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(101) The life of Empress Myeongseong

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By Janet Shin

The story of the Empress Myeongseong, wife of King Gojong, is one of the most tragic events in Korean history. Unfortunately, it has been interspersed with a lot of distorted historical facts.

We will review what aspects of her life led to such a tragic end, along with the causes of conflict, as seen through the eyes of saju.

Myeongseong was born in Gyeonggi Province to Min Chirok, a former past prime minister of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1897). After her parents passed away when she was 8 years old, Myeongseong grew up in a poor environment. However, she was highly intelligent and read Chinese classics during her youth.

Owing to a recommendation by King Gojong's mother - and chosen by his father, Heungsun, for her poverty - she became the queen. Heung-sun purposely chose a woman with a weak background, so that her family would be unable to interfere in political affairs, leaving him to become the most influential power in King Gojong's life.

But before long, it soon became evident that Heung-sun had chosen wrongly.

Myeongseong grew to oppose Heung-sun as the country was led downhill due to his policies.

She decided to collect powerful allies among her relatives, to create a strong opposition to Heung-sung's party. She succeeded and eventually remained powerful for almost 20 years.

However, conflict surfaced in international relations between Japan, Russia and China.

While Myeongseong aligned herself with Russia, Heung-sun sought support from Japan, which then attempted to intervene in Korean affairs on the back of Heung-sun.

Then, on Oct. 8, 1895 (year of Eul-mi), the Japanese trespassed into Gyeongbuk Palace and assassinated Queen Myeongseong. Below is her saju.

Myeongseong was born with the energy of yang earth in the month of yang earth. At a glance, we can see how strong she was because her saju is filled with may earth self-elements.

We can evaluate that the month branch is the strongest among all letters in saju.

Then, the next element that takes the lead in her saju is metal. Metal is an expression star generated by earth. Especially in the saju of strong friend stars, an expression star can play an important and effective role, meaning that she had the potential to possess outstanding talents. According to documents, many appraised that she was cultured, elegant and intelligent.

However, we cannot see the wood element in her saju. Wood is a career star that restrains the day master (earth). It suggests that nothing could hold her back.

Although she had excellent talents, her saju also implies inevitable conflicts with her competitors - there are plenty of friend stars that are the source of frustration in her life.

Strong expression stars and a lack of career star in her saju tell us that she would have confronted the conflicts instead of avoiding them.

The friend star also stands for father-in law-when it comes to family relations. For Myeongseong, the conflict between her and Heung-sun was foretold in her saju.

In the year of Eul-mi (1895), there happened a "penalty" between her month branch and the mi (earth) of 1895. Her assassination occurred in 1895.

The Eul-mi incident triggered a tragic series of events between Korean and Japan. It led to the Eulsa Treaty in 1905 and the Japanese annexation of Korean in 1910.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the start of Japanese colonial rule and there are lots of efforts being made by different kind of groups - both government and civilian - to reestablish the Korea-Japan relationship. If the Eul-mi incident was the cause of an unfortunate Korean history, it provoked misfortune in Japanese history too.

The sword, "Higen," that was used to assassinate Myeongseong, is kept at a Japanese shrine. It is a symbol of the Eul-mi incident and the phrase "It cut off the old fox with one stroke" is inscribed on its sheath. However, it stands that it is a murder weapon used to assassinate the queen of a country. Accordingly, the people insist on taking this sword back to Korea, in order to liquidate the dustbin of history.

The life of the Empress Myeongseong is full of meaningful historic lessons.

Although many historic facts have been twisted either by domestic politics and the international situation, the fact is that the Korean empress was assassinated by Japan, which hampered national development.

There needs to be a continued effort to straighten out history; Koreans have to learn lessons from the past whether they are complimentary incidents or not.

The writer is the president of the Heavenly Garden, a saju research center in Korea, and the author of "Learning Four Pillars." For more, visit her website at


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