Lee, 34, was living an uneventful suburban American life with his wife Nana Lee and their two small children, when he was suddenly nominated as the heir and next in line for the crown by his unknown distant relative, King Yi Seok, 77, the nominal emperor of the Joseon dynasty, the Daily Telegraph reported.
The king, who promotes tourism and teaches history in the South Korean city of Jeonju between ceremonial duties, in a Disney-like story, had chosen Lee because of his “positive energy".
“I’m not going to lie, it was very cool but it was also pretty scary because I wasn’t exactly sure what it entailed. […] In time I knew that once it became public my responsibility for how I act and the decisions I make wouldn’t necessarily just be my own anymore,” he said.
Lee believes he could give the imperial throne a modern makeover and that his family can use their newfound privileged position, understanding that the five-century-old royal dynasty that ended with the Japanese occupation of the peninsula in 1910 is mostly forgotten and things like visiting North Korea would be impossible for him in the foreseeable future.
“We’re in no way the imperial family of the past, we’re not like rulers, we’re soldiers that are standing on the front line with our fellow brethren,” he said.
Another project of Lee’s is to set budding entrepreneurs free from the traditional career expectations of South Korea’s conservative society, freeing South Koreans from being pressured into following a strict educational system in order to gain a place at one of the large conglomerates that has helped build the economy and now wields so much control, he said.
“Basically, people feel like they have to be obedient, go to school, follow all the rules, join a conglomerate and then follow rules again for the rest of their lives. We believe that if we give people proper funding then they can actually take the risk to pursue an entrepreneurial,” he argued.
Lee said he plans to spend $10m towards the fund and hopes to find “like-minded investors” to increase the amount to $100m.