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Saturday, 8 March 2014

Inside Gyeongbokgung, Part V: Okhoru Pavilion - The Serious Case of Eulmi Incident


The Eulmi Incident (을미사변/乙未事變/Eulmi Sabyeon) is the term used for the assassination of Empress Myeongseong of Yeoheung Min Clan, which occurred in the early hours of 8 October 1895 at Okhoru Pavilion (옥호루/玉壺樓), a high veranda at Gonnyeonghap Chamber (곤녕합/坤寧閤) in the Geoncheonggung Residence (건청궁/乾淸宮), which was the rear private royal residence inside Gyeongbok Palace. In fact, Eulmi Year (Yin Wooden Sheep) is the 32nd Year in Sexagenary Cycle.

In the early hours of 8 October, Japanese agents under Miura Goro carried out the assassination. Miura had orchestrated this incident with Okamoto Ryūnosuke (岡本 柳之助), Sugimura Fukashi (杉村 濬), Kunitomo Shigeaki (國友 重章), Sase Kumadestu (佐瀨 熊鐵), Nakamura Tateo (中村 楯雄), Hirayama Iwahiko (平山 岩彦), and over 50 other Japanese men. They were said to have also collaborated with the pro-Japanese general Woo Beom-seon (우범선/禹範善) and Yi Du-hwang (이두황/李斗璜).

In front of Gwanghwamun, the assassins battled the Korean Royal Guards led by Hong Gye-hun (홍계훈/洪啓薰) and Ahn Gyeong-su (안경수/安駉壽). Hong Gye-hun and Minister Yi Gyeong-jik (이경직/李耕稙) were subsequently killed in battle and the assassins proceeded to the Okhoru (옥호루/玉壺樓) in Geoncheonggung and killed Empress Myeongseong. The corpse of the Empress was then burned and buried.

Emperor Sunjong-Yunghui, the first son of Gojong and Empress Myeongseong, reported he saw Korean troops and General Woo Beom-seon (禹範善/우범선; father of Woo Jang-choon (禹長春/우장춘, known as Woo Nagaharu in Japan - where Nagaharu is a Japanized Version for Jang-choon, an agricultural scientist) at the assassination spot, and accused General Woo as the "Foe of Mother". In addition to his accusation, Emperor Sunjong sent two Korean men to kill General Woo, an effort that succeeded in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1903.

In 2005, professor Kim Ryeo-choon (김려춘/金麗春) of the Russian Academy of Sciences came across a written account of the incident by a Russian architect Afanasy Ivanovich Seredin-Sabatin (Афанасий Иванович Середин-Сабатин) in the Archive of Foreign Policy of the Russian Empire (Архив внешней политики Российской империи/Arkhiv Vneshney Politiki Rossiyskoy Imperii/AVPRI). Seredin-Sabatin was in the service of the Korean government, working along with the American general William McEntyre Dye who was also under contract to the Korean government. In April, Kim made a request to the Myongji University (명지대학교; 明知大學校) Library LG Collection to make the document public. On 11 May 2005 the document was made public.

Almost five years prior to the document's release in South Korea, a translated copy was already in circulation in the United States, having been released by the Center for Korean Research of Columbia University on 6 October 1995 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Eulmi Incident.

In the account, Seredin-Sabatin recorded:
"The courtyard where the Queen (Consort)'s wing was located was filled with Japanese, perhaps as many as 20 or 25 men. They were dressed in peculiar gowns and were armed with sabres, some of which were openly visible. ... While some Japanese troops were rummaging around in every corner of the palace and in the various annexes, others burst into the queen's wing and threw themselves upon the women they found there. ... I ... continued to observe the Japanese turning things inside out in the queen's wing. Two Japanese grabbed one of the court ladies, pulled her out of the house, and ran down the stairs dragging her along behind them. ... Moreover one of the Japanese repeatedly asked me in English, "Where is the queen? Point the queen out to us!" ... While passing by the main Throne Hall, I noticed that it was surrounded shoulder to shoulder by a wall of Japanese soldiers and officers, and Korean mandarins, but what was happening there was unknown to me."

The Gabo Reformation and the assassination of Empress Myeongseong generated anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea; also, it caused some Confucian scholars, as well as farmers, to form over 60 successive righteous armies to fight for Korean freedom on the Korean peninsula.

After the assassination of Empress Myeongseong, Gojong and Crown Prince (later Emperor Sunjong) fled for refuge to the Russian legation in 11 February 1896. Also, Emperor Gojong-Gwangmu declared the Eulmi Four Traitors a.k.a Eulmi Sajeok which are Kim Hong-jip, Yoo Gil-joon, Jeong Byeong-ha and Cho Hee-yeon

However, In 1897, Emperor Gojong-Gwangmu, yielding to rising pressure from both overseas and the demands of the Independence Association-led public opinion, returned to Gyeongungung (modern-day Deoksugung, Seoul Jung-gu). There, he proclaimed the founding of the Korean Empire. However, after Japan's victories in the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese Wars, Korea succumbed to Japanese colonial rule between 1910 and 1945.

In 1897, Emperor Gojong-Gwangmu, with Russian support, regained his throne, and spent "a fortune" to have his beloved Empress Myeongseong remains properly honored and entombed. Her mourning procession included 5,000 soldiers, 650 police, 4,000 lanterns, hundreds of scrolls honoring her, and giant wooden horses intended for her use in the afterlife. The honors Emperor Gojong placed on Empress Myeongseong for her funeral was meant as a statement to her diplomatic and heroic endeavors for Korea against the invading Japanese, as well as, a statement of his own undying love for her. Empress Myeongseong's recovered remains are in her tomb located in Hongneung Imperial Tomb, Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea.