Queen Sondok was the first woman to become a queen in the Korean Silla kingdom in 632 A.D. Queen Ma-ya, Sondok's mother, did not bear any sons to become king, so King Chinpyong sent her to a convent in the mountains to become a nun. This brought a great deal of sadness to Sondok, she said, "The monastery has swallowed everyone I love." (7) After Queen Ma-ya was gone, King Chinpyong, who had reigned for fifty years, remarried a woman who also could not bear him a son (7). Since Sondok was the eldest daughter, Sondok became queen after the king died. She became the most famous queen of a Korean state.
Queen Sondok was born in Korea in 610 A.C.E. She ruled for fourteen years, holding the realm together against external and internal threats. During this period, women already had a certain degree of influence as advisers, queen dowagers, and regents. Throughout the kingdom, women were heads of families since matrilineal lines of descent existed alongside patrilineal lines. The Confucian model, which placed women in a subordinate position within the family, was not to have a major impact in Korea until the fifteenth century and most of people throughout the kingdom believed in Buddhism, Daoism, and Shamanism (6). During the Silla kingdom, women's status remained relatively high.
Early in her life Sondok had displayed an unusually quick mind. For example, when she was seven, her father received a gift from the Emperor of China. It was a beautiful painting of peonies, accompanied by a box of the flower's seeds. Sonduk commented that the flower was beautiful, but it was a pity, because it had no sweet perfume. Her father, brow knit in confusion, asked her how she could know that, since she had never seen a peony before. Sonduk replied that, if the flower possessed a perfume, there would be butterflies and bees in the painting, and there were none. The seeds were planted, the flowers grew, and Sonduk was proven correct. (4)
Sondok also displayed a curiosity for the stars and heavens during her childhood years. She would go out and observe the stars every night. Sonduk mostly studied the stars by herself but learned some facts from the Royal Astronomers. She learned the ways of Buddha and Confucianism. At the age of fifteen, she studied Confucius with Lord Lin Fang, the ambassador from China, and also an astronomer. Lord Lin Fang introduced a new official calendar to the King, Sondok’s father and convinced the King that the Chinese calendar was superior to the Korean one. Sondok looked forward to discussing astronomy with him. But Lin Fang felt that a woman's place was only in the home and certainly not in the scientific world. He told Sondok, "Surely you cannot imagine I would converse on such a serious subject with a young lady? It would be unnatural, and wholly against the laws of propriety." (7) One of the special events in Korea was when a solar eclipse was about to occur, Sonduk calculated the time that it...