Black Corporation: Joseon - Chapter 10
Chapter 10 — Sprout…. Sprout of Cancer? (3)
When the ‘tender briefing of the golden brush’ ended, the merchants left the Ministry of Taxation one by one. Just before he passed the gate of the Ministry of Taxation, an oldish merchant started a conversation with an official.
“Excuse me, My Lord.”
“What is it?”
“How old is His Royal Highness the Crown Prince this year?”
“It is eight.”
As the merchant couldn’t hide his surprised expression, the young official of the Ministry of Taxation talked with a voice filled with pride.
“He is an amazing person. The reigning His Majesty the King is not an ordinary person, and even His Royal Highness the Crown Prince is also very brilliant. This is such a great fortune for our Joseon.”
After the merchant said goodbye courteously to the official, suddenly a raging fire burned inside him.
“Someone’s child is that polite at eight years old! But, my grandchild is, hah!”
At the same time, East Palace.
Hyang, who had come back to his room, was talking face to face with a man. The man was the one who had been kicked out by the officials earlier.
“Good work, Eunuch Jo.”
“It’s nothing, Your Royal Highness. But, do you really have to do this?”
“I have no other choice since I am too young.”
Eunuch Jo thought over Hyang’s age and nodded. Then he rose from his seat and spoke courteously.
“I will go back to change my clothes.”
“You’ve worked hard.”
* * *
As the production of the golden brush made by Hyang came under private management, the golden brush spread across the nation. While the golden brush became a one-time hit, an unusual scene began to happen.
At a noble house in Naju, Jeolla Province.
An old nobleman was waiting for someone in the big living room of a large tile-roofed house that looked at least 40 units.(1)
Not long after, a peddler with a rather big wood crate in his shoulder entered the yard. The peddler put off the crate in the ground, then bowed to the nobleman.
“My Lord, are you looking for me?”
“That’s right, I summoned you. Do you bring the golden brush?”
“I brought it this time.”
When the nobleman rejoiced, the peddler laid out a piece of cloth in the yard, then took out a luxurious nacre box from the crate and carefully put it on the cloth.
After putting down the nacre box, the peddler bowed down to the box, then stepped up to the big living room where the nobleman sat while holding the box carefully. When the peddler put down the nacre box on the table, the nobleman made an exclamation.
“O-Oh! This is!”
When the thrilled nobleman reached out his hand, the peddler immediately stopped him.
“My Lord! You should pay your respect.”
At the peddler’s comment, the nobleman quickly tidying up his clothes then politely bowed in front of the box.
“The grace of His Majesty the King is so deep that he has given me such a precious item. His grace is immeasurable.”
The nobleman carefully opened the box after expressing his gratitude to the King.
There were ten shiny pen barrels with lacquer and golden pen nibs inside the box that was covered with soft silk inside.
The silk that covered the ceiling of the box and the pen nib was clearly stamped with plum flower patterns.
“You put the golden brush to the barrel….”
While listening to the peddler’s explanation, the nobleman fixed the nib to the barrel, then dipped it in the ink that had been grounded nicely, and wrote in the paper.
He wrote a phrase from his favorite scripture in one stroke. The nobleman then exclaimed.
“This is really a precious item.”
* * *
Because the golden brush had become a big hit, smiles never left the face of the Minister of Taxation.
“The budget, the budget is increasing!”
It wasn’t only the Minister of Taxation that couldn’t stop smiling. The officials of the Ministry of Taxation also couldn’t erase the smile from their faces.
Since the day Joseon was founded, no, since the end of the Goryeo Dynasty, the national budget had never been in an abundant state—not even once.
When Joseon was founded, the royal family reduced their salary to 1/6 and the government officials to 1/4, but the budget was still insufficient.
In this kind of situation, the profits that came from selling the golden brush were a very welcomed thing.
In reality, it was an insignificant amount, just like ‘pee in your pants for warmth in the winter’, but it was inevitably good to see that the court was able to expand its scope little by little in the process of running state affairs.
If there was one positive influence, it was that King Sejong and his retainers began to pay attention to the positive effects of trading.
However, negative movements began to happen behind the scenes.
“How come the court became a place to do business….”
“You’re right. His Majesty the King and the courtiers are showing too much favor to the business done by the low people.”
“The lowest in the society are the merchants. They are part of the commoners, but they are not different from those low people! At this rate, we will follow the evil practices of the former dynasty!”(2)
The Orthodox Neo-Confucian scholars, who were dissatisfied with how King Sejong and the retainers became interested in the funds that came from selling the golden brush, began to complain. And those dissatisfied people turned their swords to Crown Prince Hyang.
“In the first place, the one who started this was His Royal Highness the Crown Prince.”
“A young person already fell down the wrong path…. This is the fault of those in charge of the Crown Prince’s discipline!”
“His Majesty the King is also a problem. No matter how brilliant the Crown Prince is, how could he let a young child recklessly settle an important matter! This is something that must be corrected!”
“I also think that we must pay more attention to His Royal Highness’ education! He should read more even if it’s only one letter of sage’s words and keep it in his heart. How could he do a mere play when there is not enough time to make this Joseon the center of the world! This is something that shouldn’t happen!”
“We need to file an appeal right now!”
When those discontent factions tried to file their complaints, an unexpected thing held them back.
It was the death of King Taejong.
May 10th, 4th year of Sejong reign(1422), King Taejong died at age 56 years.
During King Taejong’s funeral, the inquiry was suspended for 10 days and the trade for 5 days.
The national affairs were continued, but because it was during King Taejong’s funeral, the controversial appeal could not be filed.
“Let’s wait for the next chance.”
“I think we have no choice.”
The people who filed a petition had no choice but to aim for the next chance.
Without knowing that kind of thing was happening under the surface, Hyang was immersed in reading during King Taejong’s funeral.
“Hm… Can this be translated like this?”
Hyang had opened several books at the same time before meticulously comparing them.
The books which Hyang was looking at were books from Europe that entered China and their Chinese translation.
* * *
Just before the envoys left for China, Hyang summoned the envoys’ leader.
“Your Royal Highness, did you call for me?”
“I did. I’m sorry to call you when you’re busy preparing for the trip.”
“It’s fine, Your Royal Highness.”
After such a light conversation, Hyang immediately brought up the main point.
“I’d like to ask you a favor.”
“That’s right. If you’re going to Beijing this time, please get me some books.”
“Books…. What kind of scripture would you like me to bring?”
“It’s not scripture but miscellaneous books. Miscellaneous books related to medical technique and… Ah! Do you know about the people who live in the west?”(3)
“People who live in the west…. Are you talking about foreigners?”(4)
“That’s right. Please find me books about their laws or technologies. Whether it is the translation or original copy.”
“Why do you want the barbarians’ books….”
When the envoy leader drew out a reluctant expression, Hyang explained the reason.
“It is called Saimhengpilyuasa.(5) There is also a saying called Tasanjiseok gai-gongok.(6) If it helps me to straighten myself up and run my country, even though it is barbarians’ things, how can I not learn from it?”
The envoy leader shut his mouth at Hyang’s explanation.
If the one in front of his eyes was a mediocre prince, he would warn him ‘in this time, please read the scriptures first’. But the one in front of his eyes was a more frightening genius than his father that was acknowledged by the ministers.
The Crown Prince was someone who finished the Four Books and Three Classics even before he reached 6, and when he was 7, he finished the Thirteen Classics.(7)
Even at such a young age, he didn’t sleep more than 6 hours and fiercely learned the scriptures. By the time he was installed as the Crown Prince, he even discussed policies with the officials from the Crown Prince Education Office.
Because of this, some of the young officials who liked to be straightforward had even said the following.
[If the crown prince is a little bigger and finds out what’s going on outside the palace, the court will be turned upside down.]
Because of that, the envoy leader could only bow his head as he said the following.
“I will carry out Your Royal Highness’ order with all my heart.”
“Please do so.”
After that, Hyang asked a similar favor whenever the envoys went to Beijing. Of course, after the first time, he even made a list and handed it over.
“I already have the books in this list, so please find me the other books.”
“…. I understand, Your Royal Highness.”
Thanks to that, the envoys had to work hard to find the books. It was because even though Europeans and Arabs had entered China since the Yuan Dynasty, their books were something that wasn’t common.
* * *
“This will solve the reference problem.”
Hyang smiled as he looked at the bookshelves made on one side of the room, which was three-quarters full.
While confirming the industrial technology of Joseon during King Sejong’s period, more and more ideas were available for Hyang to apply.
“The problem is that if I come up with all of these, there are a lot of people who will look at me with prejudiced eyes. Not to mention the medical field, in this case, it’s better to give a reference.”
Before he came to this conclusion, Hyang had obtained not only Chinese books but also European books that had been introduced to China through envoys to Beijing.
Through the envoys, Hyang had collected books from Europe late of Middle Age and the early Renaissance and also books from the Middle East. He also had collected the Chinese translation of those books and began to read them meticulously.
“I need to know roughly what’s in which book. So I can make it plausible when I talk about it later. Isn’t there’s saying that you need to know to trick?”
The reason Hyang thought of this was because of the hardships he had to go through when he offered the golden brush to the King.
“This is indeed a good item, but how did you come to think about this?”
Hyang quickly answered King Sejong’s question.
“It was because I saw something unusual in the process of applying ink to the brush.”
“I saw the ink rising between the brush hairs. The thing called water is supposed to move from the top to bottom, but this one contradicts it, so how can I find it not to be amusing? About this….”
Hyang made a plausible reason why he made the golden brush and talked about it.
After hearing the explanation, Sejong slapped his knee and expressed his admiration.
“Until this time, there were many people who used the brush, but there is no one who thinks like you! If this is not an example of perfecting knowledge by studying the logic of a real thing, then what is this?!”
With that, the golden brush issue had safely ended, but Hyang really knew that it was hard for this kind of luck to continue.
“The big reason I made the golden brush and offered it to the King was to let him know that I, the Crown Prince, have this kind of skill. Because it is something that can’t be put out of the blue. But, ‘by chance’ only works a few times. I need a reference to make it more plausible.”
* * *
“Your Majesty, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince has come.”
King Sejong, who was looking at the state affairs through appeals and reports at the little chambers he used during King Taejong’s funeral, put down the appeals he was reading and answered.
“Let him in.”
Hyang entered the chamber and greeted King Sejong.
“Dear father, your face doesn’t seem good. Have you eaten your dinner?”
“I ate because the ministers keep annoying me.”
King Sejong’s answer made Hyang enervated inside.
‘A meat lover who can’t live without meat! Even though you can’t eat meat because this is a mourning period, you should eat properly!’
Hyang insulted him inside before talking in earnest.
“Father is the pillar of this nation. Even if you’re in the midst of mourning, you have to eat.”
“I will do so. So, what’s happening?”
“This son has collected miscellaneous books of the west people through the envoys.”
“Yeah, I heard about that. Is there anything I could help with?”
“Father, I need you to give your judgment.”
King Sejong, who was smiling comfortably as if he were looking at his son acting cute, straightened his posture and made a serious expression.
“Yes, father. I plead you to use their number.”
“The west people’s number?”
“Yes. To be exact, it is Hindu numbers. To elaborate, this number first started in India, then….”
(1) The house was around 193 m2. Sorry if my calculation is wrong.↻
(2) Four occupations(사농공상): The traditional four classes of society (scholars, farmers, artisans and merchants). The merchants were said to be low since they were seen as a social disturbance for excessive accumulation of wealth or erratic fluctuation of prices.↻
(3) 서이 (西夷): In the past, a word used in China that meant ‘the western barbarian’, which was used as a low-key word for the people living in the western regions.↻
(4) 색목인(色目人): During the Yuan Dynasty in China, it was used to refer to foreigners from Europe, Western Asia, and Central Asia. It refers mainly to Turks, Iranians, and Arabs, but the name is given because the color of the skin and eyes are different.↻
(5) If three people go together on a trip, one of them must be a teacher. It means that if three people do something, they need someone who can differentiate between good and evil.↻
(6) Jade can be polished with stones from other mountains. Even the insignificant words and deeds of others can help one to sharpen their manners and virtues by taking those words and actions as a lesson.↻
(7) The Analects, Mencius, Classic of Poetry, Book of Documents, Classic of Changes, The Three Ritual Classic, Erya, Classic of Filial Piety, The Three Commentaries on the Spring and Autumn Annals.↻