Daebak ~ Daegil and Park Mun Su Speculation
Since the airing of episode 18, some viewers speculate that Daegil will evolve into the legendary Park Mun Su, the famous undercover inspector (amhaeng-eosa) for King Yeongjo. It’s possible…after all this is dramaland.
A Little History Please ~
The life of an undercover – or secret – inspector was far from easy. Generally, young officials (usually in their thirties) of low or middle rank were appointed as secret royal inspectors because they had to travel long distances for an extended period of time. Young officials also were more likely to have a strong sense of justice and were less likely to have personal connection with local officials. Even though the secret royal inspector position was temporary (and young men of lower rank were appointed to it), its authority was equivalent to a governor (highest-ranking local official) and had the power to dismiss local officials including governor in the name of the king.
So, who actually were the amhaeng-eosa in the Joseon Kingdom? Generally, they were young, incorruptible officials who were recommended for amhaeng-eosa by retainers and appointed directly by the king, though their positions were not as high a rank as people may think. For their secret missions, they received a letter of appointment or “bongseo” from the king, and a description of their destination for surveillance was written in the letter. The appointed officials were basically required to leave as soon as they received their missions. They were sent to local provinces to punish corrupt officials and comfort the sufferings of people while traveling incognito. The amhaeng-eosa system was one of the most excellent inspection systems in the world, the likes of which is very unique and hard to find in other countries.
For their secret mission, besides receiving a letter of appointment (bongseo) and a description of their destination and mission (samok), they were given a “horse requisition tablet” called mapae, which they used to requisite horses and men from a local station run by the central government. Mapae was a symbol of the secret royal inspector. There were horses carved on the mapae, meaning the inspectors could commandeer as many horses as were carved on the mapae. The mapae was used not only to ask for horses but also to prove identity. Whenever the inspector made an appearance, a team of royal inspectors reportedly exclaimed, “Now entering, the secret royal inspector,” presenting the mapae in hand. The mapae was used as a stamp of the inspector.
To ensure secrecy of the mission, a secret royal inspector could open bongseo only after leaving the capital. When they arrived at the assigned district, they surveyed the area in disguise. After the secret surveillance was completed, they revealed themselves by presenting mapae or bongseo and inspected the magistrate’s office and records. If they found cases that were unjustly judged, they presided on retrials to redress wrongs. After the completion of their mission, inspectors presented reports to the king called “seogye” and “byuldan.” In seogye, rights and wrongs committed by former and active local officials were written in detail, and the byuldan included indictments of the province that they inspected, the mood of the populace and virtuous villagers for awards. The Joseon Kingdom took actions based on the reports of the inspectors, for instance, taking disciplinary measures against corrupt local officials and conferring awards on virtuous women and exemplary sons.
However, the mission of a secret royal inspector was not an easy job. Although they were the rigorous royal inspectors who even terrified tyrannical officials, they faced many challenges. They traveled wearing ragged robes, broken hats, and with little money. Sometimes they had to sleep in old inns, were exposed to danger, or even got mysteriously killed while performing surveillance and concealing their identity. As a matter of conscience, a large number of inspectors chose to share the suffering, joy and sorrow of the people by travelling in rags instead of donning official uniforms.
The secret inspector system was very effective in reducing corruption in provinces, but it also had many problems. According to one account, the survival rate of secret royal inspector was only 30%. Sometimes they fell victim to wild animals, bandits, or assassins sent by a corrupt official. In addition, secret royal inspectors had to pay expenses for the mission out of their pockets. Therefore, a secret royal inspector sometimes had to pose as a beggar more out of necessity than for sake of secrecy. After Sukjong’s reign, the secret royal inspector system was also abused as a weapon in factional fighting.
Since the Middle Joseon period, about 670 secret royal inspectors went into action. Jo Gwang-jo, Yi Hwang Jeong, Yak-yong Yi Sibal (during Seonjo‘s reign), Yi Geon-chang (during Gojong‘s reign) and especially Park Mun-su (during Yeongjo‘s reign) are famous for their work as secret royal inspector. Secret royal inspectors were a popular subject for fiction in both Joseon period and modern times. Many legends about Park Mun-su as the avenger for the people exploited by corrupt officials have passed down through folk tales (There are 300 such stories). The exploits of secret royal inspector were featured in the popular Joseon-era novel, Chunhyangjeon.
Of the secret royal inspectors of the Joseon era, Park Mun-su (during KingYeongjo’s reign) is considered to be the most famous figure. He had a lot of administrative experience and was thoughtful and caring about the lives of ordinary people, so he insisted that the government help people starving from famine and make a national effort to encourage old maids to marry. It is obvious that such a person must have left a strong impression on the people when serving as righteous a judge and secret royal inspector.
The Real Park Mun Su ~
The real Park Mun Su was born in 1691 to a misfortunate family: his father and grandfather both passed away while he was still a child. Nevertheless, through diligent study, he passed the government exams and began his career as a government scribe in 1723. He was promoted a year later but was soon laid off, the scapegoat of a political feud.
After entering government service, he developed a special relationship with King Youngjo and earned great merit in putting down Yi In-jwa’s rebellion, although I have yet to discover what he did to put down the rebellion. Regardless, it seems that Park Mun Su was a person with a strong will and character who had always wanted to serve the public. In that regard, he was a very attractive figure and was very much trusted by king Yeongjo. Yet at the same time, he was not much of an academician, and he had a short temper. Thus, when King Yeongjo carried out a court-wide reform in 1727 to bring political sects under control, he reinstated Park Min Su. Their relationship continued until he died in 1756.
Having noticed Park’s integrity and sound political views, the king sent him to the Yeongnam area (Gyeongsang Province) as his secret inspector. Up until March of 1728, Park traveled all over the southeastern part of the country to investigate the wrongdoings of local officials and dismiss them if found guilty. He also returned the illegally seized assets to their rightful owners and appointed qualified and respected figures to fill the vacant posts. His righteous actions against the powerful made him a folk hero among the ordinary people.
Park was again dispatched in King Yeongjo’s seventh year to investigate the famine and ensuing unrest in the southern regions. He gave away his personal belongings and riches to the poor and reported the dire situation back to the king. When he was touring the Gyeongsang region in southeast, he saw lumber and homes floating in the sea and realized that a big flood had swept the northern region. He ordered that 3,000 seoks (480,000 kilograms) of grain be immediately shipped to Hamgyeong Province in the north to relieve post-flood famine.
In addition to his post as undercover inspector, Park served in many different government capacities, such as defense minister, justice minister, and Gyeongsang Province governor. In 1749 Minister Park Mun Su wrote a rulebook that set the regulation for the finance uses of the palace and central offices to reduce royal expenses. The book set standards to reduce the goods from different provinces that were offered to the king, to different palace buildings, to the crown prince, princesses, and so on. It was published to correct the financial system of that time which was rife with corruption.
Records show, however, that he served as secret inspector only four times – in 1727, 1731, 1741, and 1750. But what he did to remedy the hopeless situations of the poor and stand up to high-ranking government officials to correct social injustice gave rise to numerous legends and a classical fiction named “The Story of Eosa Park Mun-su.” Understandably, these folklores, which number about 210, paint a grander picture of Park as a secret inspector appearing all over the country and carrying out superhero-like deeds.
But there is reason for Park’s undying fame as the most righteous official of Joseon even after his death. That’s because he showed what a public servant should be, by unrelentingly standing up against the powerful and sincerely looking after the interests of the poor. Moreover, during his thirty years in office, he showed unique political traits for that era. He did not focus on theories or parties but instead showed excellent abilities for actual work, with a broad perspective.
After he died, official commemorative projects for him were poor. Intellectuals out of office and the general public have written and handed on many stories. As a result, most of the stories about Park Mun-su written later were based on his achievements and disposition. The public has accepted his down-to-earth personality with an affinity, and has described him as a witty character. The public has also projects their wishes into his administrative abilities, and has created his image as a salvager. There is a broad contact between history and folklore. The historical facts have provided dynamics for handing on folklore. Folklore has not stopped making efforts to participate in history.
Baek Daegil as Pak Mun Su ~
Given the development of Daegil’s character over the last several episodes, with his now chosen desire to work for the people and his vow to protect Yeoninggun, it’s more than possible Daebak’s writer chose Park Mun Su as Daegil’s role model. Moreover, as seen in the first episode, Daegil throws off the silken robes of a noble and wears the simple robes and broken hats of the peasantry. So, it is possible that Daegil’s identity could change one more time to become Park Mun-su. Having Daegil evolve into Pak Mun Su would be nice resolution for the two brothers, and especially for their never-ending fight against political and governmental corruption that had been so pervasive for generations upon generations.