Princess Falling – South Korean Political History For Foreigners

Princess Falling – A Dark “fairy tale”
A tragedy of a modern princess told as a fairy tale

Many may have heard something about Korean president Park Geun-hye. Wasn’t really going to write about her at this moment because her entry into the story of Korean politics is far further down the line from the birth of independent Korea. Things on the political side of Korea has been rather heated recently. So, I decided to do a fairy tale retelling of what this whole thing is about.

A long time ago, in a small kingdom where the people called Koreans toiled, there was a princess called “Park geun-hye.” While being a princess would define her life, she wasn’t born into royalty. She was born into a low middle class family in a war torn small kingdom. Her father was a low ranking military officer in the “Founder” King’s army. At the time our princess was born, her father was off fighting the Troll army from the North in what would be called the great Troll war. It was a devastating war but the princess didn’t know much about it since the war ended when she was a toddler.
Royal Family

So, how did she become a princess? History is about the rise and fall of great men. This was also true for the “Founder” King. With the signing of the “long” ceasefire, the kingdom got peace but that peace led to internal strife. Even with the “Founder” King going into exile never to return to his kingdom while he still had a breath, this internal strife didn’t subside. It got worse. Some people see disaster in this kind of situation. Others see opportunity. Our princess’ father was one of the latter.  With the small forces he commanded, he was able to crown himself king. Our princess became a princess at age 9. This is the start of the fairy tale.
King and Princesses

With a crown on his head, the new King --- her father --- did bad things like all kings must. He played the game of swords and blood well. However, he did enough grand deeds and elevate his kingdom to a major power that he became known as “The Great”. A fairy tale is filled with blue castles, knights, and dragons. However, none of them are uneventful. Most are rather tragic. Our princess’ tale is no exception. When she was 22, her mother was killed in a failed assimilation attempt on her father. This left our princess to be the lady of the royal court; a court that was waning in power. The assassination attempt was not something out of the blue. In the game of swords and blood, the smell of blood from wounds attract carnivores. 5 years later, the king was slain by the hands of one of his closest vassels. The Great king ruled for 18 years. The princess was 27.
King and Princess
The subsequent years were not kind to the princess. The kingdom eventually fell into the hands of her father’s loyalists. However, they viewed the princess as a threat to their own power and marginalized her by stripping away her prestige and wealth. So, the princess did what she could do. Left her castle, her jewels, and her gowns and became a commoner once again. She disappeared into the crowd to be just one of many. Then time past as it tends to do. Rulers came and went. First it was the time of her father’s loyalists. Next it was turn of his enemies to rule. Eventually, people who were not associated with the “Great” king took the throne. It was as if the king and his family were left in the footnotes of history. However, fate had other ideas.

There are attributes required to be on the top of the pyramid of power. How someone acquires these attributes is still a mystery. At first glance, the princess doesn’t seem to have them. One thing is that the princes was never meant to be a ruler. The king had a son, her younger brother. In her early adult life, she had some political experience as the hostess of the court following her mother’s death.  That was it. After going into somewhat of an exile from the political, the princess never really showed much interest in coming back to the life of power. And no one would have said she showed much talent for it. She could be seen as a “loner”, a nerd, and definitely an introvert. She showed very little social skills, had few friends or even associates, and her public speaking ability was midcore at best. In terms of her private life, her character meant that she ended up as spinster with little known association with men. Not much to make her interesting to the public. But fate has a sense of humor. Who would have known that being boring and generally lacking of ability would be seen as a positive?

From its birth, the politics of the kingdom has been split along the matter of how to deal with the Trolls up North. You know the Trolls that the kingdom fought against during the great Troll war! The “founder” king and the “great” king all leaned hard on the anti-Troll side. After the “Great” King’s death, the throne cycled between pro-North Troll and anti-North Troll factions for the 30 years. Do you like the Trolls or hate the Trolls? That was the main issue of the state. Good governance? That was a secondary factor in the game of swords and blood. The thing about following an act called the “Great” is that one is most likely to not measure up. All of the subsequent rulers of the Koreans, would range from mediocre to totally messes. Even their followers could not claim otherwise with a straight face. According to them, they were just relatively better than the other side’s king. I mean everyone is corrupt after all, right?  

After a series of failed rulers, the people had become increasingly disgruntled and disenchanted. They wanted change and reform. At the same time, they wanted security against the Trolls. However, none of the nobles could deliver on the people’s wants since they were all corrupt and incompetent. It was time to look outside of the core of nobility which the powerful wasn’t keen on since they didn’t want someone who would overshadow themselves. Even if there was a will, there was no great man in sight; not even a good man. In this kind of situation, nostalgia --- a yearning for the glory of the past --- grows in people’s minds. They try to look back to the good old days; the time when things were great and led by a great man; when there was hope.

So, the powerful needed to find something/someone that the people would settle for. This is where the princess is plucked out of obscurity. Even into her forties, the princess was not in the public’s consciousness. However, the changing political landscape meant that there was a demand that could be filled with someone with a nostalgic brand; a family name. And the princess fit the bill. Thus, the powerful on the anti-Troll side brought her into the political mainstream as a face of the anti-Troll faction. Slowly, over a decade, she was lifted up-among the political noise as sort of a pure embodiment of nostalgia. This was not hard since she hadn’t had any failures or achievements prior and even after her debut on the political scene. The fact that she was basically boring made it easy for the people to indulge in their nostalgia. After a decade of this, she had a chance to become the Queen.

The last king was leaving the throne in, what has now become, typical disgrace. He was the anti-Troll candidate. And everyone thought it would be the other side’s turn. So, the anti-Troll faction used their ace card with the princess – a childless and un-married princess in her 60s. She had the family name; had the female factor --- breaking the glass ceiling. The fact that she basically did nothing with her life for more than half a century meant that she was free of scandal. Even her personal short comings – childlessness, spinsterhood, and lack of communication skills --- were seen as a positive. People were fed up with nepotism and familial corruption. They were also not comfortable with the aggressive rhetoric of the pro-Troll factions. So, a Queen was crowned. Long live the Queen!

You have a woman who came from not much ascending to royalty as a child then losing all of it to then regain what she had lost about 40 years later. What a journey! What a story. So, happily ever after! Right? Well…not really. The factors that made the previous rulers fail still existed. In addition, the now queen really had a limited support base among the nobles. At best, they were sympathetic to her family name and her father. They were not loyal to her. At worst, there were just around her for convenience sake. And the queen really wasn’t the caliber of politician capable of converting foes to friend. Even on a personal level, she couldn’t connect with those nobles around her. All the precious rulers could at least do that. So, the queen became increasingly isolated within the palace and only surrounded herself with the few old faces --- mostly commoners of disrepute--- she knew from her youth. Sadly all of them were not looking out for her best interests; they were looking after theirs in a rather incompetent manner I would have to say.

Corruption is the fuel that the system of government runs on in this kingdom. However, previous rulers were capable enough to put up enough of a façade to keep it under wraps; for most of the times at least. The problem with the Queen regime is that it was incompetent even compared to its predecessors. It created more enemies than allies. It acted big when it shouldn’t have. It acted small when it should have gone big. Even when it was doing the typical bad things that rulers do in this kingdom, it was clumsy. At the end of the day, the queen was left with a weak political footing and surrounded by enemies just waiting to pounce. And finally they pounced! This the end of the tale.

In many ways, there is nothing new about this tale. Just having a family name has been the down fall of many decedents of those successful enough to sit on the throne of power. While power is attractive, it is also quite toxic like hard “strong” liquor. Not many can handle it. Less can handle it without serious training of one’s liver. Very few are suited for the seat of power without eventually falling in front of it. Not all can be Elizabeth I of England. The Queen is dead! Long live the King!

  • South Korean Political History For Foreigners - Part 1
  • South Korean Political History For Foreigners - Part 2
  • South Korean Political History For Foreigners - Part 3


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