This is why I stopped subscribing to The Economist. What crap!
Mr Yi is a scion of the Jeonju Yi family, which ruled Korea from 1392-1910 (they were kept on as puppet quasi-royals by the invading Japanese after that). A palace-born grandson of Gojong, the country’s penultimalte monarch, he is considered the Yi household’s rightful successor by many. Had the 20th century, with its colonialism, war and division of Korea, not happened, Yi Seok may well have been King of Korea.
Mr Yi’s home is in the Hanok Village area of town. Though most Koreans live in apartments, Hanoks (traditional Korean houses) are currently the subject of renewed attention, alongside other aspects of ancient national culture. This history-averse country looks to be finally ready to take the occasional proud, nostalgic glance over its shoulder. A recent TV series, “The King: Two Hearts” imagines what modern Korea would be like if it had a monarchy.
72-year-old Yi Seok’s chances of becoming a symbolic, restored king of Korea seem small. But at least the ending of this turbulent, 20th-century life should be a happy one.
It’s the last paragraph that is truly cringe-inducing. It’s not just that the Yi family stymied any hint of political or economic progress in Choson – as Korea was known until after Japan’s defeat in 1945 liberated Koreans from centuries of imperial peonage. The imperial family, as F.A. McKenzie depicts it in Korea’s Fight for Freedom (1920), ignored the slaughter as Koreans throughout the peninsula and in Manchuria actively resisted Japan’s brutal pacification of villages. If the Yi family wanted to be saviors, putting a royal stamp on popular resistance might have prompted international support or at least unified the disparate Korean partisans ideologically. Not only were Yi Seok’s ancestors diplomatically and politically inept, as well as spineless cowards. But, as The Economist moans, the Yi brood had no life skills, by which to survive in the rough world its incompetence had helped to create, not even farming, or animal husbandry.
Expecting such a pathetic and criminal lineage to act as a symbol for a dynamic modern state is an insult to Koreans. Not only did Koreans in the north never stop resisting the Japanese, but Koreans in the south toppled an authoritarian regime in the 1980s. Koreans are no longer the dupes of caprcious aristocrats, like the Yi’s. If younger Koreans stop to dream of a Korean dynasty uninterrupted by invasions, wars, and colonialism, it’s not to crave political servitude under a traitorous family, but to hope for how rich and powerful Koreans can make their country, if only bad men don’t interfere.
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