|King Danjong as a Taebaek-sanshin
the alpine Danjong-wang Bi-gak
The ghost of King Danjong on his way to reside at Taebaek-san as
San-shin, with the Yeongwol Governor offering sacred herbs to him.
Prof Mason now takes-up the tale:
Danjong was stripped of his title and royal name at the time he was exiled, and was afterwards referred-
to as "Prince Nosan" (노산군). In the reign of King Sukjong, scholars at his court proposed that his title
be restored, and in 1698, the demoted Prince Nosan was posthumously restored in rank, receiving the
posthumous name of "Danjong" 端宗 [Upright Ancestor], and his tablet was placed in the Jong-myo
Joseon Royal Shrine in Hanyang [Seoul]. His simple grave was then transformed into this royal tomb.
Now, here is the less-famous (but still prominent & important San-shin story. Just after the above-
told resolution-by-ritual, in which the Yeongwol Magistrate (the eighth one after Danjong's death,
who offered veneration to pacify the murderous ghost), he was out gathering herbs one early
morning and encountered the royal ghost riding on a white horse, who said that he was going to
the ultra-holy Grand White Mountain to become one of the several Sanshin [Mountain-spirits] there.
The Magistrate offered Danjong a bowl of sacred healing herbs to protect his final journey.
Bodeok-sa Temple was later built near Jang-neung Tomb in central Yeongwol Town to commemorate
this auspicious event, and contains a small shrine with the painting depicting it shown at the top of
this page. This is the final end of the sad tale, and has been a strong folklore tradition in Yeongwol
and Taebaek counties ever-since. King Danjong has been venerated as a Taebaek Sanshin since
those days, and this resulted in the Danjong-Sanshin Biseok & Bigak (below) being built just between
Manggyeong-sa Temple and the Cheonje-dan semi-summit of Taebaek-san in the 1970s.
|The Taebaek-san Danjong Bigak, alongside the main high trail, just between
Manggyeong-sa Temple and the Cheonje-dan semi-summit of Taebaek-san.
This was built in 1955 as result of a mystical vision and miraculous help.
|Shamanic Icon with that motif (and two others, unrelated) in the Taebaek-san Manggyeong-sa
Sanshin-gak, facing the actual regular Sanshin-do. The left painting of Danjong shows the
Magistrate holding a sword, having become a guardian-spirit himself.
"There are many dark pages in the tomes of Korean history, but one of the saddest is the tale
of young King Danjong." -- so begins a good re-telling of this key tragic story of the early Joseon
Dynasty, by famous history scholar Robert Neff, in this Korea Times article:
Murder, misery and mercy: Boy-king's life brutally cut short
"Born in 1441, his life began with misery. His mother, Queen Hyeondeok, died giving birth. His
father, King Munjong, died in 1452. At the age of 12, Danjong was made king but his reign was
short-lived. His uncle ― who came to be known as King Sejo ― plotted against his nephew
and forced him to abdicate in 1855.
Danjong was then exiled to Yeongwol County in Gangwon Province. He was escorted to his
place of banishment by Wang Bang-yeon, a court official. Not much is known about Wang but
he may have developed a degree of respect for the boy and would later rue his role in
Danjong's demise. Life was not easy for the boy. He was separated from his young wife ―
Queen Jeongseon ― and everything he valued. He was probably convinced (and rightly so)
that he would have a very short life.
In the autumn of 1457, a plot to restore Danjong to the throne was foiled. A court official
suggested to King Sejo that Danjong should be punished with a poisonous draught for the
disloyal acts of his supporters. Sejo refused and justified it by citing the tale of a Chinese
emperor who, instead of executing his younger sibling for rebellion, forgave him. Sejo's
forgiveness, however, did not extend to other family members.
Despite his initial mercy, Sejo realized his nephew would always be a threat to his reign and
needed to be removed permanently. According to Homer Hulbert, the king ― "with apparent
reluctance" - commanded Wang Bang-yeon to return to Yeongwol and give Danjong a drink
laced with poison. However, when Wang arrived, his "hardihood failed him and instead of
giving the boy the poison he prostrated himself" before the former king.
A man named Kong Sang, realizing Wang had failed, "came up behind the banished king and
strangled him with a cord." Apparently Kong hoped to be rewarded by King Sejo for his daring
act but instead was punished by the gods for his betrayal to the ex-monarch. As he turned to
leave the room, blood suddenly "burst from his eyes, ears, nose and mouth and he fell dead
beside the body of his victim." (However, Danjong's death was likely brought about by poison. Wang
remorsefully acknowledged in a poem he wrote that he gave the boy-king the poisonous drink. More than
likely, Danjong knew he was being poisoned but stoically met his fate.)
There were other deaths. Danjong's body was unceremoniously thrown into the river and a
royal decree was issued that whoever recovered and buried it would be "punished for three
generations." (Despite Sejo's dire threat of punishment, Eom Heung-do, a resident of Yeongwol, secretly
recovered the boy-king's corpse and buried it in the mountains. His loyalty is still remembered today.) Some
of the palace women who had accompanied Danjong to his place of exile were so distraught
with grief that they "threw themselves into the river and perished."
|Jang-neung, King Danjong's Tomb, a primary tourist-attraction of lovely Yeongwol County, west of Taebaek-san.
Neff continues and concludes:
"The very night of Danjong's murder, Sejo's sleep was haunted by the appearance of Danjong's
mother who denounced him for his evil and left him with this malediction: "You have stolen the
throne and killed my son. Yours too shall die." When Sejo awoke, he discovered the curse had
been fulfilled ― Deokjong (the crown prince and his eldest son) was dead at the age of 20. In
fury, Sejo had Danjong's mother's tomb dug up and her bones and remains scattered into a river.
Hulbert's account grows even more fantastic. "Tradition says that the next seven magistrates
who were appointed to the district where this foul murder was perpetrated died on the very night
of their arrival. The eighth made it his first duty to go to the grave of the murdered king and
sacrifice before it and write an elegy upon him. From that time there was no more trouble." "
Royal ritual-portrait of Great King Sejo (r.1455-68),
who actually turned-out to be one of Joseon's best
monarchs, strengthening the nation and instituting
the first real Code of Laws. He felt guilty over his
persecution and murder of his nephew, and turned
to Buddhism to find forgiveness for and salvation
from his crimes. Although the general Joseon Dynasty
regime was quite anti-Buddhist and inflicted great
damages upon it for five centuries, King Sejo was a
grand benfactor of it, travelling to many great temples
in the mountains and conferring royal honors on them.
|More paintings of the ghost of King Danjong on his way to reside at Taebaek-san as San-shin,
with the Yeongwol Magistrate (8th since the assassination) venerating him by offering sacred
herbs. These show Danjong in a yellow robe [emperor] rather than red [king] as at Bodeok-sa.
|In the Sanshin-gak Shrine of Yeongwol Town's Bodeok-sa, site of the mystical
incident, two paintings of it flank the excellent modern Mountain-spirit icon.
|The illegitimately executed boy-king finally found peace as a Spirit of the sacred Grand White
Mountain, joining Hwanin, Hwaneung, Dangun, the "Mother of Munsu-bosal" and several others....