Daebak ~Further Reflection on Episode 22
One thing that should be noted now that subs are completed is Daebak doesn’t make clear either whether Yeoninggun poisoned his brother the King. It leaves that mystery up the viewer just as actual history leaves it up to the reader. Is it possible that Yeoninggun poisoned his brother to gain the throne? Certainly. The Lee [Yi] family were infamous for wiping out competitors for the throne. One has only to back at Taejong and the number of brothers he killed to take and keep the throne. The historical record of the Joseon Dynasty is rife with murders, assassinations, and overthrown kings by family members who had a strong claim to the throne, i.e. being male member of that lineage but were not in direct line to attain it. Lest anyone think the Joseon Dynasty was alone in this behavior, I would remind them of Britain and, specifically, the War of the Roses as well as the many wars following the William’s 1066 conquest of England for control of the throne.
But is it likely that Yeoninggun murdered his brother, the King? Probably not. Nevertheless, the writer-nim has taken some dramatic license to potentially, although not directly, indict Yeoninggun as that works better for the plot. It is true that the Sorons, fearing their loss of power, did incite violence by using the rumor that Yeoning poisoned the King. They posted flyers throughout the country, attempting to incite the populace in their favor as they planned their rebellion. They needed the people to be with them to overthrow any local Noron officials along the way towards Hanyang.
Although Injwa makes a big deal about overthrowing the Yi kings for the sake of the common people, the fact is, as is stated obliquely, that his plan seeks revenge (and his vision of justice) for his own and those other Soron families who lost power during Sukjong’s purge of them decades earlier. When his voice-over discusses discusses leading a revolt against a corrupt government, he’s most definitely not talking about the needs, wants or desires of the common people. He’s talking about the deaths and exiles of his and other yangban families who were executed or banished by Sukjong. To him, as is the case in actual history, the plight of the average, common people was irrelevant. What mattered was seeking revenge for the loss of their family power and prestige in a highly structured neo-Confusian society where parentage and birth status meant everything for one’s opportunities in life. In other words, if you weren’t born in the yangban [noble] class, no matter how smart you were, you couldn’t achieve much of anything in that rigid hierarchical structure.
Although Daebak states the rebellion beginnings in Cheongju in south central Joseon, not too far from the capital, it in fact had began in Jeolla Province at Jeonju with the other leaders of the rebellion. Nevertheless. Cheongju became an important location for the furtherance of the rebellion simply because of its central location and the ability of the rebel leaders to mobilize their disparate armies in that location.
Many rebels appear convinced that the rebellion would be led by fifth-columnists who could mobilise powerful military resources for the rebels. Put simply, the rebel organization initiated the rebellion because it believed it had sufficient resources to attack the government. The rebel organization believed it had acquired sufficient resources because the fifth-columnists had come to power, and the fifth-columnists were only in power because of the 1727 Soron restoration.
Perhaps if Yeongjo had not practiced a policy of factional reconciliation, the rebellion may not have taken place. But in fact, the Sorons, although they were brought back to court, feared that their place in politics was only temporary. They had not forgotten the harsh treatment of the Noron faction at their hands during the reign of Gyeongjong and believed that their installation into court politics was only temporary…as well they should have. It is certainly true that Yeongjo grew ever more tired of the Noron demands and sought to use the Sorons to balance the power scales.
In fact, many among the Soron rebels believed not only their return to power was only temporary but that they would soon be ejected again. Having had a taste of power once again, they were not willing to relinquish it. In the end, their lust for permanent power spelled the Soron’s permanent downfall. Not only did the Soron faction lose as a result of Injwa’s Mushin Rebellion, it never regained any power position thereafter. It could even be said that Crown Prince Sado’s demise was in part due to his alignment with the Soron court faction against the reigning Noron faction.
Interestingly, Yeongjo gives Daegil five days to succeed, and although the Soron faction side with Injwa, the Soron faction leaders fear he may lose. They hedge their bets in the drama, just as they did in reality. Nevertheless, the fact that they are Sorons leaves them in suspicion. Regardless, from the time Yeongjo decided to mobilize to the end of the Rebellion was a mere 15 days…under the leadership of the Soron general. General O defeated Injwa’s army south of Suwon near a crossroads. Injwa was captured and taken to Hanyang. Other rebel leaders were killed and beheaded along the way. Their heads were sent to the palace.
One other thing in this episode that needs to be emphasized again is King Yeongjo was very sensitive about his maternal heritage. He loved his mother very much and wrote many poems to her and about her. He spent years trying to attain the status of National Mother for her as other mothers’ of Kings were given (although not necessarily for the concubine mothers of kings…again neo-Confucion status). But because she was not of of the yangban (noble) status but of the cheonmin (lowest) class, he was blocked over and over again.
Nevertheless, whenever anyone was foolish enough to deride his mother as a water maid (one of those persons in the lowest hierarchical structure of Joseon’s neo-Confucian society), he took great offense and dealt with them harshly. After decades of trying, he finally attained his wish and his mother was given the recognition he sought for her…and the proper burial place he wanted. Until that occurred, he was even denied, by the court, from going to her burial place and offering annual rites to her.
Although Yeongjo in his adulthood was very sensible about the origins of his mother, one cannot deny the deep love he had for his birth mother, Choe Suk-bin. His reverence for his mother had no limit. He wrote her many poems and said in one of them, “My father begot me, my mother fed me, led me, bred me, brought me up, reared me, kept her eye on me, tended me, at every turn aided me. Their goods deeds I would requite”. Yeongjo fought at court to have his mother Choe Suk-bin recognized as a public mother, but she was like other concubines—mothers of Kings but regarded as a “private mother of the King”. But Yeongjo wanted to change that and have her as his “public mother”; however, the officials were opposed to making her a public parent as this meant the ministers would have to honor her and gave the King the right to visit her tomb often as a part of his royal ceremonies.
During the time he was fighting this, there are two interesting accounts of his feelings about this situation. In 1739, the day before the scheduled visit to Choe Suk-bin’s tomb, dissatisfied with the protocols that the Board of Rites had drawn up, he censured two officials who were directly responsible for them. The Sillok explains the measure, “The King respectfully served his private parent [Choe Suk-bin], but he suspected that the officials were unwilling to comply with his desire. Thus, on each occasion sudden clashes erupted, inevitably followed by a distressing royal declamation.” On another occasion, the King was leaving her tomb for the Palace. About to mount the palanquin, he instead summoned the Minister of Military Affairs, Kim Songung. Breaking into sobs, he said, “Since 1737, this was the first time I came to pay respect to my mother. For those years, my heart has been filled with sadness. When children fall down, they automatically call out for their mother. This is human nature. At the time of divination, if there is no person offering earth, how can there be a divination? I have sent down orders [to make his birth mother a public or legal mother], but the bureaus in charge have ignored them. True, the ruler is not allowed to have private concerns, but it is wrong to lose trust [in his officials]. The elite scholars of today are just too cold-hearted. Those elite scholars must also have parents. They could not have fallen from Heaven or sprung from earth.” In the end, he got what he wanted and Choe Suk-bin was made Yeongjo’s public mother.
So, when Yeongjo sentences the Daegum of the Sorons to death, he’s not only sentencing him for attempted assassination and disloyalty, he’s sentencing him for disloyalty and insults to his mother as well as towards himself. Additionally, Yeongjo’s birth status as the son of a water maid is the leading reason why Prince Mal-wha, aka Poon Mile Goon, choose to join Injwa’s Rebellion. It’s also part of the excuse the Dowager Queen Seonui uses when she joins hands with Injwa.
Even though I argued with myself over which subject to put first, in the end Injwa’s Mushin Rebellion and Yeongjo’s birth status as the son of a former water maid are inseparable. Towards the end of Yeongjo’s reign, a leading Joseon scholar wrote that Joseon’s neo-Confucian philosophy was corruption of Confucius’ philosophy and unjust largely because of the extreme focus on parentage, birth status, and one’s birth ranking in the nation’s hierarchy.
For more complete information on Injwa’s Mushin Rebellion:
– google books – http://bit.ly/1U6NWsD