The first time I heard the old anecdote about the ditch-diggers’s wife, I was watching a favorite episode from season 3 of The West Wing. With varying lengths and differently inserted characters, the joke always goes something like,
Mayor David N. Dinkins: “See that man over there digging the ditch. I remember you dated him once. If you had married him, you would be the wife of a ditch digger.”
Mrs. Dinkins: “No, if I had married him, he would be the mayor of New York City.”
This is the gist of the story told in the drama Empress Ki [SPOILERS AHEAD], which follows the life and rise of the indeed impressive but here strongly fictionalized figure – through slavery, battle, loves gained and lost, and revenge – into, as the title suggests, enthronement as Empress of the Yuan Dynasty and one of Korean history’s most powerful women.
Actual history is quite different from the mini-series both in style and substance, with Ki here written as a more sympathetic and sympathizing warrior figure than in actual histories, where she leaves the impression of being somewhat materialistic and opportunistic, eventually disloyal to her Goryeo homeland.
True, is the narrative of concubines forcibly taken from their homes into Mongolia, of which Lady Gi was one; that she became a powerful figure exerting significant influence; and that she was the mother of King Ayushiridara. Her early skills were not those of the master archer depicted in the k-drama, but influence upon the Emperor and mood of the land, overcoming great opposition to become official second wife in 1340, when mother of the future king. As time went on, she took over more offices, and as the Emperor’s role diminished, was widely considered to be effective Ruler of Yuan Dynasty China, preceding the rise of Ming.
To enjoy the drama, I think you must put most of the history aside, however, and appreciate what sets it apart as a drama. Continue reading “Empress Ki”