The Last Living Heir of the Joseon Dynasty

On a recent lazy weekend, I came across some figurative living history that blew my mind: there is a living royal from the Joseon Dynasty in Korea. Within the city of Jeonju, a man lives as the last piece in Korea to its last and longest-ruling imperial family. And it gets better: the historical bloodline recently found its way onto American soil. The findings all started on Facebook.

I often fact check news shared by those I follow on the second earth that we call Facebook. (Most reports at the time of this post state that Facebook’s reached 2.27 billion monthly users, our planet has 7.7 billion… *gestures vaguely*) I immediately opened a second tab to start investigating when I saw a shared article from the South China Morning Post (SCMP) entitled, “This is No K-drama: the fresh prince of  South Korea is real royalty, and he’s American.”

Crown Prince Andrew Lee to the imperial throne of Korea
Credit: SCMP

In a turn of events that isn’t fully disclosed within the SCMP article, the mid-30 year old Korean American was able to reconnect with his family member — King Yi Seok — and impressed him so much that he made Lee his heir. Lee shared in the article that he was aware that his family had some ties to the Yi family but never shared that they were indeed royal relations. Well, aside from whichever relative of his who felt the need to say that he was of the Yi Dynasty in a passing reference.

Lee stated, “You don’t learn much about the Joseon empire or Korean history growing up in the US.” This is certainly true but even more so, how and why is the life of Yi Seok not widely known by current generations? For the TL;DR, his past was marred by the hardships of Japan occupation and after having to flee Korea, the need for an emperor had long fallen by his return.

Reporter Michael Alison Chandler reflected upon her visit with then Prince Yi Seok almost eight years ago in an article she wrote for The Washington Post; and it’s certainly worth reading. Also, if you want to do some cross-checking of your own, visit these websites for details on Facebook, Prince Andrew Lee and King Yi Seok’s history.

This isn’t the end of this story — we can’t learn something like this and not share more with you, readers. Plans are being made to visit Jeonju and, fate willing, see the king with my own eyes. His life’s story is truly amazing.



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