King Seonjo in the drama Jung Yi (2013) and why he chose Prince Gwang Hae to be the crown prince

During his reign King Seonjo (1567-1608) had two Queens, 9 official concubines, and lots of children. But we only see three sons in the drama Jung Yi, Goddess of Fire (MBC 2013) –  Gwang Hae who became the next king, his older brother, Im Hae, and his half-brother Sin Seong. The future of the three princes is uncertain at this point as the king refuses to choose who will be the next king. All three sons are born to concubines (Gwang Hae and Im Hae are sons of Gong Bin; Sin Seong is In Bin’s son) which is not ideal for a crown prince. As the oldest son, Im Hae feels that he is the obvious choice. But the drama suggests reasons why Prince Im Hae was never picked to be the future king.


Prince Im Hae (Lee Kwang Soo)  Prince Gwang Hae (Lee Sang Yoon) Prince Sin Seong 


In Jung Yi, King Seonjo (played by Jung Bo Suk) is not portrayed in a very good light at all!


King Seonjo (Jung Bo Suk) 

First of all he’s an emotional and insecure leader who is more interested in his image than actually doing anything to help his people. He doesn’t like to be outshone and seems intimidated by Gwang Hae’s natural leadership skills. For example, Gwang Hae discovers that the reason why many poor people in the country are getting sick is not because of the food but because of the wooden bowls they use which get mouldy in the rainy season -That’s why everyone gets better after the rainy season is over. Gwang Hae asks the king to order the ceramicists at the royal kilns at Bunwon to make ceramic bowls for the people. The king grudgingly agrees even though he points out that the royal kilns are only supposed to be used to make fancy royal dishes! At first the king is pleased that the problem has been solved but when Gwang Hae starts getting all the credit, the king is miffed and jealous and warns him not to get too confident or presume that he will be the next king!


The government try to persuade the king to name his successor

Secondly he is an indecisive ruler who encourages rivalry and uncertainty at court by refusing to commit to naming the crown prince. He seems to be playing games with the three sons competing for the crown. He gives them limited power and then takes it away. He finds excuses to fire government officials when he doesn’t like what they say. For example when one of the faction leaders keeps pushing for Gwang Hae to be the Crown Prince, and keeps urging the king to prepare for an invasion from Japan, the king exiles him because he ‘ irresponsibly allowed the confucian classics books to get damaged.’ Gwang Hae points out that books ALWAYS get damaged in the humid weather. But the king is adamant. On the other hand, the Easterners faction stay in the king’s good books by assuring him that the Japanese will NOT invade. This is what he wants to hear and he is pleased. Duh!


Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s army invade the Joseon capital

Unfortunately he is wrong to listen to them, so his final weak point is that he fails to protect his country. He chooses to ignore the threat of invasion and so is completely unprepared when the Japanese invade (1592). Then he decides to flee the country during the war leaving his son Gwang Hae behind to fight and protect the people. :(


As the oldest son, Prince Im Hae should be the first in line for the throne. And he really wants it. He resents Gwang Hae because their mother died giving birth to him so Im Hae lost his mother and gained a rival for his father’s affection. He’s not happy about that! But we soon see that Im Hae would make a hopeless king! He drinks and parties with gisaeng, he’s corrupt and selfish, and he’s too lazy to study!


Prince Im Hae manages to get caught by the Japanese invaders

On the other hand, Gwanghae is not competitive with his brother at all. He doesn’t have to be because he simply has better leadership qualities which we clearly see when they do the most manly of all activities – they go on a hunting trip. Gwang Hae is obviously much better at hunting than his brother because, from the beginning, Im Hae uses his leverage as the older brother to lay down the law about HOW they are going to hunt: Gwanghae must not lead the hunt. He must always stay behind his brother. When they find an animal he is not allowed to kill it! He must leave it for his older brother to kill! (Oh Im Hae, you’re just embarrassing yourself now! 😳 )

Screen shot 2014-07-08 at 10.53.43

Prince Gwang Hae fights

Im Hae is only worried about looking good in his father’s eyes and is completely intimidated by his younger brother’s natural leadership skills. Every time Im Hae gets into trouble, he blames his brother.

And why does Gwang Hae keep taking the fall for his older brother? It seems that there are several reasons. Perhaps he feels bad that he appears to be the king’s favourite. Im Hae constantly makes him feel guilty for ever being born.


Im Hae always blames Gwang Hae when things go wrong!

Im Hae enjoys his life of privilege and luxury in the palace and has no interest in the lives of the commoners. But Gwang Hae is more down to earth and mingles with the people. One day when he is playing with some kids, he asks an old man why they are so thin when there haven’t been any floods or droughts in a while. He is told that after all the tax the commoners have to pay there is little left for food. He is affected and shocked by this.

He is also the only one who is concerned about the threat of war. He goes down to the south and finds that the officials are very lackadaisy about defence. They are more interested in improving their own lives rather than building fortresses. He’s angry that they put on a very fancy banquet for him and try to bribe him with gifts. He punishes them and basically tells them to get on with their work and stop being so selfish!  Later his feckless elder brother goes down south to take a look at things too. This time the officials think they have learnt their lesson and are too busy building fortresses to spend time wining and dining Prince Im Hae. So they only provide him with a frugal meal. But Im Hae is NOT Gwang Hae. And he is angry and insulted with the meagre meal on offer. He expected pomp and circumstance on his arrival. Sometimes you just can’t win! :(



It seems that King Seonjo keeps refusing to name his successor because he wants to be in control. And he knows that he can’t please everyone with his decision and doesn’t want any agro. If he chooses Gwang Hae this will anger his favourite concubine, In Bin, as well as the government officials who support his other sons.  He finally chooses Gwang Hae in a hurry when he is forced to make a decision since Joseon is already being invaded. Because of this there’s no time for a proper ceremony for the new crown prince. :(

But according to this drama, Gwang Hae is the sensible choice of crown prince. Prince Sin Seong is sick and dies young, and Im Hae is portrayed as a selfish, lazy, coward with no leadership skills who simply feels entitled to become crown prince as he is the oldest. 😮 Gwang Hae on the other hand is a natural leader, studies hard, and genuinely cares about the people. (unfortunately he was not king for long and was dethroned in a coup – that’s why his name remains Gwang Hae Gun and not ‘King’)

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