjong. Sukjong supposedly told Yi Yi-myoung (a Noron) to name Yeoning-geum as Gyeongjong’s heir, but if he did, it was in absence of a histriographer or recorder.

Gyeongjong suffered from ill health during his reign, and the Noron political faction pressured him to step down in favor of his half-brother, Prince Yeoning. In 1720, two months after Gyeonjong’s enthronement, his half brother, Prince Yeoning (the future King Yeongjo) was installed as Royal Prince Successor Brother (wangseje) to handle state affairs, since the king weak health made impossible for him to manage politics. Due to King Gyeongjong’s fragile health, he had no energy or time to do anything significant in the four years of his reign.

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Prince Yeonging-Geum’s elevation aggravated the power struggle and led to a big massacre, namely the Shinimsahwa. The Norons (supporters of Yeoning and Sukbin) sent memorials to the king to no effect while the Sorons used this to their advantage — claiming the Noron faction was trying to usurp power — and subsequently getting their rival faction removed from several offices. In all, 12 Noron leaders were executed.

When the Soron faction (supporters of Gyeongjong & Hui-Bin) could not prevent Yeoning from being named Royal Prince Successor Brother, they came up with an idea to assassinate Yeoning under the cover of hunting for a white fox, said to be haunting the palace, but Yeoning sought shelter with his step mother, Queen Dowager Inwon, who protected him. He was able to keep living, after which he told the king that he rather would go and live as a commoner. He tried several times to renounce his title but was over-ruled each time. In the end, Yeoning became King Yeongjo in 1724 when his brother, King Gyeongjong, died leaving behind no children. His 2nd Queen, Seonui, became Queen Dowager.

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There was some speculation from Soron party members that his half-brother, Prince Yeoning, had something to do with his death due to the earlier attempt by the Noron faction to have him replace Gyeongjong on the throne, but several historiographers now conclude that he could have died of eating spoiled seafood. Hulbert Homer’s book, The History of Korea, states “But we may well doubt the truth of the rumor, for nothing that is told of that brother indicates that he would commit such an act, and in the second place a man who will eat shrimps in mid-summer, that have been brought thirty miles from the sea without ice might expect to die.”

From “The Land of Scholars”:

 The Soron faction put Gyeonjong on the throne, but because Gyeongjong did not have any sons to succeed him, the Noron faction supported the appointment of his half brother as Crown Prince. The Soron faction oppressed the Noron faction fiercely, and Yeoning-gun himself rendered his resignation as Crown Prince on several occasions without success.

After Gyeongjong passed away, confrontation between Soron and Noron factions reached an extreme degree of tension because the Soron faction spread a rumor that the Noron faction poisoned Gyeongjong. Yeongjo ascended to the throne under these circumstances and executed the Policy of Impartiality (tangpyeong) to end the vicious cycle of endless revenge and attempted to establish a coalition government based on moderate members of both factions who supported the policy.

The Policy of Impartiality advocated by Yeongjo put the Noron faction that support him to the throne as the mainstream and had the Soron faction participate on the side.

Yeongjo, (31 October 1694 – 22 April 1776) who reigned from 16 October 1724 – 22 April 1776, became the 21st king of the Korean Joseon Dynasty. However, his life was threatened in the beginning of his rule partially because of his mother’s low-born class. He, later, took great offense towards anyone who mentioned his mother’s class status.

King Yeongjo was known to be a child prodigy and became one of the greatest kings in Joseon.

People around him described him as an articulate, bright, benevolent and kind King. He was penetrating in observation and quick of comprehension. Yeongjo married Royal Princess Consort, Lady Seo Jong-hyun (later Queen Jeongseong), in 1703, when he was just 8 years old. Neither of his Queens gave birth to any children. Yeongjo’s first son was born in 1719 to Royal Noble Consort Lee Jeong-bin who died in childbirth. Prince Hyohjang died in 1728.

In 1726, Yeongjo took Lady Lee Yeong-bin as his concubine. Royal Noble Consort Yeong-bin gave birth to Crown Prince Sado (1735–1762) who was killed by his father by forcing Sado to enter a rice bin that was then nailed shut. Sado, given no food or water, expired after eight days.

King Yeongjo was a deeply Confucian monarch, and is said to have had a greater knowledge of the classics than his officials. During the reign of Yeongjo and his grandson Jeongjo, Confucianization was at its height, as well as the economic recovery from the wars of the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

Yeongjo realizing the detrimental effect on state administration of factional strife during the latter half of the 17th century, attempted to end factional strife as soon as he ascended the throne.

He worried deeply for his people, even to the point of worrying that rain would ruin the harvest forcing his unfortunate people to starve. As a result, the King ordered his courtiers to reduce taxes on the people and decrease the number of dishes in his own meals. Reducing the range of foods he ate was a decision made out of concern for his starving people.

Yeongjo’s concern for improvement of the peasant’s life was manifest in his eagerness to educate the people by distributing important books in the Korean script (Hangul), including the Book of Agriculture. The pluviometre was again manufactured in quantity and distributed to local administration offices and extensive public work projects were undertaken. Yeongjo upgraded the status of posterity of the commoners, opening another possibility for upward social mobility and inevitable change. Yeongjo policies were intended to reassert the Confucian monarchy and a humanistic rule, but they couldn’t stem the tide of social change that resulted.

Yeongjo’s reign lasted 52 years and was marked by his persistent efforts to reform the taxation system of Joseon, rule by Confucian ethics, minimize and reconcile the factional fighting under his “Magnificent Harmony” Policy (Tangpyeong).

In spite of various controversies, Yeongjo’s reign has earned a positive reputation in Korean history due to his sincere efforts to rule by Confucian virtue. His rulership has been called one of the most brilliant reigns of all the Joseon Dynasty.

Yeongjo died at the age of 81, after 52 years on the throne.

Court Factions: Factions.jpg

King Sukjong’s Family Tree:

First Queen:

  • Ingyeong (also written as In-Kyeong) 1661-1680
  • Married at age ten and titled Crown Princess Consort to then Crown Prince (King Sukjong)
  • In 1674, she became the Queen.
  • Had three daughters but all died during childbirth
  • In October 1680, she showed signs of smallpox and died eight days later, at the age of 20, in Gyeongdeok Palace

Second Queen:

  • Inhyeon 1667-1701
  • Marriage in 1681
  • Aligned with the Noron (Westerners) faction
  • Deposed in 1688 and reinstated in 1694
  • In 1701, at age 35 she became ill and died of an unknown disease (or poisoning)

 Third Queen:

  • Inwon 1687 – 1757
  • Married in 1702 at the age of 15
  • She survived smallpox in 1711
  • She became Dowager Queen (Wangdaebi) after her husband’s death in 1720
  • Became Daewangdaebi in 1724 after Gyeongjong (her stepson by Lady Chang (Hui-bin) died and Yeongjo (her other stepson by Lady Choi (Suk-bin)), whom she favored, became King
  • She had no children and died in 1757 at age of 70

Royal Consorts (Concubines)

Lady Kim Yeongbin

  • Became concubine with the title of Gwi-In (1st rank senior) in 1687
  • Aligned with the Noron (Westerners) faction and Queen Inhyeon
  • In 1688, Lady Kim Gwi-In was deposed on her residence
  • Lady Kim Gwi-In was also reinstated in the Palace as King Sukjong’s concubine in 1694

Lady Chang Ok-Jeong (aka Jang Ok-Jung) 1659-1701

  • No records of who her father was
  • Rumored that her father was Cho Sa-seok, Queen Jang-ryeol’s brother, because Ok-Jeong’s mother was his well-known mistress
  • Aligned with Soron faction
  • Became lady’s maid to Queen Jang-ryeol (King Injo’s second queen)
  • In 1686, King Sukjong discovered her during a visit to his step-grandmother (Dowager Queen Jang-ryeol) and made her his concubine, giving her the title of Sook-won (fourth class).
  • In 1688, she was promoted to So-ui (third class)
  • In 1689 she gave birth to a son (later Gyeongjong) and was made Hui-bin (first class)
  • Made queen (Grand Concubine Oksan (옥산 대빈) and her son was titled the Crown Prince after a bloody dispute called Gi-Sa Hwanguk
  • In 1694, Lady Chang was demoted to Hee-bin, when Queen In-Hyun was reinstated
  • Following the death of Queen Inhyeon, she was arrested and sentenced to death by poisoning—she was 43.
  • She officially had two children, Gyeongjong and a princess.
  • There is some dispute that in 1690 she may have given birth to a second son who died young
  • Many folk stories about her greed for power, including a famous story involving her son, then the Crown Prince (future Gyeongjong), which took place just before her death

Lady Choi Dong-Yi (Suk-bin)

  • No records of her life before she became King Sukjong’s concubine
  • She was a water maid in the palace
  • Moved by her kindness towards the queen towards whom he regretted being so harsh, made her his concubine
  • In 1693 gave birth to Prince Yeongsu, died young
  • She became Sook-bin after the birth of a son (the future King Yeongjo) in 1694 and had two princesses.
  • In 1698, Lady Choi Sukbin gave birth to an Unnamed Son, died young.
  • Lady Choi Sukbin was evicted out of the palace in 1702
  • In 1718, at the age of 49, Suk-bin died in her private residence

Lady Park (Myeong-bin)

  • No known records about her except that she was a daughter of nobility (yangban)
  • Became concubine, with the title of Sukwon, in 1698
  • She had one son, Prince Yeun-rueng, born in 1699. He died in 1719 at the age of 20
  • Died in 1703

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by Valerie Curl

March 15, 2016 at 9:05 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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