March 28, 2017

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Sample text

She lived to a great age, and she had seen much and no doubt guessed at more. At times of strife or uncertainty, the poisoned mushrooms and the accusation of fratricide were sure to surface again. King Yŏngjo was always in fear of threats to the legitimacy of his rule. Our country has a long history of such scandals. We are not unique in this. I now know that all monarchies in all countries produce scandals of succession and murmurs of conspiracy and murder. Against this poisonous backdrop of gossip and innuendo and occasional outright denunciation, we attempted to survive, and to appear virtuous.

Much ignorance and much stupidity and much fear surrounded me, particularly during my middle years. I was designed to be a poor and helpless woman, in a world where men held the power – and power was absolute, in those days – but I had eyes in my head, and a quick brain, and could see what was happening around me. At times I could make others dance to my tune. I myself survived, but I had my failures. The worst of them was this. I lost my poor husband. I tried to save him, but, despite all my efforts, he had to be sacrificed.

Never, he said to me when I was yet a child, a pre-pubertal child, never leave traces of red cosmetic on a white cloth. Keep your linen white. Men do not like to see the red smear, he told me. Do not let men see your artifice. It seemed a curious matter of concern for so great a monarch, and I was disturbed by his mentioning it. I still think it would have been more fitting for one of the three Queenly Majesties, my mother-in-law Lady SŏnhŬi, or the Dowager Queen Inwŏn, or even the king’s first wife, Queen Chŏngsŏng, to have spoken to me about these things.

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