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Yeongjo of Joseon


Yeongjo of Joseon

King of Joseon
Reign 16 October 1724 – 22 April 1776
Predecessor Gyeongjong of Joseon
Successor Jeongjo of Joseon
Born (1694-10-31)31 October 1694
Changdeok Palace, Korea
Died 22 April 1776(1776-04-22) (aged 81)
Gyeonghui Palace, Korea
Burial Wonneung, Guri, Gyeonggi
Spouse Queen Jeongseong,
Queen Jeongsun
Issue Crown Prince Hyojang
Crown Prince Sado
a daughter
Princess Hwasoon
Princess Hwapyeong
Princess Hwahyeop
Princess Hwawan
Princess Hwayoo
Princess Hwaryeong
Princess Hwagil
House House of Yi
Father King Sukjong of Joseon
Mother Royal Noble Consort Suk of the Haeju Choi clan
Korean name
Hangul 영조
Hanja 英祖
Revised Romanization Yeongjo
McCune–Reischauer Yǒngjo
Pen name
Hangul 양성헌
Hanja 養性軒
Revised Romanization Yangseongheon
McCune–Reischauer Yangsŏnghŏn
Birth name
Hangul 이금
Hanja 李昑
Revised Romanization I Geum
McCune–Reischauer Yi Kŭm
Courtesy name
Hangul 광숙
Hanja 光叔
Revised Romanization Gwangsuk
McCune–Reischauer Kwangsuk

Yeongjo (31 October 1694 – 22 April 1776, reigned 16 October 1724 – 22 April 1776) was the 21st king of the Korean Joseon Dynasty. He was the second son of King Sukjong. His mother was Consort Suk of the Choe clan. Before ascending to power, his name was Prince Yeoning. In 1720, few months after the accession of his older brother, King Gyeongjong as the 20th King, Yeoning became the Royal Prince Successor Brother (wangseje, 왕세제). This induced a large controversy between political factions. Nevertheless, four years later, at the death of Gyeongjong, Yeongjo accessed to the throne.

Yeongjo's reign lasted 52 years and was marked by his persistent efforts to reform the taxation system of Joseon, rule by Confucian ethics, minimize and reconcile the factional fighting under his "Magnificent Harmony" Policy (Tangpyeong, 蕩平, 탕평). His reign was also marked by the highly controversial execution of his son, Prince Sado, in 1762. In spite of the controversies, Yeongjo's reign has earned a positive reputation in Korean history due to his sincere efforts to rule by Confucian virtue.


  • Succession to the throne 1
  • Reign 2
  • Policies 3
    • Anti-corruption 3.1
  • Controversy 4
  • Catholicism 5
  • Death 6
  • Family 7
  • His full posthumous name 8
  • In popular culture 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11

Succession to the throne

In 1720, his father King Sukjong died and Crown Prince Yi Yun, Sukjon's eldest son, ascended to the throne as King Gyeongjong, at the age of 33. When Sukjong died in 1720, he supposedly told Yi Yi-myoung to name Yeoning-gun as Gyeongjong's heir, but in the absence of a historiographer or scribe, there was no record  .

During his time there was infighting and resentment for his low-born origins. The Noron faction (노론, 老論) of the bureaucracy pressured King Gyeongjong to step down in favor of his half-brother Prince Yeoning (the future King Yeongjo). In 1720, two months after the King's enthronement, Prince Yeoning was installed as Royal Prince Successor Brother (wangseje, 왕세제, 王世弟). This aggravated the power struggle and led to a great massacre, namely the Shinimsahwa (辛壬士禍). The Norons sent messages to the king to no effect while the opposing Soron faction (소론, 少論) used this to their advantage – claiming the Noron faction were trying to usurp power and subsequently getting their rival faction removed from several offices.

Members of the Soron faction then came up with an idea to assassinate the heir (Yeoning-gun) under the pretence of hunting for a white fox said to be haunting the palace, but Yeoning-gun sought shelter with his stepmother, Queen Dowager Inwon, who protected him and he was able to stay alive. Afterwards, he told his half-brother the king that he rather would go and live as a commoner.

On 11 October 1724, King Gyeongjong died. Soron then accused Prince Yeoning of having something to do with his brother's death due to the earlier attempt by the Noron faction to have him replace Gyeongjong on the throne. But historians now agree that he could have died of eating contaminated seafood, as to the symptoms of the illness that caused his death. Homer Hulbert described this in his book The History of Korea where he said, "But we may well doubt the truth of the rumor, for nothing that is told of that brother indicates that he would commit such an act, and in the second place a man who will eat shrimps in mid-summer, that have been brought 30 miles from the sea without ice might expect to die."[1] On 16 October 1724, Prince Yeoning ascend the throne as King Yeongjo, the 21st ruler of Joseon.


King Yeongjo was a deeply Confucian monarch, and is said to have had a greater knowledge of the classics than his officials. During the reign of Yeongjo and his grandson Jeongjo, Confucianization was at its height, as well as the economic recovery from the wars of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. His rulership has been called one of the most brilliant reigns of all the Joseon Dynasty.[2]

Yeongjo worried deeply for his people. Annals of Joseon record that one day in the 4th year of his reign, King Yeongjo woke up to the sound of early morning rain and said to his courtiers,

Oh dear! We have had flood, drought and famines for the past four years because of my lack of virtue, and this year we even went through an unprecedented revolt by a traitor named Yi In Jwa. How can my poor people manage their livelihood under such hardship? There is an old saying, 'War is always followed by a lean year.' Fortunately, however, we haven’t had a big famine for the past two years and we pin our hopes on a good harvest this year. Yet I am still nervous because, while the season for harvesting is around the corner, there is no way of knowing if there will be a flood or drought before then. Nobody knows whether a cold rain will pour suddenly and flood the fields awaiting harvest. My lack of goodness might bring upon us such awful things as I fail to win the sympathy of heaven. How can I earn the sympathy of heavens if I do not self-reflect and make efforts myself? I should start with reflecting on myself.[3]

Yeongjo worried that rain would ruin the harvest forcing his unfortunate people to starve. The King ordered his courtiers to reduce taxes on the people and decrease the number of dishes in his own meals. Reducing the range of foods he ate was a decision made out of concern for his starving people.

One early morning 25 years later circa 1753, the continuous rain reminded Yeongjo of the flood during the 4th year of his reign, when he had eaten less food: "Oh! Floods and droughts really happen because I lack virtue. I am much older than that year, but how can my compassion for the people and will to work hard for them be less than back then?".[4] Yet again, Yeongjo ordered a reduction in the number of dishes on his dining table. People around him described him as an articulate, bright, benevolent and kind King. He was penetrating in observation and quick of comprehension.[5]


Yeongjo realising the detrimental effect on state administration of factional strife during the latter half of the 17th century, attempted to end factional strife as soon as he ascended the throne. Yeongjo reinstated the short-lived universal military service tax, then he even went beyond the palace gate and solicited the opinion of officials, literati (scholars), soldiers and peasants. Yeongjo reduced the military service tax by half and ordered the variance be supplemented by taxes on fisheries, salt, vessels and an additional land tax. Yeongjo also regularized the financial system of state revenues and expenses by adopting an accounting system. His realistic policies allowed payment of taxes on grain from the remote mountainous areas Gyeongsang do province, to the nearby port, with payment in cotton or cash for grain. The circulation of currency was encouraged by increasing coin casting.

Yeongjo's concern for improvement of the peasant’s life was manifest in his eagerness to educate the people by distributing important books in the Korean script (Hangul), including the Book of Agriculture. The pluviometre was again manufactured in quantity and distributed to local administration offices and extensive public work projects were undertaken. Yeongjo upgraded the status of posterity of the commoners, opening another possibility for upward social mobility and inevitable change. Yeongjo policies were intended to reassert the Confucian monarchy and a humanistic rule, but they couldn't stem the tide of social change that resulted.

Mercantile activities rapidly increased in volume. The accumulation of capital through monopoly and wholesales expanded through guild organisations and many merchants were centred in Hanyang. The traditional division of government chartered shop, the license tribute goods suppliers and the small shopkeepers in the alley and streets were integrated and woven into a monopoly and wholesale system.

Regardless of status, many yangban class aristocrats and commoners engaged in some kind of merchant activities. Thus Hanyang made great strides as a commercial and industrial city in the 18th century. The popular demand for handicrafts and goods such as knives, horse hair hats, dining table and brassware was ever-increasing. Restrictions on wearing the horse hair hat originally denoting a Yangban class status, virtually disappeared

Even pirating of books became commercialised as competition developed among the well-to-do Yanban engaged in publication of collected literary works of their renowned ancestors. This also led to printing popular fiction and poetry. The people especially appreciated satire and social criticism. One example is the Chunhyangjeon (Tales of Chunghyang) about the fidelity of the Gisaeng’s (entertainer's) daughter was widely read as a satire aimed to expose the greed and snobbery of government officials.[6]


The King is also renowned for having treasured Park Mun-su, who he appointed as Amhaeng-eosa (암행어사), a secret government inspector for the King. Park, who had earned great merit in putting down Yi In-ja's rebellion, went around the nation arresting corrupt local officers in the name of the King.


The only significantly dismal incident during Yeongjo's reign was the death of his son, Crown Prince Sado. History indicates Sado suffered from mental illness; accused of randomly killing people in the palace and being a sexual deviant. By court rules King Yeongjo could not kill his son by his own hands, so Sado was ordered to climb into a large wooden rice chest on a hot July day in 1762. After eight days, Sado died of suffocation.[7] During the 19th century, there were rumors that Prince Sado had not been mentally ill, but had been framed; however, these rumors are widely contradicted by his widow in The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong and Annals of the Joseon Dynasty.


Yeongjo was the first to take action against Roman Catholic activities in the country. By the 18th century, Catholicism was beginning to acquire a following especially in the Gangwon and Hwanghae provinces. In 1758, Yeongjo officially outlawed Catholicism as an evil practice.


When 14 years later King Yeongjo died, Sado's son, Yeongjo's grandson Jeongjo, became king. The early part of the new King's years were marked by political intrigues and fear of court officials who were afraid that Jeongjo would seek revenge on them for petitioning the punishment that caused the death of his father, Crown Prince Sado.

Yeongjo was buried in the dynastic tombs at Donggureung. Yeongjo is buried with his second wife in the royal tomb of Wonneung (원릉, 元陵) in the city of Guri.


Monarchs of Korea
  1. Taejo 1392–1398
  2. Jeongjong 1398–1400
  3. Taejong 1400–1418
  4. Sejong the Great 1418–1450
  5. Munjong 1450–1452
  6. Danjong 1452–1455
  7. Sejo 1455–1468
  8. Yejong 1468–1469
  9. Seongjong 1469–1494
  10. Yeonsangun 1494–1506
  11. Jungjong 1506–1544
  12. Injong 1544–1545
  13. Myeongjong 1545–1567
  14. Seonjo 1567–1608
  15. Gwanghaegun 1608–1623
  16. Injo 1623–1649
  17. Hyojong 1649–1659
  18. Hyeonjong 1659–1674
  19. Sukjong 1674–1720
  20. Gyeongjong 1720–1724
  21. Yeongjo 1724–1776
  22. Jeongjo 1776–1800
  23. Sunjo 1800–1834
  24. Heonjong 1834–1849
  25. Cheoljong 1849–1863
  26. Gojong of Korea 1863–1907
  27. Sunjong of Korea 1907–1910
  1. Queen Jeongseong of the Dalsung Seo clan (정성왕후 서씨, 7 December 1692 – 15 February 1757)[8][9] (Married November 1703)
  2. No issue
  3. Queen Jeongsun of the Gyeongju Kim clan (정순왕후 김씨, 10 November 1745 – 12 January 1805)[10]
  4. No issue
  5. Royal Noble Consort Jeong of the Lee clan (정빈 이씨)
  6. Crown Prince Hyojang (효장세자, 1719–1728).[11]
  7. A Daughter
  8. Princess Hwasoon (화순옹주)
  9. Royal Noble Consort Yeong of the Lee clan (영빈 이씨, 1696 – 23 August 1764)[12][13]
  10. Crown Prince Sado (사도세자, 1735–1762)[14]
  11. Princess Hwapyeong (화평옹주, 1727–1748)
  12. Princess Hwahyeop (화협옹주, 1733–1752)
  13. Princess Hwawan (화완옹주, 1738–1808)
  14. Jo Gwi-in (귀인 조씨)
  15. Princess Hwayoo (화유옹주, 1741–1771)
  16. Moon Suk-ui (숙의 문씨)[15]
  17. Princess Hwaryeong (화령옹주, 1752–1821)
  18. Princess Hwagil (화길옹주, 1754–1772)
    • Other children:
    1. Hwa Sun (second daughter of the king and royal concubine Jeong Bin Lee; 1720-1758) She committed suicide after her husband, Kim Han Shin (Wol Sung Wee), died unexpectedly.[16]

    His full posthumous name

    • King Yeongjo Jangsun Jihaeng Sundeok Yeongmo Uiryeol Jang-ui Hong-yun Gwang-in Donhui Checheon Geon-geuk Seonggong Sinhwa Daeseong Gwang-un Gaetae Giyeong Yomyeong Suncheol Geon-geon Gonyeong Baemyeong Sutong Gyeongnyeok Honghyu Junghwa Yungdo Sukjang Changhun Jeongmun Seonmu Huigyeong Hyeonhyo the Great of Korea
    • 영조장순지행순덕영모의렬장의홍윤광인돈희체천건극성공신화대성광운개태기영요명순철건건곤영배명수통경력홍휴중화융도숙장창훈정문선무희경현효대왕
    • 英祖莊順至行純德英謨毅烈章義洪倫光仁敦禧體天建極聖功神化大成廣運開泰基永堯明舜哲乾健坤寧配命垂統景曆洪休中和隆道肅莊彰勳正文宣武熙敬顯孝大王

    In popular culture

    See also


    1. ^  
    2. ^ "The history of Korea". Retrieved 2014-06-04. 
    3. ^ The Annals of Yeongjo dated July 27 of the 4th year of his reign 1728
    4. ^ The Annals of Yeongjo, dated July 23 of the 29th year of his reign circa 1753
    5. ^ The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong Pag. p.250
    6. ^
    7. ^ The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong (한중록, 閑中錄)
    8. ^ Daughter of Seo Jong-je (서종제) and Lady Lee.
    9. ^ She was given the tile "Princess Consort" (군부인) before she was given the title "Queen".
    10. ^ Daughter of Kim Han-gu (김한구) and Lady Won.
    11. ^ He is given the title "Jinjong" (진종)
    12. ^ Daughter of Lee Yoo-beon (이유번) and Lady Kim.
    13. ^ Also known as Lady Seonhui.
    14. ^ He is given the posthumous title "Jangjo" (장조).
    15. ^ Afterwards was known as "Deposed Moon Suk-ui" (폐숙의 문씨).
    16. ^ 박, 주 (2012). ""The Life and Death of King YeongJo's Daughter Hwa Sun" [in Korean]". Korean Thought and Culture (LXIV): 201–234. 
    17. ^ a b Baek, Byung-yeul (18 August 2014). "Same role, different actors".  
    Yeongjo of Joseon
    Born: 13 September 1694 Died: 5 March 1776
    Regnal titles
    Preceded by
    King of Korea
    Succeeded by
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