[FOUNTAIN] Public Opinion, the Decider

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[FOUNTAIN] Public Opinion, the Decider

Lee Seong-gae, founder of the Choson dynasty in 1392, also held the dynasty's first national examination for the selection of government officials. As first king of the dynasty, he agonized over how many aristocrats would participate in the examination, as he saw the turnout indicating the strength of elite support for the new dynasty. In the event, the examination hall was close to empty, and a number of aristocrats refused to serve under two different dynasties and decided to retire at remote country estates. They were called the Dumun-dong 72 Wise Men. In fact, there were 73 wise men - but the 73d, Hwang Hui, was left behind to lead the public, who, the wise men thought, lacked guidance. Hwang Hui ended up holding a ministerial position during King Sejong's reign (1418-1450), helping the king establish an era of peace and scholastic renaissance.

"Minister Hwang spent many days pondering what was good for people and was so frugal that often he went without something to eat even after many years serving as a minister," the annals of the Choson Dynasty say.

A book called "Kings' Advisors" has recently become popular. The book tells the stories of 21 royal advisors of the Choson Dynasty who served the kings and, as a result, were either rewarded with fame and fortune or were ruined and sacrificed their lives. It seems the readers find parallels with the successes and failures of these advisors in today's politicians.

Hwang Hee was one of the lucky ones - respected as a brilliant minister until he died at 90. Cho Kwang-jo's is a different story - he was ordered to drink poison at 37 by King Chungjong, whom Cho served. Cho had initially gained King Chungjong's favor by denouncing a high-ranking official, Lee Haeng, who was in charge of petitions to the king but blocked petitions from certain aristocrats from being reported to the king. King Chungjong wanted to regain support from Confucian leaders who had soured on the government after the king's predecessor, King Yonsangun, repressed them. King Chungjong gained the throne after King Yonsangun was overthrown in a coup for his repressive rule. King Chungjong thought that by appointing Cho, who had denounced Lee, he would strengthen ties with the Confucian leaders and quell the opposition.

But Cho was incriminated by fellow ministers. Though King Chungjong knew the accusations were false, he feared Cho's outspoken behavior. While Cho stood by his principles, he was ultimately expendable. Since he had not dedicated his life to the public as Hwang Hui had, his life was ended with a poison potion. When President Kim Dae-jung told his Millennium Democratic Party leaders that "We must deeply discuss the lives and difficulties faced by the public," what he was saying was that our success depends on public opinion.

by Lee Kyeung-chul

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