[FOUNTAIN]A worm in the apple boxChinese writer Gaoyang wrote about the cleaver ways to ask for jobs and promotions during the Qing Dynasty in his novel, “Huxueyan.” The official hoping to bribe higher-ups would visit an antique shop in Liuli Chang, a district in Beijing famous for antique dealers. When he explained who he wanted to bribe and how much, the shop owner would recommend a certain painting belonging to the high official. The antique shop owner would later visit the bribe-taker’s home and purchase the painting from the official with the money received from the briber. The customer would get the painting from the shop owner, and then visit the higher official and give the painting as a gift. Everything is legal. Due to the ambiguous nature of the price of art works, a safe transaction is guaranteed. The antiques dealer would receive a customary fee.
While there was not such a standardized system, Korean ancestors also had pay-off deals. The corruption peaked in the late Joseon dynasty. Hwang Hyeon deplored in his book, “Maecheon Yarok,” that all the positions in provincial government posts from ward headman to provincial governor sold for money. He testified that you would have to pay 50,000 Nyang for a county head, 100,000 Nyang for a second-grade provincial governor and twice more for a first-grade provincial governor. Even if you paid, if someone else offered more money, you could be replaced. Some were discharged within a month.
Meanwhile, some government officials would use public offices as bait and demand money for appointments.
There was even a regulation prohibiting officers from visiting higher-ups, unless they were first cousins or closer, to prevent corruption. When someone violated the regulation, he would receive a heavy punishment and could never serve a public post again. The offender would be given a far heavier punishment than someone who actually asked for a favor for the job nomination.
According to the Gyeongguk Daejeon, the basic law in Joseon Dynasty, the regulation became a mere scrap of paper in the end, but was so strictly enforced at the beginning that people complained they could not even express condolences when a higher official passed away.
Another apple box filled with cash emerged. This time, it is a price for a nomination for a mayor's position.
It is just so obvious that the mayor who got the position with an apple box will seek to grab even more as compensation for his apple box. Maybe, it’s time to make a law banning politicians from handling apple boxes or touching the car trunk.
by Lee Hoon-beom
The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo's weekend news team.