[FOUNTAIN] Whispers in the President's Ear

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[FOUNTAIN] Whispers in the President's Ear

An exclusive meeting with the president at the Blue House is a remarkable event, so much so that it may cause some to become arrogant. Not all presidential secretaries can meet the president alone at anytime. It is impossible to meet the president alone without attendants unless the president shows a special interest or trust in the person. It is no wonder that people long for the honor of an exclusive meeting.

Song Si-yeol's personal meeting with King Hyojong, the 17th king of the Choson dynasty, even resulted in a book. In 1659, King Hyojong met privately with Mr. Song, well known by his nom de plume, U-am. It was an extraordinary meeting, breaking the conventions of the royal palace. In the meeting, King Hyojong revealed his plan to conquer regions in the north. Then very ill, he requested that U-am support his successor in order to achieve the conquest. After King Hyojong died, U-am retired from his government post and moved to Yeoju, where the tomb of the king was located, remembering the late king for the rest of his life. That was how special and impressive his exclusive meeting with the king was for U-am.

The codes of the Choson dynasty strictly barred exclusive meetings between the king and government officials. Aside from his rendezvous with the queen and royal concubines, his historian and seungji (royal secretary) always attended all the king's meetings. In the Choson period, the relationship between the king and the government officials was public, never a private relationship between individuals. Throughout 500 years of Choson history, there were only a few occasions when the king met a government official alone. In 1717, King Sukjong met Yi Yi-myeong, leader of a prominent political faction, alone. The meeting became the subject of a scandal. Letters flooded in condemning the meeting for breaking the conventional rules of the palace, and Mr. Yi suffered in the aftermath.

President Kim Dae-jung reportedly summoned his new ministers one after another for an exclusive meeting. The private meetings went on for about half an hour, rather like a job interview. The president's intention, to listen to the opinions of the new ministers and support them, was commendable, but it is problematic that there will be no record of the meetings. Rumors always fly after such meetings.

In a country where power is concentrated on the president, who whispers what to the president is extremely important. If the person meeting the president gives him wrong information, it could have disastrous consequences. The foreign exchange crisis was an unfortunate example of this. And the public cannot demand to know more or seek justice because there are no records. How lamentable that not a lesson was learned from history.

by Bae Myung-bok

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