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Posted : 2013-04-19 16:45
Updated : 2013-04-19 16:45

Recent books

Living as Crown Prince of Joseon

Sim Jae-woo, et al.; Dolbegae: 360 pp., 28,000 won

Dolbegae Publishers released the ninth book of its Joseon royal family series which examines the lives of various crown princes; from the time they are born until some acceded to the throne.

Seven historians including Sim Jae-woo, professor at the Academy of Korean Studies, researched historical documents such as the Annals of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) to form a broad view of the role of princes during the Joseon era, when royal authority was a divine right.

Joseon had 27 kings and 29 crown princes. The royal succession of Joseon was based on male primogeniture, but only seven legitimate eldest sons succeeded to the throne because there were many variables, including a queen's reproductive ability or power struggles between aristocrats.

The book explains the status of a crown prince in Joseon and how they lived and were educated in the palace. It also provides a rich explication of the major rites of passages that the princes went through and sheds light on those who were proclaimed as heirs to the throne, but never wore the crown, incidents involving sibling rivalry and the political backdrop to these struggles.

/ Kwon Mee-yoo

Family Story of Joseon Royals

Gong Joon-won; Human Dream: 415pp., 15,000 won

The Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) lasted for over 500 years and continues to be a big part of Korea's heritage and collective memory. The average Korean has probably heard more than his or her life's worth of famous Joseon-related stories ― the famous figures and the historic events about them ― at school or in bed-time stories.

In this book, the author argues there are still plenty of stories left untold, and he blames this on the blurring of boundaries between fact and myth that took place over several hundred years. It's an easy read, but perhaps written so casually, as Gong does nothing more with his scanning of historical documents and other evidence than spewing out an uninteresting tale of who-did-what.

School children have been taught for years that Yi Seong-gye (1335-1402), Joseon's founder and first king, killed all the envoys sent by his son Yi Bang-won, the third king of the kingdom, after the elder Yi abdicated the throne amidst internal conflict. Gong points out in painstaking detail that Yi didn't kill the envoys in person, but ordered his soldier to do it. Okay, but so what?

To its credit, the book also includes some interesting stories about some critical historical events that weren't well known, including an amusing tale on the then-king ended up deciding on the location of the kingdom's capital, Hanyang, the ancient name of Seoul, literally by the flip of a coin.

As a 72-year-old author and history buff, Gong truly writes as if he is talking to his grandchildren. That doubles as the strength and weakness of this book, which doesn't seem to be intended as a children's book but ended up being one anyway.

/ Baek Byung-yeul


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