last year I made a trilogy of videos talking about monarchist groups in the Americas. I made this because of my fascination with unusual ideas in unusual places. For me the idea of people actively favoring monarchy in the Americas, a place where there traditionally isn’t a monarchy is fascinating. I got a lot of requests in the comments of those videos to make more videos like it. So here you go. Having covered monarchist movements in the Americas, we’re now going to travel across the pacific to discover claimants to the vacant thrones in Asia, and the first place we are going to stop are the Ryukyu Islands.
Today this chain of Islands are of part of the Okinawa and Kagoshima prefectures of Japan. They formed a loosely unified kingdom in the fifteenth century, and between then and its eventual loss of independence it was subject to the authority of Japan and China, sometimes both at the same time.
The mid-19th century saw the return of Imperial Power in Japan with the Meiji Restoration, which saw the Japanese government asserting control over the Japanese Nobles, and annexing nearby regions such as Okinawa, Hokkaido, and the Ryukyu Islands, first making it a Vassal state in 1872, and fully annexing it in 1879. The last King of Ryukyu was Sao Tai of the Sho Dynasty. With Ryukyu’s annexation he was forced to relocate to Tokyo, where he was eventually given Japanese Peerage title of Koshaku as compensation, and eventually dying in 1901. The current head of the Sho Family is Mamoru Sho, the great-great grandson of Sao Tai. The Sho family still recognizes itself as the royal family of Ryukyu, despite retaining the Koshaku peerage from Japan. Within the Islands themselves there isn’t much support for a Sho Restoration, while there is a greater support for independence.
From the Ryukyu Islands we move to the Korean Peninsula, where they have several claimants from the same Dynasty to the vacant throne. Korea existed as a Monarchy until 1910 when it was annexed by Japan. Before then, Japan had occupied the peninsula after the Russo-Japanese War, where Korea was made a vassal of Japan, under which its ruler, Gojong, was elevated to the rank of Emperor. After a diplomatic incident in the Hague in 1907, Gojong was forced to abdicate the throne in favor of his son, Sunjong, but the annexation of Korea put an end to the rule of the Yi Dynasty and its emperor.
After annexation the Yi family was kept under house arrest in the Changdeokgung palace, with their title being reduced to that of King, but with no actual power. Sunjong died in 1926, and was succeeded by his son Yi Un, who would spend much of his adult life serving in the Japanese Military.
After WW2 and the splitting up of Korea between the Communist North and the, well… uhh, it wasn’t really capitalist, and it wasn’t democratic. Sooo, lets call it anti-Soviet South, the Yi Family was banned from the Korean peninsula by both north and south, partly for its collaboration with the Japanese, but mostly because they were a threat to the regimes of both Kim Il-Sung and Syngman Rhee. The Yi family was eventually allowed to return to South Korea in 1963, but by this time Yi Un was more or less brain dead, and would die in 1970.
Today there are 3 primary claimants to the Korean Throne. The oldest claimant is Princess Yi-Hae-won, born in 1919, she is the grand-daughter of Emperor Gojong, through his son Prince Ui. In 2005 she was passed over by the Yi Family for the position of head of the family by her newphew, Yi Won, whom was granted the title of Hereditary Prince Imperial. Yi-Hae-won disputes his legitimacy on account of him not being the true son of the previous claimant, Yi Gu, but rather was adopted.
The third claimant is Prince Ye Cheong, who bases his claim to the throne on his descent from Prince Wu, the second son of Prince Gang, who had been the fifth soon of Emperor Gojong. An interesting side note on Prince Wu; he served in the Japanese Army, and was stationed at Hiroshima when the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb in 1945. He died the next day, on August 7th. Ye Cheong is considered the de jure genealogical heir to the Korean Throne by rules of Primogeniture. But due to his father’s collaboration with the Japanese, and his apparent disinterest in the title, he has done little in advancing his claim.
The Current claimant with the strongest claim, Yi Won, was born in 1962 to Prince Gap, who was a grandson of Emperor Gojong. He was adopted by Prince Yi Gu, who was the son of Prince Yi Un, the eldest son of the last emperor, Sunjong. Yi Gu was never able to conceive a child of his own, so he adopted Yi Won, and as mentioned earlier, there is dispute over whether an adopted son can inherit the throne, or even if the adoption was legal. Regardless, he is recognized by the Yi Family as the legitimate heir.
From Korea we move on to China, and oh boy, where do I start.
So, for obvious reasons there are no active monarchist organizations in mainland China, so in order to find any you have to go outside the country. Headquartered in Malaysia is the “Imperial Qing Restoration Organization,” which is led by a Chinese man, Lee Chee Chuan, who claims to be a descendant from the Tang Dynasty, which ruled China from 618 to 907. Soo wait, we have someone from the Tang Dynasty wanting to restore the Qing Dynasty, so what gives? Well, you see, the purpose of this organization is, according to their website, “to officially pass the mandate of heaven from the last ruling Qing Dynasty back to Han Chinese Dynasty.”
Now, this statement could be taken in a couple ways. It could mean that they want to restore the Han Dynasty that reigned from 202 BCE to 220 CE. However, the term “Han” doesn’t just refer to a political Dynasty. It also can refer to an ethnic group referred to as “Han,” which derives its name from the political Dynasty, and this latter reasoning is what I believe it is referring to. The last Dynasty in China, the Qing, were not ethnic Hans, but rather Manchurian. I believe that the organization want’s to temporarily restore the Qing Dynasty so that the last ethnically Manchu emperor can abdicate, allowing the mandate of Heaven to pass to someone who is ethnically Han. In this circumstance, Mr. Lee Chee Chuan, a descendant of the ethnically Han Tang Dynasty, could claim the throne and restore the Tang Dynasty. However, there are some problems with his plan.
To understand this problem we’re going to need a quick and dirty understanding of the concept of the Mandate of Heaven. Basically, the Mandate of Heaven is the moral and semi-theological justification for an emperor and their Dynasty being in, or losing power. If the emperor and his family are able to politically maintain control of China, that means they have the divine right to rule. Traditionally speaking, if a family loses control of China than they have lost the mandate of heaven, and therefore don’t have the right to rule China, and once lost the mandate is lost to that family forever.
However, just because a family has lost its right to rule, doesn’t mean there hasn’t been attempts at restoring them. Reading through Chinese history, there are plenty of instances of people claiming the Mandate of Heaven for themselves in the name of a previous Dynasty, so Mr. Chuan’s possible attempt to restore the Tang is historically precedented.
Anyways, the Imperial Qing Restoration Organization doesn’t have a particular claimant to the Qing Throne to restore to power, so how successful they can be by their own interpretation of the Mandate of Heaven seems to be limited. However, there is a potential candidate alive in China today.
Early 20th century China was a politically a mess, with its last emperor being crowned at the age of 2, and dethroned around the age of 6. This last emperor, Puyi, regally referred to as Xuantong Emperor, would be brought out of retirement by the Japanese in 1934 to serve as the puppet ruler of the Empire of Manchukuo until 1945. He continued to serve as the head of his clan, the House of Aisin Gioro, until his death in 1967, and despite having 5 consorts throughout his life, he failed to produce an heir. So his younger brother Pujie became the head of the clan, serving time in a Chinese Communist Prison for his involvement with the Japanese in Manchukuo. He died in 1994, when the position was inherited by his son, Jin Youzhi, who died in 2015, leading his son, Jin Yuzhang, to inherit the position. If you wanted to restore the Qing Dynasty, this is the guy you would probably need to see. However, he, along with his father and grandfather before, all rejected their claim to the throne of Manchukuo or Qing China.
China, Zhou Dynasty, https://himyaosui.wordpress.com/about/
China, Qing Dynasty (Tang), https://sites.google.com/site/monarchyrevival/
China, Elected Emperor, https://iccri.wordpress.com/