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Jeong Do-jeon and Dragon Tears

Updated February. 14, 2014 04:09

한국어

“Jeong Do-jeon,” a KBS1 historical drama aired on weekends, is very popular, particularly among middle-aged or older men, the big fans of historical dramas. The seasoned actors’ excellent acting and the storyline true to history are noteworthy. The story written by a lawmaker’s aide-turned-writer has a speedy and tight plot. The drama series covers a 24-year period between 1374 when King Gongmin of the Goryeo Dynasty was about to be killed and 1398 when Jeong Do-jeon was killed.

“Dragon Tears,” which KBS aired 18 years ago, is considered one of the best historical dramas in Korea. Its viewership skyrocketed up to 49 percent in the run-up to the 1997 presidential election. It covered a period between the end of the Goryeo Dynasty and the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty. The drama excellently connected the cabinet system, a hot topic of debate before the presidential election, to the clash between Lee Bang-won, the son of the Joseon Dynasty`s founding King Taejo, who wanted a monarchy ruled by a king, and Jeong Do-jeon, an aristocrat and advisor to Lee who wanted a kingdom led by ministers while the king remains to be a symbolic figure. What Jeong said on the fight over power in the drama -- “Even a father and a son cannot split power” – was the talk of the town.

There is a big difference between the two historical dramas covering the same period of time. “Dragon Tears,” which starts with a scene that King Taejo was retreating from Wihwa Island after a battle against China’s Ming Dynasty army, focused on the power struggle of the top echelon of the dynasty. Meanwhile, “Jeong Do-jeon” highlights Jeong, the prime minister who dreamed of a country for the people. The end-of-the Goryeo Dynasty drama is also a satire on today’s politics, which put people’s lives on the backburner.

Jeong Do-jeon was forced to be in exile after criticizing the Goryeo Dynasty’s pro-China policy. While witnessing ordinary people’s devastated lives, he frustratingly found himself in a position that he cannot do anything for them. He founded the Joseon Dynasty by helping King Taejo, and designed the philosophy and system of the new dynasty based on politics for the people. He was killed for treason during the first fight among princes for the crown in summer 1398, and his reinstatement was eventually made 500 years after his death, under King Gojong.

“Dragon Tears” is the first Korean historical drama that was created based on historical research on Jeong Do-jeon who laid the foundation for the Joseon Dynasty. Historical documents say that he was killed after begging for life to Lee Bang-won. The drama, however, depicts a heroic death. Lee Hwan-gyeong, the drama writer, said, “The person who made a great contribution to the foundation of the Joseon Dynasty and had a tumultuous life would not have died cowardly.

Many historical dramas described Jeong as a traitor or a treacherous subject but the drama “Jeong Do-jeon” shed lights on his reinstatement. President Park Geun-hye is said to have been busy reading reports after the New Year’s speech. Hopefully, she could watch “Jeong Do-jeon” on weekends and have time to talk with history. The world for the people, of which Jeong dreamed 600 years ago, is worth pursuing, even today.

President Park said during her presidential campaign, “I’ll create a foundation for the people’s happiness that can last for more than 50 years.” She initiated a discussion over the reunification of the two Koreas, by saying, “Unification is a bonanza.” These are tasks that cannot be done by the president alone. The president needs right-minded and competent ministers who can be forthright to the president even putting their job at stake. These tasks require their active leadership and the people’s participation. It is regrettable that the discussion on granting more responsibilities to the prime minister is absent and ministers lack presence.

The Joseon Dynasty is a rare dynasty that lasted for 519 years. It was supported by the philosophy that puts the people first and the system that coordinates a king and ministers, for which Jeong Do-jeon laid the foundation. Though the background of the drama is not exactly the same as today, both times have something in common with undergoing turbulent periods. Hopefully, President Park could think about being a successful presidency while watching the historical drama depicting the agony, frustration, dreams and actions of Jeong do-jeon who designed the Joseon Dynasty.