Jungjong of Joseon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Not to be confused with Tang Zhongzong.
Yi Yeok
King of Joseon
Reign 1506–1544
Predecessor Yeonsangun (Yi Yung)
Successor Injong (Yi Ho)
Born 16 April 1488
Died 29 November 1544
Consort Dangyeong, Queen consort of Joseon
Janggyeong, Queen consort of Joseon
Munjeong, Queen consort of Joseon
Issue Injong (Yi Ho)
Myeongjong (Yi Hwan)
Posthumous name
King Jungjong Gonghee Hwimun Somu Heumin Seonghyo the Great of Korea
Temple name
House Jeonju Yi
Father Seongjong (Yi Hyeol)
Mother Jeonghyeon, Queen consort of Joseon
Jungjong of Joseon
Hangul 중종
Hanja 中宗
Revised Romanization Jungjong
McCune–Reischauer Chungjong
Birth name
Hangul 이역
Hanja 李懌
Revised Romanization I Yeok
McCune–Reischauer Yi Yŏk

Jungjong of Joseon (16 April 1488 – 29 November 1544, r. 1506–1544), born Yi Yeok, ruled during the 16th century in what is now Korea. He succeeded his half-brother, Yeonsangun, because of the latter's tyrannical misrule, which culminated in a coup placing Jungjong on the throne.


Jo Gwang-jo's reforms[edit]

On the day Yeonsangun was deposed, soldiers belonging to the coup leaders surrounded the house of his half-brother Grand Prince Jinseong. He was about to kill himself, thinking that Yeonsangun was finally going to kill him; but, dissuaded by his wife, Grand Prince Jinseong found himself becoming the eleventh king of Joseon Dynasty, or King Jungjong. Jungjong worked hard to wipe out the remnants of the Yeonsangun era by reopening the Seonggyungwan, royal university, and Office of Censors, which criticizes inappropriate actions of the king. However, during the early days of his reign, Jungjong could not exert regal authority freely because those who put him on the throne exercised immense power. When the three main leaders of coup died of old age and natural causes eight years later, Jungjong began to assert his authority and carried out a large-scale reformation of the government with help of Jo Gwang-jo and other Sarim scholars.

Jo Gwang-jo strengthened local autonomy by establishing a self-governing system called Hyang'yak, promulgated Confucian writings by translating them in Korean hangul and distributing them widely, pursued a land reform that would distribute land more equally between the rich and poor, and introduced a supplementary system for recruiting talents to the government. He also believed that any talented people including slaves should be appointed as officials regardless of social status. As Inspector General, he enforced the laws strictly so that no official dared to receive a bribe or exploit the local populace during this time according to Annals of the Joseon Dynasty.[1]

However, the reforms faced much opposition from conservative nobles who led the coup in 1506 that placed Jungjong in power. After four years of reformist agenda, Jungjong abruptly abandoned Jo Gwang-jo's programs because he either lost confidence in Jo's programs or feared that Jo was becoming too powerful. While Jungjong and Jo Gwang-jo shared the reformist agenda, Jungjong was also chiefly interested in solidifying royal authority whereas the latter was more concerned with neo-Confucian ideology, according to which those who rule must be a virtuous example to the rest. Finally in November 1519, when conservative officials slandered Jo Gwang-jo to be disloyal by writing "Jo will become the king" (주초위왕, 走肖爲王) with honey on leaves so that caterpillars left behind the same phrase as if in supernatural manifestation, Jungjong executed Jo Gwang-jo on charge of factionalism and exiled many of his followers, abruptly abandoning his reforms. This incident is known as the Third Literati Purge of 1519 or Gimyo massacre of scholars.

Rule of in-laws[edit]

After Jo Gwang-jo's fall, King Jungjong never had the chance to rule on his own. His reign was marked by tumultuous struggle among various conservative factions, each of them backed by one of the King's queens or concubines. In 1524 the conservative factions collided with each other, one faction deposing the corrupt official Kim Anro. Kim Anro's followers took their revenge in 1527 by intriguing against Consort Park, one of the King's concubines, which led to her execution along with her son Prince Bokseong. Kim Anro came back to power and took revenge on his enemies until he was removed from government and then executed by the new queen's brothers, Yun Wonro and Yun Wonhyeong. However, Yun Im, ally of Kim Anro, was able to keep his nephew as crown prince since the new queen, Queen Munjeong, did not have a son until later. Injong would later be declared the crown prince. His uncle Yoon Im competed for power with the Queen Munejeong's brothers, Yoon Won-hyeong and Yoon Wonro. Many officials and scholars gathered around the two centers of power and each group developed into separate political factions. Yoon Im's faction became known as ‘Greater Yoon’ and the Yoon brothers' faction as ‘Lesser Yoon’. Their conflict led to the Fourth Literati Purge of 1545 after Jungjong's death.

As the dynasty weakened as a consequence of the continual internal conflict, foreign powers driven away by earlier monarchs returned with much greater effect. Wokou pirates and privateers often plundered southern coastal regions, while the Jurchens attacked the northern frontier numerous times, bleeding the army dry.

Prince Jinseong


Jungjong was a good and able administrator especially during the reform period led by Jo Gwang-jo. However, historians judge that he was a fundamentally weak king due to circumstances of his ascension to throne, too easily swayed by both Jo Gwang-jo and conservative ministers who placed him on the throne. Sometimes he was seen as a tragic figure who never wanted to be a king but was forced to become one and depose his loving queen under the pressure of the coup leaders, who killed her father during the coup. More recently, some historians have suggested that Jungjong was not actually manipulated by his ministers and in-laws, but rather used them to get rid of one another to strengthen regal authority albeit not so successfully. In either case, his reign was marred by much confusion, violence, corruption, and court intrigues. He has been especially criticized for allowing the Third Literati Purge of 1519 and executing Jo Gwang-jo and others on framed charges.

In the early days of reform, Jungjong encouraged the publishing of many books; but publications declined dramatically after the literati purge in 1519. He also tried to improve self-government of local areas and succeeded in reforming the civil service examination. In the latter days of his reign, he realized the importance of defense and encouraged military service.

Jungjong is also known for appointing Jang Geum as one of his personal doctors. Never in Korean history had a woman become a royal physician. It is also worth noting that since Jungjong's reign, Korea has never been known to have had a female royal or presidential physician, even to this day.


  1. Queen Dangyeong of the Seongeun Shin clan (단경왕후 신씨)
  2. Queen Janggyeong of the Papyeong Yun clan (장경왕후 윤씨)
    1. Royal Prince Successor (왕세자)
    2. Princess Hyohye (효혜공주)
  3. Queen Munjeong of the Papyeong Yun clan (문정왕후 윤씨)
    1. Grand Prince Gyeongwon (경원대군)
    2. Princess Uihye (의혜공주)
    3. Princess Hyosun (효순공주)
    4. Princess Gyeonghyeon (경현공주)
    5. Princess Insun (인순공주)
  4. Desposed Royal Noble Consort Gyeong of the Park clan (폐 경빈 박씨, ?-May 23, 1533)[3]
    1. Prince Bokseong(복성군)
    2. Princess Hyesun (혜순옹주)
    3. Princess Hyejeong (혜정공주)
  5. Royal Noble Consort Hui of the Hong clan (희빈 홍씨, 1494–1581)[4]
    1. Prince Geumwon (금원군)
    2. Prince Bongseong (봉성군)
  6. Royal Noble Consort Chang of the Ansan Ahn clan (창빈 안씨, 1499–1549)
    1. Prince Yeongyang (영양군)
    2. Prince Deokheung (덕흥군). Later known as 덕흥대원군 "Deokheung, Prince of the Great Court", when his son became King Seonjo. [5]
    3. Princess Jeongsin (정신옹주)
  7. Hong Suk-ui (숙의 홍씨)
    1. Prince Haean (해안군)
  8. Lee Suk-ui (숙의 이씨)
    1. Prince Deokyang (덕양군)
  9. Na Suk-ui (숙의 나씨)
  10. Lee So-won (소원 이씨)
    1. Princess Jeongsun (정순옹주)
    2. Princess Hyojeong (효정옹주)
  11. Kim Suk-won (숙원 김씨)
    1. Princess Sukjeong (숙정옹주)

His full posthumous name[edit]

  • King Jungjong Gonghee Hwimun Somu Heumin Seonghyo the Great of Korea
  • 중종공희휘문소무흠인성효대왕
  • 中宗恭僖徽文昭武欽仁誠孝大王

Modern depiction[edit]

Jungjong appears in many Korean TV drama programs, most notably in recent times in the dramas Hwang Jin-i and Dae Jang Geum. He is also portrayed (albeit in an almost minor role) in the TV series "Ladies of the Palace," or "Yeoin Cheonha" ("Woman of the World") This drama portrays the women of the era pulling the strings and highlights the rivalry between Queen Munjeong and the royal concubines. In all three dramas, he is portrayed as a righteous man who wants the best for the people of Joeseon but is always being persuaded by his officials.

He is also portrayed briefly in the TV series The King and I most recently.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Annals of Joseon Dynasty, October, 1520
  2. ^ More popularly known as "Dowager Queen Jasun" (자순대비)
  3. ^ Biological daughter of Park Soo-rim; adopted daughter of Park Won-jong, one of the minority officials whol helped Jungjong rise on the throne.
  4. ^ daughter of Hong Gyeong-ju, one of the minority officials who helped Jungjong rise on the throne.
  5. ^ See Heungseon Daewongun for another example of a Daewongun.
Jungjong of Joseon
Born: 1488 Died: 1544
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Yeonsangun (Yi Yung)
King of Joseon
Succeeded by
Injong (Yi Ho)