August 25, 2009 12:33
One of the misconceptions about the death of Empress Myeongseong also known as Queen Min is that she was killed in some spontaneous assault by a bunch of ignorant Japanese thugs. But a look at the assailants tells an entirely different story. Among them was an elite student educated at Harvard and Tokyo universities, a future cabinet minister, a politician and a diplomat.
The key figures in the assassination all came from Kyushu's Kumamoto Prefecture. Kaoru Inoue, a Japanese statesman and member of the Meiji oligarchy, prime minister Hirobumi Ito, and Japanese ambassador Goro Miura, were among those who planned it, and a group of men with ties to the Hanseong Sinbo, the de facto organ of the then Japanese colonial government in Korea, carried it out. The president of the daily, Kenzo Adachi, and editorial writer Shigeaki Kunimoto came from Kumamoto as well, and so did assailants like Kakichi Ieiri, who broke into the empress' room and wielded the sword.
The assassination, which took place on Oct. 8, 1895, left its mark in history for its viciousness and brutality. The writer Fusako Tsunoda in her book on the murder wrote, "Everywhere there were cries, 'Where is Queen Min?' The assailants approached a group of court ladies who were trembling with fear and slaughtered two of them who were especially beautiful. One of the victims bore a faint trace of smallpox on her temple, allowing the assailants to verify that she was Queen Min." Tsunoda also said, "After many years, one of the assailants confessed that they violently slashed and committed unspeakable atrocities on the body of the empress."
Japan thoroughly covered up its responsibility. The empress' body was burned and Japanese government propaganda portrayed the assassination as the result of a power struggle between Myeongseong and her father-in-law Heungseon Daewongun. Miura and 55 other suspects in the assassination were tried in a Japanese court and found not guilty. As a result, most Japanese people today are unaware that their government conspired with a group of civilians and broke into the Korean royal palace, assassinated the empress and desecrated her body. Most Japanese school texts avoid any mention of the atrocity.
But last night, Japan's TV Asahi broadcast a special program revealing the truth behind the assassination and documenting a visit by the descendents of the killers to Korea to make their apologies some 110 years after the empress' death. Other Japanese broadcasters had tried to report on the visit by the descendents, who live in Kumamoto, but fears of a backlash from right-wing groups put their plans on hold.
Here, the assassination still stirs up strong emotions and forms a cornerstone of anti-Japanese sentiment. It is not only the descendents of the assailants who should deliver a proper apology. The shackles of history can only be shaken off with the courage to face the truth.
By Chosun Ilbo columnist Kim Tae-ick
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