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The House of Yi (전주이씨, 全州李氏) consists of the descendants of the Joseon Dynastymarker and the imperial family of the Korean Empiremarker. All are members of the Jeonju Yi clan, and trace their descent from Taejo of Joseon.

After the annexation of the Korean Peninsula by Japanmarker, some members were mediatized into the Korean royal family and the Korean peerage by the Japanese government until 1947, just before the Japanese Constitution was promulgated. Since then, their status as royalty has not been acknowledged by any country, however they continue to attract occasional media attention in South Koreamarker. This happened most recently with the July 2005 funeral of Prince Gu, former head of the royal household.

At present, Prince Chung is the de jure genealogical heir to the heads of the imperial family, when male primogeniture is applied. However, he has not taken an active position on the debate between the leadership of the imperial family between his two relatives, Hereditary Prince Imperial Won (a first cousin and the son of the 9th son of Prince Ui) and Princess Haewon (aunt and second eldest daughter of Prince Ui).

A 2006 poll conducted by the Realmeter research company revealed just under 55% of South Koreans favor restoring the Korean monarchy of the Yi Royal Family of Korea


In the 19th century tensions mounted between Chinamarker and Japanmarker, culminating in the First Sino-Japanese War. Much of this war was fought on the Korean peninsula. Japan, after the Meiji Restoration, acquired Western military technology, and had forced Joseon to sign the Kanghwa Treaty in 1876. Japan encroached upon Korean territory in search of fish, iron ore, and natural resources. It also established a strong economic presence on the peninsula, heralding the beginning of Japanese imperial expansion in East Asia.

The Chinese defeat in the 1894 war led to the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which officially guaranteed Korea's independence from China. The treaty effectively granted Japan direct control over Korean politics. The Joseon court in 1894, pressured by encroachment from larger powers, felt the need to reinforce national integrity and declared the Korean Empiremarker. King Gojong assumed the title of Emperor in order to assert Korea's independence by putting himself on the same level as the Chinese Emperors. In addition, other foreign powers were approached for military technology, especially Russiamarker, in order to fend off the Japanese. Technically, 1894 marks the end of the Joseon period, as the official name of the state was changed; however, the Joseon Dynastymarker would still reign, albeit perturbed by Japanese interventions. For example, the 1895 Japanese murder of Empress Myeongseong, apparently orchestrated by Miura Goro, because the Korean Empress was effective in keeping Japan at bay.

In 1910, the Japanese annexation of the Korean peninsula effectively ended Yi Dynasty rule. The collapse of the Russian navy in the historic battle of Port Arthur (in which the Russian Imperial Navy was destroyed in a decisive surprise attack), led to a great weakening of Korea's umbrella of protection. The combined effect on China of the opium wars in the south and Japanese naval strikes in the north increasingly led the Japanese to see Korea as a strategic foothold leading into northern China, just as Macaumarker and Hong Kongmarker had been Portuguese and English trade enclaves, respectively, in southern China.

Japanese Rule (1910-1945)

In a complicated series of manoeuvres and counter-manoeuvres, Japan pushed back the Russian fleet at the Battle of Port Arthurmarker in 1905. Both the fleets of China and Russia had given Korea sufficient protection to prevent a direct invasion, but this ambuscade of the Russian fleet gave Japan free rein over north China, and Korea was left at the mercy of the new regional naval power: Japan. Korea became a protectorate of Japan in 1895 when Japan forced Emperor Gojong of Korea to abdicate his throne and assassinated his wife, Empress Myeongseong of Korea. Japan annexed the country in 1910 and Korea became a Japanese colony.

During the Japanese rule, the members of Yi family were mediatized into the royal family (Ōkōzoku, 王公族), or Korean nobles (Chosen-kizoku, 朝鮮貴族).


Emperor Gojong of Korea had nine princes and four princesses, but only three princes and one princess survived childhood: the second son, Crown Prince Cheok; the sixth son, Prince Gang and the seventh son, Prince Eun. The second son, Cheok became Emperor Sunjong of Korea, the last monarch of Korean Empiremarker. As Emperor Sunjong died without issue, his younger brother, Prince Eun became the crown prince. His elder brother Prince Gang should have taken the position but was passed over because Eun's mother Princess Sunheon had a higher status in the court than Gang's mother Lady Chang.

After Emperor Sunjong died in 1926, Crown Prince Eun was called "King Lee of Korea" a nominal title because Joseon had already lost its sovereignty to Japanmarker. Crown Prince Eun married Princess Masako Nashimoto (later, Crown Princess Bangja of Korea), a member of Miyake family. Some Koreans accused Japan that Princess Bangja, once one of three candidates for then Japan's next empress, was instead designated as Eun's wife, as a medical test indicated she could be barren. Some media claimed that the arranged marriage was Japan's imperialist conspiracy to terminate the Korean imperial lineage. However, Princess Bangja gave birth to the eldest son, Prince Jin in 1921; the second son, Prince Gu in 1931.

After the liberation (1945 - )

After Korea's liberation in 1945, President Syngman Rhee suppressed the imperial family in order to prevent the restoration of the monarchy as he feared that the imperial family's return would challenge his emerging authority as the new republic's founding father. Syngman Rhee seized and nationalized most of the family's properties. The imperial family also had to shoulder the psychological and historical burden of their ancestors' responsibility for the "collapse of the nation". Stripped of most of their wealth and authority, many members of the family secluded themselves from the merciless world, and even from other family members. Some flew to the USAmarker or Latin America in a desperate effort to disown their ancestors.

It was only in 1963 that a new president, Park Chung-hee, allowed the imperial family, including Princess Dukhye, their long-sought return to Korea. However, they could only stay at a small residence called Nakseon Hall in a corner of Changdeok Palacemarker, Seoul. Crown Prince Eun died seven years later after a long illness resulting from strokes. Prince Gu was also forced by other family members to divorce his American wife, Julia Mullock, against their will in 1982 due to her sterility. A series of business failures left him without support and he died alone at the Akasaka Prince Hotel in Tokyomarker on July 16 2005. The site of the hotel had been his birthplace 74 years prior.


Emperor Gojong's sixth son, Prince Gang, fathered 13 sons and 9 daughters from 14 women. With an extremely wide range of historical evaluations over him - womanizer and behind the scene leader of the independent movement - the Japanese authorities tied the hands of the prince throughout the occupation. Unlike Crown Prince Eun, who spent most of his life in Japanmarker and the United Statesmarker, President Syngman Rhee's seizure of the imperial properties deprived Prince Gang of most of his wealth. Afterwards, many of the family members had to swallow the disgrace of working for a living. According to the prince's 11th son, Prince Seok, his mother Hong Chong-sun had to sell noodles as a street vendor. However, despite their suffering, most family members have not been able to adapt themselves to the new fast-changing capitalistic Korea. To make matters worse, many people swindled them.

In 1998, it was reported that Prince Gang's eighth son died alone in a social center in eastern Seoulmarker, and the eleventh son Prince Seok works as a lecturer at the University of Jeonjumarker as of 2005.

Among Prince Gang's surviving four sons and seven daughters, four have lost touch with the family after they left for the United Statesmarker. The other family members hold an ancestral ritual two times a year for Prince Gang, but usually only two or three of the 11 surviving siblings attend the ceremonies.

Known Descendants Today

Yi Chung (1936-), is a member of the former Imperial Family of Korea and the genealogical male-line heir of Emperor Gojong. He is the eldest son of Prince Wu of Korea who inherited the title of Prince Heung with the 4th head of Unhyun Palace and his wife Princess Chanju, a granddaughter of Marquis Park Yeonghyo who was a son-in-law of King Cheoljong of Joseon.

At the age of nine, he inherited Unhyeon Palace, where Emperor Gojong was born, after his father died in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. In 1947, his father's elder brother, Prince Gun (Momoyama Ken'ichi), acquired Japanese citizenship, thereby renouncing his Korean legacy. This made Prince Chung the direct heir of his grandfather, Prince Imperial Ui, who died in 1955. On 1991, Prince Chung returned to his ancestral home of Unhyeon Palace to Seoulmarker city government on the death of his mother.

At present, he is de jure genealogical heir to the headship of the Imperial family when male primogeniture is applied. However, he has not taken an active position on the debate between leadership of Imperial family between his two relatives, Hereditary Prince Imperial Won (a first cousin and the son of the 9th son of Prince Ui) and Princess Haewon (aunt of Prince Won and second eldest daughter of Prince Ui).

House of Yi family tree

Pretenders to the Korean throne since 1910


  1. Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty article 3
  2. 皇室令及附屬法令廢止ノ件
  3. Coronation of Korea's new empress leads to royal family controversy

See also

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