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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Kings of Joseon Dynasty, Part XIX: King Sukjong (Yi Soon) - A King who witnessed Factional Fightings and father of the next two Kings, Gyeongjong and Yeongjo

King Sukjong, previously known as Crown Prince Myeongbo (Hanja: 肅宗王 [明譜世子]; Born: 7 October 1661 – Died: 12 July 1720), born Yi Soon (이순/李焞) was the 19th king of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea from 1674 to 1720. A skilled politician, he caused multiple changes of political alliance throughout his reign, switching between the Southerner, Westerner, Soron, and Noron political factions.

King Sukjong was the eldest prince to King Hyeonjong and Queen Myeongseong of Cheongpung Kim Clan at Changdeok Palace. He became the Crown Prince Myeongbo in 1667 at age 6, and in 1674, at age 14, he became the 19th ruler of the Joseon Dynasty.

King Sukjong was a brilliant politician, but his reign was marked by some of the most intense factional fights in Joseon dynasty. Sukjong frequently replaced faction in power with another one to strengthen the royal authority. With each change of government, which was called hwan-guk (환국/換局), literally turn of the state or simply known as upheaval, the losing faction was completely driven out of politics with executions and exiles. Nevertheless, the chaotic changes of government did not affect the general populace significantly, and his reign is considered one of more prosperous times.

In the early years of Sukjong's reign, the Southern faction and Western faction clashed over the Royal Funeral Dispute, a seemingly minor issue regarding the mourning period for Queen Insun. The Southern faction claimed that the mourning period should last one year while the Western faction argued for a nine-month mourning period. A one-year mourning period meant that Hyojong of Joseon was considered the eldest son while 9-month period would suggest that Hyojong was considered not the eldest son, following the rules that governed the yangban class. In other words, the Western faction viewed the royal family as the first of the yangban class rather than a separate class for which different rules applied. The two factions were also in conflict over the issue of fighting the Qing Dynasty, which was considered barbaric country (as opposed to Ming Dynasty) that threatened Joseon's national security. The Southern faction, led by Huh Jeok and Yoon Hyu, supported war against Qing while Western factions wanted to focus first on improving domestic conditions.

Sukjong at first sided with the Southern faction, but in 1680, Huh Jeok was accused of treason by Western faction, which led to the execution of Huh Jeok and Yoon Hyu and purging of the Southern faction. This incident is called Gyeongshin Upheaval (경신환국). Now in power, the Western faction split into the Noron (Old Learning) faction, led by Song Siyeol, and the Soron (New Learning) faction, led by Yoon Jeung. After nine years in power, the Noron collapsed when Sukjong deposed Queen Inhyeon, who was supported by the Western faction, and named Consort Hui of Jang clan (also called Consort Jang or Jang Hui-bin) as the new queen. She is widely thought to be one of the most beautiful women in Joseon Dynasty, and her beauty was mentioned in the Annals. The Western faction angered Sukjong when it opposed the naming of Consort Jang's son as crown prince. The Southern faction, who supported Consort Jang and her son, regained power and drove out Western faction, executing Song Si-yeol in revenge. This is called Gisa Upheaval (기사환국).

Five years later in 1694, the Southern faction was planning another purge of the Western faction, accusing them of conspiracy to reinstate the deposed Queen Inhyeon, when Sukjong began to regret deposing Queen Inhyeon and favor Consort Suk of Choe clan (Consort Choe), an ally of Queen Inhyeon and the Noron faction. Angry with the Southern faction's attempt to purge Westerners, Sukjong abruptly turned around to purge Southerners and brought the Western faction back in power. The Southern faction would never recover from this blow, also called Gapsul Upheaval (갑술환국). Sukjong demoted "Queen Jang" to Consort "Jang Hui-bin" and reinstated "Queen Inhyeon". Consort Jang was eventually executed (with poison) for cursing Queen Inhyeon to her death. The Soron faction supported Crown Prince Hwiso (Yi Yoon, later King Gyeongjong), Consort Jang's son, while the Noron faction supported Consort Choe's son, Prince Yeon-ing (Yi Geum, later King Yeongjo). Late "Queen Inhyeon" and newly installed "Queen Inwon" were childless.

In 1718, Sukjong allowed the crown prince, soon to be Gyeongjong of Joseon, to rule the country as regent. Sukjong died in 1720 supposedly after telling Yi I-myeong to name Prince Yeon-ing as Gyeongjong's heir, but in absence of a histriographer or recorder. This will would lead to yet another purge which led to the execution of four Noron leaders in 1721, followed by another purge with the executions of eight Noron people in 1722.

Sukjong made tax system reform (大同法/daedongbeop), 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. However, Japanese Government insists that Liancourt Rocks was not recognized as Joseon's territory).

King Sukjong was buried at the Royal Tomb of Myeongneung (明陵), a part of SeoOreung Royal Tomb Cluster in 334-92 SeoOreung Avenue/SeoOreungno, Yongdu-dong 475-95 beonji, Goyang DeogYang-gu, Gyeonggi Province. He was posthumously known as King Sukjong Hyeon-ui Gwangnyun Yeseong Yeongnyeol Yumo Yeong-un Hong-in Jundeok Baecheon Hapdo Gyehyu Dokgyeong Jeongjung Hyeopgeuk Shin-ui Daehun Jangmun Heonmu Gyeongmyeong Wonhyo the Great (숙종현의광륜예성영렬유모영운홍인준덕배천합도계휴독경정중협극신의대훈장문헌무경명원효대왕/肅宗顯義光倫睿聖英烈裕謨永運洪仁峻德配天合道啓休篤慶正中恊極神毅大勳章文憲武敬明元孝大王).

P/S: King Sukjong was received long and tongue-twisted posthumous name so he deserved it because of numerous of governmental reforms.