[FOUNTAIN]For reform, lessons from King Jeongjo

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[FOUNTAIN]For reform, lessons from King Jeongjo

King Jeongjo is considered the smartest of the Joseon Dynasty rulers. He was a self-proclaimed “gunsa,” or ruler and teacher of the people, and one of the greatest scholars of his time. He was also the first Joseon king to wear glasses, since his love of reading as a boy weakened his eyesight. Along with Sejong, Sejo, Seongjong and Yeongjo, he is referred to as “daewang,” or great king. During the reigns of Yeongjo and Jeongjo, Joseon extended its national power thanks to the development of agriculture and commerce.
The atmosphere in the early days of Jeongjo’s reign was unfavorable. The Noron faction, which had caused the death of his father, Prince Sado, and opposed Jeongjo’s ascension to the throne, was in power at the time. The members of Noron were in constant fear that their past would someday backfire on them.
The extreme factional disputes were also a big burden for the king. He proclaimed that the policy of his predecessor, which distributed positions among the factions, was causing confusion. Instead, he weighed the political opinions of each faction and chose the best option. He named both his followers and opponents to positions, and used the third party to control the power dynamics and maintain balance between the two big factions.
But Jeongjo is also criticized for having provided the reason for the fall of the dynasty. The death of King Jeongjo marked the beginning of “sedo” politics, which gave a certain faction concentrated authority. In his later years, Jeongjo suggested that Kim Jo-sun, his in-law, participate in politics, and allowed the Andong Kim faction to dominate power. King Jeongjo was limited in accepting practical philosophy and using it for reform. The late 18th century was a period of upheaval when the world order was reorganized. However, the Joseon Dynasty began to decline because of sedo politics after the death of Jeongjo.
You Hong-jun, the director of the Cultural Heritage Administration, recently revealed that he had advised President Roh Moo-hyun to learn reform from King Jeongjo. As the participatory government advocates reform, he was afraid that the president might not be aware of the historical lessons of Jeongjo, including his failures, and sent some related books to the president. I wonder what Mr. You believes the president should learn from King Jeongjo.


by Lee Se-jung

The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
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