As the descendants of the Koryo dynasty (918–1392) supplanted by the Choson dynasty (1392–1910), the Kaesong Wang negotiated a new sociopolitical terrain in early modern Korea. Once the Choson state ended a bloody persecution (1394–1416) which virtually exterminated the Wangs, the lucky survivors and their descendants performed state-sanctioned ancestor veneration ritual of sacrificial offering (pongsa) to Koryo kings. Moreover, many passed the government service examinations, entered officialdom, commanded armies, and constituted local elite lineages in various parts of Korea. The most privileged among the Wangs were no different from the general aristocracy (yangban) pursuing classical Chinese education and prescribing to Confucian moral norms such as the cardinal virtue of subject’s loyalty (ch’ung) to the ruler. All the same, an emerging body of subversive narratives, written and oral, began expressing sympathy toward Koryo and its progeny as victims of Choson. The Wangs themselves refrained from openly concurring until after the end of the Choson dynasty.
Eugene Y. Park is Korea Foundation Associate Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. The author of Between Dreams and Reality: The Military Examination in Choson Korea, 1600–1894 (Harvard University Asia Center, 2007) and A Family of No Prominence: The Descendants of Pak Tokhwa and the Birth of Modern Korea (Stanford University Press, 2014), Park received his BA from UCLA, followed by MA and PhD from Harvard University. Currently he is writing a monograph, Progeny of Fallen Royals: Resurrection of the Kaesong Wang in Korea, which examines positions occupied by the descendants of Koryo dynasty in Choson and modern Korean politics and society. He is also editing, with Yi Tae-Jin, Peace in the East: An Chunggun and Asia in the Age of Empires, and with George L. Kallander and Michael J. Pettid, The Cambridge History of Korea, Volume 3: The Choson Dynasty, 1392–1910.
Eugene Park, Korea Foundation Associate Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania