On this day in 1895, a group of Japanese assassins murdered Empress Myeongseong, the last empress of Korea, in the Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul. The assassination is known as the Emuli Incident, and despite the subsequent uprising, Korea fell under Japanese colonial rule shortly afterwards, lasting until 1945.
According to eyewitness reports the assassination was carried out by a group of Japanese swordsmen dressed in robes. Led by the Japanese resident minister, general Miura Goro, the Japanese overcame the palace guards and burst through to the empress’s chambers. Korean women of this era, especially royals, lived in intense secrecy and the Japanese had trouble locating the empress who is reported to have lived in a constant state of extreme vigilance–complete with trap doors and escape routes. Nonetheless, Goro and his men killed Myeongseong–along with a number of courtiers–burnt her corpse and dispersed the ashes.
Empress Myeongseong, also known as Queen Min, had advocated strong ties with Imperial Russia in the face of growing Japanese strength in the region. Following the assassination, the King and the Crown Prince fled to and sought refuge in the Russian legislation in Seoul. With Russian support they regained the palace, but their power was short-lived in the face of an aggressive Japan.
Photos of the funeral procession of Queen Min show an extraordinary display of mourning and ceremony. Huge wooden horses are accompanied by thousands of soldiers in traditional dress, lanterns and scrolls–all to accompany the empress in her afterlife.
The Gyeongbokgung Palace, which translates in English as “Palace of Shining Happiness” has undergone extensive restoration and is now open to the public after its near destruction by the Japanese. It houses the National Folk Museum of Korea and the National Palace Museum of Korea. Queen Min is buried east of Seoul in Hongeung.
Credit: Library of Congress, Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection
Caption: An alleged photo of Queen Min’s funeral procession, replete with oversized models of horses to accompany her in the afterlife.