The Korean peninsula has been inhabited for hundreds of thousands of years. Unified rule of the Kingdom of Korea began in the 7th century CE and continued as a single polity under rule of one kingdom until Japanese annexation in 1910. Often seen as a gateway of invasion into or out of China, Koreans have adopted a defensive geopolitical strategy. Some of those leaders have produced dramatic, hysterical or bizarre legacies.
The 11th and current President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye is the first female president of a Northeast Asian country. Forbes ranks her as one of the world’s most powerful people. She also reportedly relies on “spiritual guides” from a Shamanistic prophet and voices from the dead to guide her decisions. Apparently leadership is in her genes; her father, Park Chung-hee, was president of South Korea from 1963 to 1979.
The youngest son of Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un is the Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and country’s current leader. He is reportedly the spitting image of his dad, right down to his personality. The North Korean leader is said to be an avid basketball fan, particularly of former Chicago Bulls megastar Michael Jordan. Dennis Rodman met the leader during a controversial 2018 trip to North Korea. He had an aunt and uncle who defected to the United States.
The Supreme Leader of North Korea from 1994 until his death in 2011, Kim Jong-il succeeded his father. He reportedly had a fear of flying and preferred to travel by armored train instead. He was also a movie buff, with his personal favorites including Rambo, Godzilla, and the James Bond films. His love of western pop culture apparently extended to an obsession with Elvis Presley that including a massive collection of albums, Elvis films, and assorted memorabilia. Kim did share the King’s excessive lifestyle, having owned 17 palaces. He was also said to have been an “expert” on psychology.
Leader of North Korea from its establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994, Kim Il-sung established ties with the former Soviet Union during his time in office and steered the country towards socialism. He may have been a father to the nation in more ways than one, reportedly having had several illegitimate children. His birthday is still celebrated every April in North Korea, as a holiday referred to as “Day of the Sun.” The elder Kim was a prolific writer, reportedly having penned more than 10,000 books, speeches, reports, and other written works during his lifetime.
Noted for his victories in battles against the Japanese navy during the Imjin war, Yi_Sun-sin was a Korean naval commander in the 1500s. He came with many innovative fighting techniques, including the double age plot, and invented the iron clad war ship. His greatest military achievement involved a fight against 133 Japanese warships where he was outnumbered with only 13 ships of his own. Despite the deck being stacked against him, he was able to destroy or severely damage 31 of the enemy ships without losing any of his own. Ironically, he was killed in battle by a single bullet. No doubt, The Admiral could go into his own Top 10 Korean Leaders of Note list.
A key figure in South Korea’s struggle for independence, An_Jung-geun was Korean activist and nationalist was essentially crazy patriotic for all the right reasons. In 1909, he assigned Ito Hirobumi, a Japanese prime minister and former resident general of Korea on a railway platform. He justified his action by listing 15 crimes Ito had committed during his trial for assassination. Following six trials, Ahn was sentenced to death. During his imprisonment, his captors were impressed with his spirituality and righteousness and showed sympathy towards him.
The youngest daughter of Emperor Gojong, Princess Deokhye was the last princess of the former Korean empire. Her tragic tale is often compared to that of the famed Russian princess Anastasia. Born to one of the emperor’s mistresses, she was largely ignored during her early years. Despite this, her father loved her and had her officially recognized as a princess in 1917. Throughout her life she was affected by mental illness, at one diagnosed with a form of dementia because she often forgot to eat. She had several unhappy marriages and eventually was permitted to return to South Korea, where she died in 1989 at the age of 76.
Referred to as Queen Min, Empress Myeongseong was, to put it frankly, something of a royal bad ass. She is noted for taking an active role in advocating stronger ties between Korea and Russia for the purpose of minimizing Japan’s influence within Korea. Aware of her efforts and influence, the Japanese retaliated against the queen by sending a group of assigns to break into the royal palace. The men overpowered the guards as they stormed the queen’s quarters, killing three women, one of them being Empress Myeongseong. Ultimately, it was her assassination that inspired a wave of anti-Japanese sentiment throughout the country and eventually led to the creation of the Korean Empire. She remains a popular figure in South Korea, with films, novels, and even a musical having been made to detail her life.
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