[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]A purple sage, an outrage, and independence's final page

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[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]A purple sage, an outrage, and independence's final page

Nov. 25, 1501

Born on this date was Yi Hwang (1501-1570), a Confucian scholar during the Joseon Dynasty whose face now graces the 1,000-won note. Born in Andong, Gyeongsang province, Yi had a reputation for virtue and scholarship. He became a government official at 26, then worked for decades as a statesman. After he retired he returned to Andong and set up the Dosan Academy for Confucian scholars.



Nov. 29, 1987

When Korean Air flight 858 took off from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates late at night on this date, none of the 115 people aboard knew they were doomed. The following day, from over Burma, the captain radioed to the Bangkok airport that the plane would land in 45 minutes. That was its last message. A bomb brought the jet down over the coast of Thailand. Ninety-three Korean workers coming back to their families, two foreigners and 20 crew members perished. The bomb was planted by an elderly man and young woman who boarded the flight in Baghdad with Japanese passports but were booted in Abu Dhabi because they had no Korean visas. They were later caught in Bahrain trying to escape to Jordan. Their passports were found to be fake, and officials learned they were North Korean agents. The man, Kim Seung-il, 69, quickly swallowed a vial of poison he'd had in a pack of Marlboro cigarettes. The woman, Kim Hyeon-hee, 25, tried to do likewise, but was stopped. Handed over to South Korean authorities, she hid her identity, saying she was Chinese, speaking Chinese and Japanese only. A few weeks later she confessed, saying that Kim Jong-il had ordered the agents to blow up the plane in order to disturb the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Ms. Kim was sentenced to death in 1990, but was later granted amnesty and released. She is living in South Korea, married to a local man.



Nov. 30, 1905

Min Yeong-hwan, a nephew to the last empress of the Joseon Dynasty, committed suicide on this date at age 45. A few days before, five government officials, now known as "The Five Enemies," signed a treaty with Japan that was the first step to making Korea a colony. Following Kim in dying for the country were five other officials.

Min had been awake to the modern world; he often traveled abroad as a government envoy.

His final words: "In death, I repay the kindness of the king and I apologize to the public for this tragedy." The act agitated anti-Japanese sentiment. People now say a bamboo tree, a symbol of fidelity, grows where Min's bloody clothes were left.



"This Week in Korean History" appears Mondays in the JoongAng Daily.


by Chun Su-jin

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