[FOUNTAIN]Political pandemoniumAround this time of the year, the word nanjangpan, meaning “pandemonium,” makes frequent appearances in newspapers. While people often think nanjeon, the illegal market in the Joseon period, is the origin of the word, it is actually derived from nanjang, the court where scholars took civil service examinations. It might sound absurd that the place where nobles took the sacred examination was the origin of pandemonium but Park Je-ga, a pragmatic scholar of the late Joseon period, explained the phenomenon in his book, “Bukhakeui.”
“Pandemonium is bound to break out in the court where the civil service exam is held because the applicants have increased by over 100 times. With even fighters and merchants applying, some shed blood or are crushed to death.”
In the 24th year of King Jeongjo’s reign, 100,000 scholars applied and 30,000 of them submitted exam papers. A large part of the 70,000 that gave up were actually not interested in the exam itself. A painter from the period, Jang Han-jong, wrote about them in “Eususinhwa.”
A scholar from the countryside was worried about the travel expense to take the civil service examination. His servant told him, “Whenever the examination is held, your living suffers because of the expense. This year, I will go by myself.” The scholar said, “How can you do what the nobles do?” The servant responded, “Even the lowly like me can manage to idle away the examination time then throw the exam paper off the bridge.”
Nanjang seems to be very much like the nanjangpan in the newspapers. It becomes clearer if we look at the origin of asaripan, which has a similar meaning. There are two theories for the word’s origin. The first: Asari is derived from acrya, a Sanskrit word for a high Buddhist priest who teaches and guides pupils. Asaripan would then mean the debating arena of knowledgeable and experienced priests. Venerable priests could have a heated discussion but it is doubtful the debate would develop into nanjangpan.
Another more plausible theory is that at-eul-I ― literally, someone who steals, changed into asari. The lawless state with rampant snatchers is asaripan.
We know of such an asaripan. It is the political battlefield. Without question, the National Assembly turned into nanjangpan this year. It became an asaripan with people trying to wrest something from one another. Should we rather call it topsy-turvy gaepan? Well, let’s save that for last. According to Baek Gi-wan’s “Jangsangotmae Stories,” gaepan is “the final stage where you lose your life after sucking out people’s blood, life and love.”
by Lee Hoon-beom
The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s weekend news team.