Myeongjong of Joseon

From New World Encyclopedia
Myeongjong of Joseon
Hangul 명종
Hanja 明宗
Revised Romanization Myeongjong
McCune-Reischauer Myŏng-jong

King Myeongjong (명종 明宗|1534–1567, r. 1545–1567) was the thirteenth king of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea. He was the second son of Jungjong (중종 中宗), and his mother was Queen Munjeong (문정왕후 文定王后), who was Jungjong's third queen. Myeongjong became king in 1545 at the age of twelve, following the death of his half-brother, Injong ( 인종; 仁宗, the twelfth king). Since he was too young to rule the kingdom, Queen Munjeong governed the nation in his name. After he came of age, she continued to govern until her death in 1565.

During the reign of King Myeongjong, Buddhism, which had been heavily suppressed by the Neo-Confucian government of Joseon, was revived. Queen Munjeong ordered the rebuilding of Bogeunsa Temple in 1548, under the leadership of the monk Bo-wu (普雨). An official system for training and selecting monks in both the Seon (meditative) and Gyo (doctrinal, scholastic) sects of Korean Buddhism, which had been abolished in 1501, was reinstated. After the death of Queen Munjeong, Myeongjong had the corrupt Prime Minister executed and attempted to reform the government, but died just two years later.

Queen Munjeong


The first regency policy (垂簾聴政) of the Joseon dynasty was established during the reign of King Seongjong of Joseon ( 조선 성종; 成宗, the ninth ruler, 1457-1494), who succeeded King Yejong (예종; 睿宗, the eighth monarch) in 1469 and ruled until 1494. When Seongjong succeeded to the throne, he was only thirteen years old. It would have been risky to entrust matters of national policy to such a young king. In such cases, the first Yi dynasty had a policy (垂簾聴政) of choosing an assistant or advisor for the king. Throughout Korean history, even in emergencies, such a policy had existed. Ordinarily, it would have seemed logical to choose a popular and capable bureaucrat or a man of ability from the royal family, to advise the young king. However, in a dynastic system this was unwise, since a popular bureaucrat could initiate a revolution, and a capable member of the royal family could build his own power base, take the throne, and declare himself king. Instead, his mother and grandmother, Queen Insu and Queen Jeonghee, were made regents and ruled on his behalf until he reached the age of twenty.

Queen Munjeong (문정왕후; 文定王后) (1501-1565) was the second queen to rule as a regent (垂簾聴政) on behalf of her son, Myeongjong. The wife of King Jungjong, the eleventh monarch of Joseon, was known as a good administrator and continued to rule even after her son reached the age of majority. It was only after her death that her son took power.

Political Factions

There were two political factions at the time Myeongjong came to power: Greater Yun, headed by Yun Im, uncle of King Injong; and Lesser Yun, with Yun Won-Hyung, Myeongjong's uncle, as its leader. Greater Yun took power in 1544, when Injong succeeded Jungjong, but they failed to wipe out their opposition, since Queen Munjeong protected the Lesser Yun faction and other opposition officials.

After the death of Injong in 1545, Lesser Yun replaced Greater Yun as the majority in the royal court and brutally ousted their adversaries in the Fourth Literati Purge. Yun Im was executed, as were many of his followers.

The Smaller Yun faction continued to attack their opposition. In 1546, Yun Won-Hyung impeached his older brother, Yun Won-Ro, who was executed a few days later along with his followers. Facing no opposition from the government, Yun Won-Hyung became Minister of the Interior in 1548, Vice Premier in 1551 and ultimately Prime Minister in 1563.

Queen Munjeong and Buddhism

Despite Yun Won-Hyung's violent rule, Queen Munjeong was an effective administrator, distributing to the common people land formerly owned by the nobility. She had been made queen in 1517, after Janggyeong, King Jungjong's second queen, died in 1515 of complications while giving birth. Following the death of King Jungjong in 1544, her step son Injong ascended the throne, but suffered from ill health and died eight months later. Some historians suspect that he may have been poisoned by Queen Munjeong or by her uncle, Yun Won-Hung, in order to put Myeongjong on the throne.

Myeongjong was only twelve years old, so Queen Munjeong ruled as regent in his place. A strong supporter of Buddhism, she made numerous efforts to strengthen and revive it. Throughout the Joseon period, Buddhism had been actively discouraged and suppressed by the Neo-Confucianist government. Buddhist monks were treated as thought they were on the same social level as slaves, and were not allowed to enter the gates of the capital city.

Bongeunsa Temple and the Monk Bo-wu (woo)

In 1548, Queen Myeongjong ordered the rebuilding of the Bogeunsa Temple, and appointed the monk Bo-wu(普雨)to oversee its construction. Established in 794 by Venerable Yeon-hoe, the leading monk of Unified Silla at that time, the temple was originally called "Gyeonseong-sa" ("seeing true nature"). The temple fell into decline during the late Goryeo era, but was reconstructed in 1498 under the patronage of a Joseon Dynasty Queen and renamed "Bongeun-sa" ("offering benefit"). However, during the reign of King Myeongjong, Queen Munjeong made the reconstructed Bongeun-sa a cornerstone for early-Joseon Buddhist revival.

The monk Bo-woo revived an official system for training and selecting monks in both the Seon (meditative) and Gyo (doctrinal, scholastic) sects of Korean Buddhism, which had first been established by the monk Jinul Bojo-guksa in the thirteenth century and abolished in 1501. In 1551, Bongeun-sa became the main temple of the Jogye Seon Order, then the headquarters for the overall restoration of Korean Buddhism. The revived training system produced such illustrious monks as Seo-san, Sa-myeong, and Byeok-am. After the death of Queen Munjeong, however, Bo-woo was killed by anti-Buddhist officials.[1]

Tomb of Queen Munjeong

Queen Munjeong died in 1565, the twentieth year of King Myeongjong’s reign. She had wanted to be buried at Jeongneung along with her husband, but the land around Jeongneung was low and prone to flooding and she was buried instead in the Taeneung Royal Tomb. The tomb recently became a popular site for tourism, after the airing of a Korean television show, ‘Munjeong Wanghu’. The entrance is a red gate with a taegeuk (yin-yang) symbol. Two stone paths lead to the sacrificial building, an elevated path for the dead queen, and a lower one for living people. Small sculptures of animals (japsang), on the roof of the sacrificial building where the memorial rites were performed, were believed to exorcise evil spirits. Other sculptures of sheep, tigers, horses and military officers surround the tomb and act as guardians of the dead.[2]

After the Death of Queen Munjeong

After the death of Qeen Munjeong, Myeongjong decided to rule the kingdom by himself and had his uncle, Prime Minister Yun Won-Hyung, put to death. Yun Won-Hyung had allowed corruption to flourish in the government; while the kingdom was unstable, Jurchens, Japanese, and rebellious troops rampaged at will and threatened the government itself. In 1552, rebel leader Lim K'eok Jeong had been arrested and executed, but outside invasion continued to be a threat and the Joseon Dynasty had to mobilize its army and navy to protect its borders.

Myeongjong tried to reform the government after taking power into his own hands, but died only two years later without any male issue. King Seonjo, his nephew, succeeded to the throne in 1567.

Full Posthumous Name

  • King Myeongjong Gongheon Heoneui Somun Gwangsuk Gyeonghyo the Great of Korea
  • 명종공헌헌의소문광숙경효대왕
  • 明宗恭憲獻毅昭文光肅敬孝大王


  1. Bongeunsa Temple, Gangnam-gu. Retrieved February 14, 2008.
  2. Taeneung Royal Tomb, Korea Tourism Organization.

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, N.J.: Homa & Sekey Books. ISBN 1931907307
  • Lee, Gil-sang. 2006. Exploring Korean history through world heritage. Seongnam-si: Academy of Korean Studies. ISBN 8971055510
  • Pratt, Keith L. 2006. Everlasting flower: a history of Korea. London: Reaktion. ISBN 186189273X
  • Yi, Ki-baek. 1984. A new history of Korea. Cambridge, Mass: Published for the Harvard-Yenching Institute by Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674615751

Preceded by:
Emperor of Korea
(Joseon Dynasty)
Succeeded by:
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


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