Commemorating the death of a patriotic envoy
To commemorate the centennial anniversary of his death, Korea University Museum has put together an exhibition based on personal belongings left behind by Min, titled “Min Young-Hwan; Death that Never Dies.”
Min was a patriotic government officer with a colorful background. A relative of the Empress Myeongseong, who was kidnapped and assassinated by the Japanese in 1895, he enjoyed a relatively smooth upward path in the early part of his life.
Having passed a civil service exam in 1878 at the age of 22, he helped set local policies. In 1895, he was appointed Plenipotentiary to the United States when the cabinet position of Political Reform was created. He was sent to St. Petersburg the following year to attend the coronation of the last emperor of Russia, Nicolai II. Shortly after he came back from Russia, Min was made a cabinet minister. It was not until his angry suicide in protest of the Eulsa Treaty was reported in local newspapers, however, that he became a household name.
One of the most interesting displays in the exhibit features a copy of his will, which was written on a group of six name cards. It’s doubtful that most Koreans at that time knew what a name card was, much less had them, but the cards, which were about the same size as those used today, had Min’s name printed in Korean on one side and English on front and back, with his occupation stated as “army chief.” The English name on the card suggests that the card was mainly used to introduce himself to foreigners.
Min packed both sides of his name cards with tiny characters pleading for Korea’s independence. He urged his 10 million countrymen to seek freedom, while writing what was perhaps a warning: “Young-hwan never dies, even after he is dead.”
These name cards were found in his pocket after his body was taken to a mortuary. There were 11 name cards, six containing his will and the rest were copies of letters he sent to the Korean legations of Britain, France, Germany and the United States. The letters requested that the nations help Korea regain its sovereignty.
The day the treaty was signed, he stabbed himself to death. He was 46.
The news of his death shocked the public and galvanized many patriotic soldiers who were resisting the Japanese.
According to official documents, within seven months of Min’s death, four trunks of bamboo trees emerged from the wood floor in the room where his blood-soaked robe and the sword he used to kill himself were kept. Some believed that the trees had grown by absorbing the blood from the sword.
In June 1906, an article carrying a depiction of the “blood bamboo” by a painter named Yang Gi-hun was printed in the Daehan Mail Sinbo.
by YONHAP, Park Soo-mee
“Death that Never Dies,” an exhibition on Min Young-hwan, runs through Jan. 29. To get to Korea University Museum, get off at Korea University Station line No. 6 through exit 1 and walk toward the Samsung Centennial Memorial Building. For more information call (02) 3290-1514.