[FOUNTAIN]Disreputable acts from a century ago

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[FOUNTAIN]Disreputable acts from a century ago

The history of burial attire in Korea is not a very long one. Koreans are believed to have begun preparing special attire for the dead only in the late Joseon period. The satin clothes found in 1999 in the tomb of Lee Yeon-eung, a minister of protocol and a powerful member of the royal family, attracted an extraordinary amount of attention. It was the first discovery of satin grave attire with special needlework and a completely different design from everyday clothing.
The person who made those clothes was Mr. Lee’s son, Jae-geuk. Thanks to his influential family background, he had served in various high-ranking public positions. He was a provincial governor and the mayor of Hanseong, which today is Seoul, and was minister of justice, education and the interior. In 1905, when the Eulsa Treaty was signed depriving Korea of its diplomatic rights, Jae-geuk was the keeper of the privy seal, a key position overseeing the affairs of the royal house.
On Nov. 3, 1905, Mr. Lee was invited to the Japanese legation to celebrate the birthday of the Japanese emperor. Near the end of the party, he gave three cheers for the emperor. Furious, King Gojong chided him, saying that a vassal should shout “manse” (“cheers”) only to the king he is rendering service to. Mr. Lee slyly responded that he had not said “manse” but “banzai,” the Japanese equivalent.
Documents from the time record Mr. Lee’s complete transformation into a Japan booster in the next 15 days. In the process of completing the Eulsa Treaty, he played no less central a role than Lee Wan-yong did. He spied on the royal court for Japan. It was Mr. Lee who brought the treaty to King Gojong and obtained his signature. Na Cheol, who tried to assassinate five traitors who initiated the treaty, did not fail to put Mr. Lee on his list.
Mr. Lee was good with money. He founded Seoul’s first textile factory and made a fortune. In 1908, he established Dongduk Women’s School. Mr. Lee never deviated from the pro-Japanese line, and Japan rewarded his loyalty with a baronage and a gift of 25,000 yen.
Last week, Mr. Lee’s 82-year-old granddaughter-in-law filed a request to get back Mr. Lee’s land that was confiscated by the state after liberation. It is her third such lawsuit, following similar actions over land in Munsan and Pocheon nine years ago. Probably encouraged by her 50-percent success rate so far, she is being very bold in filing suit in the year of the 100th anniversary of the Eulsa Treaty, and the 60th anniversary of liberation. Perhaps we should not be raising our voices over clarifying recent history alone. A special law abolishing statutes of limitations seems appropriate for just this kind of situation.


by Lee Chul-ho

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.
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