Friday, July 15, 2011

Prince Sado

   OK, so I'm a little bit confused with the drama Warrior Baek Dongsu. I mean, I have problems with clash between description and reality of the drama. In overall, it is lovely, but I have problems with pinning the time of events. And this drives me nuts. From the synopsis we got: Set in the Joseon Dynasty during King Jeongjo’s reign, this martial-arts fusion sageuk is centered around the events involving Crown Prince Sado’s conspiracy. Warrior Baek Dong Soo was a real-life legend who created a martial arts guide in Joseon. His group who defends King Jeongjo is pitted against a mysterious organization of assassins who plot to kill the King.  

   So I start. Baek Dongsu was born in 1743. So we have now 1755. Prince Sado will live 7 more years. His son, Yi San, future King Jeongjo, was born in 1752, thus being 3 years now. So how on earth this drama takes place in Jeongjo's reign? Fine, his coronation took place on March 10, 1776, that is 14 years after his father's death.
So my only problem would be the inaccuracy in the description. Probably they won't span the drama through 7 years, or will they? That would be good to see, yet I have the feeling they will not.
The second thing that bothers me, and no matter how much I admire Oh Manseok, Prince Sado was mentally deranged, if I can use the polite terms. He was nuts. Of course, everything could be the fabrications of hostile Noron faction, but Lady Hyegyeong wrote an autobiography, and she was his main consort. Truth be told, Norons loathed the Prince and his death is also partially due to their subterfuges, but still...

So, the group made by Baek Dongsu will protect also King Jeongjo? In 1776 Dongsu will be 33. That is going to drive me mad, I swear!!

 This is the review of Lady Hyegyeong's Memories English translation:

By any measure, The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong is a remarkable and astonishing work. Subtitled The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess, this work, brilliantly translated and annotated by Jahyun Kim Haboush, tells the dark and tragic story of the execution of Crown Prince Sado at the age of twenty-seven by his father, King Yeongjo (r. 1724-1776). The method of execution was particularly cruel: Prince Sado was sealed in a rice chest and left to die by asphyxiation.
But the Memoirs are much more than a political and historical murder mystery. They chronicle the observations, thoughts, feelings, and experiences of a highly intelligent and per-ceptive Korean woman whose life was changed forever when she was selected at the age of nine to be a bride for Prince Sado, son of King Yeongjo during the Joseon dynasty. From an idyllic childhood Lady Hyegyeong was plunged into the maelstrom of political intrigue, rival-ries, and power struggles that characterized the court of her father-in-law. During her lifetime at the court, Lady Hyegyeong had to endure the execution not only of her husband but also of her brother and her uncle as well as the disgrace and ruination of her father, Hong Ponghan, a distinguished minister to the king. She wrote the Memoirs to defend the honor and integri-ty of her father, uncle, and brother, to tell the truth about her husband and the circumstances surrounding his death, to justify her own behavior during her years as a member of the royal family, and to cry out at the perceived injustice and incomprehensibility of the many blows that she and her family had suffered.
In Korea these Memoirs are known as Hanjungnok (Records written in silence) and are considered “a great literary masterpiece and an invaluable historical document” (3). There are four memoirs, the Memoirs of 1795, 1801, 1802, and 1805, the last one written just ten years before Lady Hyegyeong’s death at the age of eighty. They were all written in Korean hangeul script rather than in the literary Chinese employed by Korean men. As Haboush points out in her illuminating Introduction, of the four memoirs, only the last is devoted to the execution of Prince Sado. The first three “focus on the author and lives of people other than the central players in that incident” (4). But while the four memoirs were written “as separate works on separate occasions in defense of specific individuals,” they nevertheless “constitute an integral whole that moves from the personal to the public” (4). It is the fact that a woman of her time and place is, through her writing, entering the public domain, the man’s domain, in such a candid, forthright, and critical way that makes this autobiography a unique literary and historical document.The first memoir of 1795 was written at the request of a nephew; complying with his request, Lady Hyegyeong decided to record “what I have experi-enced and how I felt in the past, to let others know” (50). She tells of her childhood and of her love and devotion to her parents, and in a postscript she sketches the lives of other mem-bers of her family. This happy picture ends with her marriage to Prince Sado and her life in the palace that, according to Haboush, “soon turns into an unremitting ordeal, first because of her husband’s strange illness, and then after his death because of labyrinthine court poli-tics...” (4).

The “strange illness” that Haboush mentions was Prince Sado’s madness, which man-ifested itself in erratic, irrational, and increasingly violent behavior, culminating in the beat-ing and even murder of some of his servants. Lady Hyegyeong defends Sado’s character and blames his growing mental instability on Sado’s father, King Yeongjo. According to Lady Hyegyeong, Yeongjo was harsh and unloving toward his son, and this absence of love and affec-tion from his father darkened the heart and mind of Sado until it eventually drove him to vio-lence. At the same time that she criticizes her father-in-law, Lady Hyegyeong also presents
what could only be described as a defense of his actions regarding his son. When it became clear that Sado’s madness disqualified him from becoming king, it then became important that the dynastic line pass to Lady Hyegyeong and Sado’s son Jeongjo. Sado was a threat to the royal family and the stability of the court and had to be gotten rid of. It is at this point that King Yeongjo ordered the rice chest to be brought and Sado, begging for his life, to be sealed inside.

The last three memoirs are addressed to Lady Hyegyeong’s grandson, King Sunjo. “If I do not record events as they occurred,” she writes, “there is no way in which he [Sunjo] will come to know them sufficiently” (197). The Memoir of 1801 is a defense of her uncle and her younger brother, both of whom had been executed. This Memoir was written “in the heat of passion,” according to Haboush, presenting a “rancorous and gloomy view of life” (20). Lady Hyegyeong’s son Jeongjo, who had become king in 1776, died in 1800 at the age of forty-nine. With the death of her son the regency passed to Queen Dowager Cheongsun, a member of the rival Gyeongju Kim family. The atmosphere changed, and without her son to protect her, Lady Hyegyeong felt herself to be “persecuted and humiliated and others anxiously awaited my death” (188). She periodically expressed a strong desire to kill herself but then reaffirmed the will to live in order to vindicate the honor of her brother, her uncle, and her father.

The final Memoir of 1805 “traces the father-son relationship from its euphoric begin-ning when Yeogjo welcomes the long-awaited heir in 1735 to its tragic end when Sado dies in a rice chest in 1762” (29). Lady Hyegyeong had decided that the mandated silence sur-rounding the “unmentionable” execution had to be broken in order to end the poisonous speculation, rumor-mongering, and false allegations that went on in court circles and that threatened the stability of the court and indeed of society. But Haboush tells us that this is not a mere exercise in finger pointing. Rather, Lady Hyegyeong attempts to understand and describe the agony of both father and son. She displays remarkable psychological acuity as she probes the motives, the fears, and the passions that seemed to make a tragic denouement almost inevitable. She concludes that, as Haboush says, “the human psyche is unknowable” (31) and the workings of Heaven are unfathomable.

This book is an example of scholarship at its best. The translation is superb: it is fluent, elegant, and closes the distance between reader and narrator. We come to know Lady Hyegyeong, at least the persona she presents us with; we hear her voice, we feel her anger and despair. Never mind the centuries that separate our time from hers; never mind the cultural, political, philosophical, social, and class differences: through her writing we come to know her as a flesh-and-blood human being, struggling to cope with the extraordinary difficulties and complexities of the time, place, and circumstances in which she found herself.
Sungnam, Korea
of the book:
HABOUSH, JAHYUN KIM, translation, introduction and annotations. The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996