Since Empress Ki will be a 50-episode drama, this is a character description post for reference, translated from the drama’s official website. Some of the characters are fictional but those based on the real figures are following some historical facts, though mostly are from the writers’ imagination.
The translation might be wrong and/or slightly deviate from the real meaning since my Korean is not that good yet ;) For those who don’t really like spoilers, perhaps you should stay away…
She was dragged away to become a tribute woman to Yuan during her childhood but managed to escape the fate, only to have her mother die in the process. She grows up disguising as a man to avenge her mother’s death. Her target is the royalty Wang Go and she meets the King of Goryeo when carrying out her plan of revenge. Seung-nyang becomes a part of the army and she is given the task to escort the Crown Prince of Yuan in Goryeo, who is being exiled. Little did she know that she’s slowly embroiled in a conflict of the Yuan people. She protects Ta-hwan, the Crown Prince from demise and saves him, but her real identity as a woman becomes known to others. Seung-nyang is then sent away to Yuan as a tribute woman, succumbing to her original fate. She grows closer to Ta-hwan, but his betrayal causes the death of her father and she vows to avenge him. Becoming a maid in the Yuan’s royal palace, she constantly faces threats from Empress Tanashiri and Seung-nyang needs to fight for her life, defying the cruel destiny for herself.
Instead of living up to his reputation as Goryeo’s Crown Prince, he chooses to fool around with the street gang each day. But then, it’s actually part of his plan to deceive Wang Go while investigating the man in secret, meeting Seung-nyang in the process. Yoo gets embroiled in a conspiracy to kill Ta-hwan while the crown prince is exiled to Goryeo. He is deposed from Goryeo’s throne and exiled to Yuan. Unexpectedly, he meets Seung-nyang there with her true identity as a woman, working as Yuan’s palace maid. He protects her from harm and his feelings start to develop for her. Yoo helps Seung-nyang to return to the palace after she is ousted because of the evil scheming. He returns to Goryeo but soon finds out that Seung-nyang is now in stuck in between him and Ta-hwan.
Although he’s born as Emperor Myungjong’s eldest son, his right to ascend the throne is defied by the powerful officials who places his younger step-brother on the throne instead of him. He’s sent to be exiled in Goryeo and just like his late father, he lives each day fearing for his own life and chooses to act like a fool in front of the officials. Deep in his heart, anger, hatred, and sadness haunts his lonely days. He falls for Seung-nyang when he meets her in Goryeo and she protects him with her lies. Ta-hwan eventually returns to Yuan and ascends the throne, but his heart continues to feel sorry for her. After he finds out that Seung-nyang is in the palace, his love and affection continues to develop for her. Seung-nyang later helps him to break the oppression from the officials.
He exercises great power due to his popularity among the court officials of Goryeo. He fosters good relationship with Yuan as a way to gain favour from the dynasty in order to promote himself as a suitable king of Goryeo. His greed for the power never stop and he never give up to seize the throne from Wang Yoo.
Daughter of the highest ranking official with a bad case of jealousy. She marries Ta-hwan because of her father despite the fact that she doesn’t have any feelings for him. However, she feels bad when Ta-hwan doesn’t love her. As the primary empress, she is expected to give birth to the successor of the throne. When she hears the news about Concubine Park being pregnant, her jealousy fires up, sending her on a witch hunt to kill the concubine and also weeding out the other palace maids that might have caught the emperor’s attention.
Coming from the elite family of Mongol, she was the late king’s empress. She opposes Ta-hwan’s exile but fails; however, she continues to protect her nephew at all cost. Ta-hwan follows every word that she says. In the midst of the political struggle and conflicts happening in the royal family, she remains unscathed, maintaining her position in the Yuan court.
The person behind the assassination of the late king, he managed to block the attempt to place the late king’s eldest son Ta-hwan on the throne. He then sends Ta-hwan into exile and places Ta-hwan’s younger step-brother on the throne, acting as his puppet. Considers Goryeo as part of Yuan instead of an independent country.
Hot-tempered and ruthless, he knows no fear, to the point of pointing his swords towards Ta-hwan, the Emperor of Yuan. He won’t hesitate to get rid of those he hates. He tries to kill Seung-nyang per his sister, Tanashiri’s order but fails as the maid is protected by the eunuchs. He’s also General Baek Ahn’s rival.
An unruly Yuan’s officer who manages the finance department but spends most of his time with money and women, particularly the tribute women from Goryeo while embezzling the money for his own benefit. Obeying only the words of his father and his older brother, he thinks lowly of Goryeo born, and doesn’t spare an ounce of respect towards the eunuchs and the palace maids.
Coming from a prestigious Mongol family, he aims to revive the great power of Mongol’s royal family but Yeon-chul remains as his biggest hurdle. Dangkise is another addition to the power trying to disrupt his plan. He considers working together with the King of Goryeo in order to get rid of Yeon-chul. Seung-nyang and him are always at odds with each other, but Ta-hwan’s decision to make her his primary Empress brings the two opposite people together.
A wise scholar who helps his uncle Baek Ahn to fight Yeon-chul’s influence in the court and later becomes Seung-nyang’s aide. He is like the brain to Baek Ahn’s brawn.
Ever since Ta-hwan was young, Tutor Jang sticks together with him like a shadow, educating and protecting him from Yeon-chul’s endless plotting. He’s Ta-hwan’s most trusted personnel among those officials plotting around him.
He is responsible for picking the ladies sent from Goryeo to become palace maids in the harem, where all of them belong to the Emperor. He witnesses everything that happens inside there, turning him into a emotionless person like a Grim Reaper. Dok Man faithfully serves Seung-nyang after seeing her strong and unyielding personality to survive the harsh environment of the palace.
He was Commander Ki’s closest friend and worked together with him. He later follows Seung-nyang to Yuan and ends up becoming an eunuch in Yuan court. Being Seung-nyang’s faithful and most trusted personnel, he helps her to eradicate the powerful officials in the Yuan court and assists her closely.
A Goryeo woman who faces the same fate as Seung-nyang, sent to Yuan as a tribute woman and ends up as a water maid in the palace. Acting as a leader among the water maids, she aims to move up the social ladder and join forces with Tanashiri in order to bring down Seung-nyang, betraying her own friend. Even after becoming a concubine, Yeon-hwa’s bad intentions against Seung-nyang never cease to end.
Becoming an eunuch since he was young, he served two kings before and continues to offer his assistance for Wang Yoo. He stays with Yoo through thick and thin, proving his loyalty. Even if it costs his own life, he’s willing to do anything for the king.
His family was killed in a rebellion, causing him to harbour a deep grudge against Yuan. He practices martial arts and spends his time as Wang Yoo’s bodyguard, willing to die for Wang Yoo any time.
Leader of the street gang who met Wang Yoo when he was young. He helps Yoo to bring Seung-nyang back to Goryeo when she is dragged to Yuan.
He harbors deep resentment towards his own country Goryeo for taking away the lives of his family members. Instead of putting the blame on Yuan, he betrays Goryeo and chooses to side with the enemies. Dreaming of a better life, he gets involved with exploitation of tribute to Yuan and works with Yeon-chul. He later becomes a citizen of Yuan.
He works under Wang Go and becomes his right hand man, but Yeom Byung-soo’s presence and haughtiness threatens his position as Wang Go’s most trusted man. Although he is jealous of Byung-soo, he has to work together with him and becomes his ally against Wang Yoo. Currently working under Dangkise since Wang Go’s return to Goryeo.
An eunuch who serves Ta-hwan when he ascends the throne as Yuan’s emperor. He attends to Ta-hwan’s every needs at all time and becomes his closest confidante in the stuffy court of Yuan. He’s a servant, a friend, and a teacher to the young emperor Ta-hwan.
She enters the palace earlier than Seung-nyang as a water maid and becomes Seung-nyang’s friend after witnessing her brave action fighting against the bully Yeon-hwa.
She can be regarded as Tanashiri’s right hand woman, helping the empress with the plotting to bring down people who are considered as Tanashiri’s rivals.
The loyal protectors of Ta-hwan who are always following behind him and Golta.
One of Ta-hwan’s concubines who participated in the concubine selection process.
She comes from Baek Ahn’s clan and she’s made the primary Empress after Tanashiri’s death. She leaves the Inner Court matters to Seung-nyang and decides against fighting for power for the sake of maintaining the peace in the harem, but she harbours different thoughts in her mind.
King Chungsuk (Kwon Tae-won): Wang Yoo’s father. [King Chungsuk] – Abdicated the throne for his son.
Princess Kyunghwa (Ryu Hyun-kyung): King Chungsuk’s third wife [Boyan Holdo] – Born in Yuan, she conspires with Wang Go in order to take away the throne from Wang Yoo.
Ki Ja-oh (Kim Myung-soo): Seung-nyang’s birth father [Ki Ja-o] – A Commander in Inju (old Incheon).
Ok-bun (Kim Ye-ryung): Seung-nyang’s birth mother – She died while protecting Seung-nyang.
Kkwe-bo (Shin Seung-hwan): Ta-hwan’s eunuch from Goryeo – He serves Ta-hwan as his eunuch when the latter is exiled to Goryeo.
Lady Park Eo-jin (Han Hye-rin): Ta-hwan’s concubine from Goryeo – A tribute woman from Goryeo, she’s originally chosen as a court lady in the palace of Yuan before picked up to be Ta-hwan’s concubine by the Empress Dowager in order to balance out Yeon-chul’s power in the court. Seung-nyang is working under her as one of her maids.
Yeon Bi-soo/ Batoru (Yoo In-young): The Turks’ General – She was originally the daughter of the famous Turks’ General Batoru but after her father’s death, she continues to pose as Batoru, wearing the mask that once belonged to him and leading the Turks in protecting the Silk Road from Yuan’s influence. She is good in war strategies.
Court Lady No (Lee Eung-kyung): Emperor Myungjong’s Special Court Lady – A court lady of Goryeo origin, she received the late Emperor’s grace but soon lost her mind after he passed away. She continued to live inside the harem, hidden from other people. Holds the key to the Blood Letter left by the late Emperor.
Mak-saeng (Song Kyung-chul): Goryeo Village’s Chief – A leader of the Goryeo people living inside the village near Yuan’s capital, he is respected by his people. Has a dry sense of humour, he is also a mysterious figure who chooses to hide his real identity with a wig and a fake mustache. He’s the same Jeokho, the late Emperor’s eunuch who also holds the key to the Blood Letter.
Heuksoo (Oh Gwang-rok): Leader of Eagle Group - He is the leader of the Eagle Group which deals as trader and also selling wanderers as slaves. He has a close relationship with Yeon-chul because the group helps Yeon-chul in controlling the economy of Yuan and Goryeo through manipulations of currencies.
Wonjin: Commander of the Garrison Troop – He is demoted to Assistant Commander after Wang Yoo is given the responsibility to lead the garrison but he’s secretly working under Yeon-chul to give Wang Yoo a hard time.
While waiting for the drama to air back then, I searched for some information about the characters and these are what I found. Most of them are from books and websites such as Wikipedia. Some of them are common facts that can easily be found.
Empress Ki (Mongolian name Öljei Khutugh)
1315 – 1369/70
Daughter of Ki Ja-oh, with her older brother Ki Chul being one of the famous people trying to overthrow Goryeo’s king Gongmin. Came from a family originated from Hwangju, her family had served the Goryeo court and her grandfather was the king’s son-in-law at one time. She was sent to Yuan as Goryeo’s tribute woman (a common practice since Goryeo was under Yuan Dynasty’s influence at that time). Served as a palace maid, she caught Sunje’s eyes when she was assigned to be his miad to serve him tea thanks to her acquaintance with a Goryeo born eunuch named Go Young-bo. Sunje made her his royal concubine and Ki became the object of jealousy of Empress Danashiri, Sunje’s legitimate wife. She waaised to the rank of secondary empress after the death of Danashiri. Gave birth to Ayushiridar, who was made the Crown Prince despite resistance from others. Tried to win the favour of Yuan court with the help of another Goryeo eunuch, Park Bul-hwa, who was from her hometown Hwangju. Worried that Sunje had been neglecting his duty as an emperor and forced him to abdicate the throne. Arrested and imprisoned by Bolud Temür but released without being harmed and executed. Tried to install her family members back in Goryeo as the dynasty’s ruler and planned several attacks on Goryeo but defeated. Escaped after the fall of Mongol rule and Sunje died, hence Ayushiridar ascended the throne. However, Empress Ki was possibly captured together with Sunje’s concubines and sons by Ming Dynasty’s troop and believed to die in 1369 or 1370. However, the details about her final years remained a mystery.
Emperor Sunje (Mongolian name Ukhantu Khan Togon Temür, Posthumous name Sunje/ Shundi, Temple name Hyejong/Huizhong)
1320 – 1370 (r. 1333 – 1370)
Son of Khutugh Khan Kusala (Myungjong) with Babusha, Sunje was exempted from the Yuan court after his father’s death. Exiled to Goryeo and then Guangxi, Kusala’s brother Tugh Temür ascended the throne and when he died, Sunje’s younger half-brother Rinchinbal Khan was made the emperor instead of him. He finally became the emperor after Rinchinbal’s death, but the real power was in the hands of Tugh Temür’s widow Khatun Budashiri, who was made the Great Empress Dowager, and also the family members of his first empress Danashiri. He broke the influence of the Great Empress Dowager by sending her to exile and when Danashiri’s family was accused of treason, causing Danashiri to be killed as well. He took Lady Ki as his concubine and made her the secondary empress after Danashiri’s death, the first one being Bayan Khutugh whom he married after the purge of Danashiri’s family. Showed promising talent as a reliable leader but soon succumbed to various obstacles such as corruptions, rebellions and natural disasters (associated with the wrath of the Heavens upon the ruler).
King Chunghye (Birth name Wang Jeong, Mongolian name: Budashiri)
1315 – 1340 (r. 1330 – 1331, 1339 – 1344)
Son of King Chungsuk, Chunghye was enthroned in 1330 following his father’s abdication but soon deposed by Yuan and exiled to Yuan. When his father died in 1339, Chunghye became the ruler of Goryeo Dynasty again. He was known as a womanizer towards the latter days of his ruling but there are records saying that he enjoyed ssireum, Korean folk wrestling.
died in 1335
Daughter of El Temür, she was married off to the young Emperor Sunje to secure the power of her family in the court. She was said to be uninterested with the politics of Yuan but claimed to be greedy and jealous of Lady Ki, who was the object of Sunje’s affection. She was believed to submit Lady Ki to torture because of her jealousy. However, she was soon embroiled in the conflict between her family and Sunje, causing her to be killed by poisoning although she was not involved in the treason planned by her family.
Wang Go/ Prince Yeonan
died in 1345
He was the grandson of King Chungryeol. When King Chungsuk ascended the throne, Wang Go was designated the Crown Prince that was next-in-line to the throne. However, with the birth of Wang Jeong/ King Chunghye, Chungsuk revoked his status and passed over the title King of Shimyang/ Shenyang (later King of Shim/Shen) to him. Wang Go was dissatisfied and continued to look for a chance to seize the throne but to no avail, despite his influence over the Goryeo officials and backing from Yuan.
Bayan of Merkid
died in 1340
Bayan was a General of Yuan who intially worked together with El Temür but soon decided to support Togon Temür. He managed to annihilate El Temür’s family who was a constant threat to the royal family and himself. He was made the Chancellor and exercised great power in the position. He soon grew more autocratic in exercising his power and abolished the imperial examination system in order to limit the influence of Chinese in Yuan Dynasty. He was overthrown by his own nephew Toghtogha.
(1314 – 1356)
A Yuan minister who served the court under Sunje’s rule. He was a scholar educated with Confucian principles and later, overthrown his own uncle Bayan when the latter started to be more autocratic. His greatest achievement was compiling the history of the Liao, Jin, and Song Dynasties when he became the Chancellor. He also became one of Sunje’s closest supporters before he was ousted and exiled, then eventually assassinated by his rival Hama.