A Grim Loophole A Korean King Used To Kill His (Serial Killer?) Son

What’s in the box? Nothing -- yet.
A Grim Loophole A Korean King Used To Kill His (Serial Killer?) Son

Being a god-king parent can't be easy. You try disciplining a kid who both knows that they're a divine gift from the heavens and that spanking their ascended ass is a mortal sin? But what do you do then when, say, that same kid grows up to become a psychopathic serial killer? According to King Yeongjo of Korea, to properly punish them, all it takes is a little thinking outside of the box. Then telling your kid to get into that damn box.

According to most historians, King Yeongjo of the illustrious Joseon (or Choson) Dynasty was a great monarch. A strict Confucian, he ruled Korea for most of the 18th century under the principles of law, order, and divine right. By other accounts, he was also a cold and distant dick to his children in the way only a strict Confucian can be. And that was exactly not the parent-son relationship needed by Crown Prince Jangheon, today better known as Crown Prince Sado, after receiving the name by his father for being such a sadistic sad sack. Likely suffering from severe mental illness, Sado's sanity started to sink at an early age. Already an anxious and insecure wreck by the time he turned 15, things only got worse when Yeongjo tried to cure him of his weaknesses by appointing him Korea's regent -- and then pointing out how he's doing everything wrong. 

Wikimedia Commons
It’s like the royal equivalent of your deadbeat dad getting mad that you can’t ride a bike while he’s in the midst of teaching you how to ride a bike.

By his mid-20s, Sado had completely lost his mind, often showing signs of sexual deviance and plunging into violent fugue states. A very dangerous affliction -- especially since no one was allowed to interfere with his' divine body.' So when Crown Prince Sado started randomly killing palace staff and walking around with their severed heads, nobody could do anything about it aside from some light tutting. And that included the king who was a strict observer of these religious rules -- and probably didn't want to start a 'let's start killing royals for good reasons’-precedent either.

Worse, under the Korean law of communal punishment, the king was well aware that executing a man also necessitated his family's banishment/legal murder. (Because what's feudal law without some random violence against women and children?) And since Sado's own son was the next and only remaining heir in line, that would mean saying annyeonghee gaseyo to the Joseon dynasty altogether. Luckily, there were two loopholes that could get rid of the prince without actually touching him. The classic was demanding he'd do the dirty work himself, but when King Yeongjo threw a sword at Sado's feet demanding his suicide, the prince refused. So the good king had to go with plan C -- C for Chest.

Hiart, Wikimedia Commons
Not since ‘Se7en’ has a box been so pointlessly gruesome. 

On a sweltering July day in 1762, King Yeongjo and Crown Prince Sado met in the royal courtyard. There, he ordered his son to step into one of the court's empty rice chest as a form of punishment. What none attending knew, that once Sado had gotten into the box, Yeongju ordered it to be sealed and never opened again. After seven days of suffering from heat torture and food deprivation, Sado finally stopped making sounds and was declared deceased. His official cause of death? Starvation. 

And so, the saga of the psychopath Sado ended, dying of so-called natural causes so that his son could take over the throne. But today, this murderous myth has become a bit more muddled. After his death, his widow wrote The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyon, a tell-all memoir in which she implies that the mentally unstable Sado was, in fact, a victim of political scheming. Not only did she claim that his murderous rages were vastly overexaggerated, but she also points out that Yeungjo had only taken action against his (still beloved) son after a court rumor had spread that Sado was scheming to kill the king first. Whatever the real truth was behind Sado's sad state of mind, it likely died with him in that rice box. 

For more murder loopholes, do follow Cedric on Twitter.

Top Image: National Palace Museum, Wikimedia Commons / National Folk Museum Of Korea, Google Arts & Culture


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