The 1728 Musin Rebellion: Politics and Plotting in Eighteenth-Century Korea
216pp. January 2016
The 1728 Musin Rebellion: Politics and Plotting in Eighteenth-Century Korea
Author: Jackson, Andrew David;
The 1728 Musin Rebellion: Politics and Plotting in Eighteenth-Century Korea provides the first comprehensive account in English of the Musin Rebellion, an attempt to overthrow King Yŏngjo (1694–1776; r. 1724–1776), and the largest rebellion of eighteenth-century Korea. The overthrow proved unsuccessful, but during three weeks of fighting the government lost control of over a dozen county seats and the rebels drew popular support from the inhabitants of three southern provinces. The revolt profoundly unsettled the early years of Yŏngjo's reign and had considerable influence on the subsequent course of factionalism. In this keenly reasoned study, Andrew David Jackson investigates the causes, development, suppression, legacy, and significance of the bloody Musin Rebellion.

The Musin Rebellion had its roots in the factional conflicts surrounding Yŏngjo's troubled succession to the throne. Jackson analyzes an aspect of the conflict previously neglected by researchers, namely how the rebels managed to create an armed rebellion. He argues that the rebellion should be understood in the context of other attempts on power by factional members that occurred over a hundred-year period leading up to 1728. By exploring the political and military context of the event, the book demonstrates that the Musin Rebellion was not driven by systemic breakdown, regionalism, or ideology, but was a failed attempt by political players to take control of the court. Central to the eruption of violence in 1728 was the intervention of key rebel plotters, several of whom were serving officials with access to state military resources. The book provides an in-depth view of factional politics in the Chosŏn court, and the final section deals with the rebel legacy, bringing to the fore issues about managing, forming, and directing the historical memory of the rebellion.

9 b&w illustrations

Author: Jackson, Andrew David;
Andrew David Jackson is associate professor of Korean studies at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies (ToRS), the University of Copenhagen, Denmark; and a research fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies, the University of London.
From the Introduction—On the twenty-second day of the ninth lunar month of 1725, barely a year into Yŏngjo’s rule, his astronomers—who observed and catalogued the sky on a daily basis—reported the strange movement of a star in the heavens, a curious occurrence accompanied by unusual thunder. For the Chosŏn court, the observation of climatic and natural phenomena was vital to the interpretation of divine intent. The court occupied a cosmology in which the morality of political rulers was reflected in celestial and physical change. Court astronomers interpreted ominous or fortuitous celestial and terrestrial anomalies—especially those perceived as violent—as signs that might indicate disruption in the harmony of the cosmos and imbalances in the state.

The following morning, one of Yŏngjo’s chief ministers, Min Chinwŏn (1664–1736), tried to persuade the king that the previous night’s portents had provided a clear sign that celestial forces were “displeased” and that “many people” were “sure to die.” Suspicious of Min’s intentions, the king brushed his claims aside. Celestial and terrestrial portents might deliver messages from superhuman forces, but it was mortal beings who analyzed those messages, leaving them open to interpretation. A seasoned political campaigner, Min belonged to a faction that had been fighting its political enemies in court for decades, and he was using meteorological phenomena to help persuade the king to remove Min’s foes. This incident of political maneuvering is one of many recorded in the official royal records of the period, the Yŏngjo sillok (Veritable records of Yŏngjo’s reign, hereafter sillok), but it is significant for one fact: Min’s words did indeed prove portentous. Neither the king nor Min could possibly have known it at this stage, but many people were going to die. While Min Chinwŏn was delivering his warning to the king, men were gathering in different parts of the country, organizing and plotting; a bloody rebellion was coming.