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[Audio Books]Ep. 11 - A Forbidden Land: Voyages to the Corea, Part 11

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


Part 11

 

All these officers, from the provincial governor downwards to the lowest, are appointed to their respective posts, however, only for a term of two years. And it is rarely prolonged for another year. Such prolonging would hardly do any good for the prosperity of the country and to the good management of public business. At the expiration of this period a purchase-money, varying in amount according to the value and importance of the appointment, has to be paid by each, and they are removed to some other place. In consequence of this continual changing from place to place the officers never have sufficient time to become properly acquainted with the character of the different communities to which they are nominated; they take no interest in the welfare of the people under their charge, and their only object is to repay themselves during the short term of office allowed to them, and as fast as they can, by all sorts of unlawful and extortionate means. That the people are made to suffer doubly by this baneful system appears to be a matter of no importance; while the Government, on the other hand, gains the two objects it has in view – to fill its national treasury by the frequent sale of places, and to prevent any approach between the population and the local authorities. Every high functionary is bound to report twice a year to the king direct upon the officers under his orders, and their services are disposed of according to the nature of such report. The theme behind this reporting system is made dependent on the bribe which the reporter is able to squeeze out of his lower-rankers.

 

The establishment of this system of control dates far back, but it appears that the Central Government had reason to doubt, even then, the integrity of the authorities charged with the supervision of the minor official body. So, the Central Government tried to come up with ways to prevent malpractices; such as, by appointing special officers whose sole duty and business was to watch over the behavior of functionaries of all grades.

 

The Japanese work “Tschosian Monogatari” gives the following account of the duties of their office: -- “An officer is sent over each district, whose title is ‘Soon-chal-sa,’ the Wandring Inspector. He keeps a watchful eye over the conduct of the Governor and all his lower officers, and reports thereupon. He is assisted by police agents of various ranks. These wandering inspectors are under the authority of the ‘Do-soon-chal-sa,’ the Inspector-General of the circuit of the capital, and all again are under the control and orders of the ‘Soon-chal-gam-sa’ or Chief Court Spy. This secret police renders good service to the people as well as to Government. These Wandering Inspectors had liberty to speak their mind without reserve and without regard to persons, and were free to report the conduct of anyone at court they think fit to object to. These court spies were a direct bridge between the people and the sovereign. They were in a position to do good and efficient service in a country where rank and station are so highly valued that craving for power of the nobles and of the upper classes often prevented the prince’s listening to the wants and to the just wishes of the people at large.”

 

For the better understanding of this Japanese account it must however be observed that it was written nearly two hundred years ago. So, the statement, at the time may have contained a perfectly correct and truthful version of affairs, does unfortunately no longer apply to the present times, and belongs to a period long since past and forgotten. It is, indeed, asserted by the Coreans – and there is no reason to doubt or to discredit this assertion—that this body performed its duty well for a time, and that its action had a very beneficial effect. A secret agent was dispatched from time to time into the provinces to take personal cognizance of the bearing of the provincial and local authorities, to report upon abuses and malpractices in the conduct of public affairs. The authors of any such misdeeds were called to account and brought to just punishment. A salutary check was kept in this manner upon the actions of all officers, the peace and security of the population was promoted, and it is said that the country never enjoyed a greater season of prosperity than in those times. The chronicle above referred to omits to mention several rather important points connected with the duty of these so-called wandering inspectors. They were allowed only to travel incognito and on foot; They had orders to proceed with the greatest caution and circumspection; and they were provided with powers so extensive, that in urgent cases they were placed in a position to call to account, and even dismiss any offender guilty of illegal practices and misdemeanor. The existence of this board of superintendence was of course known everywhere, but nobody was personally acquainted with its members. The undercover inspectors not only changed their sphere of action continually, but appeared suddenly, and in all sorts of unexpected disguises, and were thus enabled to discharge their duties in a secret and a very effective manner.


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