[FOUNTAIN]Brides to briberyBribing the lover of a political leader is hardly a new phenomenon.
In the late Joseon period, Kim Jwa-geun, who served as a premier three times, had a mistress who used the honorific title “Na-hap,” a title normally reserved for state ministers. By bribing Na-hap, anyone could have themselves appointed as a county head at any time. People lined up in front of her residence with expensive gifts to buy high posts.
Lee Deok was the mistress of Seong Jun, the minister of personnel admistration. Aspiring politicians competed to bribe her, so much so that someone stuck a nameplate on the gate of Seong Jun’s house, reading, “Lee Deok, the minister of personnel admistration.”
Kings were no exception. Kim Gae-ddong was a concubine of King Gwanghae-gun. Han Hyo-sun became a state minister after he gave her mountain ginseng roots. Lee Chung was promoted to minister of finance by making her japchae, a noodle dish with mixed vegetables and sliced beef. People were less than impressed with them, labeling the two “ginseng minister” and “japchae minister.”
There is a simple reason why the bribes were given to the mistresses instead of to the men. They needed buffer zone in case the deal was exposed. That way they could feign ignorance ― hey, she’s just a nice girl, right? Bribing a mistress was not seen as a big deal in those days, anyway. These days, mistresses have gone out of fashion, but bribery is as stylish as ever. It’s now the wives who guard the gate, regulating the flow of bribes. Besides the two lawmakers who were disgraced after they were found to have been paid for their party nominations, there are countless cases of bribes taken by wives and handed over to the husbands. It’s an almost pathetic excuse: “I didn’t take the money, my wife did.” But these men are indeed too busy with state affairs to keep an eye on what’s going on at home. Fortunately, they have enough time to keep an eye on themselves.
The mother of Kim Man-jung, a writer during the Joseon dynasty, brought up her kids by weaving. Her son became a high official and one of her granddaughters even became a queen. But she never received any bribes nor tried to use her influence. She never felt ashamed of her poverty, keeping her dignity and pride. While in exile, Kim Man-jung wrote “The Dream of Nine Clouds” to comfort his mother and “The Story of Yoon” to praise her.
Korea’s head honchos must be too busy to read “The Story of Yoon,” so I have just one request: Please don't push your wives to the front. It’s just too obvious, isn’t it?
by Lee Hoon-beom
The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo's weekend news team.