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[Audio Books]Ep. 10 - A Forbidden Land: Voyages to the Corea, Part 10

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A Forbidden Land: Voyages to the Corea
by Ernest Oppert
New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1880


Part 10

 

 

According to a tradition that is still held in the country, a special secret treaty is said to have been concluded at that time. It apparently included a clause that three Corean provinces were to be handed over to the Chinese emperor, when he loses his own throne. At present it is not important whether such a treaty really has been in existence or not and whether this clause was meant to apply to the then reigning emperor only, or also to his successors. As this information has been collected from, and been confirmed by highly reliable native sources, it is probable that such an agreement was actually entered into by the Government of Corea, and that its provision was likely to extend to the successors also; but having been forced upon the former when completely at the mercy of their ally, it may reasonably be doubted that the Coreans ever seriously intended to carry it out. This view is fully corroborated by the fact that nothing of the kind took place when the Ming dynasty (or Myeong dynasty) was shortly after kicked out by the Tartars, the race from Eastern Europe, from current Russia.

The rule of the king of Corea is absolute, and his will alone is law. There exists, indeed, the office a high functionary whose special duty consists in watching and controlling royal actions. Formerly this office really had some significance; at present it possesses none whatever. Another very curious “institution,” quite peculiar to the country, is that of “declared or official favorite,” a position generally filled by some male member of a noble family, or by one of the ministers, whose influence for good or for evil is paramount with his royal master. This office, however, is more frequently filled by a brother or some other near relation of the queen, who has been particularly successful in obtaining the royal favour by ministering to the more or less noble passions of the king. The Coreans are so much used to this institution, which they consider to be both natural and necessary, that a king without an acknowledged and “official” favorite would appear to them to become almost impossible. It is noteworthy that the present king of Corea was adopted, when he was only 3 or 4 years old by the queen-dowager in 1864 after the death of the old king, who died without issue, and as the last of the Ni dynasty. It is a fact as absurd as it may sound, that great excitement was caused by the marriage of the present king with the daughter of a widow without any children or other near relations. The public almost went into riots merely for the reason that the people were at a loss to know how the place of favorite was to be filled up. To understand the reason for this excitement in this special case, it must be explained that the marriage was planned and brought about by the boy’s father, who had managed to keep the king’s sovereign power under his control against public will. The father of the king had intentionally chosen a wife without any family connection for his son because he did not want any favorite to be chosen whose influence might be greater than his own. He was afraid to be kicked out in the management of state affairs or lose his control over the person of the king.

The council of state consists of three first-class members, who compose the privy council, and of six members of the second class, forming the ministry, which is subordinate in authority to the first. The titles of the privy councilors are –
1. Lien-wi-tsen, (or Yeong-eui-jeong 영의정) Chief of the just government.
2. Tosa-wi-tsen, (or Chwa-eui-jeong 좌의정) The just governor of the left.
3. U-wi-tsen, (or Woo-eui-jeong 우의정) The just governor of the right.
Their duty consists in supervising the ministers and the functionaries attached to their offices, and also to control the general government of the country.

The management of all government affairs rests with the six ministers - the minister of the interior, of the finances, of war, of education, of punishments (or justice), and of public works. A minister of foreign affairs is not appointed because the duty is shared by the minister of education. The eight provinces are under the rule of governors, with the title of Kam-sa, who reside in their respective provincial capital. Each province is divided into circuits, the rank of the chief official varying according to its extent and importance, and the circuits are again subdivided into districts, the officers in charge of which have to look after the collecting of taxes, to maintain public order, and to supervise the government magazines and storehouses. The last administrative units, districts, are placed under the direct jurisdiction of the provincial governor, to whom they have to report on all matters connected with their office. Subordinate to the district officials are the local authorities, the magistrates, inspectors, and elders of the smaller towns and places. 

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