[FOUNTAIN]Guard history to preserve the real truthThe four massacres of scholars in the Joseon period started over a history dispute. In July 1498, the fourth year of Yeonsangun’s regime, trouble rose among officials as they discussed the publication of the official record of King Seongjong held today at Chunchuwon, the National Institute of Korean History.
The cause of the dispute was writer Kim Il-son’s draft on Lee Geuk-don, the leading figure of the ruling Hungu faction. Mr. Kim had written that Mr. Lee recited Buddhist scriptures, which were banned in the Confucian nation, and had called in female entertainers during a national mourning period. While Mr. Lee demanded this part removed from the official record, Mr. Kim and his Sarim faction colleagues considered the demand under political pressure and persistently resisted.
An all-out political war was brewing. The Hungu faction reviewed Mr. Kim’s records and dug out more controversial information, including the hushed scandals of King Sejo and other royalties, the corruption of Hakjo, a monk and King Sejo’s favorite. The king had also intervened in the dispute between the factions. In the Joseon period, history was solemnly handled. The national archive, where the official records were stored, were guarded by the low born. But the guards had the authority to interrupt anyone, including the king, but King Yeonsangun demanded to see the manuscript. In the 500 years of history of Joseon Dynasty, he was the first and the last one to give such an order. Upon reading the notes, the king was furious that the manuscript dishonored King Sejo. Kim Il-son was called for to face trial.
As King Yeonsangun and Hungu faction officials exploited the incident as an opportunity to weed out the Sarim faction, many members of the Sarim faction were tortured and killed. Chronographers Kim Il-son, Gwon Gyeong-bok and Gwon Gyeong-yu were executed by having their four limbs pulled off.
The lesson from the massacre is clear: Arbitrarily interpreting history with political intensions can lead to tragedy.
Politicians are acutely divided over the recently released records of the Korea-Japan normalization treaty. But if the politicians remember the lesson of the massacred scholars, both sides should not go overboard and try to overpower with hostility.
by Ahn Sung-kyoo
The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.