(Translation) 純祖 1年 公奴婢制 革罷 綸音

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Introduction

King Sunjo's Instruction on the Emancipation of the Public Slaves is a royal instruction to emancipate all public slaves registered at the court. It was published on the twenty-eighth day of the first month of 1801, the first year of King Sunjo's reign (1800-1834). Although the instruction was in appearance made by King Sunjo's order, in reality it was the decision of Queen Dowager Jeongsun (1745-1805) who was then practically in power. The instruction cited moral justifications for emancipating public slaves. In truth, however, there were complex economic and political reasons behind the verdict. Economically, keeping public slaves at the court had dismal effects on the state finances since many of the slaves either ran away or could not pay their due tributes to the state. Politically, the young Sunjo was only twelve-years old when he ascended the throne and had no real control over the court factionalism. Under such circumstances, factional disputes that continued from the previous King Jeongjo's reign aggravated. The emancipation of public slaves in 1801 is sometimes construed as an indirect result of factionalism. The instruction was composed not by King Sunjo or by Queen Dowager Jeongsun but by Yun Haengim, then the Chancellor of Royal College of Literature (Daejaehak).

At the time King Jeongjo died (1800) and King Sunjo ascended the throne, antagonism between two cliques--Sipa and Byeokpa--was intensifying. Sipa was a loose group of members who had been sympathetic to King Jeongjo's bipartisanship and other policies. Byeokpa was more firmly rooted in the conservaative Noron faction and strongly opposed both Sipa and King Jeongjo's bipartisan measures. Some of Byeokpa's key members were from the Queen Dowager Jeongsun's native family. Naturally, Byeokpa met its momentum to power when King Jeongjo died and the young Sunjo necessitated Queen Dowager Jeongsun's regency. In the second month of 1801, only a month after the decision to emancipate public slaves was announced, with Queen Dowager's approval Byeokpa effected a purge of Sipa under the pretext of condemning Catholicism--since many of the Sipa members were sympathetic toward Catholic faith. Due to the catholic persecution of 1801 (Sinyu bakhae), many of the Sipa members and other Catholic believers were either exiled or executed. Famously, Jeong Yakyong's older brother Jeong Yakjong, a baptized Catholic, was executed; and Jeong Yaoyong was sent on an exile to Gangjin. Yun Haengim, who actually composed King Sunjo’s Instruction on the Emancipation of the Public Slaves, also fall victim to the purge. A Sipa member and friend of Jeong Yakyong, Yun Haengim was accused by Byeokpa of believing in Catholicism and exiled to Sinjido. Briefly his exile was lifted and he became the Governor of Jeollado, but he was put in exile again in Sinjido where he was beheaded.

Although Byeokpa was mostly opposed to King Jeongjo, who had wanted to abolish slavery but could not achieve it in his reign, ironically it was Byeokpa and Queen Dowager Jeongsun who implemented the emancipation of public slaves in 1801 following King Jeongjo's death. In order to solidify their political power, it would have been necessary for Byeokpa to drastically reform the mal-functioning slave system to increase state revenue and preempt social unrest. Furthermore, Jeong Yakyong, the stellar figure of practical learning (silhak) who was beloved by King Jeongjo, was resolutely opposed to abolishing slavery. On the contrary, Jeong Yakyong insisted on increasing the number of slaves to rectify social hierarchies based on the neo-Confucian ideals. But Jeong Yakyong may have been an anomaly since most other late-Joseon intellectuals who pursued practical learning were against slavery. It is unclear whether Yun Haengim, who wrote this document, was personally for or against the abolishment. As a person selected to draft the instruction, he may have been sympathetic to the cause; at the same time, as a friend of Jeong Yakyong and a member of Sipa, it is also possible that Yun Haengim personally did not espouse the abolition. In that case, Yun Haengim would have composed the instruction because he was the Chancellor of Royal College of Literature, whose duties included drafting King's edicts and instructions.


<Introduction summarized> “King Sunjo's (r. 1800-1834) Instruction on the Emancipation of the Public Slaves,” was promulgated at the royal command in 1/28/1801. Sunjo was no more than a twelve-year-old when he ascended the throne. As to why the Joseon court decided to emancipate the public slaves, some scholars argue that it was due to the financial burdens of the state to keep them; some others explain that it was the result of factional struggle at court between the conservative byeokpa and the reformist Sipa. It is notable that the royal instruction bears the composer’s name Yun Haengim, then the Chancellor of Royal College of Literature (Daejaehak). Yun Haengim was an iconic figure who rose to prominence during Jeongjo’s reign, and thus belonged to the Sipa faction. In the aftermath of King Jeongjo’s death in1800, the factional struggle between the two cliques, Sipa and Byeokpa, intensified. In the second month of 1801, only a month after the royal instruction to emancipate public slaves was promulgated, Byeokpa purged Sipa under the pretext of condemning Catholicism. Due to the catholic persecution of 1801 (Sinyu bakhae), many of the Sipa members and other Catholic believers were banished or executed. Jeong Yakyong's older brother Jeong Yakjong, a baptized Catholic, was executed; and Jeong Yaoyong was sent on an exile to Gangjin. Yun Haengim falls victim to the purge. A Sipa member and friend of Jeong Yakyong, Yun Haengim was accused of believing in Catholicism and exiled to Sinjido. His exile was briefly lifted, and he was appointed as the Governor of Jeollado; however, he was banished again to Sinjido where he was beheaded.<Jaeyoon Song>

Original Script

Classical Chinese English

○綸音, 若曰:

1. 予方讀中庸矣。 凡爲天下國家, 有九經, 第六曰: ‘子庶民也。’ 朱夫子釋之曰: ‘視百姓猶吾子,’ 予未始不掩卷而歎也。 子之事父也, 哀苦而必赴焉, 父之育子也, 疾病而必救焉。君民之間, 眷顧蘄向之切, 亦猶父子云爾。


2. 我國內寺各衙門之有奴婢, 傳之者, 以爲始於箕子, 予則曰不然也。 箕子於東國, 設敎八條, 意八條者, 洪範之八政也。食貨爲首, 所以養生也, 司寇掌禁, 所以戢亂也。 以八政敎東民, 東民蚩蚩, 只知爲八條, 不知爲八政, 而盜者沒入爲奴婢, 卽八條之一也。 此蓋司寇之法所由來者, 與《中庸》九經, 相表裏也。


3. 若如近世所謂奴婢之制, 官之責之也至苛, 人之待之也至賤, 別其族黨, 殊其井疆, 至老死不能嫁娶, 則其政也叔季耳。 曾謂箕子之聖而爲是乎哉? 予則聞, 箕子之言曰: ‘斂時五福, 用敷錫厥庶民,’ 又曰: ‘無虐甇獨,’ 又曰: ‘作民父母, 爲天下王。"

4. 予以是益知奴婢之制, 不自箕子始也。 恭惟我肅宗大王, 爲衆慼詢于庭, 減奴貢之半, 婢貢三之一, 我英宗大王, 爰稽有衆, 除婢貢, 又減奴貢之半。而內司推刷之弊, 固自如焉, 鍼其膚以輸其實, 磨其乳以驗其字, 閭里騷然, 雞犬爲之不寧。


5. 於是, 有萬其命, 罔奠厥居, 夫別妻母別子, 叩膺抆血, 相顧錯愕, 不忍遽決。 往往投之空門, 自絶大倫, 其女子皓顚編髮, 流乞于市。官吏日踵門索錢, 鞭之扑之, 其喝如虎, 冒點則費一牛之直, 侵隣則刮百家之産, 行路寒心, 至於隕涕。


6. 唉! 彼無告, 獨何辜也? 及我先朝, 渙發德音, 特罷推刷命下之日, 老幼皷舞, 鴻渥闓澤, 薄于窮海。及至十有四年, 嶺南御史, 有言: ‘內司之奴負骸, 而訴於咸陽郡者。’ 聖心惻然以驚, 亟焚其籍, 徧問諸道方伯, 十行恩言, 七更其端, 精誠貫金石, 孚感及豚魚。


7. 道狀、籌啓, 紛然堆積於左右, 宸憂憧憧, 惟日夕愀乎恤乎, 當食則停筯而不進, 當寢則繞榻而不寢。筵諭庭誥, 反覆丁寧, 而有司之臣, 不能對揚休命, 雖一二減額, 寔非我先朝博施之盛意也。


8. 記昔先朝之訓曰: ‘羽籥不設而民驩之, 軒裳不加而民懷之者, 陰陽以統其精氣, 仁義以經其事業也。 故御和羹以平其神, 聽和聲以平其志, 納和言以平其政, 履和行以平其德。 今者民以奴婢名, 而冤鬱上干天和, 風雨不節, 禾麥不登, 予用玆疚心, 心不得和。 和予心者, 其在乎奴婢之革也。"


9. 此廷臣之所承聞而贊頌之者也。 今予踐位行禮, 思慕號呼, 念堂構之丕責, 鞏磐泰之洪基, 卽惟曰繼其志也, 述其事也, 繼志述事, 莫有先於奴婢之制。 且況王者莅民, 無貴賤無內外, 均是赤子, 曰奴曰婢, 區而分之, 豈一視同胞之義也?


10. 內奴婢三萬六千九百七十四、寺奴婢二萬九千九十三, 幷許爲良民, 仍令承政院, 聚奴婢案, 火之敦化門外。 其貢有需於經費者, 命壯勇營代給以爲式。 於戲! 予豈敢曰惠之云乎哉? 特先朝未卒之志事, 修而明之耳。


11. 自玆以往, 維千萬年, 安其田廬, 守其墳墓, 婚姻以時, 生齒日息, 稼穡不愆, 嬉遊謳歌。用副予體先朝子視之苦心。 【大提學尹行恁製。】

○ The royal instruction thus states:

1. Now I read the Doctrine of the Mean: “All who have the government of the kingdom with its states and families have nine standard rules to follow." [1] [Among the nine standard rules], the sixth reads: 'Treat your people as your children.’” Master Zhu interprets this passage as: "to see the populace as our children." I cannot close the book without exclaiming, 'When children serve their father, they ought to obey him however traumatic and painful. When fathers raise their children, they ought to save them when their children ail from diseases. As to relationships between the king and his subjects, the king ought to take care of the subjects and the subjects ought to look up to the king as sincerely as the father and his son would do."

2. In our country, the public offices of the bureaucracy have had slaves. According to tradition, it originated with Kija. I would say that it is not true. When Kija came to the Eastern Country, [2] he established the eight articles of instruction. The eight articles are the eight policies of the Great Plan. [3] The foremost [policies of] food and money were for the purpose of nourishing the people. The minister of crime was in charge of prohibitions so as to preclude disorder. With these eight policies, [Kija] instructed the people of the east, however, ignorant and unwise, the people of the east only knew that [Kija's instructions were] the eight articles [Kija taught], but not the Eight Policies. Thieves were confiscated and enrolled as slaves [in the public register]; this is one of the Eight Articles. This, in general, is how the minister of crime came into being, and it forms the integral part with the Doctrine of the Mean, of the nine classics.

3. As to the so-called slavery of the modern times, the government has imposed on them harsh duties; and the people have treated them in extremely demeaning manners, discriminated the slave clans, and segregated (ghettoized) the boundaries of their villages. Slaves are not allowed to marry even until they get old. It is the policy of a declining age. Some may wonder, how could a sage like Kija do this? I have heard, Kija’s words state that: “(The king) concentrates in his own person the five (sources of) happiness, and proceeds to diffuse them, and give them to the multitudes of the people. ” Kija also said: “Do not oppress and mistreat the friendless and childless ” and “to be the parents of the populace, to be the king of all under heaven.” [4]

4. For this reason, I know all the more clearly that the institution of slavery did not originate from Kija. Praise the great king of Sukchong who consulted with the court for the agonies of the masses and reduced the tributary dues of males slaves to half, and female slaves to one third; praise the the great king Yǒngjong, [5]who, thereupon, scrutinized into numerous cases, and abolished the tribute of female male slaves and again reduced the tribute of male slaves to one-third. However, the evils of capturing slaves by the internal bureau remained unchanged. [6] They needled the skins of female slaves to make them confess, and caressed their breasts to examine their pregnancy. This has agitated villagers to the extent that hens and dogs could not be at peace.


5. As a result, the multitude of people could not be settled; husbands and wife as well as mothers and children could not live together. People pound their breasts in sorrow, looking at one another in panic, for they cannot bear to part [with their families] in haste. Often times a man would throw himself into the gate of Buddhism, willingly abandoning the basic ethics [of human beings]; [7] his wife would collapse with an unnerved white face, her hair completely disheveled, and she would ramble and beg around in the marketplace. The officials show themselves up at the slaves' residences to extort money day by day; they lash and whip them, and shout at them like tigers. When the officials recklessly inspect them, the slaves are forced to pay the price of a cow; when the officials encroach upon the [slaves’] neighbors, they plunder the properties of a hundred households. [8] People passing by are chilled to the extent of shedding tears.

6. "Alas! Those defenseless people! What have they done wrong? During the reign of my predecessor [King Chŏngjo, reign: 1776-1800), when the news of the virtuous decree especially banning the chasing and capturing of slaves was promulgated, the old and the young drummed and danced together in delight as the great benefits of the royal kindness extended to the faraway oceans [i.e. poor and isolated villages]. However, in the 14th year (1790) the Yŏngnam governor reported: “a slave from the internal bureau carried the skeleton of a body and appealed to the prefect of Hamyang." [9] The Sagely King commiserated and his mind was profoundly shaken, and ordered the (related) documents burned to ashes. He questioned the chief-magistrates of all the provinces, sent them the ten lines of gracious words, and endeavored to rectify the problems seven times. His absolute sincerity penetrated steels and stones, and his empathetic power moved even pigs and fish.

7. Reports sent from the provisional governors and the Border Defense Council (Pibyŏnsa) were heaped up at his side; [10] however, the king’s worries intensified. The king grieved day and night so much that he could not even lift his spoon up to his mouth and stayed up all night, unable to sleep. In the classics mat lecture and at the court, the king sincerely made royal instructions and repeatedly issued proclamations; however, the officials in charge were unable to perform the king’s well-meaning decrees. Although a few policies of lowering burdens [on the slaves] were implemented, [11] the former king’s vigorous intents of universal favors have not yet been realized to the full.

8. To record the teachings of my predecessor: "People were delighted even without the court music, [12] and the people were missing [the time of government] even when high officials were not appointed. [13] [The king] united the pure qi through the medium of yin and yang, and ordered the enterprises through the medium of humaneness and righteousness. Therefore, [the king] offered a bowl of harmonious soup to pacify the spirits, [14] listened to the harmonious voices to balance his intentions, accepted harmonious suggestions to direct his governance, and assumed harmonious conduct to cultivate his virtues. Nowadays, people are named no (male slave) and bi (female slave), and their disgruntled minds reached the harmonious heaven above. Wind and rain are uncontrolled, rice and wheat do not sprout. With this sense of shame, my mind cannot be at peace. The only way in which to pacify my mind lies in the reformation of slavery.

9. This is what the court officials have heard with respect and praised [about my predecessor]. Now as I ascend the throne and perform rituals, I moan out loud as I yearned for [my predecessor]. I must remember the great responsibilities of [continuing] his glorious tasks, and solidify the grand enterprise as firmly as a boulder and Mount Tai. Only then could I speak of succeeding my predecessor's will and carrying out his work. In succeeding his will and carrying out his work, nothing could come before [the abolishing of] slavery. It would be even more so given that the king cares for all people, noble or base, in or out [of the royal domain]. All are his children, yet to classify and discern them by the names of no and bi; how could this be the meaning of seeing them uniformly as my siblings of the same parents?

10. I hereby allow the inner court slaves of 36,974, the government slaves of 29,093 to become commoners. I order the Ministries of Personnel to collect the registers of slaves and set them ablaze before the Gate of Sincere Transformation. [15]As to the tributes of slaves that are being used for the expenses, I set it as the standard rule that the military garrisons reimburse the amount. [16] Alas! How could I dare say that I have extended favors? I am only supplementing and elucidating the unrealized great enterprises undertaken by the late great king.

11. From now on, for ten thousand years to come, they will be at peace with their houses and land, protect their tomb sites, get married at the right time, give birth to children and flourish, till the land with diligence, and enjoy their lives at the time of leisure and sing hymns of joy. You should support my efforts to embody the toiling intents of the former king to treat the people as his children.

【Composed by Yoon Haengim, Chancellor of Royal College of Literature】


  1. James Legge's translation of the Doctrine of the Mean
  2. The Sage Kija 箕子 is said to have left the Zhou Dynasty after the fall of Shang for the Korean peninsula to establish a new state. During the Chosŏn times it was generally believed that Kija brought (Confucian-) culture to the peninsula, and was venerated as such.
  3. Kija composed the Great Plan to teach the fundamentals of statecraft to King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty ("the Great Plan 洪範", Shangshu 尙書 (Book of Documents)
  4. The passages come from "Great Plan" 洪範 chapter in The Book of Documents 尚書. 斂時五福,用敷錫厥庶民。and 無虐煢獨而畏高明. The translation is based on James Legge translation "The Chinese Classics"
  5. Yǒngjong was the original posthumous title of Yǒngjo before 1889.
  6. Naesa ch’uswae 內司推刷 is a short from of Naesusa ch’uswaegwan 內需司推刷官 (Slave Investigator of the Royal Treasury). They were dispatched by Naesusa to seek escaped slaves and return them back to Naesusa.
  7. 大倫 refers to the relationship between fathers and sons, spouses, monarch and his officials, and friends.
  8. In the Joseon dynasty, if the slave escape, his neighbor will be implicated and asked to do the labour instead.
  9. Hamyang is a county in Kyongsang Province.
  10. The Border Defense Council has become the supreme administrative organ since the Japanese invasions (1592-98) in mid-Chosŏn.
  11. It refers to the tax reduction by King Sukchong and King Yŏngjo mentioned earlier.
  12. Literally, feathers and flutes, which in the ancient times were attributes of the musicians at the ceremonial rites and banquets at the court.
  13. Literally, carriage and garments, stood for the image of a nobleman riding on a carriage.
  14. With the help of the ministers who aided the governing.
  15. Donhwa-mun 敦化門 is one of the gates in the royal palace Chandok-kun in Seoul.
  16. 壯勇營 was a system of military service, first founded in the eight year of King Cheonjo's reign (1784)