The Taewongun was the title held by the Korean royal regent and father of King Gojong in the late 19th century. He is known for his great political power, and for his efforts in 1864-1873 to effect wide-ranging reforms which would allow Korea to weather the rapid changes sweeping through the region at that time.
These included insufficient or unsuccessful attempts to thoroughly reject all foreign contact. Instead, after nine Christian missionaries who had illegally entered the country were executed in 1866, Korea was visited by a punitive mission from France; three French ships brought a number of troops who made their way almost to Seoul before finally being turned back by Korean forces. That same year, Korean authorities destroyed an American ship; five US warships sent in 1871 in response were similarly, eventually, repulsed. Unlike Japanese elites, who by that time had acceded to seeking a sort of peace with the Western powers through conciliation (the opening of treaty ports, etc.), the Taewongun, successful in repelling Western squadrons on more than one occasion, advocated a stance of "rejecting peace"; that is, he identified any refusal to make war against Western incursions as tantamount to treason. As Korea entered the 1870s, a highly prominent government slogan was "defend orthodoxy, reject heresy."
The Taewongun also oversaw the reconstruction of the Gyeongbok Palace.
- Conrad Schirokauer, David Lurie, and Suzanne Gay, A Brief History of Japanese Civilization, Wadsworth Cengage (2013), 193.
- Mitani Hiroshi, David Noble (trans.), Escape from Impasse, International House of Japan (2006), 293-294.