January 12, 2005 19:23
Newly-released Japanese material provides important information about the notorious 1895 murder of Empress Myeongseong -- also known as Queen Min -- by Japanese thugs. The material reveals that although it is commonly believed that the empress was killed in her bedroom, she was actually dragged outdoors and publicly hacked to death with a sword.
On Wednesday, Seoul National University history professor Lee Tae-jin released a secret document on the murder of Empress Myeongseong that he discovered at the Record Office of Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The five-page report, written by the Japanese consul in Seoul at the time, was composed after investigation at the crime scene and sent back to Japan on Jan. 4, 1896, no more than three months after the incident. Analysts say the report is therefore highly credible.
It says Japanese thugs broke into the Gyeongbok Palace through the Geoncheong-gung north of the Hyangwon-jeong pavilion, where the king and queen slept. There report also indicates the place where the empress's body was temporarily displayed and where it was later burned. The route taken by the killers is shown on a detailed map of the Gyeongbok Palace, with the Japanese entering through Gwanghwamun -- the front gate of the palace -- passing to the left of Gyeonghoe-ru pavilion and entering the Geoncheong-gung.
The report says King Gojong resided in the Geoncheong-gung's Jangan-dang hall, while Empress Myeongseong lived in the Gol-lyeong-hap hall. It says the killers found the empress in one of these rooms but does not specify which. They then dragged her to the palace courtyard between the two halls and killed her, the report marking the exact spot on the map.
The killers then moved her body to a room east of the Gol-lyeong-hap hall and put it briefly on display. The document records that the bandits then took the body to an artificial hill south of what is now the National Folk Museum and burned it.
The academic world has until now believed that the empress was killed indoors in the Okho-ru pavilion, which is part of the Gol-lyeong-hap hall. The view was based on notes and testimony from Kikuchi Kenjo, one of the gang that killed her, and Sabatin, a Russian officer acting as Gojong's bodyguard.
After liberation in 1945, the government even erected a marker near the Okho-ru pavilion, which the report now reveals was not the scene of the killing but merely where the body was displayed.
"That the empress wasn't killed indoors but rather in a palace courtyard with a lot of people watching means this wasn't an assassination but an occupation of the royal palace, an act no different from a military operation," Prof. Lee said. "Considering that Japan covered up the actual location of the murder for so long, it is evident that the Japanese themselves acknowledged the barbarity of the incident."
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