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    Chapter 153: Elements of Uncertainty (2)

    As soon as the ‘Law Regarding the Treatment of Non-Official Degree Holders’, colloquially known as the ‘Noble Law’, was promulgated, a massive storm swept through the local officials all over Joseon.

    “We must submit a petition immediately! This is the worst of bad laws!”

    “Right! Right!”

    The backlash from many local officials was natural as they saw the benefits they had taken for granted disappear.

    It was inevitable that a stream of petitions once again flooded into Gyeongbokgung Palace.

    Facing this influx of petitions, Sejong publicly criticized the officials’ backlash.

    – What is the purpose of the civil service examination? It is to select talents among those who wish to serve the country and its people!

    – The distribution of red and white badges to the exam passers and the provision of various benefits were intended to enable those who were unprepared to get ready and contribute to making Joseon stronger!

    – However, many are exploiting the country’s kindness for their own personal gain!

    – Therefore, the country will no longer show such kindness. Only those who truly wish to serve the nation and those who have served will be treated accordingly.

    Sejong’s public declaration that ‘without official service, there will be no benefits’ infuriated the local officials.

    “Is this what a country is supposed to be!”

    “What are the ministers doing? If the king is going astray, shouldn’t they risk their lives to stop him!”

    “Since the departure of former Chief State Councilor Ryu Jeong-hyeon, only cowards remain in the court!”

    Gathered at the Confucian academies under the pretext of offering sacrifices to the sages, the local officials, one and all, bitterly criticized Sejong and the ministers.

    In the midst of this, praises for Ryu Jeong-hyeon and his supporters began to surface.

    However, there were no outright acts of resistance. They knew they were losing in terms of moral high ground.

    Thus, in secluded places, subversive talks began to circulate.

    “The king’s tyranny is a sign of the nation’s downfall! To save Joseon, we must change the heavens!”

    “We must restore the ousted legitimate heir of the former king!”

    “If we think about it, the expulsion of the former king’s legitimate heir was dubious! This surely indicates a conspiracy!”

    Among the local officials in the provinces, slanderous remarks began to circulate gradually.

    Naturally, if these remarks were caught by the local authorities or reported, it would cause an uproar.

    Therefore, the spread of these slanderous remarks was exceedingly slow.

    Not all local officials in the provinces were engaged in such subversive activities.

    “Exactly! This is how it should be! This is the proper law!”

    Surprisingly, there were local officials who actively supported the laws promulgated by Sejong.

    Those expressing support were mostly retired officials from the local aristocracy.

    These officials, regardless of whether they were from the military or civil branches, were actively endorsing Sejong’s laws.

    They supported Sejong’s decisions because, to them, the local aristocrats were an eyesore.

    “While some are toiling away in the court, others are just sitting around filling their own bellies…”

    “And acting all high and mighty…”

    “What’s wrong with being a military official!”

    As mentioned before, those who had served in the bureaucracy and returned to their hometowns often faced considerable ostracism in the local gentry society.

    Those who were ostracized welcomed Sejong’s laws.

    “Now we’ll see who the real nobles are!”

    ***

    Sejong’s view of the local officials was straightforward.

    ‘The enemy of royal authority.’

    Thus, Sejong aggressively implemented reform policies to corner the local officials.

    The intensity of these measures was such that even Hyang, who tended to view the local officials negatively due to his 21st-century memories, felt a sense of crisis.

    “Isn’t this dangerous?”

    Ultimately, Hyang sought an audience with Sejong.

    “Let the historians leave for a moment.”

    After sending out the historians, Hyang instructed the inner court officials.

    “Likely, the historians will cling to the door. Make sure they are sent far away.”

    “Yes, Your Highness.”

    “And you all wait outside the door.”

    Upon Hyang’s command, Chief Eunuch looked at Sejong. Sejong responded to the unspoken question.

    “Follow the Crown Prince’s order.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    In the Kangnyeongjeon Hall, only Sejong and Hyang remained. Hyang, with a voice full of concern, asked Sejong,

    “Father, isn’t this approach too aggressive?”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Regarding the policies towards the local officials.”

    At Hyang’s point, Sejong smiled, but there was no warmth in that smile.

    “Crown Prince, I know you often read military texts.”

    “I do have an interest in them.”

    Hyang had extensively studied military texts to better understand and convey tactics to the military officers, particularly regarding the more efficient — or 21st-century — use of infantry and artillery.

    Sejong continued his questioning based on Hyang’s response.

    “So, what do those military texts say about pressing the enemy? Or rather, what does Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’, in the chapter on waging war, advise?”

    After a brief moment of recollection, Hyang replied,

    “When moving troops, be as swift as the wind, and when not moving, be as silent as the forest. When attacking and seizing, be as fierce as fire, and when defending, be immovable as a mountain. When hidden, be as unseen as black clouds obscuring the stars, but when moving troops, strike as swiftly as lightning.”

    “You know it well. Then, what stage do you think we are in right now?”

    Prompted by Sejong’s question, Hyang began to analyze the current situation. In the midst of this analysis, Hyang sighed.

    “Phew… If this were a war, it’s the stage where the troops have already been mobilized.”

    Upon hearing Hyang’s words, Sejong nodded with a pleased expression.

    “That’s right. Looking at the current situation, the enemy is unprepared, and we have struck a decisive blow. Can we stop here? If we stop now, the enemy will regroup and counterattack.”

    “But, they also have considerable power.”

    To Hyang’s counterargument, Sejong rebutted,

    “That’s exactly why we can’t miss this opportunity. Do you think they will be reformed under the current circumstances?”

    “No, they won’t.”

    “Correct. Stopping here in the hopes of reforming them would only repeat the folly of Duke Song Yang.”

    Sejong, referencing the ‘overly compassionate’ approach of Duke Song Yang, left Hyang with no choice but to concede.

    “I will follow your will, Father. I was merely concerned that those driven into a corner might resort to reckless actions.”

    “That would be a good thing. It would give us an opportunity to address potential problems.”

    “Yes.”

    Though Hyang responded, the worry was evident in his expression, prompting Sejong to speak again.

    “Crown Prince, what do you think a king must do for our Joseon dynasty to last a thousand years?”

    “…”

    Hyang hesitated, overwhelmed by the multitude of theories that came to mind.

    Seeing Hyang’s struggle, Sejong smiled.

    “You… is it that you don’t know the answer?”

    “No, it’s just that too many thoughts are coming to me…”

    “Sometimes, seeing you like this, I feel ‘excess is just as bad as deficiency’ isn’t wrong.”

    “I apologize.”

    “No need for apologies… In my view, there are two ways: one is for the king to do everything, and the other is for the king to do nothing.”

    ‘Is it about being an absolute monarch or a constitutional monarch?’

    Upon Sejong’s words, Hyang quickly replied,

    “There is also a way to appropriately share responsibilities with the ministers.”

    Sejong shook his head in disagreement with Hyang’s statement.

    “Republicanism sounds good but is the worst of the worst strategies. Power and wealth, the more one has, the more one wants.

    If we rashly implement republicanism, there will be disputes between the king and ministers, among the ministers themselves, between the king and the people, and between the ministers and the people. The result would be nothing but the ruin of the country.”

    “But, Father, the two options you mentioned are also difficult to realize.”

    Sejong nodded at Hyang’s observation.

    “That’s true. The first option, if the king is incompetent or a tyrant like Goujian, would lead straight to the ruin of the country. The second can see the country crumble due to the schemes of eunuchs or ministers. There’s only one way to prevent this.”

    When Sejong paused, Hyang immediately asked,

    “What is that method, Your Majesty?”

    Sejong answered firmly,

    “The people must be enlightened. Enlightened people must guard against the king and ministers straying onto the wrong path.”

    Hyang’s eyes widened at Sejong’s words.

    ‘Oh my! Is he suddenly shifting from an absolute monarch to an enlightened monarch?’

    Seeing Hyang’s expression, Sejong smiled slightly and continued,

    “And this is in line with the political views you’ve expressed before, isn’t it?”

    “Yes.”

    “What I’m doing now is removing the obstacles between the king and the people.”

    “What do you mean by obstacles?”

    “True scholars who learn the way of the sages should enlighten and awaken the people. But instead of doing so, they are exploiting the people. Such people are only useless barriers. I will remove these barriers and enlighten the people.”

    As Sejong explained his intentions, he looked at Hyang.

    “For more people to be enlightened, we must create a new script. The current Chinese characters only lead to the monopoly of knowledge.”

    “That’s true.”

    Hyang strongly nodded in agreement with Sejong’s point.

    “Well, it’s getting late. Let’s rest for today.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty. Have a peaceful night’s sleep.”

    ***

    Upon leaving Kangnyeongjeon, Hyang looked back at the hall and murmured softly.

    “Listening to Father, it seems he’s determined… I just hope things don’t get too out of hand.”

    Hyang couldn’t hide his worry over Sejong’s firm stance against the local officials and sighed deeply.

    “Phew… I just hope everything goes smoothly.”

    As he headed back to the Eastern Palace, Hyang continued to organize his thoughts.

    “At least one positive aspect is that Father is still committed to creating a new script. Considering the materials we’ve procured so far, there must be significant progress… After this issue settles, I can subtly offer advice.”

    At the same time, Sejong, now in his nightclothes, looked in the direction of Eastern Palace and mumbled,

    “Judging by his reaction when I brought it up, he seems to have thought about the creation of a new script to some extent. Once this matter is resolved, and there’s more leeway in the research institute and Area 51, I should involve him in the work. A little help from him when we hit a snag should wrap things up quickly.”

    The father and son, thinking differently while lying in the same bed, were a perfect example of ‘same bed, different dreams.’

    ***

    While the local officials were stirring in the provinces, an undercurrent was also flowing in Hanyang.

    “Sir… Leader.”

    “What is it?”

    The leader of the secret police in Dadoong looked up as his subordinate approached.

    “What’s up? Is there something?”

    At the leader’s inquiry, the subordinate cautiously spoke up.

    “Recently, some strange characters seem to be entering Hanyang.”

    “Strange characters?”

    “Yes, they seem to be from our line of work, but they don’t appear to be affiliated with Bukchon or Unjongga.”

    “Huh?”

    The leader’s face grew serious at the subordinate’s words.

    If the subordinate referred to them as ‘eating the same rice’, it implied that these strangers were either private soldiers or part of their own secret police network. The issue was that they were not recognizable faces.

    The leader of the secret police was well aware that the current atmosphere outside Hanyang was not normal.

    “I have a bad feeling about this…”

    After pondering for a moment, the leader stood up.

    “I will pay a visit to Bukchon and Unjongga. Meanwhile, gather our men and see if you can find more of these characters.”

    “Yes. And if we find them, we’ll see where they’re heading.”

    “Yes.”

    ***

    In a gisaeng house in Bukchon. The leaders of the secret police, who held sway over Hanyang’s nightlife, gathered together.

    “…so I told the guys to follow them.”

    After hearing the leader from Dadoong, the leader from Unjongga joined in.

    “Our guys are saying something similar. They’ve seen a few suspicious characters around the Unjongga guesthouses.”

    “Hmm…”

    The leaders from Dadoong and Unjongga’s words made the leader of Bukchon stroke his chin thoughtfully.

    “It’s true that the current state of affairs is a bit problematic.”

    Sensing the gravity of the situation, the Bukchon leader looked around at the other leaders.

    “Let’s report this to the higher-ups.”

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