Queen Min

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Queen Min

The Korean Queen Min (1851-1895), whose Korean title was Myngsng Hwanghu, was the strong-willed consort of King Kojong and manipulated court politics in the last turbulent decades of the Yi period.

Queen Min the daughter of Min Ch'irok, a government official. Her parents passed away when she was 9, leaving her a poor orphan who had to live with the Mins of Yju, the place of her birth. She was made the royal consort in 1866 at the urging of Lady Min, consort of Hungsn Taewngun and mother of King Kojong. A court lady named Yi, however, was then enjoying the royal affection and gave birth to Prince Wanhwa.

Queen Min's resentment and hatred was soon directed mostly at Taewongun, who exercised governmental powers as the regent and appeared overjoyed at the birth of the prince. Queen Min's jealousy was intensified when her own child, Wnja, died only 5 days after birth in 1871. The distressed queen now concentrated on having members of the Min family appointed to key financial, personnel, and military positions of the Korean government to oppose the rule of the regent.

As the many political blunders of the regent Taewngun became evident, Queen Min helped King Kojong inaugurate his personal rule, which was to be dominated by the Mins, who were already occupying key positions in the central administration. Followers of Taewngun were summarily removed from power positions, and the government suddenly reversed the isolationist policy pursued by Taewngun. Formal diplomatic relations between Korea and Japan were consequently established.

Queen Min now wielded political power in the name of the lackluster king and through the numerous Mins who owed their positions to her. The rule of the Mins proved to be arrogant, inefficient, and corrupt. The Political Upheaval of the Kapsin Year of 1884 drove the Mins out of power temporarily. The "progressive" Cabinet that displaced the Mins, however, was in turn driven out of Seoul through the interference of Ch'ing China. Meanwhile, the Japanese penetration into Korea was intensified and resulted in a short-lived pro-Japanese Cabinet led by Kim Hong-jip.

As it appeared that the Russian legation in Seoul was also being drawn into the power struggles, the Japanese precipitated the Incident of the Ulmi Year of 1895, in which a band of Japanese and Koreans, said to be led by the Japanese minister to Korea, Miura, stabbed the Queen to death. This unprecedented murder of a queen by a band of ruffians which included foreigners bent on the destruction of the ruling family took place on August 20 in the Knch'ng Palace.

Further Reading

A chapter on Min, "Events Leading to the Assassination of Queen Min," is in Clarence Norwood, ed., Hulbert's History of Korea(1962). See also Charles Patrick Fitzgerald, A Concise History of East Asia (1966). □