Gojong of Korea

Gojong (Korean고종; Hanja高宗; RRGojong; MRKojong, 8 September 1852 – 21 January 1919), was the monarch of Korea from 1864 to 1907. He reigned as the last King of Joseon from 1864 to 1897, and as the first Emperor of Korea from 1897 until his forced abdication in 1907. He is known posthumously as the Emperor Gwangmu (Korean광무제; Hanja光武帝; RRGwangmuje; MRKwangmuje).

Gojong of Korea
대한제국 고종
Gojong of the Korean Empire 02.jpg
Emperor Emeritus of Korea
Reign20 July 1907 – 29 August 1910
Emperor of Korea
Reign13 October 1897 – 19 July 1907
PredecessorHimself as the king of Joseon
King of Joseon
Reign21 January 1864 – 13 October 1897
SuccessorAs the Emperor of Korea
RegentsQueen Sinjeong (1863–1866)
Heungseon Daewongun (de facto) (1863–1873)
Born(1852-09-08)8 September 1852
Unhyeon Palace, Hanseong, Joseon
Died21 January 1919(1919-01-21) (aged 66)
Deoksu Palace, Keijō, Japanese Korea
SpouseEmpress Myeongseong
IssueEmperor Sunjong
Prince Imperial Ui
Crown Prince Euimin
Princess Deokhye
Era dates
Gaeguk (개국, 開國; 1894 – 1895)
Geonyang (건양, 建陽; 1896 – 1897)
Gwangmu (광무, 光武; 1897 – 1907)
Posthumous name
Emperor Munheon Mujang Inik Jeonghyo The Great
(문헌무장인익정효태황제, 文憲武章仁翼貞孝太皇帝)
Temple name
Gojong (, )
HouseHouse of Yi
FatherHeungseon Daewongun
MotherGrand Internal Princess Consort Sunmok of the Yeoheung Min clan
Signature대한제국 고종의 수결.jpg
Korean name
고종 광무제 (short )
高宗光武帝 (short )
Revised RomanizationGojong Gwangmuje (short Gojong)
McCune–ReischauerKojong Kwangmuje (short Kojong)
Birth name
이명복, later 이희
李命福, later 李㷩[1]
Revised RomanizationI Myeong-bok, later I Hui
McCune–ReischauerYi Myŏng-bok, later Yi Hŭi


Early lifeEdit

Gojong was born in Jeongseonbang, a province of Hanseong. He was the son of Yi Ha-eung.

Early reignEdit

King Gojong (later Emperor Gwangmu) in 1884. Photo by Percival Lowell
Japanese illustration of King Gojong and Queen Min receiving Inoue Kaoru.

Gojong took the Joseon throne in early 1864 when he was twelve years old. As a minor, his father, the Heungseon Daewongun (or more commonly, the Daewongun), ruled as a regent for him until Gojong reached adulthood. As Gojong became an adult, he had conflicts with his father since he wanted to rule the country.[2]

During the mid-1860s, the Heungseon Daewongun was the main proponent of isolationism and was responsible for the persecution of native and foreign Catholics, a policy that led directly to the French invasion and the United States expedition to Korea in 1871. The early years of the Daewongun's rule also witnessed a concerted effort to restore the largely dilapidated Gyeongbok Palace, the seat of royal authority. During the Daewongun's reign, Joseon factional politics, the Seowons (private academies that often doubled as epicenters of factional power), and the power wielded by the Andong Kim clan in particular was dismantled.[3]

In 1873, Gojong announced his assumption of direct royal rule. In November 1874, with the retirement of the Heungseon Daewongun, Gojong's consort, Queen Min (posthumously known as Empress Myeongseong), gained complete control over the court, filling senior court positions with members of her family. This angered Heungseon Daewongun, who was exiled from court. Some relatives of Heungseon Daewongun and members of the Southerner faction plotted a coup.

External pressures and unequal treatiesEdit

In the 19th century, tensions mounted between Qing China and Japan, culminating in the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894–1895. Much of this war was fought on the Korean peninsula. Japan, having acquired Western military technology after the Meiji Restoration, secured a victory against Joseon forces in Ganghwa Island, forcing Joseon to sign the Treaty of Ganghwa in 1876. Japan encroached upon Korean territory in search of fish, iron ore, and other natural resources. It also established a strong economic presence in the peninsula, heralding the beginning of Japanese Imperial expansion in East Asia. These events were the roots of Gojong's antipathy to the Japanese Empire.[2]

The French campaign against Korea of 1866, the United States expedition to Korea in 1871, and the Ganghwa Island incident all put pressure on many of Joseon's officials, including King Gojong.

The Treaty of Ganghwa became the first unequal treaty signed between Korea and a foreign country; it gave extraterritorial rights to Japanese citizens in Korea and forced the Korean government to open three ports, Busan, Incheon, and Wonsan, to Japanese and foreign trade. With the signing of such a lopsided treaty, Korea became easy prey for competing imperialistic powers, paving the way for Korea's annexation by Japan.[4]

Imo Rebellion and Gapsin CoupEdit

King Gojong began to rely on a new paid army (byeolgigun) of soldiers equipped with rifles. In contrast to the well-armed army, the old army had not received a salary for 13 months. The tattered army was finally paid one month's salary, Enraged, the old army sparked a riot, and Heungseon Daewongun seized power.[5] However Chinese troops led by the Qing Chinese general Yuan Shikai abducted the Daewongun and took him to China, thus foiling his return to power. Four years later, the Daewongun returned to Korea.

During the Imo incident when Queen Min was taking refuge in her relative's villa, Lady Seon-yeong of the Yeongwol Eom clan showed extreme devotion towards King Gojong. He rewarded her fealty by promoting her to the rank of Jimil Sanggung (5th senior rank of Women of the Internal Court).[6] Upon Queen Min's return in 1885, she had Lady Seon-yeong banished from the royal palace when she discovered the court lady wearing Gojong's clothing. Lady Seon-yeong was demoted to Seoin.

On 4 December 1884, five revolutionaries attempted a coup d'état by leading a small anti-old minister army to detain King Gojong and Queen Min. The Gapsin Coup failed after 3 days. Some of its leaders, including Kim Okgyun, fled to Japan, and others were executed.

Peasant revoltsEdit

Widespread poverty presented significant challenges to the 19th century Joseon Dynasty. Starvation was rampant, and much of the populace lived in run-down shanties lined along dirt roads.[7] Famine, poverty, crushing taxes, and corruption among the ruling class, led to many notable peasant revolts in the 19th century. King Gojong's predecessors had suppressed an 1811–1812 revolt in the Pyeongan Province, led by Hong Gyeong-nae.[8]

In 1894, another major revolt, the Donghak Peasant Revolution took hold as an anti-government, anti-yangban, and anti-foreign campaign. One leading cause of the revolution was the tax system implemented by Queen Min, who was not familiar with modern tax systems. Gojong brought Chinese and Japanese to crush the revolution. Yi Jun-yong and others coordinated with peasants to assassinate Gojong. However, the plot was leaked and the revolution failed.[2] Although the revolution ultimately failed, many of the peasants' grievances were later addressed with the Gabo Reform.

One of the biggest reforms in 1894 was abolishing the slave (nobi) system, which had existed as far back as Gojoseon.[9]

The assassination of Queen MinEdit

In 1895, Empress Myeongseong was assassinated by Japanese agents. The Japanese minister to Korea, Miura Gorō, orchestrated the plot against her. A group of Japanese agents entered the Gyeongbokgung in Seoul, which was under guard by Korean troops sympathetic to the Japanese, and the Queen was killed in the palace. The Queen had attempted to counter Japanese interference in Korea and was considering turning to Russia or China for support.[citation needed]

Anti-Japanese sentiments in KoreaEdit

In 1895 Japan won the First Sino-Japanese War, expanding its influence over the Korean government. The Gabo reforms and the assassination of the Queen also stirred controversy in Korea, fomenting Korean anti-Japanese sentiment. Gojong's antipathy toward the Japanese intensified, and he turned to Russia as an ally by signing Russia–Korea Treaty of 1884. He sent many emissaries to Russian Empire.[2]

Some Confucian scholars, as well as farmers, formed over 60 successive righteous armies to fight for Korean freedom. These armies were preceded by the Donghak movement and succeeded by various Korean independence movements.

Korea royal refuge at the Russian legationEdit

Pro-Japanese government grew, while anti-Japanese politicians were either killed or fled for their survival after the Chun Sang Door Incident in 1895. Gojong perceived the need for refuge.[10]

On 11 February 1896, King Gojong and his crown prince fled from the Gyeongbokgung to the Russian legation in Seoul, from which they governed for about one year, an event known as the Korea royal refuge at the Russian legation. After Queen Min's death, Lady Seon-yeong re-entered the palace as Eom Gwi-in and lived with Gojong and the crown prince in the Russian legation where she gave birth to Crown Prince Euimin in 1897. Her status had changed to Sunbin and Sunbi, but was later given the title of Imperial Noble Consort Sunheon of the Yeongwol Eom clan. As the Japanese Empire continued to meddle in Korean state affairs, Gojong tried to ally with Russia by sending officials including Min Young-hwan to the coronation of Nicholas II of Russia.[11]

Proclamation of empireEdit

Portrait of Emperor Gojong (age 49)

In 1897, yielding to rising pressure from overseas and the demands of the Independence Association-led public opinion, King Gojong returned to Gyeongungung (modern-day Deoksugung). He declared himself emperor, changed the country's name to the Great Korean Empire, and declared a new era name Gwangmu (Hangul: 광무, Hanja: 光武) (meaning, "shining and martial"). This effectively ended Korea's historic subordination to the Qing empire, which Korea had acknowledged since the fall of the Ming Dynasty. He took the title of Gwangmu Emperor, and was formally crowned emperor in Wongudan.[2]

This marked the end of the traditional Chinese tributary system in the Far East. By declaring Korea an empire, Gojong at least nominally made Korea the co-equal of Qing China and implemented the "full and complete" independence of Korea as recognized in 1895. He established the Independence Club to establish a constitutional monarchy but this plan was blocked by right-wing politicians, and the Korean Empire remained an absolute monarchy.

When Heungseon Daewongun died in 1898, Emperor Gwangmu refused to attend the funeral of his father as the relationship between father and son had broken down irretrievably. But it was also reported that the emperor's cries could be heard when he looked over the palace wall.[12][13]

Gojong desired to elevate Imperial Noble Consort Sunheon to be his Empress, but this was opposed by Lee Jun-yong and Korean refugees who created a movement to stop the action. They successfully blocked her accession, but she was able to persuade the emperor to choose Yun Yong-seon's adoptive granddaughter, Lady Jeongsun of the Haepyeong Yun clan, as wife for the Crown Prince as reward for the grace and assistance she received from Yun during her banishment.[citation needed]

Emperor of KoreaEdit

Portrait of Emperor Gojong of Korea (1852-1919), Yi Myeong-bok, wearing Tongcheonggwan and Gangsapo
Emperor Gojong and the Crown Prince Sunjong with their Pickelhaube

Gojong proclaimed the Korean Empire in October 1897 to justify the country's ending of its traditional alliance with China. He tried to promote the Gwangmu Reform, which aimed to modernize and industrialize the new empire.

Emperor Gojong in 1904

On September 12 (July 25 in the lunar calendar) of 1898, the emperor was the target of a failed assassination attempt by interpreter Kim Hong Ryuk (金鴻陸). Kim had lost political power when the king took refuge at the Russian legation and tried to poison the coffee of the emperor and the crown prince with opium.[14] Gojong returned from Russia in the next year.

In 1904–1905, Japan was the victor in the Russo-Japanese War. Amidst the war, there were diplomatic efforts to keep Korea independent, including that of Korean Charge d'Affaires Yi Han-eung in London who desperately tried to gain support from UK. But the UK already had common interests with Japan by Anglo-Japanese Alliance and Lord Lansdowne in British Foreign Office has ignored his diplomatic request. Yi Han-eung took his own life in May 1905 as a protest, and Gojong mourned his tragic death as his remains returned to Korea by ship.

One representative[who?] warned of Japanese ambitions in Asia:

"The United States does not realize what Japan's policy in the Far East is and what it portends for the American people. The Japanese adopted a policy that in the end will give her complete control over commerce and industry in the Far East. Japan is bitter against the United States and against Great Britain. If the United States does not watch Japan closely she will force the Americans and the English out of the Far East."

[citation needed]

When these acts of Gojong were revealed by the Japanese, the Japanese tried to remove him. On July 20, 1907, Gojong was removed. Gojong's son Sunjong succeeded him to the throne.[2]

During Sunjong's reign, the kingdom of Joseon ended with the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910.

After abdicationEdit

Gojong wearing a western-style uniform (Korean:태황제 예복, hanja:太皇帝 禮服). He wore it since the abdication of 1907.

After abdicating, Emperor Gojong was confined to Deoksu Palace. On 22 August 1910, the Empire of Korea was annexed by Japan under the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty. In the treaty, Gojong lost his title as a former emperor; instead, he received a new title, "King Emeritus Yi of Deoksu" (徳寿宮李太王), and was recognized as a member of the imperial family of Japan.

Gojong died suddenly on 21 January 1919 at Deoksugung Palace at the age of 66. There is much speculation that he was killed by a poison administered by Japanese officials, an idea that gained wide circulation and acceptance at the time of his death. His death and subsequent funeral proved a catalyst for the March First Movement for Korean independence from Japanese rule.[15] He is buried with his wife at the imperial tomb of Hongneung (홍릉, 洪陵) in the city of Namyangju.


  • Father
    • Yi Ha-Eung, King Heungseon (21 December 1820 – 22 February 1898) (흥선왕 이하응)
      • Grandfather: Yi Gu, Prince Namyeon (22 August 1788 – 19 March 1836) (이구 남연군)
      • Grandmother: Princess Consort Min of the Yeoheung Min clan (26 June 1788 – 1831) (군부인 여흥민씨, 驪興府大夫人 閔氏)
    • Legal Father: Yi Yeong, King Munjo of Joseon (18 September 1809 – 25 June 1830) (조선의 문조 이영)
  • Mother
  • Consorts and their Respective Issue(s):
  1. Min Ja-yeong, Empress Myeongseong of the Yeoheung Min clan (17 November 1851 – 8 October 1895) (명성황후 민자영 민씨)[a]
    1. Unnamed son (4 November 1871 - 8 November 1871)[b][16][17]
    2. Unnamed daughter (3 February 1873 - 28 September 1873)[c]
    3. Yi Cheok, Emperor Yunghui (25 March 1874 – 24 April 1926) (융희제 이척)
    4. Unnamed son (5 April 1875 - 18 April 1875)[d]
    5. Unnamed son (18 February 1878 - 5 June 1878)[e]
  2. Eom Seon-yeong, Imperial Noble Consort Sunheon of the Yeongwol Eom clan (2 February 1854 – 20 July 1911) (순헌황귀비 엄선영 엄씨)[f][g]
    1. Yi Un, Crown Prince Uimin (20 October 1897 – 1 May 1970) (이은 의민태자)[h]
  3. Yang Chun-gi, Imperial Consort Boknyeong Gwi-in of the Cheongju Yang clan (27 September 1882 – 30 May 1929) (복녕당 귀인 양씨)
    1. Princess Deokhye (25 May 1912 – 21 April 1989) (덕혜옹주)
  4. Yi Sun-ah, Imperial Consort Yeongbo Gwi-in of the Gyeongju Yi clan (1849 – 17 December 1928) (영보당귀인 이씨)[i]
    1. Yi Seon, Prince Wanhwa (16 April 1868 – 12 January 1880) (이선 완화군)[j]
    2. Unnamed daughter (1871 – 1872)
  5. Imperial Consort Gwi-in of the Deoksu Jang clan (귀인 장씨)
    1. Yi Kang, Prince Uihwa (30 March 1877 – August 1955) (이강 의화군)[k]
  6. Imperial Consort Naeandang Gwi-in of the Gyeongju Yi clan (1847 – 13 February 1914) (내안당 귀인 이씨)[18]
    1. Unnamed daughter (1879 – 1880)
  7. Imperial Consort Bohyeon Gwi-in of the Haeju Jeong clan (23 February 1882 – 1943) (보현당 귀인 정씨)
    1. Prince Yi U (20 August 1915 – 25 July 1916) (이우)
  8. Lee Wan-deok, Imperial Consort Gwanghwa Gwi-in of the Lee clan (1885 – 10 November 1965) (광화당 귀인 이씨)[l]
    1. Prince Yi Yuk (1914 – 1915) (이육)[m]
    2. Unnamed daughter
  9. Kim Ok-gi, Lady Kim of the Andong Kim clan of Samchuk Hall (1890 – 23 September 1970) (삼축당 김씨)[n]
  10. Court Lady Kim of the Gwangsan Kim clan of Jeonghwa Hall (정화당 상궁 김씨)


Korean honours[citation needed]
  • Founder and Sovereign of the Grand Order of the Golden Ruler – 17 April 1900
  • Founder and Sovereign of the Grand Order of the Auspicious Stars – 12 August 1902
  • Founder and Sovereign of the Grand Order of the Plum Blossoms – 17 April 1900
  • Founder and Sovereign of the Order of the National Crest – 17 April 1900
  • Founder and Sovereign of the Order of the Purple Falcon – 16 April 1901
  • Founder and Sovereign of the Order of the Eight Trigrams – 16 April 1901
  • Grand Cordon of the Grand Order of the Auspicious Phoenix – 1907
Foreign honours[citation needed]


In popular cultureEdit


  • Gojong was a great fan of billiards, sometimes staying up until 2 to 3 in the morning playing the sport, and coffee. Due to this, Kim Hong Ryuk attempted to assassinate him by poisoning his coffee.[22]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ She was later given the posthumous title of Taehwanghu (태황후).
  2. ^ He only lived for 4 days.
  3. ^ She only lived for 222 days (about 7 months, 1 week, 5 days).
  4. ^ He only lived for 14 days (2 weeks).
  5. ^ He only lived for 105 days (about 3 months, 2 weeks, 1 day).
  6. ^ She was later given the posthumous title of 순헌황귀비 (Sunheon Hwang-Gwi-bi "Sunheon, Imperial Concubine of the Highest Rank").
  7. ^ Her full name was Eom Seon-yeong (엄선영), and she was the daughter of Eom Jin-sam (엄진삼) and Jeung Chan-jeong (증찬정).
  8. ^ Gojong's seventh son. He married Princess Masako Nashimotonomiya of Japan, daughter of Prince Morimasa Nashimotonomiya of Japan. During the Korean Empire, he was named "Prince Yeong" (영친왕).
  9. ^ Her full name was Yi Sun-ah (이순아).
  10. ^ During the Korean Empire, he was posthumously named as "Prince Wan" (완친왕).
  11. ^ During the Korean Empire, he was named "Prince Ui" (의친왕). He married Kim Su-deok (who became Princess Deogin), daughter of Baron Kim Sa-jun.
  12. ^ Her whole name is Lee Wan-deok (이완덕) of the Gwanghwa Hall.
  13. ^ Other records, however, say that he lived from 1906–1908.
  14. ^ Her whole name is Kim Ok-gi (김옥기).


  1. ^ 高宗太皇帝行狀 Archived 19 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c d e f "고종(高宗) - 한국민족문화대백과사전". encykorea.aks.ac.kr. Retrieved 3 December 2021.
  3. ^ "이하응(李昰應) - 한국민족문화대백과사전". encykorea.aks.ac.kr. Retrieved 3 December 2021.
  4. ^ Lee Jae-min (8 September 2010). "Treaty as prelude to annexation". The Korea Herald. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
  5. ^ "임오군란". terms.naver.com (in Korean). Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  6. ^ Yoon Hyo-jeong 《대한제국아 망해라》(박광희 국역, 다산초당, 2010) Pg. 337
  7. ^ Lankov, Andrei; Kim EunHaeng (2007). The Dawn of Modern Korea. 384-12 Seokyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, South Korea, 121-893: EunHaeng Namu. p. 47. ISBN 978-89-5660-214-1.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  8. ^ "Hong Kyŏng-nae Rebellion". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010.
  9. ^ "우리역사넷". contents.history.go.kr. Retrieved 12 February 2022.
  10. ^ 신명호 (20 April 2009). 왕을 위한 변명 (in Korean). 김영사. ISBN 978-89-349-5462-0.
  11. ^ 민영환 (27 August 2007). 해천추범: 1896년 민영환의 세계일주 (in Korean). 책과함께. ISBN 978-89-91221-27-7.
  12. ^ 우리곁에 살아 있는 역사의 맥박과 숨결 월간조선 2001년 3월호
  13. ^ 나각순, 승상배, 이창훈, 《운현궁과 흥선대원군》 (종로문화원, 2000) 207페이지
  14. ^ "김홍륙독차사건(金鴻陸毒茶事件) - 한국민족문화대백과사전".
  15. ^ Neff, Robert (5 March 2019). "Emperor's death leads to independence movement". The Korea Times. Retrieved 2 June 2021.
  16. ^ Died from complications of imperforate anus
  17. ^ Was given title of Prince Royal (원자, 元子) before he died
  18. ^ She is a distant relative of Imperial Consort Yeongbo Gwi-in of the Gyeongju Yi clan
  19. ^ 刑部芳則 (2017). 明治時代の勲章外交儀礼 (PDF) (in Japanese). 明治聖徳記念学会紀要. p. 149.
  20. ^ Shaw, Wm. A. (1906) The Knights of England, I, London, p. 403
  21. ^ Jørgen Pedersen (2009). Riddere af Elefantordenen, 1559–2009 (in Danish). Syddansk Universitetsforlag. p. 466. ISBN 978-87-7674-434-2.
  22. ^ 조선일보 (15 October 2021). "태종은 사냥, 순종은 당구… 임금님도 덕후였네". 조선일보 (in Korean). Retrieved 25 January 2022.

External linksEdit

Gojong of Korea
Born: 25 July 1852 Died: 21 January 1919
Regnal titles
Preceded by King of Joseon
21 January 1864 – 13 October 1897
with Heungseon Daewongun (1864–1873)
Empress Myeongseong (1873–1895)
Elevated to Emperor
Elevated to Emperor Emperor of Korea
13 October 1897 – 19 July 1907
Succeeded by
Royal titles
New title
King Emeritus Yi

29 August 1910 – 21 January 1919