[FOUNTAIN]Cheating has long, ignoble history here

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[FOUNTAIN]Cheating has long, ignoble history here

In the 24th year of King Jeongjo’s reign, 1800, the preliminary round of the civil service examination was held on March 21. Nearly 112,000 applicants took the test. The next day, 103,579 Confucian scholars took a separate examination for those educated at Seonggyungwan, a national institute. For two days, 210,000 scholars assembled to compete for public jobs. The population of the capital, called Hanyang at the time, was about 300,000. If the exam was held today, two-thirds of Seoul’s population would be assembled.
In the 15th year of King Yeongjo, 1739, about 17,000 people sat for another public service test. Only 61 years later, the number of applicants had exploded to five times as many. According to Lee Ik, the author of “Seonghosaseol,” there were about 500 positions to be filled. How far you rose in the government was the norm of success during the Joseon period.
As the population grew and the aristocratic order collapsed in the last days of the dynasty, more people wanted a government career and applied to take the exam. The heated competition meant temptation for dishonesty. A classic method of cheating was to smuggle a book into the test site. During Gwanghaegun’s reign, Lee Su-gwang wrote in his “Jibongyuseol” that so many people openly brought in books to the examination that the test site looked like a bookstore.
Lee Ik also said that the ban on carrying books into the test site has crumbled, and less than 10 percent of the test takers wrote the examination without help.
The recent cheating scheme in the College Scholastic Ability Test using cell phones and text messaging is essentially the same behavior. Passing a set of answers from outside to test takers first appeared during the reign of King Sukjong. In a village near Sunggyungwan, a woman discovered a rope buried in the ground. She pulled the rope and found a string of hollow bamboo tubes running over the institute’s wall. When a test taker sent out the examination questions, the accomplice answered them and returned the tube. There is nothing new under the sun.
A Joseon-era realist, Park Je-ga, lamented in his “Bukhakui” that the scholars were behaving like robbers and acting as if they were on a battlefield in a place where they should be humble and honest.


by Ahn Sung-kyoo

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