[FOUNTAIN]Destruction from digging up the pastWhen Queen Inseon, the mother of King Hyeonjong, died in February 1674, the Joseon Dynasty court fell into political turmoil. The point in dispute was how long Queen Mother Jaui, King Injo’s second wife, should wear mourning dress for her daughter-in-law. The political debate over a mourner’s garb might sound laughable by today’s standards, but in the 17th century decorum was as powerful as the Constitution.
The Ceremonies Board initially designated one year of mourning, but the ministers insisted on reducing it to nine months. The ensuing political crisis was called the Second Yesong Dispute by historians, the First Yesong Dispute being over Queen Jaui’s mourning for King Hyojong, her stepson. Yesong means controversy over decorum.
King Hyojong inherited the throne, but he was a younger half brother of Queen Jaui’s son. According to protocol, Queen Jaui had to wear mourning garb for three years for a king’s death, but for only one year for a younger half brother of her son.
Song Si-yeol, one of the most influential ministers, suggested a one-year mourning, but the rival Namin faction demanded three years. King Hyeonjong followed Song’s suggestion, but Song’s comment that King Hyojong was not the legitimate heir to the throne ignited the criticism of the Namin faction, which accused Song of treason. Yun Seon-do, a leader of the Namin faction, appealed directly to the king. The ruling Seoin faction, to which Song belonged, felt threatened and tried to kill Yun. King Hyeonjong sided with the ruling faction and banished Yun.
The Second Yesong Dispute was based on Namin faction’s grudge. Namin members investigated the past wrongdoings of the Seoin, many Seoin members were sent into exile, and the Namin faction seized power.
Historian Lee Deok-il called the disputes the events that shifted Joseon politics from coexistence to massacre. He pointed out that digging up the past and making ideological charges were destructive political practices.
The controversy is similar to today’s disputes over the past. Of course, politicians today have different purposes in digging up the past, but the political parties are equally hostile and brutal. And their disputes do not concern the suffering of average citizens in the economic crisis.
by Ahn Sung-kyoo
The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.