A history of bold appeals

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A history of bold appeals

The author is the head of the financial planning teamof the JoongAng Ilbo.

The manuscript of an appeal from a family in Chungcheong was released to the media in December 1972. The appeal was written by Chowol, a 15-year-old gisaeng — the Korean equivalent of geisha — in Pyongyang in 1846 during the reign of King Heonjong, during the late Joseon Dynasty.

The 20,000-word appeal was unreserved. “The court is filled with thieves with friendly faces who confuse the state administration, and vassals become robbers, and subjects are in despair.” She also condemned the king, saying “The king drinks until late at night and cannot keep the balance.” She also listed instances of corruption by high-level officials, designating them by their real names, “I am disclosing the conduct of the three prime ministers, six ministers and other civil and military officials to the lowest government officials.”

When the content of the appeal was reported by the media, the intelligence agency visited the owner of the copy of the appeal and demanded he hand it over. Why did the spy agency try to acquire the appeal by a plain courtesan from the Joseon Dynasty?

Because its content was so harsh that it seemed to be criticizing the Park Chung Hee regime, not just the Joseon court. In October 1972, the government declared emergency martial law to establish the October Yushin (Restoration) system, and enforced the Yushin Constitution in December.

Harsh appeals written by ordinary citizens often appealed to the hearts of the people. In 1992, before the presidential election, a bank branch manager in his 50s published a book titled “Shinmungo: An appeal to the Seventh Republic,” a compilation of 80-point appeals. In 2000, an incumbent civil servant in his 30s published a post on the Blue House website titled “New Danseongso.” Danseongso refers to the resignation letter written by renowned scholar Cho Sik (1501-72) during the reign of King Myeongjo during the Joseon Dynasty. In the appeal mimicking Danseongso, the civil servant harshly censured President Kim Dae-jung. “You are an old man in the deep palace surrounded by curtains and blocked from outside news,” he wrote.

The post on the Blue House petition site also created a stir, and led to satires and parodies. I am interested in how the Blue House would have responded to the petition.

The old format of an appeal is still valid — not simply because of the author’s outstanding writing skills. Famous appeals in the Joseon Dynasty were also bold; the authors risked their lives to speak out against the king. The art of scholarly argument may still be valid today.
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