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Useful Notes / Yeonsan-gun of Joseon

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Yeonsan-gun (연산군, literally "Prince Yeonsan"; birth name 이융, variously transliterated as I Yung, Yi Yung or Lee Yung) (23 November 1476 - 20 November 1506) was the tenth king of Korea's Joseon dynasty and part of The House of I. He had the dubious honour of being the worst tyrant in all of Korean history until the Kims of North Korea came along.

He was the oldest surviving son of King Seongjong and his second wife Queen Jeheon. In 1479 his mother had a violent fight with his father that resulted in her exile. She was poisoned three years later. This would have disastrous consequences for the entire kingdom when Yeonsan took the throne.

When Yeonsan succeeded his father in 1494 he seemed competent and mentally stable. That soon changed. Shortly after becoming king he decided to restore his late mother's reputation. A group of scholars opposed him. Yeonsan promptly organised two purges of all scholars who had the most tenuous connection — or no connection at all — to his mother's execution. Other victims included scholars' relatives, officials who weren't even in the palace when his mother died (his "reasoning" appears to have been "they did nothing to stop it, so they're guilty!"), and two of his father's concubines. He fatally injured his grandmother during an argument and murdered an official who confronted him about his behaviour.

Next Yeonsan had the brilliant idea of driving people out of their homes, demolishing part of the capital, and forcing the now-homeless people to build new hunting grounds. The people were furious about this, so Yeonsan banned all forms of writing to stop them making posters criticising him. He exiled a minister for spilling a drink. Then he kidnapped thousands of women and turned the royal university into his personal brothel.

In 1506 a group of officials decided enough was enough. They staged a coup, overthrew Yeonsan, and replaced him with his half-brother Yi Yeok. In spite of everything Yi Yeok decided not to kill Yeonsan and instead exiled him to Ganghwa-do.note  Several people tried to poison the former king. Their attempts failed, but Yeonsan died, possibly of a fever, only a few weeks after being deposed. No one mourned him. It's no coincidence that even though he reigned as king, he's remembered only as "Prince Yeonsan" and not as "King Yeonsan" (which would be "Yeonsan-wang").

In spite of — or perhaps because of — his craziness, Yeonsan has made a surprising number of appearances in Korean historical fiction.

Yeonsan-gun appears in the following works:

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  • Prince Yeonsan (1961)
  • Tyrant Yeonsan (1962)
  • Yeonsan-gun (1987), an adaptation of the novel by Park Jong-hwa.
  • The Diary of King Yeonsan (1988)
  • A fictionalised version of Yeonsan is one of the title characters of The King and the Clown.
  • The Treacherous (2015)

  • Appears in the 1936 novel Geumsamui Pi (금삼의 피, meaning "Blood of Geumsam" or possibly "Blood of Gold and White") by Park Jong-hwa. As of 2020 the novel has never been translated into English.

     Live Action TV 
  • Song of a Mother's Thoughts (1972)
  • The Wind Orchid (1985): Fifth instalment of 500 Years of the Joseon Dynasty, a collection of related series covering many historical figures.
  • Han Myeonghoe (1994): Mainly about the title character, a politician who helped Yeonsan's father take the throne. Yeonsan is only a minor character, as Myeonghoe died before he became king.
  • Jang Nok-su (1995)
  • Im Kkeokjeong (1996): Incidentally in this version he's played by Yu In-chon, who played him in the 1988 film The Diary of King Yeonsan.
  • Hong Gil-dong (1998): One of several works based on a novel that had already been adapted into Hong Kil Dong and would later be adapted into Hong Gil Dong.
  • The King and the Queen (1998-2000)
  • Ladies in the Palace (2001)
  • Dae Jang Geum: Part of the series takes place during his reign.
  • The King and I (2007): Not to be confused with the musical of the same name.
  • Insu, the Queen Mother (2011): The title character is Yeonsan's grandmother (yes, the one he killed during a fight), and Yeonsan himself is a minor character.
  • Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People (2017): Another adaptation of the novel Hong Gil-dong.
  • Queen for Seven Days: Yeonsan-gun is one of the main characters and is part of a (fictional) Sibling Triangle with Yi/Lee Yeok over the title character. The series portrays him fairly sympathetically while still showing his cruelty and insanity (though it ignores some of his vilest actions).