Lady Hyegyeong Haiku

Silly woman writes

Of murderous prince husband,

Thinks she’ll be believed.

Original photo by: Story-grapher(sang hun kim) (CC) (Can’t find a pic, so you get her tomb)

Lady Hyegyeong of Korea (1735—1816) was the unfortunate wife of Crown Prince Sado and less unfortunate mother of King Jeongjo. She came from a family that was close, scholarly, and not that rich. When King Yeongjo sent out the call for potential brides for his son Sado, she was selected at the ripe age of 9. When she was 15, she gave birth to two sons, the second one (Jeongjo) surviving.

But Hyegyeong sensed trouble with her husband, starting with his increasing anxiety around his father. This escalated to a phobia of clothing (he ran through his money due to all the outfits he burned, forcing Hyegyeong to beg money from her family), and then to murder and rape. All the while, she had to hide this (and his affairs) out of fear for her children’s lives. But the king caught wind and ordered his son into a rice chest.

You might think this is an unusual way to execute someone. The logic was this: a traditional execution would mean that Sado’s wife and son would be expected to kill themselves as well. This would fuck up the succession, as young Jeongjo was a perfectly acceptable heir. However, if Sado was ordered to climb into a rice chest, this wouldn’t count as an execution. Even if the rice chest was subsequently sealed. If he died? Whoopsy daisy.

Hyegyeong was tempted to suicide, but opted to stay alive for her son’s sake. So she wrote her memoirs and tried to stay out trouble.

As the years wore on, conspiracy theories sprung up, like weeds from a shitty garden. Lady Hyegyeong added to her memoirs to set the record straight about her husband, and that should have settled the matter. It didn’t. Last time I was in the National Museum of Korea, when it came to Prince Sado, they did not go into his crimes at all, but merely said that some claim there was a frame-up. Get your shit together, NMK.

I could go into a huge rant about how Korean museums present information, particularly anything that could be seen as scandalous or might reflect an aspect of Korea in a negative light, but I have restraint. (Psst, museum directors, it looks worse when you leave that shit out.)

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