Conspiracy of Emperor Seongjo as a surrogate

From Themys Project
Emperor Seongjo of Zhenia, the subject of the conspiracy.

The conspiracy of Emperor Seongjo as a surrogate, formally the Emperor Seongjo surrogate conspiracy theory among many conspiracy theorists, is a set of claims that Emperor Seongjo, the first emperor of the Empire of Zhenia and a leading figure in Zhenian history, had used a surrogate instead of himself throughout a vast majority of his rule, and that the accomplishments known as his were actually those of said surrogate. While this topic has been tabooed during the Empire, it has surfaced since the establishment of the Republic, initially by radical republicans and later by revisionist historians, including Ma Jooseok, founder and former President of the Citizens' Association for Truth and Justice.

While such theories have mostly submerged underwater during the Third Republic and under the rule of Kim Shimin, they have resurfaced since the turn of the century, amid numerous figures, including journalist Kim Yoonseon and former University of Daedo professor Heo Junseop, have debated that the real Emperor Seongjo, or Li Zichuan, was incompetent in health to rule Shindan, thereby necessitating a surrogate that resembled him to be his stand-in in all public occasions, while they have also pointed out key differences between Emperor Seongjo's appearances and attitude before and after his coronation. While most historians, as well as the Imperial House of Li and the general public, have openly denounced such theories, it remains an ongoing conspiracy to this day and has been portrayed in media in recent years, specifically by the 2015 documentary film Shadow of Daeseong.

Background of Emperor Seongjo

Differences of Emperor Seongjo before and after coronation

A key component of the conspiracy theorists' arguments on Emperor Seongjo's surrogate concerns the degree and quantity of differences observed from Emperor Seongjo before and after his coronation. A few of their claims concern the following differences, as laid out in the 1984 book The Daeseong Delusion by former University of Daedo professor Heo Junseop:

  • In 1842, just two years before his coronation, Li Zichuan, or Prince Musan as he was known back then, had fainted during the sound of gunfire in the Jeonju battery. However, after his coronation, Li Zichuan was known to have imposed a very commanding presence around him, riding a horse to inspect the Imperial Guards himself and even personally led Shindanese troops on the front lines during the Shindan-Wu Wars and later the Zhenian Civil War. Conspiracy theorists assert that it is nearly impossible for the two to have been the same person.
  • There have been no records of Li Zichuan having been able to ride horses before his coronation; in other words, it can be inferred that he was unable to ride horses before coronation. However, Li Zichuan after his coronation was able to ride horses swiftly enough to lead cavalry charges when he personally led Shindanese troops on the front lines.
  • Li Zichuan as Prince Musan was susceptible to colds and was known to not exercise as often. Li Zichuan as Emperor, however, had mastered Tagu and a few martial arts by age 23 that there are records of him wrestling down Imperial Guards in 1850.
  • Li Zichuan as Prince Musan is known to have despised warfare, particularly those involving guns, in general and instead preferred staying in and meditating on his own. After his coronation, however, one of his first orders of business was to tear down a part of the Royal Gardens in Sanggyeong and build a personal training range for himself to practice shooting and close-range warfare.

Under such differences, conspiracy theorists claim that the real Li Zichuan/Emperor Seongjo was assassinated either immediately before or immediately after his coronation, and a surrogate, most likely from a noble family in modern-day Jeonju, Anam Province, took his place and became the Emperor Seongjo known today.

Unreleased classified information

Forgery allegations

Public reception and rebuttal

In popular culture

While the conspiracy itself has not been viewed positively by the Zhenian public and academia, the notion of Emperor Seongjo known to the public being a surrogate has been a recurring theme in popular culture. Real portrayals of such notion surfaced in the later half of the 20th century, almost entirely after the Kim Shimin regime, when discussions against Emperor Seongjo was rather tabooed: most portrayals of the conspiracy mostly focused on creating historical faction to explain the unusual historical forerunner nature of Emperor Seongjo, ultimately hinting towards historical heroism. An exemplary case of such portrayal is the 1989 Zhenian historical novel and eponymous 1993 film The Masked Emperor, the plot of which concerns a court clown disguising as Emperor Seongjo during the Shindan-Wu War and earlier stages of the Zhenian Civil War and ultimately changing the real Emperor Seongjo's attitude as known today. Many approaches to the conspiracy in popular culture have shown tendencies to distance themselves from the conspiracy itself but to lean on the heroism and accomplishments of Emperor Seongjo.

More radical portrayals of the conspiracy have surfaced since the turn of the century, with some experimental artists and conspiracy theorists asserting their claims more directly than before. An example of this is the controversial 2015 documentary film Shadow of Daeseong, which, although having been a commercial failure worldwide, had brought about a wave of discussions regarding the truth of Emperor Seongjo's surrogate and awareness to the conspiracy as a whole.

See also