For 518 years, 27 King ruled over the Joseon Dynasty. King Jeongjo is considered the second greatest of them all, after Sejong the Great. In the realm of politics and state affairs, King Jeongjo “reached across the aisle” to different political factions and social classes when appointing officials, and bolstered the authority of the throne. By Lee Sun-min
            King Jeongjo (r. 1776-1800), the 22nd monarch of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), is renowned as a sage king who led the renaissance of the dynasty through innovation and politics of engagement. He has the grandson of King Yeongjo (r. 1724-1776) and the son of Crown Prince Jangheon (a.k.a Crown Prince Sado) and Lady Hyegyeong (Queen Heongyeong, posthumously). Jeongjo’s early life was not necessary happy because his father was put to death by his own grandfather, King Yeongjo.
            He has many brilliants feats to his credits in political, economic, social and other areas. Especially notable is his firm pursuit of Tangpyeongchaek, which was his policy of partiality in appointing government officials. This policy was not his invention, but the brainchild of  his grandfather.
            There were two major political factions: Noron (Old Doctrine) and Soron (Young Doctrine). Noron dominated, but was split between two distinct group called Sippa and Byeokpa. Before Jeonngjo’s reign, it had been the privilege of the men of nobility, called yangban, to become government officials, and the son of yangban whose mothers of concubines were forbidden from becoming government officials. However, when the policy of the Tangpyeongchaek became firmly entrenched, King Jeonngjo appointed as officials people from all political faction and social classes. His only concern was whether they were capable.
            King Jeongjo’s adamant advocacy of Tangpyeongchaek is especially meaningful in light of the facts surrounding his father’s death.  King Yeongjo’s order off his son’s tragic death in a rise chest caused a schism in Noron. Those members of Noron who accepted it became known as Byeokpa and those who opposed as Sipa. Byeokpa dominated the government when king Jeongjo acceded to the throne, but King Jeongjo exercised great forbearance and took no retribution against them.
            As a prolific writer and avid student, king Jeongjo determined that an academic approach was necessary address political, economic, social and other practical issues and that the despotism of the king maternal relatives and eunuchs should  be suppressed. For these reason, he founded Gyujanggak, a royal library and pursued “academic politics”, which emphasized one’s capabilities rather than background. Gyujanggak was not simply an archive of the king’s writings and calligraphic work; it was a national agency that assisted in the execution of state affairs by collecting books from across the country, publishing new book and preserving them.
            He also emphasized the importance of learning Chinese and other foreign languages to his subjects so that they could develop and maintain international perspective. He even established a foreign language education and testing system.


The king’s reformist inclination culminated in the construction of the impressive Hwaseong Fortress (1794-1796; a UNESCO World Heritage site). The fortress a wall surrounding the city of Suwon near Seoul, was build to honor Crown Prince Jangheon (a.k.a Crown Prince Sado) on the occasion of relocation of his grave.
            King Jeongjo also intended to build a new city where he would unfold his reformist dream. He introduced the most advance construction technologies available to build the wall, and he planned to make the city of Suwon self-sufficient. He built a state-owned plantation, excavated a reservoir for irrigation, and tested new and advance farming techniques and farm management methods. The enactment in 1791 of the Tonggong policy, which allowed free commerce and common goods, served to attract merchants to the new city of Suwon. His dream of building a reformist city seemed likely to come to fruition.
            Alas, the plan was never completed as a result of his sudden and suspicious death at the relatively young age of 48. All the talented people whom King Jeongjo had discovered of supported including Jeong Yak-yong, the architect of the innovative Hwaseong Fortress, were ousted and hiss dream of reform came completely to naught.
            Today, the Rural Development Administration is headquartered in Suwon, where King Jeongjo attempted to reform the Joseon Dynasty and experimented with new farming techniques. The presence of the administration has made the city a national centre of T&D in farming technology, and Suwon is widely called a city of filial piety in commemoration of King Jeongjo’s love for his parents.
            Despite the challenge in his life, the king was determined to reform society. His heart was full of love for all his people: he longed to create a livable world for each and every one of them. Although King Jeongjo has passed away, his legacy still resonates in the hearts of Koreans.

Source : KOREAN Magazine

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