His Highness Prince Yi Seok
His Highness Prince Yi Seok (born 1941) a descendant of the Joseon Dynasty is one of two pretenders to the throne of Korea. He is a son of Prince Gang of Korea, a 5th son of Emperor Gojong of Korea and currently a professor of history lecturing at Jeonju University in the Republic of Korea.
Currently, Yi Seok resides in a building renovated for his use by the city of Jeonju, 243 kilometers south of Seoul. The city government hopes that Seok's settlement on the grounds of its Hanok Village will spotlight the historic significance of the city and help it to attract tourists. As part of this arrangement, Seok gives lectures to Jeonju visitors about Korean history. He also frequently lectures elsewhere and is often called upon for ceremonial duties, despite his official status as a private citizen. Recently, Seok authored a book about the late Joseon Dynasty royal court family and has founded an organization, which he now leads, "The Imperial Grandson Association", dedicated to preserving the culture of the royal court.
Prince Seok was born and raised in Sadong Palace in Seoul during the Japanese occupation. After WW2 ended with the occupation and partitition of Korea by the allies in the South, and the Russians and Chinese in the north, the Korean royal family was rendered homeless, what assets that were not confiscated by the Japanese were then confiscated by the incoming Syngman Rhee government, and forced to temporary accommodation within palaces in Seoul.
The coming of the Korean War in the summer of 1950 led the cadet elements of the royal family to flee by an American landing craft from Incheon, along the coast down to Busan, then to live in a hillside monastery in Jeju Island till the war ended in the autumn of 1953 when they returned to Seoul.
Prince Seok as a young man was required to look after his family as best he could, along with his brothers, and took any jobs that he could to provide for his parents and siblings before and after university during the hard times of the Korean War and Cold War era as the Republic of Korea fought communism and internal subversion.
At Hankook University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, Prince Seok studied foreign languages, principally Spanish, as well as foreign relations and history, became fluent in several languages, and prepared himself for the diplomatic service. A series of coups, changes in government and civil discord rendered that impossible. Paying his own way through university, Seok again worked at many different jobs to provide for his family, and as he had an aptitude for entertaining, became a well known singer and professional musician in the 1960s while in his twenties, having several hit songs.
Prince Seok volunteered for the Korean military and served as an enlisted man in the Vietnam War in an elite Korean commando regiment as an infantryman in The Tiger Division also known as the Capitol Infantry Division (mech.) The Tiger Division was an all volunteer division in which all soldiers donated 80% of their pay back to the Republic of Korea to support the post-war economy.
Apart from serving in combat in many engagements as a member of the 1st Infantry Regiment of the Tiger Division, Seok was seriously wounded by shrapnel in a convoy that was landmined. Before and after his recuperation, he also found time to entertain the troops during off-hours at their request. Before Seok was wounded he participated in combat operations from Tiger1 to Tiger12 with his regiment. The unit had a distinguished history in combat.
Returning to the Republic of Korea, the royal family was again given accommodation at palaces in Seoul, but with the coup following the assassination of President Park Chung Hee in 1979, the royal family was ordered out of the palace at gunpoint; and what properties and assets they had were finally totally confiscated. Prince Seok then travelled to the United States where he took again a series of jobs in the recessionary 1980s to provide for his family and his relatives whilst attempting protracted legal and moral battles to retrieve family properties seized illegally, and now irretrievable under post-war Korean law. In the Los Angeles riots of 1992, many of his personal possessions, and historical photographs were lost in the fires.
With the changed political climate in the early 1990s, Seok was able to return to the Republic of Korea, and once again attempt to live in old family properties, and battle for his legal rights as a private citizen. After a series of difficult times, he had a series of spiritual revelations, retired to a monastery, and regained a new public life at the beginning of the 21st century, with a series of constant travels doing educational work, promoting both Korean royal tourism and the restoration of historical buildings, and a schedule that involves over 100 speaking engagements or public appearances each year. Currently he lives in Jeonju, South Korea.
The hardships and resilience that is typical of Korean life from WW2 to the post Vietnam era proved interesting and Prince Seok's life was made into a dramatic semi-fictional TV programme on the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS).
Claims to certain Korean imperial titles are increasingly less disputed now that a Korean born, Korean speaking, and Seoul based Korean citizen, Yi Won, has been named heir by the Yi Family Association. This has enabled a Korean, rather than a Japanese citizen, to be a claimant for the senior title, for the first time since the invasion of Korea by Japan - almost a century. According to that family association, the formal Head of the Korean Royal House is Yi Won the adopted son of Yi Ku.