Min Young-Ik 민영익

Aristocrat, Statesman, Scholar, Artist

Min Young Ik - Gaekju

Actor Ahn Jae Mo’s 안재모 portrayal of Min in the 2016 drama, The Merchant: GaekJu 장사의 신 – 객주

Min Young Ik 민영익 (閔泳翊)
Born: 1860
Died: 1914 (54 Years Old)
As Seen On TV: Min Young-Ik was a progressive statesman, scholar and artist towards the later part of Joseon Dynasty. His character has appeared in dramas such as The Great Merchant – Geakju, Joseon Gunman and Jejoongwon

First Korean Ambassador to the United States

First Korean Ambassadors

This is one of 43 photographs of Korea taken by George Clayton Foulk between 1883 and 1886. Foulk was a naval officer who served as a U.S. diplomat in Korea in the 188os. The original picture is held at the American Geographical Society Library at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Foulk’s note on the image reads: “Special mission from Korea to U.S.A., 1883.”  From left to right, bottom row: Hong Yong Sik (vice minister), Prince Min Yong Ik (minister plenipotentiary), Soh Kong Pom (secretary to prince), and Percival Lowell (escort to U.S.). Top row from left to right: Kyon Kueng, Thok Chen, Yu-kil Chan, Kyong Chal, and Pyong Sue.”

Min Young-Ik was part of the politically influential Min family. He was a favorite nephew of Queen Min (aka: Empress Myeongseong 명성황후) (October 1851 – October 1895).  Queen Min was the wife of King Gojong, the 26th and last king of Joseon Dynasty.

The Queen wanted her nephew to go to the United States on a fact-finding mission. Of particular interest was the advanced agriculture in the US. In June 1883, King Gojong appointed Min Young-Ik as the first Korean ambassador to the United States. Min, along with other progressive officials were the first Korean diplomatic mission ever sent to America.

In June of 1883, Min set sail with his mission team on an American ship. They arrived in San Francisco on September 2, 1883.  They then arrived in New York on September 18, 1883. While there, they met president Chester A. Arthur at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in NYC to submit the King’s letter and diplomatic credentials.  Although Min Yong-Ik was not part of the Joseon’s royal Yi family, as the nephew of Queen Min, he was close enough to royalty to for the title of “prince” while in the United States.  His official title was “Prince Min Yong-Ik, Minister Plenipotentiary.”

joseon gunman2

Oh Min Suk 오민석 in 2014 drama, The Joseon Gunman 조선 총잡이

Min and the mission party arrived back to Seoul on June 7, 1884. It is said that upon his return, Min reported:

“I was born in the dark. I went out into the light, and, your Majesty, it is my displeasure to inform you that I have returned to the dark. I envision a Seoul of towering buildings filled with Western establishments that will place herself back above the Japanese barbarians… We must take action, your Majesty, without hesitation, to further modernize this still ancient kingdom.”

Korea’s First Western Hospital


Actor Jang Hyun Sung 장현성 in the 2010 SBS drama, JeJoongWon제중원

In September 1884, Dr. Horace Allan (1558-1933), was the first American missionary to arrive in Korea. He arrived in Korea as a medical attaché of the American embassy. On December 4, 1884, Min was critically stabbed during an assassination plot by a pro-Japanese faction now known as the Gaspin Coup (갑신정변). This event took place near where Dr. Allan was living at the time. When Dr. Allan went over to find out what all the ruckus was about, he found Min on the brink of death from a hemorrhage from a stab wound.

Min Yeong IkNot knowing who Min was, Dr. Allan performed emergency surgery. Keep in mind that this type of serious stab wound would have meant death. The surgery was a major success and within months, Min fully recovered. King Gojong and Queen Min were impressed with Min’s recovery as they were able to witness firsthand the miracles of western medicine.  This helped to lead to their full support for the establishment of Korea’s first western medical hospital called,  Jejoongwon in 1885.

Master Painter

myi_orchid_6On top of being a statesman, Min was a serious artists. He was a master painter of bamboo and orchids in ink and pioneered a unique style of painting orchids. Min’s work has played a role in the modern art world by influencing and shaping eastern Asian modern art.  There has been nearly as much written about Min Young-Ik, the artist as there there is as Min Young Ik, the statesman.


Min Young-Ik left Korea for Hong Kong in 1886. He came back to Korea in 1889. In 1898 MinYoungIk-GIFKing Gojong announced the formation of the Korean Empire. In 1905, the Eulsa treaty was signed which stripped King Gojong of his title. The Japanese also forced the elimination of the entire Min family from all public offices.  Min Young-Ik went back to Hong Kong. While in exile, he focused on his art and played an active role in the painting circles of Shanghai . Min Young-Ik died in Shanghai in 1914.

Alt Spellings: Min Young-Ik, Min Yong-Ik, Min Yeong-Ik.

List of Dramas Featuring Min Young-Ik

Sources: 1 2 3 4 5 6