Pro soccer debuts; a legendary ruler is bornDec. 20, 1980
Korea saw the birth of its first professional soccer team on this date, called the Hallelujah. As the name suggests, the club was formed by a group of Christians, who came up with the idea while in the middle of a prayer session.
Hallelujah was formed before there was a professional league in Korea, which didn’t happen until 1983. The team made a lasting contribution to the local soccer scene, however, playing charity games in orphanages and prisons. The team won the professional championship in the league’s inaugural year. It was eventually forced down to the semi-pro league, because of a lack of financial resources. The team is currently in danger of being disbanded, with Christians rallying to the cause of rescuing the team.
Dec. 21, 1820
Lee Ha-eung knew what it is like to be powerless and poor. Which is why he was determined to hold his grasp on power as Lord Daewongun, father of King Gojong of the Joseon Dynasty (1392 to 1910). Born on this date, he grew up in an atypical royal family. The court back then was under the complete control of the Kims of Andong, a clan from North Gyeongsang province. Being a royal was a disadvantage, because the Kims in power clamped down on the royal family members, which sometimes meant murder.
As a young man, Lee Ha-eung thus suffered a difficult life. Spending time with petty criminals, he passed himself off as a pauper or lunatic. One anecdote even has the Kims forcing him to crawl through their legs in the middle of a busy street. Beneath this desperate survival, however, he had big ambitions.
He first wooed the Queen Mother and had her promise that his son would be an heir to the crown. (At the time, King Cheoljong did not have a crown prince to succeed to the throne.) When the king died in 1863, Lee Ha-eung’s second son indeed took the crown as King Gojong, thus beginning a new life for Lee Ha-eung, with a new title, Lord Heungseon Daewongun. The title Daewongun was given to someone whose son held the crown.
Revealing his true colors, he ruled as regent for his son, who was then only 12 years old. Lord Daewongun took complete control of politics as well, which led to several progressive reforms. He employed a policy of engaging talent regardless of social hierarchy, and cracked down on aristocratic academies, then a hotbed for political factions.
Then he undertook a big-budget rebuilding of Gyeongbok Palace, which had been in ruins since the Japanese invasion of 1592. But ambition did not always lead to success. Blunders also followed, such as an overissuance of bills to finance construction of the palace.
When it came to diplomacy, he kept unyielding isolationist strategies, earning the Joseon Dynasty the nickname of the “hermit kingdom.” He set up what was known as cheokhwabi, a drive to push foreign powers out of the country, suppressing Catholic missionaries in the process.
This policy led to the General Sherman incident in 1871, a deadly conflict between Pyeongyang citizens in what is now North Korea and the crew of an American ship demanding the port’s opening.
Unlike his go-getter father, King Gojong was a rather feeble character, much in the grip of Queen Myeongseong, also known as the Last Empress, or Queen Min. After 10 years of regency, Lord Daewongun retreated from absolute power in 1873. Not being the type to give in, he took advantage of civil uprisings and struggles among the world powers to appear and disappear several times from politics on the peninsula.
At one point he even planned to dethrone his own son, King Gojong, and replace him with his first son, in cooperation with the Chinese. The plan failed, which only added to his troubles. When Queen Myeongseong was assassinated by the Japanese in 1895, Lord Daewongun looked like the final winner. But King Gojong joined hands with the Russians and Lord Daewongun retired from the power struggle for good. He died in 1898.
by Chun Su-jin