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[Op-Ed] “The Last Empress” on Japanese TV

Posted August. 25, 2009 07:28,   


In the Korean-made movie “Hanbando (Korean Peninsula),” a Korean history scholar is ostracized by academia when he claims that a national seal hidden by the last Korean Emperor Gojong cynically says the people do not know what day Oct. 8 is. That day in 1895 was when the last Empress Myeongseong was killed by the Japanese. No country in history has sent an assassin to a neighboring country’s royal palace to kill the queen and abuse the corpse. This murder is an incurable pain in the hearts of Koreans but is nearly unknown to the Japanese.

The code name for the assassination was “fox hunt.” Japan blamed the incident on a right-wing extremist unrelated to the government, but diplomatic documents showed that Japan’s minister to Korea Miura Goro was involved. Choi Moon-hyeong, an honorary professor at Hanyang University in Seoul, has followed the murder and blames Miura’s predecessor Inoue Kaoru as the mastermind behind the assassination. Inoue, who served as both Japan’s foreign and interior minister, was given absolute power in deciding matters in Joseon (Korea). The assassination was organized by the Japanese government.

Japan expert Lee Jong-gak wrote the book “Assassin Goh Yeong-geun’s Revenge for the Last Empress” published by The Dong-A Ilbo. The author seeks historical retribution as he follows the life of Woo Beom-seon, a traitorous Korean battalion commander who sold information to Japan for assassinating the last empress, and Goh, who killed Woo. A bond servant of the Korean royal family trusted by the empress, Goh was arrested after killing Woo, who had fled to Japan and married a Japanese woman. Emperor Gojong asked for leniency through multiple diplomatic channels and Goh was repatriated after serving five years in a Japanese prison. Goh was later assigned to preserve the tombs of the emperor and empress.

Asahi TV of Japan Monday night aired a 14-minute program on the empress’ assassination and the descendants of the assassins apologizing for the crime 100 years later. The coverage by Japanese media of the program is significant, though it is a documentary. Acom, the producer of the musical “The Last Empress,” tried to export the work to Japan several times, but failed over fears that Japanese right-wing extremists might hinder it. Narrowing the gap in history perception between the two countries starts from learning the facts.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)