Author Hwang Hyun deeply criticized King Gojong and Empress Myeongseong of the Joseon Dynasty for perishing the country in his Maecheon Yarok. He wrote in his book that U.S. envoy Allen at that time had remarked that “Koreans are in a pitiable state. I have travelled to many places and witnessed history of up to 4,000 years, but I have never seen anyone like the Korean emperor.” Who was King Gojong, the king who lost the sovereignty of our nation?
There is a large collection of the king’s manuscript, which is sloppy and feeble. His writing on a wooden board was written in 1995, when he was 63. It is hard to believe that it is the handwriting of a monarchy who ruled the country for 44 years. It is far below the works of King Sejong or Jeongjo, and not at all compatible of the works of a king, particularly in turbulent times. King Gojong had been no match for Hirobumi Ito, the shrewd and feisty Prime Minister of Japan who thoroughly plotted and executed plans to annex Korea. Gojong was likely to have been swayed by opportunists including Lee Wan-yong and Cho Jung-eung.
Given that the ending of the vowels are swooped and the final stroke of the Chinese character “ㅁ” is firmly closed with longer vertical lines, it is assumed that he had probably been meticulous in other works. However, it is obvious that a strong, determined leader is needed in hard times. People like Gojong are upright and pure, but too rigid and inflexible in thinking, which makes it difficult to overcome challenges. Judging from the width of margins, letter shape and pen pressure, it is estimated that he had not been very courageous, passive and vulnerable.
King Gojong probably was not as pathetic as Allen described. Few countries were immune from imperialism that prevailed at that time, so it would be unfair to blame him for everything. But one cannot help but feel regretful that such an impotent leader reigned at such a turbulent time.