[VIEWPOINT]A modern-day jeonggeo

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[VIEWPOINT]A modern-day jeonggeo

During the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), those who cheated on the state examination were punished by being barred from taking the next examination, which was known as jeonggeo, or the suspension of qualification for the state exam.
According to an entry in “The Chronicles of King Yejong,” which was written on June 11 the first year of his reign, those who entered the examination with a book for cheating purposes were restricted from taking the next two regular state examinations. Since the exam was offered only in designated years ― the years of the rat, horse, rabbit and rooster ― it only came once every three years. Thus, the jeonggeo meant that a cheater could not take the state exam again for six years.
Here is another example. Yu Yang-chun took the civil service state examination together with his uncle Hyon Deuk-ri, and Hyon Deuk-ri passed the exam after copying from Yu’s paper but Yu himself failed the exam. When Yu appealed to King Sejo that it was unfair, the king ordered Yu barred from taking state exams for life for accusing his own uncle, who raised him (“The Chronicles of King Seongjong” on April 23 of the second year of the king’s reign).
As King Seongjong said, “There is no better way to punish a Confucian scholar than imposing jeonggeo” (“The Chronicles of King Seongjong,” June 2 of the third year of the king’s reign). Jeonggeo was a cruel punishment that took away the dreams of scholars. Despite such a severe form of punishment, cheating on the state examination became worse, and by the end of the 19th century, the government could not handle the situation. Yet the state examination continued to take place regardless of such problems. What was the reason?
Aside from the regular examination, the state examination also held irregular examinations such as the national or royal happy event celebration examination, the special examination, the examination in the presence of the king, and many others. Since the irregular state examinations were held continuously whenever the need occurred, they were very frequent.
Those who passed the state exam were all candidates to become bureaucratic officials. They were all supposed to have official positions, but since so many people had passed the exams, only a small number of them were appointed. Many people ended their lives with just holding hongpae, the red wooden certificate that stated they passed the examination, or wasted their lives working at petty, low posts, but the state examinations were still held frequently.
There is no way the government did not know about the problems of the frequent state examinations. Yet the reason they continued to hold the exams frequently was because the purpose of the state examination had shifted from selecting competent people to appeasing the minds of the people for the smooth maintenance of the system. There was no better way to coax the upper classes of the Joseon Dynasty than by holding state examinations.
For example, if the nobility of the Youngnam province was dissatisfied with the administration, the government would hold a special provincial state examination in Youngnam. Even if those who passed the exam couldn’t get an official rank, passing the state examination itself was a guarantee of social status and honor in Joseon society, so noblemen used to devote themselves to the exam. In short, the state examination was a means of maintaining the Joseon Dynasty’s system harmoniously.
It was learned that Korean students taking the College Scholastic Ability Test who enter a test site with cellular phones or MP3 players will be stripped of the qualification to take the same examination next year. It is tantamount to a modern day jeonggeo. But if a strict new jeonggeo system like this is implemented, will it reduce cheating and end all problems with university entrance exams? Not at all!
There is only one reason why students and their parents are so obsessed with the College Scholastic Ability Test, which is the university entrance exam itself. It is because university entrance decides the position and class a person will belong to in our society.
Some people cite examples of the extremely small number of people who did not graduate from a university or from a top-rated school yet were successful, and say that people can “succeed” without a college diploma. But they are the exceptions. Don’t float on the clouds.
Just as the state examination was a way to maintain the aristocratic society of the past, university entrance today is nothing more than a facility to maintain the present social structure of Korea, which has so many problems. If we don’t take drastic measures and come up with counteractive plans, the university entrance problems will continue to exist and cheating will persist. It is not a problem that can be solved by barring people from taking a state exam.

* The writer is a professor of Chinese literature at Pusan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Kang Myung-kwan

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