In celebration of Women’s History Month, we wanted to highlight one of the great queens in Korean history: Queen Myeongseong, or Empress Min. Queen Myeongseong, was the wife of King Gojong, the last King of the Joseon Dynasty (ruled from 1864-1897) and the first Emperor of the Korean Empire (1897-1907). Queen Myeongseong is mostly recognized and remembered for her intellect, strong opposition against Imperial Japan, and her contributions to modernization.
Inher early twenties, she was heavily involved with state affairs and politics, which was uncommon for a Queen’s role during the Joseon Dynasty. With the support of her husband, King Gojong, she established many progressive reforms in economy, transportation, agriculture, education, and medicine. She supported the founding of hospitals and welcomed Christian missionaries despite her Buddhist beliefs. She recognized the importance of the established English language schools and sent a special mission to the US to educate themselves on American history and reach President Arthur (21st US President) to discuss the growing threat of Japan. Being assertive and vocal in state affairs, she felt it was important for women to be educated and involved in politics. As a result, she gave her patronage to American missionary, Mary F. Scranton, to found the first all-girls educational system, Ewha Academy - known today as Ewha University.
(Left) Knowing her role as queen, Queen Myeongseong was aware of the potential threat of assassination and did not take photos in order to hide her identity. (Right) Photo of what Queen Myeongseong may have looked like.
After the First Sino-Japanese War ended with Japan’s victory, Queen Myeongseong advocated for stronger ties with Russia in an attempt to stop Japanese influence in Korea. She met with Russian emissaries and invited Russian students to Seoul. Knowing that Queen Myeongseong’s political influence posed a great threat to Japan’s aim to conquer Korea, the Japanese sought her as a target. Tragically, her life was cut short when she was assassinated by - whom scholars believe to have been - Miura Goro, a Japanese ambassador to Korea. This incident had become known as the Eulmi Incident. In her final moments, her last words were, 내가 조선의 국모다, meaning “I AM THE MOTHER OF THIS COUNTRY.”
Her death caused an international outcry as the Japanese had invaded the palace, slashed and raped her body, and displayed her corpse to nearby foreigners including the Russians to show them their ally was dead. The Japanese then poured oil on her body and burned it. When the news of her assassination became public, Japan denied involvement, and only minor participants were convicted with lack of evidence. While still in power, the Japanese demanded that King Gojong strip Queen Myeongseong of her royal title posthumously - to which King Gojong refused. Her death inspired the people of the Korean Empire to resist Japanese Imperialism and fight for independence. She was later given the title, Myeongseong the Great Empress.
Although it has been over 100 years since her passing, her legacy continues to live on through K-dramas, musicals, movies, fashion, and more.
(Left) Actress Soo Ae depicted as Queen Myeongseong in “The Sword with No Name” (Right) Actress Moon Geun-Young portrays a young Queen Myeongseong in TV series “Empress Myeongseong”
Original Sound Track featuring Queen Myeongseong’s famous last words “I AM THE MOTHER OF THIS COUNTRY”
Vogue Korea released an article on the “Empress Myeongseong” musical’s pictorial that featured Kim So Hyun who plays the role of Empress Meyongseong and model Choi So Ra.
In honor of her legacy, we designed the Queen of hearts that features Queen Myeongseong in her royal attire. We chose the suit of hearts to represent the love she had for her country. You can find our design in long sleeves and zip up hoodies.
Leave a comment