[FOUNTAIN]Those Who Dare Speak the Truth

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[FOUNTAIN]Those Who Dare Speak the Truth

Historians say the Eastern Han dynasty (22-220) in China collapsed due to the abuse of power of the court eunuchs. But looking closer at history, it seems more to me that it fell because it blocked freedom of speech. During the reign of Emperor Ling at the end of the dynasty, the 12 highest eunuchs, collectively called the "Ten Regular Attendants," abused their power so much that they caused social unrest. In 184, when the scholar Zhang Jue incited an insurrection by his followers, the Yellow Scarves, the emperor relied on counsel from his subordinates to quell the unrest.

A court counselor called Lui Tao stood up and said peace would return only when the kingdom was ridden of the corrupted eunuchs. One of the eunuchs, Zhao Zhong, countered by saying that Liu Tao was trying to oust the emperor. Liu Tao killed himself, and his whole family was exterminated.

Another royal subordinate, Regent-Marshal Dou Wu, blamed the eunuchs for the unrest. Zhang Rang, the head eunuchs, falsely claimed Dou was a relative of the author of the insurgence, Zhang Jue, and Dou was executed.

A third royal subordinate again told the emperor that the eunuchs were the cause of the rebellions and insisted that the eunuchs be beheaded and their heads displayed on the South gate. In return, the eunuch leaders Zhang Rang and Zhao Zhong falsely accused the man of attempting to kill the loyal servants to help Zhang Jue, who happened to share the same surname. The brave subordinate was attached to four carriages and torn limb from limb.

The emperor ordered another subordinate to quell the rebellion but, again, he insisted that the eunuchs must go first. The emperor again ignored his pleas.

In the following year, the rebellion was subdued but the kingdom's subjects suffered a famine. A member of the royal family told the emperor the eunuchs' actions were imperiling the kingdom. The eunuchs scoffed that he did not know the real situation nationwide because he was not living in the capital. The emperor sent him to prison. The bold subordinate died lamenting the emperor's foolishness. He was the last one who tried to stand up against the eunuchs. After his death, the eunuchs built up their power - and then tried to dispatch the emperor. After the event, the Eastern Han's power ebbed and finally collapsed in the turbulent days described in "San Kuo Chih Yen-I," or the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms." Power unrestrained by criticism or challenges ends up in dogmatism. We are not living in a monarchy any more. This is a democratic society. We need tongues to speak the bitter truth. We resent those who try to label critical newspapers as immoral.

The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Chae In-taek

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