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    After about ten days had passed, Hyang had fully regained her health. King Sejong summoned Soedori, who had been imprisoned in the palace.

    “The crown prince has recovered. Are you confident that he won’t catch smallpox?”

    “I am confident. It’s my own experience, and those who live with me have also not caught smallpox.”

    “This king is still worried. Therefore, I will administer the cowpox vaccine to all those in Hanyang who have not yet suffered from smallpox. Can you prepare enough for everyone?”

    Soedori thought for a moment before answering Sejong’s question. “We would need at least 50 cows infected with cowpox.”

    “Choose enough from the royal cattle you raise. How long will it take?”

    “We will be ready within 15 days. However, cowpox lasts for a short time, as little as a week and as long as ten days, so we need an exact date to proceed.”

    “Be fully prepared and on standby so that you can proceed as soon as you receive a message from the royal medical center. And…” King Sejong paused for a moment, glanced at Hyang standing next to him, and continued, “I am appointing you to the position of Mokchambong (Chief of Shephards) at the royal pasture on Nureub Island.”

    “I am deeply grateful for your kindness!” Upon hearing King Sejong’s words, Soedori deeply bowed. Although he was considered a commoner, he was now given a position closer to that of a low-ranking official.

    “Go and prepare immediately.”

    “I shall obey your command!” Soedori, filled with joy, left the palace.

    Meanwhile, King Sejong, who had returned to his quarters, looked at Hyang. “First of all, Crown Prince, congratulations on your recovery.”

    “Thank you, Father.”

    “However, I will not tolerate such incidents happening again. Be sure to report beforehand and obtain permission from the officials.”

    “I will remember that, Father.”

    Sejong then unknowingly muttered under his breath. “What a glib tongue… Oops!” Sejong glanced at the scribes in the room, but they were already busy writing. He then cleared his throat and continued speaking, “Although that Soedori seems confident that the cowpox vaccine will prevent smallpox, this king is still worried. Therefore, we will conduct an experiment on the people in Hanyang. What do you think, Crown Prince?”

    “It is a wise decision. However, I would like to add a few things.”

    “Additions? Let’s hear them.”

    “First, the royal physicians and their attendants should be the first ones to receive the cowpox vaccine. If the vaccine causes smallpox to spread, we will send out the vaccinated physicians and attendants. By doing so…”

    “We can more confidently verify whether Soedori’s claim is true or false?”

    “Yes, Father.”

    “Hmm…” King Sejong, who was considering Hyang’s suggestion for a moment, looked back at the Minister of Personnel, who was in charge of the Royal Clinic.

    “Once the preparation for the cowpox vaccine is somewhat complete, have half of the physicians and female medical practitioners at the Royal Clinic receive the inoculation first.”

    “Half, not all of them?”

    “Looking at the example of the new… I mean, the Crown Prince, it takes at least two weeks to properly recover. So, I think it’s appropriate to divide them into two groups.”

    “I will do so.”

    Hearing the Minister of Personnel’s response, King Sejong looked back at Hyang. “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”

    “Yes. When administering the cowpox vaccine, it would be better to visit each and every household personally and perform the inoculation, rather than calling people together.”

    “And the reason is?”

    “It’s because cowpox vaccination is unfamiliar. People are afraid of smallpox, but who would willingly step forward to receive a never-before-seen cowpox vaccine?”

    “That’s true. So, let’s visit everyone personally and make sure they are inoculated? That makes sense.”

    “In addition, when visiting to perform the inoculation, officials from the Ministry of Personnel should accompany and conduct a census.”

    “Brilliant! What a clever strategy!”

    King Sejong applauded Hyang’s suggestion. Conducting a census was truly a difficult task. Many commoners fled whenever a census was conducted to avoid taxes and labor services. As a result, even the capital Hanyang, where the royal palace was located, did not have a proper census.

    “Killing two birds with one stone! What else would you like to add?” King Sejong, pleased with Hyang’s proposal, asked, his face beaming into a smile.

    Hyang promptly responded to King Sejong’s question. “Your Majesty might not be convinced yet, but I am certain that this cowpox vaccine will be successful. Therefore, it is only natural to implement this cowpox vaccination not only in Hanyang but also nationwide.”

    “That’s possible.”

    “In that case, Your Majesty should receive contributions from the nobles in the provinces, as well as the high-ranking officials.”

    King Sejong’s face immediately grew serious at Hyang’s suggestion. “Receive contributions from the nobles?”

    “Yes, Your Majesty. Just like smallpox, a cow that has been infected with cowpox once will not contract it again. This means we must continually obtain new cows to be infected with cowpox. This alone requires considerable expenses. In addition, dispatching physicians, female medical practitioners, and officials to conduct the census also entails costs.”

    “That’s true.”

    At the suggestion of Hyang, not only King Sejong but also the ministers nodded in agreement.

    “It’s difficult to ask the common people for money as well. Most of them are struggling to get by even after the spring season.”

    “Sadly, that’s true. It’s all because of this king’s incompetence and lack of virtue.”

    The ministers collectively bowed their heads at King Sejong’s self-blame. “No, Your Majesty! The common people know well of Your Majesty’s great virtue! It’s an inevitable natural disaster, so please don’t worry!”

    “Don’t worry, Your Majesty!”

    Hearing the ministers’ unanimous agreement, Hyang secretly clicked his tongue. ‘These nobles would normally blame the king’s incompetence… Is it different this time?’

    As the ministers’ conversation died down, Hyang continued, “How can we take money from the people in this situation? However, isn’t the situation different for the local landowners and aristocrats? Though it’s my personal opinion, if we collect the value of half a cow from the hundred-stone landowners, three cows from the thousand-stone landowners, and twenty cows from the ten thousand-stone landowners, we should be able to cover the costs.”


    Not only King Sejong but also the ministers began to calculate the profits and losses in Hyang’s words. After a while, the Right State Councilor opened his mouth. “Although the Crown Prince’s idea is a good one, will they willingly give it up?”

    “We have to make them give it up. If they voluntarily give it up beforehand, we can erect a monument praising their virtue or grant them a plaque. If they don’t, we must collect it forcibly. If they still refuse until the end…” Hyang paused for a moment, his eyes cold and sharp, “…Then we can simply not protect the village they belong to.”

    “It seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it?” the Right State Councilor pointed out, and the Minister of Personnel raised his voice in opposition, “It’s not harsh! Even just a hundred-stone landowner is the highest-ranking person in their village! If they are an aristocrat and an elder, they should naturally step forward as a matter of course! If they refuse that, they don’t deserve the title of an aristocrat! What kind of aristocrat only recites the classics but doesn’t act accordingly? They should practice what they preach!”

    This time, the Left State Councilor intervened, “But isn’t the cost the problem?”

    “Even if the cows are expensive, can’t a hundred-stone landowner afford the value of half a cow? They just don’t want to pay!”

    With the conflict between the ministers and the Minister of Personnel, the ministers began to divide into two sides and argue.

    “Aristocrats should naturally contribute!”

    “But the state can’t force them to do so!”

    Watching the ministers’ argument, King Sejong looked at Hyang with tired eyes. “You certainly have a talent for stirring up trouble in calm waters.”

    “Thank you for the compliment.”

    “Does that sound like a compliment?”

    Upon this, Hyang showed a subtle smile, and King Sejong clicked his tongue softly, “Tsk!”

    Seeing Hyang’s reaction, Sejong clicked his tongue softly again while watching the ministers’ debate and then clicked his tongue loudly, “Tsk, tsk, tsk!”

    “Hmm! Ahem!”

    When Sejong clicked his tongue, the ministers cleared their throats and straightened their postures.

    “I have listened to your opinions well. Let’s discuss the issue of cost again after seeing the results of the preliminary test to be conducted in Hansung[1]. The departments of Personnel and Finance should thoroughly check and report everything from the census of households to the expenses incurred during the test. It seems better to discuss further after seeing the results.”

    “We accept your command.”

    As the issue of ‘vaccination for Hansung residents’ seemed to be somewhat resolved, Hyang quickly opened his mouth. “Your Majesty, I have a request to make.”

    “A request?”

    As soon as Hyang mentioned ‘request,’ Sejong and the ministers were all on edge. This was because every time Hyang made a request, a whirlwind of events ensued.

    “… Is it absolutely necessary to make that request?”

    “I believe it is essential.”

    At Hyang’s answer, King Sejong let out a long sigh, “Sigh~. Go ahead and speak.”

    “Yes. Firstly, I would like to talk about the Royal Infirmary.”

    “The Royal Infirmary?”

    “Yes. It was a subject brought up by the department of Personnel a few years ago, but the issue was that the physicians were only interested in passing the exam and getting promoted. As a result, they focused solely on memorizing the books containing medical prescriptions and neglected the actual treatment.”(Note 1)[2]

    “I see, I remember that.”

    Following King Sejong’s response, the Secretary of the Ministry of Personnel interjected, “Your Majesty, when I recall, we did have a public debate on that issue. At that time, His Highness ordered that promotions be based on treatment performance.”

    “Indeed, I remember.”

    King Sejong nodded and looked at Hyang. Hyang was currently holding the horse’s reins.

    “At that time, Your Majesty made a wise decision.”

    “What was the problem then?”

    “It’s the same problem as this time. There are many physicians, but there are still many illnesses they don’t know about, and many treatments they don’t know.”

    “I see. Then we must obtain more medical books from Ming.”

    “New Chinese medical books can help, but they are not the answer. The mountains and rivers in northern kingdom are different from those in our Joseon, and so are the people. Therefore, during King Jeongjong’s reign, ‘Hometown Remedies to Save Lives[3]’ was compiled. It must be supplemented.”

    “Supplement… That makes sense. What do you think, Minister of Personnel?”

    Upon King Sejong’s question, the Minister of Personnel nodded in agreement, “I believe that the Crown Prince’s words are indeed reasonable!”

    “Any other opinions?”

    There was no one among the officials who contradicted King Sejong’s question.

    “Good. Minister of Personnel, cooperate with the Royal Infirmary and Jiphyeonjeon (Royal Research Institute)[4] to supplement the medical books.”

    “I accept your command.”

    After deciding to supplement the ‘Hometown Medicine Compilation for Saving Lives,’ King Sejong turned to Hyang. “Anything else?”

    “Yes. I have observed the discussions of the King and the ministers regarding state affairs, and there was one problem.”

    “What problem?”

    “When a problem arises in the management of state affairs, the ministers recall and reflect on similar cases from their memories. Isn’t that what just happened?”


    “In particular, the elder ministers here have experience working in the previous dynasty.”

    “That’s true.”

    “Similar problems tend to repeat themselves. In as short as 10 years or as long as 30 years, not only the elder ministers but also young officials will have retired. What will you do then? When a generation without memories or experience to reflect on will manage the country’s affairs.”

    “That would be problematic…” at Hyang’s point, Sejong answered with a serious face.

    As Sejong became serious, the Left State Councilor interjected, “Indeed, 30 years from now, old people like me will have returned to the soil, and even these rosy-cheeked young men will have retired. However, policies and systems are like a flowing river that continues endlessly, so there will still be experienced people by that time. Even if problems arise, they will be able to solve them.”

    “Is today the same as yesterday, and tomorrow the same as today?[5]” Hyang immediately refuted the Left State Councilor’s words, which left the old man speechless.

    Translator’s Notes

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    1. Another name for Hanyang.[]
    2. Not sure, but the author inserted a footnote here: Sejong 3, March 18.[]
    3. 향약제생집성방 (鄕藥濟生集成方, Hometown Remedies to Save Lives) is a medical book from the Joseon Dynasty in Korea. The book was compiled during the reign of King Jeongjong and focuses on various remedies and treatments for illnesses using local herbs and medicines found in the Korean peninsula.

      The primary purpose of this book was to provide practical and accessible knowledge on traditional Korean medicine and treatments, catering to the specific needs and circumstances of the local population. This compilation recognized the differences between Korean and Chinese medicine and emphasized the importance of adapting medical knowledge to the unique conditions, resources, and people of Joseon.[]

    4. 집현전 (集賢殿, Jiphyeonjeon) was an important institution in the Joseon Dynasty of Korea. It was established by King Sejong the Great in 1420 as a royal research institute and library. Its primary purpose was to foster the development of scholars and the study of various academic fields, including Confucianism, literature, history, science, and technology.[]
    5. It is used to question whether the current situation remains the same as before and whether it will continue to be the same in the future.[]

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