The Empire was founded by King Gojong of Joseon, who had ruled since 1863, and simply changed his title and various cosmetic and ritual aspects of the style of rule, becoming Emperor Gojong (Gojong hwangje) in 1897 and declaring a new era name (Gwangmu). He then promulgated "Statutes of the Korean Empire" in 1899, officially establishing the fundamental rules (akin to a constitution) for the Korean Empire as a sovereign state. Numerous court rituals were changed in accordance with Chinese or Korean norms for the appropriate rituals for an "empire" rather than a "kingdom." New government offices were established, including a Wonsubu (元帥府) to oversee the new Korean imperial military, and a Gungnaebu (宮内府, Office of the Imperial Household) which led all modernization projects in the Empire.
He ruled until 1907, when he was succeeded by Emperor Sunjong, who then ruled only a few years, until 1910 when the Empire was abolished, and Korea, already a protectorate since 1905, was fully annexed by Japan. The Emperors wore yellow, a color strongly traditionally associated with emperors in China, instead of the royal red their kingly ancestors had worn, and they adopted the plum blossom as the chief emblem of their imperial house, and empire. When not wearing traditional ceremonial garb, members of the imperial family typically wore Western clothing, performing and demonstrating their modernity.
The first railroad in Korea was built in 1899, prior to Japanese colonization. Known as the Gyeongin Line, it connected Jemulpo (near Incheon) and Noryangjin (on the southern side of Seoul). Later rail lines were largely built to serve Japanese colonial aims, including the expansion of connections to Manchuria. Streetcar lines within Seoul were first established that same year, bringing notable changes to the pattern of daily life as well as expanding the ability of women and members of the lower classes to travel within the city.
- Gallery labels, "In Grand Style" exhibition, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.