Jungjong of Joseon

From New World Encyclopedia
Jungjong of Joseon
Hangul 중종
Hanja 中宗
Revised Romanization Jungjong
McCune-Reischauer Chungchong
Birth name
Hangul 이역
Hanja 李懌
Revised Romanization I Yeok
McCune-Reischauer I Yeŏk

Jungjong of Joseon (중종) (1488 – 1544, r.1506–1544), born Yi Yeok, was the eleventh ruler of the Joseon dynasty in what is now Korea. He succeeded to the throne after the erratic misrule of his half-brother, Yeonsangun (연산군 燕山君), culminated in a coup. In the events leading up to the coup, Yeonsangun had conducted two violent purges against Confucian officials in his court, setting up a backlash that affected Joseon politics for the next half-century. Though King Jungjong was a capable administrator and wished to enact reforms, he could not accomplish them because he was unable to dominate the conservative Confucian factions in his government. He also made efforts to improve self-government of local areas and succeeded in reforming the civil service examination. Political confusion in the court during Jungjong’s reign made Joseon vulnerable to attacks from the Jurchen and from Japanese pirates.

Jungjong is famous for appointing Jang Geum, the only known female royal physician in Korean history, as one of his personal doctors.


King Seongjong of Joseon was succeeded by his son, Yeonsangun, in 1494. Yeonsangun was a cruel and ruthless ruler, and many attributed his cruelty to the extreme jealousy and bad temper of his mother, Yoon. When Seongjong’s first Queen died after five years of marriage and left him without an heir, he married Yoon and made her his second Queen. Soon after the birth of Yeonsangun, Queen Yoon became wildly jealous of the King’s concubines. One night in 1479, she physically struck the king, leaving scratch marks on his face. Despite efforts made to conceal the injury, Seongjong's mother, Queen Insu, discovered the truth and ordered Lady Yun into exile. After several popular attempts to restore Lady Yun to her position at court, government officials arranged for her to be poisoned.

When Yeonsangun succeeded Seongjong in 1494, he did not know what had happened to his biological mother until the truth was revealed to him by several officials, including Lim Sahong and You Ja Gwang. The king was shocked. He arrested many officials who had supported the idea of executing his mother and put all of them to death; this incident in 1498 is called the First Literati Purge (무오사화). In 1504, he killed two of his father's concubines as well as his grandmother, Queen Insu. In the same year he killed many more Confucian scholars who had urged King Seongjong to depose his mother, in the Second Literati Purge (갑자사화). After this massacre, many commoners mocked and insulted the king in posters written in Hangeul. This provoked the anger of Yeonsangun and he banned the use of Hangeul forever. He closed Seonggyungwan, the national university, and ordered people to gather young girls and horses from the whole Korean Peninsula for his personal entertainment. Many people were afraid of his despotic rule and their voices were quelled, in stark contrast to the liberal Seongjong era.

In 1506, a group of officials, notably Park Won Jong, Sung Hee-Ahn, You Soonjeong and Hong Kyung Joo, plotted against the despotic ruler. They launched their coup in 1506, deposing the king and replacing him with his half-brother, Jungjong. The king was demoted to prince, and sent into exile on Ganghwa Island, where he died that same year.

Life of Jungjong

During the early days of his reign, Jungjong worked hard to wipe out the remnants of the Yeonsangun era. He planned a large-scale reformation of the government, with one of his secretaries, Cho Kwangjo (조광조; 1482- 1519) and numerous Neo-Confucian liberal politicians called the Shilin. Cho Kwangjo was an ambitious Neo-Confucian who argued that civil exams were too philosophical and detached from the practical needs of the government. He challenged the generous awards which had been given to the descendants, known as the Merit Subjects, of the group that was historically responsible for King Sejong the Great's ascension to the throne. Many of the Merit Subjects were yangan and landlords. Cho Kwangjo and other liberals wished to loosen the hold of these conservative Confucian yangban over the Joseon government.

The proposed reforms encountered strong opposition from conservative nobles who had led the coup in 1506 that placed Jungjong in power. In 1519, angry Merit Subjects led by Hong Gyeongju (홍경주) petitioned King Jungjong to remove Jo Gwangjo from the court and execute his followers. The resulting Third Literati Purge pitted the cautious conservatism of older, experienced politicians against young, impetuous Neo-Confucian literati whose actions and influence were seen as a grave threat to Yi society and the foundations of the dynasty. Many liberals, including Jo Gwangjo were killed or exiled. In 1521, even more Shilin scholars were purged.

After this incident, King Jungjong never had the chance to rule on his own. The government was mostly handled by the 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, deposing the corrupt official Kim Anro. Kim Anro's followers took their revenge in 1527 by intriguing against Lady Park, one of the King's concubines, and ultimately bringing about her execution. Kim Anro came back to power but was removed from government, and then executed by the new queen's brothers, Yun Wonro and Yun Wonhyeong. However, Yun Im (윤임), an ally of Kim Anro (김안로), was able to keep his nephew as Crown Prince, since the new queen, Queen Munjeong (문정왕후), did not have a son until later.

Later, Queen Munjeong gave birth to a son, Injong (인종) who was declared the new Crown Prince. Yun Im plotted against the Yun brothers, who were the new Crown Prince's uncles. Officials and scholars gathered around the two centers of power, and each group developed into a separate political faction. Yun Im's faction became known as "Greater Yun" and the brothers' faction as "Smaller Yun."

The dynasty weakened as a consequence of the continual internal conflict, and the foreign powers who had been 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, seriously depleting the resources of the military.

In his early days of reform, Jungjong had encouraged the publishing of many books, but after the massacre in 1519 all publications were stopped. 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 was clearly a generous, good and able administrator, but was hampered by the political factionalism in his court. His reign was dominated by the political confusion created by the many corrupt officials, and the failure of his reforms. His policies always faced opposition from his council members; and unlike his predecessors, he did not have authority to appoint his court officials because real political power was in the hands of the leaders of the 1506 coup that had placed him in power, and later of the queens' family members.

Jungjong is famous for appointing Jang Geum as one of his personal doctors. Never in Korean history had a woman become a royal physician. Since Jungjong's reign, Korea has never had another female royal or presidential physician.

Jang Geum, Royal Physician

Jang Geum (fl. early sixteenth century) is the only known female Royal Physician in Korean history. She was mentioned about seven times in the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty. King Jungjong was apparently pleased with Jang Geum's medical knowledge and trusted her with the care of royal family members. Jang Geum was made a third-ranked officer in the Court, and was granted the use of Dae (which means "great" in Korean) before her first names.

Scholars still debate whether “Jang Geum” was a real person or just a generic name for certain people whose origins are lost in history.

Mentions in Annals of the Joseon Dynasty

Mentions of Jang Geum, or a "female doctor," happened on these occasions:

  • In March - April of 1515, when Jungjong's second wife died as a result of complications from childbirth. Imperial court officers were persuading the king to punish all medical women who treated the king's wife (that includes Jang Geum) severely. King Jungjong refuses, saying, "Jang Geum deserves credit for her role in the safe childbirth of palace ladies, but I have never rewarded her for her actions until now, because of other affairs. Now you (the court officers) are telling me to punish her because the Queen is dead, but I won't do that, as well as I won't reward her. That's enough."
  • In 1524, when The Annals noted that, "Dae Jang Geum was better than any other medical women in the Palace. As a result, she was permitted to look after the King"
  • In 1533, when The Annals quoted a comment by the King on his health, "I have recovered from several month's sickness. The Royal Doctors and Pharmacists deserve praise. Jang-geum and Kye-geum, the two medical women, also will be rewarded with 15 rice bags, 15 bean sacks, and 10 cloths, respectively."
  • January 29, 1544, when The Annals quoted an order issued by the King: “I haven't executed my duties for a long time since I caught a cold. A few days ago, I attended an academic seminar (to discuss philosophy), but the cold weather made my condition worse. I already told Bak Se-geo and Hong Chim, the royal doctors, and top medical woman Dae Jang-geum to discuss the prescription. Let the Medical Minister know that."
  • February 9, 1544, when The Annals said that the King praised Dae Jang Geum for his recovery from a cold.
  • October 25, 1544, when The Annals recorded a conversation between an Imperial Minister and Jang Geum about the King's health, which was rapidly deteriorating. Jang Geum was quoted as saying, "He (the King) slept around midnight yesterday, and has also slept for a short time at dawn. He just passed his urine, but has been constipated for more than 3 days."
  • October 26, 1544, when The Annals quoted this from the King: ;I'm still constipated. What prescription should be made is under discussion. The female doctor (Dae Jang Geum) knows all about my condition." Later, Jang-geum explained her prescription for the king's symptoms to the ministers.
  • October 29, 1544, when The Annals reported that the King has recovered and he granted all his medical officers a holiday. (The King eventually died 17 days later, on November 15, 1544.)

"Medical Lady Jang Geum, whose origins cannot be traced, received the right to be called 'Dae Jang Geum" under an edict issued by the 11th Emperor of Korea, Jungjong, in the 18th year of his reign. At that time, there was no precedent of a Medical Lady treating the Emperor, but the Emperor trusted in Jang Geum's method of treating illness with food. Jang Geum, with the granting of the right to use "Dae" in her name, is certainly an epic lady whose name will be recorded in the history books." Entry regarding Jang Geum's origins and achievements, in the medical journal, "Rhee's Korea (another name for Joseon Korea) Medical Officer's Journal."

Stories of Sea Drift (Pyohaerok)

Surrounded with the sea on four sides, Jeju is the route of typhoons and the Kuroshio sea current. During the era of unsophisticated ships and sailing techniques, fishing ships or merchant vessels sometimes went adrift, mostly to China, Ryukuguk (Okinawa), Japan, and Anam (Vietnam). Survivors of these experiences left behind not only accounts of their adventures but descriptions of the cultures of the countries where they landed, providing a valuable historical record. Sea drift chronicles include Pyohaerok by Choi Bu (1452~1504), Pyohaerok by Jang Han Chul (1744~?) and Japan Pyoryugi by Jung Hwei (the slave of a Jeju government agency, Nasumsi). These records are important documents of the times, describing not only the drift experience but also the culture of other countries.

In February, 1534 (the twenty–ninth year of King Jungjong), Kim Gi Son and eleven people went adrift while sailing to the mainland to deliver singong, a tax of hemp cloth, ramie cloth, cotton cloth, rice or money that slaves paid instead of their labor, to the King. The wind caused them to lose their way and they ended up at Hwaianbu, China. They returned home in November through Nanjing and Beijing. The Seungjeongwon (King's Secretarial Office) wrote down the experience of the slave Manju, one of the 12, in Nanjing. In the November 24 entry of Jungjong silok, Kim Gi Son wrote China Pyorugi about his travels.

In October, 1539 (the thirty–fourth year of Jungjong), Gang Yeon Gong and 18 people from Jeju set sail to deliver tangerines to the King. On the fifth day, their ship was wrecked in Odo, near Japan. The next day, they were rescued by four fishing ships and received help from Wonsungeong, head of the island. The 19 Jeju islanders were finally escorted to Jocheonpo of Jeju by 25 Japanese in July, 1540. That story was told to the King by Gwon Jin, Jeju moksa (a local government head), then was recorded in the September eighteenth entry of the thirty–fifth year of Jungjong silok.


  • Father: King Seongjong (성종)
  • Mother: Queen Jeonghyeon (정현왕후)
  • Consorts:
  1. Queen Dangyeong (단경왕후)
  2. Queen Jang-gyeong (장경왕후)
  3. Queen Munjeong (문정왕후)
  4. Royal Noble Consort Gyeong (?-1533) from the Park clan.
  5. Royal Noble Consort Hui (1494-1581) from the Hong clan.
  6. Royal Noble Consort Chang (1499-1549) from the Ahn clan.
  • Children:
  1. Prince Bokseong(복성군), 1st Son of Royal Noble Consort Gyeong from the Park clan.
  2. Prince Geumwon (금원군), 1st Son of Royal Noble Consort Hui from the Hong clan.
  3. Prince Bongseong (봉성군), 2nd Son of Royal Noble Consort Hui from the Hong clan.
  4. Prince Yeongyang (영양군), 1st Son of Royal Noble Consort Chang from the Ahn clan.
  5. Prince Deokheung (덕흥군), 2nd Son of Royal Noble Consort Chang from the Ahn clan.
  6. King Injong (인종), 1st Son of Queen Jang-gyeong.
  7. Grand Prince Gyeongwon (경원대군), 1st Son of Queen Munjeong, later King Myeongjong.
  8. Princess Hyesun (혜순옹주), 1st daughter of Royal Noble Consort Gyeong from the Park clan.
  9. Princess Hyejeong (혜정공주), 2nd daughter of Royal Noble Consort Gyeong from the Park clan.
  10. Princess Jeongsin (정신옹주), Only daughter of Royal Noble Consort Chang from the Ahn clan.
  11. Princess Hyohye (효혜공주), 1st daughter of Queen Jang-gyeong.
  12. Princess Uihye (의혜공주), 1st daughter of Queen Munjeong.
  13. Princess Hyosun (효순공주), 2nd daughter of Queen Munjeong.
  14. Princess Gyeonghyeon (경현공주), 3rd daughter of Queen Munjeong.
  15. Princess Insun (인순공주), 4th daughter of Queen Munjeong.

Full posthumous name

  • 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

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Kang, Jae-eun, and Suzanne Lee. 2006. The land of scholars: two thousand years of Korean Confucianism. Paramus, NJ: Homa & Sekey Books. ISBN 978-1931907309
  • Lee, Gil-sang. 2006. Exploring Korean history through world heritage. Seongnam-si: Academy of Korean Studies. ISBN 978-8971055519
  • Pratt, Keith L. 2006. Everlasting flower: a history of Korea. London: Reaktion. ISBN 978-1861892737
  • Yi, Ki-baek. 1984. A new history of Korea. Cambridge, MA: Published for the Harvard-Yenching Institute by Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0674615755

Monarchs of Joseon and The Korean Empire
Joseon: Emperor Taejo | King Jeongjong | King Taejong | King Sejong the Great | King Munjong | King Danjong
King Sejo | King Yejong | King Seongjong | Yeonsangun | King Jungjong | King Injong | King Myeongjong
King Seonjo | Gwanghaegun | King Injo | King Hyojong | King Hyeonjong | King Sukjong
King Gyeongjong | King Yeongjo | King Jeongjo | King Sunjo | King Heonjong | King Cheoljong

Korean Empire: Emperor Gojong | Emperor Sunjong

Preceded by:
Emperor of Korea
(Joseon Dynasty)

Succeeded by:


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