&#91FOUNTAIN&#93Lords and vassals

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[FOUNTAIN]Lords and vassals

“Vassal” is a term that originated in the feudal era. Lords of manors took care of their underlings and in return those underlings were at the mercy of their lord’s fortunes ― an absolute master-servant relationship.
Chusingura, one of the most famous of the Japanese Kabuki plays, praises the model of vassals. The material for the play comes from an incident that happened in 1701 during the Tokugawa era of Japan.
Forty-seven samurai vassals of a lord who had been driven unjustly to commit hara-kiri, pleaded with the other lords for a year to regain their lord’s honor. Because nobody wanted to hear their appeal, the samurai raided their enemy’s manor and decapitated him. After they presented the head to the soul of their own lord, all of them committed hara-kiri themselves on orders of the shogun, the highest lord of feudal Japan. They showed their loyalty both to their dead lord and to the shogun. The incident was turned into a play nearly the moment it happened, and is still popular in Japan, perhaps because the pathetic situation of the samurai, unconditionally faithful to the mores of the age, still resonates among Japanese.
We can find the most famouse example of vassals in China in a historical incident some 2,300 years ago. Mengchangjun, a warlord of the Warring States period, gathered talented vassals to his service.
He commanded more than 3,000 people in his house. Among them were intellectuals, but some had talents harder to boast about, such as stealing and mimicking the call of a rooster.
But when the lord was captured and held as a hostage, those strange skills contributed greatly to his escape from the rival warlord’s custody. He presented his captor’s concubine with a fox fur overcoat that one of his vassals had stolen from the king’s repository. But after he was released, his captor changed his mind and sent his army after him. He arrived at a border post, but the gate was closed because it was the middle of the night. But his crow mimic sounded some calls to make the guards think that morning had come and open the gate. Chinese still have a folk saying, “a crower and a thief.”
In Korea, with only a short feudal history, vassal politics is still being practiced. Kwon Roh-kap, a loyal supporter of Kim Dae-jung, has been arrested on bribery charges. He proudly described his past as “a beautiful life to prop up another person.”


by Oh Byung-sang

The writer is London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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