Emperor Seongjo of Zhenia

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Li Zichuan
Emperor of Zhenia
Khagan of the Yemeg and Balakhaat People

Black-white portrait of the emperor in 1439, shortly after Zhenian unification.

Emperor of Zhenia, Khagan of the Yemeg and Balakhaat peopleApril 15, 1391 - November 26, 1443 (as Emperor of Shindan)
August 1, 1436 - November 26, 1443 (as Khagan of the Yemeg and Balakhaat People)
June 4, 1438 - November 26, 1443 (as Emperor of Zhenia)
Imperial coronationJune 4, 1438 (as Emperor of Zhenia)
PredecessorEmperor Jeongjo
SuccessorEmperor Saejo
BornLi Zichuan (李自淸; 이자청)
(1776-07-04)July 4, 1776
Jeonju, Anam Province, Shindan
Died26 November 1853(1853-11-26) (aged 77)
Daedo, Empire of Zhenia
EmpressEmpress Soyang
Era dates
June 4, 1438 - November 26, 1443
Regnal name
Daeseong Emperor (大聖皇帝; 대성황제)
Temple name
Seongjo (聖祖; 성조)
HouseImperial House of Li
FatherEmperor Jeongjo (정조황제)
MotherJin Goryun
ReligionZhenian Wuism

Emperor Seongjo of Zhenia (Seomun: 聖祖, Jinmun: 대동진제국 성조황제), alternately referred to as the Daeseong Emperor (Seomun: 大聖帝, Jinmun: 대성제) or his personal name Li Zichuan (Seomun: 李自淸, Jinmun: 이자청), was the founder and first emperor of the Empire of Zhenia that reigned from 1438 to 1443, as well as the 28th and last emperor of Shindan, reigning from 1391 AC to his death in 1443 AC. His rule saw Shindanese victory in the final stages of the Third Shindan-Zhu War, the unification of Zhenia through the Wars of Zhenian Unification and the rapid transformation of Shindan from a decadent colonial nation to an industrialized power, as well as the transformation of Zhenia from a decentralized, divided state into an industrialized world power. He is also the first Zhenian emperor in history not to receive a temple name of either Taejo or Gojo, which are normally given to emperors that began the dynasty.

Due to the profound changes in the course of Zhenia's history under his rule, Emperor Seongjo is widely regarded as one of the greatest rulers in Zhenian history. Under his leadership, Shindan took shape as the leading agent of Zhenian unification by spearheading several international efforts to bring together the Golden Arc region and the mainland. He also led several expeditions into the mainland against Zhang loyalists and surviving states in western and southern Zhenia during the Wars of Zhenian Unification, ultimately unifying Zhenia under a single flag for the first time since the Zhen dynasty. Having spearheaded the creation of the Gwangseong Treaty Organization as well as the Shinzhen Doctrine, he made significant marks that would dictate the direction of Zhenia's foreign policies several decades after his death. Due to the authoritarian but modern nature of his rule, he is widely regarded as the "father of modern Zhenia" as well as the "last pre-modern leader of pre-modern Zhenia".

Early Life

Emperor Seongjo was born with the name Li Zichuan on July 4, 1366, as an illegitimate second son of King Jeongjo, in the port city of Jeonju, Gwanseo Province. Having spent his early years near the port, Li Zichuan made contact with Azoran and Southeast Tarsic missionaries and traders, from whom he gained insight into what had been going on outside the Danguk peninsula. At age 7, he became one of the first 20 students to have enrolled in the Jeonju Shinhak Academy, one of the first primary and secondary institutions in the nation to have been established by Azoran missionaries. It is estimated that he gained access to several advanced fields of science and academia from the west in this period, sparking an interest in western academia that would last well through his life.

As Crown Prince of Shindan

With the early death of his brother and the deposition of Emperor Jeongjo's only legitimate son in 1379, Li Zichuan was selected as the crown prince of Shindan early on, with no other candidates among the direct descendants of King Jeongjo available to claim the throne. After the selection as crown prince of Shindan, he was relocated to Sanggyeong, where he received formal education in the Jinhyeongwan Academy, the faculty of which included several high members of government as well as those included in the Western Inspectors in the 1360s and 1370s. His interest in western fields of science and advanced studies were continued in Sanggyeong, spending several hours of discussion with Azoran diplomats and scholars visiting the Royal Court. It is said that his education in the Jinhyeongwan Academy resulted in not only the westernization of his thoughts but also the formation of networks with prospective Shindanese statesmen that were to lead the later stages of Zhenian unification and Shindanese industrialization.

After finishing his education in the Jinhyeongwan in 1385, Li Zichuan continued his education in the then-reformed Royal Military Academy in Hansan, where he received extensive military training within a westernized curriculum under Azoran military advisors. Such education turned out to be useful in his years as Shindan's crown prince, for he was involved in the Second Shindan-Zhu War from 1388 to 1389.

As King of Shindan

Involvement in the Zhenian unification wars

One of the first priorities after his coronation had been ending what would become the Third Shindan-Zhu Wars. Despite being at a young age, he was directly involved in commanding the final Shindanese offensive into the mainland. Most notably, he personally commanded the Siege of Junggyeong throughout February 1394, which effectively ended the Zhu when Emperor Aizong surrendered to Shindanese forces. Despite calls to execute the last Zhu emperor and claim the Mandate of Heaven for himself, Emperor Seongjo spared the lives of the surrendered Zhu emperor and most members of the imperial family and allowed the family to stay in Junggyeong under Shindanese protection. He also temporarily assumed control over the former territories of the Zhu dynasty, until he appointed General Han Jaehwan the Jinwon Governorate-General to maintain order in the conquered regions of the Zhu.

Despite the fall of the Zhu dynasty under Shindanese hands, the unification of Zhenia was far from over, with former Zhu military leaders, as well as surviving escaped imperial family members, maintained a military presence of their own throughout central, western and southern Zhenia.

Domestic political reform

Under the Empire of Zhenia

Daeseong Reforms

One of the first actions undertaken by Emperor Seongjo was a set of reforms that proliferated several of the practices already in Shindan and its territories in the Golden Arc to the remainder of the empire. This included a nationwide prohibition of topknots, the complete abolishment of the social caste system, standardization of measurement, and several policies associated with industrialization and modernization. Many of the policies already in work within Shindan were expanded to the mainland, promoting further development in the mainland where modernization was relatively slower than in the Golden Arc region. While the outcomes of many of the reforms materialized after his death and during the reign of Emperor Saejo, it was worth noting that it had been Emperor Seongjo that had realized such reforms.

Shinzhen Doctrine

On the new year's imperial address to the people on January 5, 1442 AC, Emperor Seongjo announced a milestone declaration in the stance of Zhenia in the international stage, later to be known as the Shinzhen Doctrine, or New Zhen Doctrine.

Final years and death

With chronic stress disorders aggravating his condition, Emperor Seongjo's health declined rapidly in 1443, to the degree of his heir, the future Emperor Saejo, assuming most roles normally performed by the emperor by April 1443; by then, Emperor Seongjo partook in Zhenian politics by being the final ratifier of important treaties, while the future Emperor Saejo assuming most roles as emperor in passing bills and nominating cabinet members. Later documents revealed that he had been planning to abdicate from the throne by the end of 1443, in light of his aggravating health conditions. On May 18, 1443, he made his last public address with the completion of the Daedo Imperial Library adjacent to what is now the Daeseong Palace; the event was also his last major public appearance as Emperor.

Emperor Seongjo's health did not markedly improve during the later half of the year, as he was diagnosed with terminal tuberculosis and several digestive tract issues. Amid declining health, he resorted to making publications on the duties and rights of the imperial government, publishing what would become known as the Imperial Commandments today. The Imperial Commandments were said to have been completed by the end of September, although it was not revealed to the public until his death. He eventually died of tuberculosis on November 26, 1443: while the imperial doctors claimed the emperor was dead at 22:42 on November 26, the official announcement had announced his death at 23:30 on November 26. His last words, recorded by the imperial scribe, had been, "All I have done to unify Zhenia was continue the accomplishments of our fathers."

Prior to his death, the Emperor had stated in his will to not be buried in the Shindanese royal shrine, but in the northern side of Mount Daeseong, around the site of what is now the Mount Daeseong National Cemetery in Daedo's Hanam-gu district. This was by itself a revolutionary choice and was met with great resistance from Shindanese statesmen, with concerns that it would breach the centuries-long rule among the Shindanese royals and thus harm the lineage of the Imperial House of Li. Despite opposition from the elder Shindanese statesmen and elder members of the imperial family, Emperor Saejo decided to follow Emperor Seongjo's will and establish the imperial mausoleum around the site the Emperor had requested. Emperor Seongjo's funeral, on November 30, 1443, was the first imperial funeral in Zhenian history. His sarcophagus was placed in the site of the imperial mausoleum the day after, while the permanent building that would become the Imperial Mausoleum had not been completed until 1444.


During his reign, Zhenia transformed from a divided pre-modern state into a unified and industrialized great power. It had undergone significant political, economic and social changes as the imperial Zhenia, while the centuries-divided states of modern-day Zhenia were permanently unified. Thus, to this day, Emperor Seongjo is regarded as the "father of modern Zhenia" alongside Amasar Ren, for his accomplishments of the reunification of Zhenia as well as the modernization of both the Shindan dynasty and the Empire of Zhenia. He is also simultaneously considered the "last pre-modern ruler of Zhenia", due to the relatively authoritarian nature of his rule. He is considered as one of the "greatest Zhenians in history", as suggested by a 1600 AC report filed by the Zhenia Shinbo.

In Popular Culture

Given his historical reputation, Emperor Seongjo is one of the most commonly-portrayed figure in Zhenian popular culture, although most often in historical dramas with his era as the background. Many of the novels, poems and paintings depicting Emperor Seongjo during the Empire depicts him as a heroic figure, with some cases likening him to Shinmir and Gaonmir in Zhenian Wuism, despite Emperor Seongjo himself openly against the idolization of imperial rulers within his lifetime.

Recent portrayals of Emperor Seongjo in popular culture have given light to more controversial issues regarding his life and legacy, including the conspiracy of using surrogates during his rule. A key example is the controversial 2015 documentary film Shadow of Daeseong, which has described in detail the existence of Emperor Seongjo's surrogate.

Titles, styles and honors

See also