The political life of Daewongun and the ups and downs of Unhyeonggung are inseparably related. The historical value of Unhyeonggung can be interpreted in the same context of Korean’s modern history of Daewongun.

Before Daewongun came to power, Unhyeonggung was just a simple house, lacking the magnificence of royal dignity. For the first ten years of King Gojong, Daewongun’s son, rule, Daewongun’s power reached its peak and Unhyeonggun was transformed as a royal palace.  


Along with Noandang and the four grandiose gates, another signature building of Unhyeonggung is Norakdang. King Kojong and the Queen Grandmother participated in the completion ceremony of this building. The wedding ceremony of King Gojong and Queen Myeongseong was held here.


After Daewongun lost power, Unhyeonggung also lost its grandiosity. During Daewongun’s incarceration in Qing Dynasty China after Imogunran, Unhyeonggun suffered from financial difficulty and was not maintained.

When Daewongun returned to power, Unhyeonggun also was revived. Daewongun came to power twice. The first period was for 33 days after Imogunran (July 23, 1882 to August, 26, 1882) and the second, for four months during the Donghak Revolution (July 23, 1894 to November 22, 1894). Although there are some disparities regarding the background and chance of Daewongun’s grasping political power, he received public support. From the beginning, he strove for transparency in his appointments and in governmental reform. He wanted to hire people regardless of their social position to embrace those who were dissatisfied.


During the Donghak Revolution, Daewongun maintained a close relationship with locals. While the Min government, Qing China and Japan defined the Donghak army as rebels, Daewongun viewed the event as a kind of social revolution. He predicted that the same kind of revolution would arise in Seoul. When he tried to regain power after getting rid of the Min government, he allied with Japan, who sought to reform the Joseon Dynasty government alone, which made possible his regaining of power. Public support was a large help when he planned to get rid of Japanese power after regaining political clout.

Saegukjeonkchae (closing the doors to the foreign powers), put in place for the 10 years of King Gojong‘s rule, caused Gojong to not be considered when Daewongun regained power. When Japan presented an unfair deal as a condition to end Imogunran and when the Qing Dynasty asked the Joseon government to back down from the incident, he displayed a strong but diplomatic attitude toward foreign policy. On one hand, he displayed a strong policy for war against Japan if Japan continued to make outrageous demands; on the other, he negotiated with the Qing Dynasty as he delayed the date of final decision despite lack of Qing mediation. His foreign policy was diplomatic outwardly but rigid inwardly. This foreign policy started to change in a practical direction as he regained power after the Donghak Revolution.


When the Qing-Japan War broke out, Daewongu, who had plans for getting rid of the Japanese army, had negotiated with the Qing Army stationed in Pyeongyang. This negotiation was beneficial to both sides because at that time Qing was at war and Joseon was being pressured about government reform. At the time, Japan was trying to build positive international opinion about its invasion and colonization of the Joseon Dynasty. With the Qing and Japan at war, Russia seemed ready to intervene in the Joseon issue. Daewongun first tried to contact Russia to negotiate and check Japanese power through Russia. Russia secretly mediated with China and Japan, suggesting tri-lateral cooperation to involve the Korean Peninsula. Despite no actual result, Daewongun tried to reach the United Kingdom and the United Stated diplomatically. The United Kingdom did not want the Sino-Japanese War to break out on the Korean peninsula and began involvement in the hidden mediation, which was to divide the Korean peninsula to be occupied by China and Japan. Daewongun tried to solve these issues through diplomatic relations with foreign powers but the corrupt government made it possible for the Joseon Government to receive international support. Knowing this, Daewongun tried to get rid of pro-Japanese power and establish a new government; because of the Lee Junyong treason incident, he eventually lost power.