Valor remembered in a queen, an activist and a president

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Valor remembered in a queen, an activist and a president

Feb. 3, 1966

Many Koreans wrongly believe the last empress of the Joseon Dynasty was Queen Min, wife of King Gojong. But it was actually Queen Sunjeong, who passed away on this date. Queen Min indeed had an impressive profile; she tried to save her country from colonization, only to be assassinated by the Japanese in 1895. But Queen Min is not the only empress who spared no effort to protect her country. After Queen Min's demise, the Japanese took the initiative in a struggle of world powers. When King Sunjong was enthroned in 1906 as a 21-year-old, he could do little to halt the colonization. In 1910, the king was surrounded by a group of pro-Japanese officials to sign a treaty passing power of the state to Japan. Although the king gave in and was about to sign, one vital thing was missing: the royal seal to validate the treaty. The officials hustled about to find the seal. Yoon Deok-young, one of the officials, noticed something behind a folding screen; it was Mr. Yoon's niece, Queen Sunjeong, hiding the royal seal in her skirt. The queen had hidden behind the screen to halt the day's imperial conference, for she knew that it would give final approval to colonization. She had taken the seal without anyone knowing, but her uncle found out her plan. She was forced to hand over the seal and hence became the last empress of the Joseon Dynasty.
Later in life, she became a Buddhist. She lived to see her country liberated in 1945, went through the Korean War and died at Changdeok Palace.


Feb. 4, 1989

Ham Seok-heon, one of the first Korean Quakers and a social activist, died on this date. Born in Yongcheon, Pyeongan province in North Korea, he started his career as an educator, but soon gave up when the North Korean regime imprisoned him for being involved in student demonstrations. In 1947, he went south and began his religious career as a Quaker minister, earning acclaim for his critical writings calling for revolution on Korean church. But when a military regime was established after a coup d'etat in 1961, he distinguished himself a social activist. Under slogans like "reject violence" and "resistance against authority," he led a number of demonstrations only to be imprisoned repeatedly. He is remembered as a lighthouse figure within the anti-dictatorship movement in Korea.


Feb. 8, 1985

President Kim Dae-jung's term in office ends on Feb. 24. In the early 1980s, however, he was banned from any type of political activity. In 1980, after Chun Doo Hwan's military regime took over, the government captured the big three politicians of the times: Kim Dae-jung, Kim Young-sam and Kim Jong-pil. Kim Dae-jung was arrested, charged with conspiracy of rebellion and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Kim Young-sam was put under house arrest and Kim Jong-pil was charged with bribery. After three years in jail, Kim Dae-jung's sentence was terminated due to illness. He later went to the United States for medical treatment, and returned to Seoul on this date with his family. Soon after his return, the military regime agreed not to imprison him again, but under one condition: never engage in politics again. Today, he is in the Blue House, preparing to transfer leadership to Roh Moo-hyun.


by Chun Su-jin
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