Deep Rooted Tree episode 3

In this episode we finally find out the meaning behind the mysterious flashbacks that Yi Do keeps having. He is able to stand up to his father and tell him (partly) what he wants to do. BTW In all the history books, the spelling of Lee Do’s family name is ‘Yi’ not ‘Lee’ (modern spelling) so I’m using the Yi spelling. And I’ll also refer to Yi Do’s father by his actual name, Yi Bangwon, rather than Sang wang or King Taejong. 

Yi Do walks up to his father, Yi Bangwon, through the flying arrows. Luckily none of them hit him! His father is still upset about last night’s events and Yi Do kneels before him. He begs for his father’s forgiveness. (I wasn’t expecting this) And he promises never to go against his father again. But his father realises that he is not being sincere.

Quietly, so that the soldiers can’t hear, Yi Bangwon asks his son if he understood the meaning of the empty food box. Yi Do merely replies he never received an empty food box, but rather a box in the shape of a maths puzzle just like the puzzle he was working on. This is clever – who says he has to read the same meaning in the box as his father does? It really shows how the two men think in completely different ways. Perhaps his father should have written a direct letter to Yi Do if he didn’t want him to misinterpret the ‘gift’!!! Yi Do adds that the box even helped him solve the puzzle he has been working on: His father saw the number 1 as representing himself, the king. Number 1 has all the power and the other numbers don’t matter. But Yi Do says that in the box he received, there was no number 1, which means that his father does not exist in Joseon! Woooo. He’s suddenly got some confidence.

Back in front of everyone, Yi Do behaves respectfully in front of his father and asks only that he be allowed to build a place where he can study. He tells his father that he wants him to continue to rule the country as before. Yi Bangwon seems bemused that all his son wants to do is sit around and read, but he readily agrees and gives the institute a name – jiphyeon. The building will be called jipyheonjeon – Royal Institute of Learning. But Yi Bangwon doesn’t realise the big plans that Yi Do has for the future.

In private Yi Do explains how his Joseon will be different to his father’s. He will rule with words not with swords. He wants to have assemblies where debates can take place and decisions made properly. But his father is against this and tries to make him change his mind. But Yi Do is determined.

Then as Yi Do turns to leave, his father stops him with one word – milbon, Secret Root. Yi Do has heard the rumour about this secret group who are against the monarchy, but his father says the group really exists and is led by Jeong Do Jeon’s nephew Jeong Gi Joon. Yi Bangwon wonders if it’s because of a previous incident with Jeong Gi Joon that Yi Do wants to to set up the educational institute and assemblies. But Yi Do pretends that he doesn’t even remember who Jeong Gi Joon is. But he clearly does remember …

History note

OK, there are so many questions to answer about this bit so far…

Who was 정도전 Jeong Do Jeon?

He was an esteemed Neo-Confucian scholar and political statesman. He worked with General Yi Seonggye (later King Taejo, the first king of Joseon, also King Taejong’s father) towards the end of the Goryeo dynasty and helped him create the foundations of the Joseon Dynasty. He became the first prime minister of Joseon and had a lot of power under King Taejo. Jeong Do Jeon played a role in changing Joseon to a Confucian ideology instead of Buddhism which had dominated the Goryeo period. He set up assemblies and wrote books on various policies.

He believed that the officials should make political decisions through assemblies and that the king was more of a symbolic figurehead. (so that’s why) Jeong Do Jeon and many of his followers were assassinated by Yi Bangwon. After Yi Bangwon became King Taejong, Jeong Do Jeon was presented as an enemy of Joseon and vilified for a long time.

How did Yi Bangwon Become King Taejong 

Yi Bangwon’s father was Yi Seongge who became King Taejo, the first king of Joseon. But to gain power and start a new dynasty there was plenty of dirty work to be done and Yi Bangwon did a lot of this to help his father secure power – including assassinating powerful ministers in the Goryeo dynasty. So he expected his father to name him crown prince even though he was his 5th son. But Jeong Do Jeon didn’t like this idea as he wanted the monarch to be the symbolic head of the nation. Yi Bangwon wanted power too. So Jeong Dojeon encouraged King Taejo to name his 8th son as the crown prince instead and by doing this became Yi Bangwon’s enemy. After Queen Sindeok died in 1398 Yi Bangwon led a coup, killing Jeong Dojeon and his supporters as well as the crown prince.

King Taejo was upset and angry with his son Yi Bangwon and abdicated. He named his second son as his successor – King Jeongjong. But even though his brother was the king, Yi Bangwon always had the real power in the land. Another one of Yi Bangwon’s brothers, Yi Bang-gan, also wanted power and so the two brothers ended up fighting. Yi Bangwon won and sent his brother into exile. King Jeongjong was frightened of his brother so he named him crown prince and abdicated.

What is the situation in Joseon now?

So Jeong Do Jeon had set up assemblies giving power to the ministers to make decisions but King Taejong was not into this idea. He doesn’t like power being taken away from the king so he created a central government and an absolute monarchy. Policies had to be passed by the king before being put in place. He was ruthless and to keep his power even killed his supporters and in-laws (his queen’s brothers as well as Yi Do’s in-laws). The structure that Jeong Do Jeon set up is still there but as king, King Taejong pretty much ignores this when he feels like it.

He thinks that as Joseon is such a new dynasty (only 26 years old) they must continue making it stronger with a strong leadership. He can’t understand why Yi Do wants to waste time making assemblies when he himself is interested in breaking them up and making sure that the monarch has absolute power.

Anyway, back to the story…

In Banchon, the head nobi holds the scroll of the Hidden Root and seems pleased. So this is a twist. She is obviously on the side of the Hidden Root not the king’s. She quickly hides the scroll when one of the men arrives. He says he can’t control Dol Bok because he’s too wild. But she replies that they must at least keep him for a little longer.

The meaning of Yi Do’s flashbacks

After hearing his father mention Jeong Gi Joon’s name, Yi Do remembers back to nine years ago when he first met Jeong Gi Joon. He was with his father watching the young yangban, noblemen, take the test to become officials. He wanders around and sees a young man finish the test and hand in the paper. But even though Yi Do is a prince, the young scholar doesn’t show him any respect. So Yi Do wants to read what the young man wrote on his paper. Sure enough he has written derogatory things about the King, so Yi Do is annoyed and follows him to confront him. The young man is Jeong Gi Joon.

Jeong Gi Joon openly criticises King Taejong for killing his uncle and ruling the country by creating fear. But his main gripe is that King Taejong has kept his uncle’s structure in place but does not abide by it. King Taejong doesn’t hold many meetings and makes all the decisions himself anyway. Yi Do is frustrated and angry and in the end he punches the boy in the face but the boy is unmoved – he says Yi Do is just like his father (resorting to violence).

When King Taejong reads Jeong Gi Joon’s work he is furious and calls for the soldiers to kill him and his father. Meanwhile,Yi Do is following Jeong Gi Joon home when they see the soldiers. They hide and watch. The nobi are gathered together and beaten when they don’t know where the scholars are. Finally Jeong Gi Joon stands up and gives himself up. The soldiers beat him and are about to execute him when other men arrive on horseback with bows and arrows and attack the soldiers. It must be his father who grabs Jeong Gi Joon and pulls him on the back of his horse. But as he rides past Yi Do who is helplessly hiding in the bushes, he mouths, with a blood stained mouth, the words that seem to haunt Yi Do –There’s nothing you can do.

So Yi Do clearly remembers Jeong Gi Joon.

Yi Bangwon is also thinking back to that day: After he hears that Jeong Gi Joon and his father have got away, he  takes the soldiers down a secret passage that he knows was made by Jeong Do Jeon. On the wall is a piece of writing by Jeong Do Jeon. The writing explains the meaning of Hidden Root.

What does Hidden Root mean? 

밀본 Milbon – Hidden Root – a ‘terrorist’ organisation led by Jeong Do Jeon’s nephew, Jeong Gi Joon

The work on the wall likens the king to a flower – it can be cut and another flower can take its place. But a flower has no roots. A tree, on the other hand, does have roots. The tree represents Joseon and the roots of the tree are the scholars and beaurocrats. So Milbon represents the power of the nobility. They believe that the king is only the symbolic ruler and doesn’t have any power – the ministers and nobility are the ones who hold the real power. They are the hidden root of Joseon and if the roots are not there the tree will die. The roots are the life of the tree. Jeong Do Jeon is dead now but the secret group he formed continue to be against the monarchy.

Back to the present …

Back to now, Yi Bangwon is told that Jeong Gi Joon and his father have been spotted. One of the officials, Lee Shin Chon, comes to tell Yi Do that the guard, Jo Mal Seng, is giving orders to the army without the King’s command. But Yi Do has already guessed that Jo Mal Seng is following Yi Bangwon’s orders to find Jeong Gi Joon.

The soliders have looked all over and realise that the men must be hiding in Banchon. This is a problem as the soldiers are not supposed to enter the village without the King’s permission. And they are definitely not allowed to enter the Confucian temple nearby which is inside Sungkyunkwan, the scholars institute. But of course Yi Bangwon is not going to be concerned about breaking the rules.

Yi Do wants to protect Jeong Gi Joon and tells his own guard Mu Hyul to go and get  him. Meanwhile Yi Bangwon sends an order to Jo Mal Seng to enter Banchon but says that he never gave permission to enter Banchon! (If that makes sense?!)

In Banchon Dol Bok is tied up in a barn still angry as ever. He see a fire torch light and tries to reach it to burn away his rope ties. Meanwhile the head nobi goes to the shrine where she finds Jeong Do Jeon’s brother. She hands him the Hidden Root’s scroll that she had managed to get hold of. They are all moved because now they have the scroll they can set up the Hidden Root properly and all the scholars will follow them.

Meanwhile, Jo Mal Seng gets the order from Yi Bangwon and orders his men to go into the temple to find the scholars. They look concerned and are told that they are not going in as state troops – so if they are caught they will not be considered as royal army and are on their own – this is kind of like James Bond now. They are told to replace their uniforms with black outfits and masks. (since Yi Bangwon never gave them an order to enter Banchon!) Yi Do hears that they in Banchon and sends his guard to bring the two men back alive.

Meanwhile Dol Bok manages to escape from the barn and draws attention to himself when the barn catches fire. He runs away and is followed by a a group of nobi. But he runs straight up to the shrine and in front of a line of intimidating men all in black! The nobi arrive too and Dol Bok is shocked to find himself in the middle of the two groups. The nobi are shocked to see the disguised soldiers and they all start to fight each other. This gives Dol Bok a chance to escape.

The noise alerts them in the shrine and the men escape through a secret passage. But Dol Bok arrives at the same moment and manages to push Jeong Do Jeon’s brother off his horse and rides away with the important scroll. But later, Dol Bok realises that his father’s will is missing, so he decides to go back to find it. Meanwhile the men in black are coming to get them…

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