The Last Queen of Korea
Queen Min was a remarkable woman. As a 16-year-old orphan, she married the Korean child-king, Gojong. Unlike other queens, she paid little attention to fashion, tea parties and gossip. Instead, she immersed herself in political and military affairs, and educated herself in subjects like history, science and philosophy.
At first, King Gojong was just a figurehead for his father, the Daewongun. However, Queen Min would not allow King Gojong to bow down to his father’s selfish ambitions. So she appointed a scholar to the court, who advised King Gojong to rule in his own right. At age 22, King Gojong asserted his authority as the rightful ruler of Korea and retired the Daewongun from his position.
During this time, Japan was slowly gaining control of Korea. Queen Min tried to counter balance Japan’s influence by reaching out to China, Russia and other western countries. She also took many steps to modernize and reorganize Korea’s military. This included sending fact-finding missions to Japan and the United States. Queen Min’s cousin, Min Yeong-ik, headed the fact-finding mission to the United States. Upon returning, he said this, “I envision a Seoul of towering buildings filled with Western establishments that will place herself back above the Japanese barbarians... We must take action, your Majesty, without hesitation, to further modernize this still ancient kingdom."
Throughout her life, Queen Min was dedicated to protecting Korea’s independence and modernizing the nation. She was assassinated in 1895. Nevertheless, she will always be remembered for her legacy on Korean history.