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    The day Sejong decided to dismantle village schools,

    “Phew~.” 

    Exiting the morning court session, Minister of Rites Lee Maeng-gyun heaved a deep sigh. Seeing Lee Maeng-gyun’s face, other court ministers comforted him.   

    “Your Excellency, let’s leave on time today and have a drink. I’ll buy you a drink.”

    “Let us go together, my lord.”  

    At his colleagues’ words, Yi heaved another long sigh as he nodded.  

    “I’ve been avoiding alcohol for a while, but I need a drink today. Thank you. Let’s go together.”

    “Indeed. Let’s drink until our noses are crooked today.”

    And so, receiving the comfort of his fellow ministers, Lee Maeng-gyun headed off to the pleasure quarters, gritting his teeth as he crossed the threshold of the Ministry of Rite’s government office.

    “Damn those rebel scums! Of all times! We ought to exterminate not only their family but all their nine clans and more!”  

    Spitting curses at the rebels on his way in, Lee Maeng-gyun immediately gathered officials of the Ministry once inside.  

    Once the officials gathered, Lee Maeng-gyun spoke in a complicated tone,  

    “Just earlier, His Majesty made his decision in the court. That decision was….”

    Stopping briefly, Lee took a deep breath before continuing,   

    “His Majesty has ordered the dismantlement of village schools.”

    “What?”

    “Are you serious?”  

    At Lee’s statement, officials looked around at each other with stunned faces, mumbling.  

    “Then what about the Confucian memorial rites….”

    “With the Sunkyunkwan….”

    Watching his officials discuss one of the key functions of village schools – memorial rites – Lee raised his voice,  

    “That is not the problem!”  

    “If that’s not the problem, then….”

    Among the confused officials at Lee’s words, those quick on the uptake turned deathly pale.  

    “Could it be! Has the initial initiatives of establishing Four Peoples Schools already been decided?”

    “Could it be! Wasn’t the establishment of Four Peoples Schools planned after the completion of the court’s departmental reforms??”  

    As the quick-witted mentioned ‘Four Peoples Schools’, the faces of other officials also started paling.  

    Seeing their expressions, Minister Lee Maeng-gyun nodded with a heavy look,,  

    “Nothing has come out formally yet. However, I and other ministers believe His Majesty will soon make his intentions known.”

    “For what reason?”

    At the officials’ question, Lee simply replied,  

    “Because unexpected massive wealth flowed in due to the rebels.”

    “Ah….”

    At Lee’s reply, the officials shut their mouths and nodded in understanding. 

    ***

    The educational institution Sejong termed ‘Four Peoples School’ was by the standards of the time, a highly progressive and sensational institution that couldn’t be seen anywhere else in the world. 

    At Four Peoples Schools, any freeborn child regardless of class or gender could receive basic education.

    It was while listening to Hyang’s presentation of ideologies that Sejong thought of Four Peoples Schools.  

    —Joseon has small barren infertile land and scarce resources. For Joseon to develop in such bleak conditions, there is nothing we can rely on but people. That means investing in people.  

    —Investing in people means providing them education.  

    —Lowering the entry barrier of education and widening access must be done in order to foster greater numbers of talents.

    Sejong was deeply impressed by Hyang’s opinions. Sejong’s greatest purpose had also been the enrichment and military strengthening of Joseon. Hyang’s words demolished the wall Sejong had been stuck behind, allowing breakthrough.  

    “Is this not the ideal those past sages had dreamed of!”  

    Falling to his knees at Hyang’s views, Sejong devised policies fitting the basic ideology of ‘Expanding Both Quality and Quantity of Education’ while laying out military reformation plans.

    Of course the scholars of Hall of Worthies, who had been aiding to realize Sejong’s grand military plans, showed mostly negative reactions.

    “While ideal, such a thing is impossible in reality, would it not?”  

    “Though the intention of educating commoners’ children is good… Would ignorant masses living scrappily hand to mouth even consider sending their own kids to school?”  

    At the Hall of Worthies scholars’ words, Sejong roared curses at them in a coarse voice.   

    “Watch that trash-spouting mouth this instant!”

    “Mouth—”

    “Your Majesty! Such language—”

    As Hall of Worthies scholars tried to protest Sejong’s cursing, he immediately talked over them.  

    “I said watch it! Do you lot truly want to spread the sages’ teachings in this world! Blinded by tiny bits of sense of superiority! Look at successful civil service exam passers for starters! Are all those who attempt and pass the exam sons of noblemen? No small number are sons of farmers! And so what? Those masses won’t send their kids to study? What do you see Joseon subjects as! Do you still feel my ‘trash mouth’ words unjust!”

    “Please forgive our blathering!”  

    At Sejong’s roar, the Hall of Worthies scholars could only prostrate flat.  

    And so was how the Four Peoples Schools came to be created. 

    According to contents planned in the military reforms, all people of Joseon, when their children reached ages 5-7 years old, in other words, old enough to express their own will to some extent, had to send them to Four Peoples Schools, regardless of gender.  

    What the Four Peoples Schools taught were basics of Hanja characters, arithmetic, and ethics.  

    After receiving education at Four Peoples Schools, children could enter more advanced educational institutions afterwards, according to individual circumstances and aptitudes.

    For those seeking officialdom or commercial occupations going to village schools was arranged for further education, while those pursuing military or naval careers would enter local academies for further education – that was the basic framework. 

    And the administrative agency in charge was the Department of Education.  

    Through military reforms, the Ministry of Rites was set to be divided into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Department of Education. The Department of Education would manage the oversight of schools, entrance examinations including civil service exams, and other overall education policies.  

    However, because of this uprising, grave disruptions arose in this schedule. With village schools named as hotbeds of dissenters, they were demolished.  

    ***

    Lee Maeng-gyun continued his explanation.

    “While we only caught bits and pieces, His Majesty seems to plan on taking this unfortunate incident as a lesson, and devote more attention to education. That means….”

    Making a brief pause and looking around at each official, Lee resumed speaking.  

    “It means, depending on how we handle things, the budget scale could greatly increase or decrease.”  

    As Lee brought up the budget, officials’ gazes began sharply shining.  

    With encouragement of commerce and implementation of various economic policies, tax revenue flowing into the court’s coffers continuously grew. However, expenditures were also massive matching what came in.  

    As such, the Six Ministries making up the court waged bloody battles to squeeze out even just a little more budget.

    If the budget grew, they could increase personnel as well as boldly implement experimental policies.  

    The most representative were the Ministries of Military and Taxation. And recently, the Ministry of Public and Works was right on their heels.

    Minister Lee Maeng-gyun hence encouraged the his ministry’s officials.  

    “His Majesty likely won’t spend all the confiscated assets of the rebels in one go, but it’s certain the next budget will have an enormous increase! The portions going to Military and Taxation ministries can’t be helped and the Public Works as well due to newly implemented policies! But the budget cannot be snatched by other departments! Especially so for the research facility and Area 51 budgets!”  

    “Yes!”  

    The officials unanimously responded to their superior’s words.

    “Do you want to leave work on time?”

    “Yes!”  

    “There are lots of new junior officials coming in so you want a more comfortable work environment?”

    “Yes!”

    “Then we must take the initiative to move first! Only then can we secure a more abundant budget! Is that not so!”

    “Yes. Indeed!”  

    “Then get moving!”  

    “Yes!”  

    At the cry-like response, Ministry of Rites officials hurried back to their posts.  

    Similar activity was taking place in other agencies around the same time. Thoughts of all officials were identical.

    ‘More budget ⟶ More personnel ⟶ Comfortable work environment ⟶ Leaving work on time ⟶ Family happiness’ 

    While the officials may have been comforted with what minister Lee Maeng-gyun was saying when exiting the closed quarters, in truth, almost all reached the same conclusion..   

    ***  

    While ministry officials waged bloody battles to secure even a little more of the budget, executions for the rebel instigators also steadily continued.

    “Once executions for uprising participants ended, all that remained was administering punishment on Grand Prince Yangnyeong and Seo Seon.  

    “For Seo Seon and his clan, administer according to stipulations by law.”  

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    While Seo Seon’s verdict quickly ended, the issue was Grand Prince Yangnyeong.  

    For quite a while, Sejong agonized over what adjudication to pass down on Grand Prince Yangnyeong.  

    While inclined to handle things according to law to end matters promptly, Grand Prince Yangnyeong was Taejong’s eldest legitimate son, former Crown Prince, and Sejong’s own older brother by blood.  

    Whether he lived or died, whatever verdict passed down would definitely remain a continuing political burden on Sejong himself.  

    “How to handle this matter….”  

    And so regarding Grand Prince Yangnyeong’s punishment, Sejong’s anguish could only deepen. 

    “Even my hands are tied on this issue….”  

    While Hyang understood well what was troubling Sejong, this time even he could not interfere.  

    No matter his status as Crown Prince, it was an extremely precarious political issue involving the king—who was Hyang’s own father and the king’s own brother.  

    With Sejong’s worries worsening this way, Grand Prince Hyoryeong came to find Sejong.  

    “Your Majesty, your complexion does not seem very good. Your face holds deep concerns.”

    At Hyoryeong’s words Sejong let out a lengthy sigh.  

    “Sigh~. The burden on my shoulders is too heavy.”

    Quietly observing Sejong, Hyoryeong asked,  

    “Is it because of our oldest brother?”  

    Not speaking a word, Sejong nodded at Hyoryeong’s question.  

    Silently watching Sejong, Hyoryeong gently remonstrated with him.

    “Judge according to national law.”  

    “But he is my brother. Father’s eldest son and former Crown Prince.”

    “Yet Father passed the throne to Your Majesty instead of our eldest brother. Thus everything was settled.” 

    “Sigh~.”

    At Hyoryeong’s words, Sejong heaved a long sigh. In a quiet, composed tone, Hyoryeong continued speaking.  

    “Whatever decision Your Majesty makes, it will become a large shackle on you. Then, choose to stand by the law’s strictness. If you lean towards sentiment, in the distant future if similar situations arise, it could turn into a disadvantageous precedent.”

    “I suppose you are right.”  

    At the powerless tone of Sejong’s voice, Hyoryeong continued his words.  

    “Anyway living in this world means crossing an ocean of suffering. One must endlessly get injured and feel anguish. Regrets and guilt will remain with you due to our brother’s situation. But please stand up over that and make Joseon even greater and more prosperous, with the people living in even more peace. Then the populace will praise you greatly.”  

    “That shall be my atonement.”

    At Hyoryeong’s words, Sejong seemed to have hardened his resolve. His complexion gradually calmed and strength returned to his voice.  

    “Older brother, thank you. Thanks to you I have awakened from the dream.”  

    At Sejong’s words, Hyoryeong faintly smiled as he answered.  

    “It is all due to Buddha’s grace.”

    [TL/N: Grand Prince Hyoryeong is Taejong’s second son, and also older brother of Sejong. He became a monk following Sejong’s installation as King.]

    ***

    Having hardened his resolve by Hyoryeong’s words, Sejong announced the next day in front of gathered ministers.  

    “I will decide the criminal Yangnyeong’s punishment.”

    Making ‘it has come’ expressions at Sejong’s announcement, the ministers nervously swallowed their saliva. 

    After a brief moment to catch his breath, Sejong continued speaking.  

    “According to law, criminal Yangnyeong and sons over 15 years old will be executed. However, given his status as royalty, punishments like sliced to death or hanged, will not be used. Instead, sentence to death by poison shall be administered. Additionally, the entire family including the criminal will be deleted from ‘Register of Royal Genealogies’ and remaining descendants will be demoted to commoners. While all assets possessed by the criminal’s clan will be confiscated, 10% shall be allotted to those demoted to commoners for minimal livelihood. Lastly, those demoted to commoners will be exiled by families to islands in the southern sea.”

    As Sejong’s words ended, ministers uniformly bowed down to the floor.

    “Your order is received!”  

    The day sentence was carried out, having heard about his family, Yangnyeong bowed in the direction of Gyeongbokgung Palace.  

    “I am grateful for His Majesty’s bestowed grace.”

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