Ways to cope with death, disease and a plucky democratSept. 22, 1374
The death of a spouse was more than King Gongmin of the Goryeo Dynasty (918 to 1392) could stand. After his queen died, the king lost his mind, never to recover.
King Gongmin is not remembered as the happiest king in Korean history. As an 11-year-old prince, he was taken hostage by the Yuan Dynasty (1271 to 1368) of Mongolia. To prevent a possible threat, the Yuan Dynasty arranged a marriage of convenience between the prince and their Princess Noguk. He happened to be in love with the princess, so everything went smoothly as the prince returned to Korea to ascend the throne. In 1365, however, the queen died while giving birth, leaving the king overwhelmed with grief.
Entrusting his power to the Buddhist monk Sindon, the king busied himself by drawing portraits of his queen and mourning over her death. It’s no wonder that political affairs fell into disarray. Things only worsened when the king showed a preference for young, handsome men. He even established a group of comely youth, called Jajewi, who attended to his comforts. The king’s favorite Adonis, however, repaid his goodwill by betraying him, forming liaisons with the king’s other concubines. Before long, the king found one of his concubines pregnant. The king planned to keep it secret by eliminating some of the Jajewi, but it was too late. The boys sprang into action first, assassinating the king on this date.
Sept. 23, 1910
Lee Sang, a prominent surrealist author, was born on this date in Seoul. Mr. Lee’s talents in the arts first appeared in his teens, and he became an architect. Brought up in a typical Confucian family, Mr. Lee was intended to lead a stable life, but his poor health prevented it. Upon contracting tuberculosis, Mr. Lee used his pen to overcome the despair brought on by physical pain. His work debuted in 1931, and he devoted himself to literature in 1933 as his physical condition worsened. His surrealist novels and poems did not always meet with enthusiasm. Faced with a rain of protests, one newspaper refused to publish his landmark poem, “Ogamdo.” Somehow, he found success. In 1937, he traveled to Tokyo for a change of scenery, where he was instead arrested for promulgating disquieting thoughts. The experience only worsened his health. Mr. Lee later died in a Tokyo hospital.
Sept. 28, 1956
After the cease-fire in the Korean War (1950 to 1953), South Korean politicians like Jang Myun struggled to forge a democracy. Due to then-President Syngman Rhee’s pursuit of a lifelong term in office, the future of democracy was cloudy. For Mr. Rhee, democrats like Mr. Jang were equivalent to mosquitoes.
In 1956, Mr. Jang defeated Lee Kee-bung, a member of Mr. Rhee’s faction, to become vice president. On this date, Mr. Jang was attending his party’s annual convention when a sniper suddenly fired at him. Mr. Jang was lucky; the bullet grazed his left hand. The sniper at first adamantly insisted he was operating alone, but in the end admitted that he had been prodded by Mr. Rhee’s political faction. The sniper, known only as Mr. Kim, now lives on the outskirts of Seoul, where he is pastor of a Christian church.
by Chun Su-jin