Deep Rooted Tree Episode 17

 Jeong Gi Joon steams ahead creating fear and panic through the ranks of the noblemen. They are now all afraid of what will happen if the king’s new alphabet gets published. His first trick is to show that a NOBI slave will be able to take the civil service entrance exam too. Shock, horror! Then scholars are encouraged to take the law into their own hands. Jeong Gi Joon has one final sinister part to his plan and he needs Lee Bang Ji and Chae Yoon for that …

Jeong Gi Joon stands up in a rage. The king must not be allowed to publish his letters. So they must get a message to Lee Shin Chok ASAP. But the king and  the ministers are already arriving for their meeting to close the deal. A messenger sprints to the palace. Minister Lee is looking very pleased with himself and is bending over to take his boots off when he hears a breathless voice calling his name. He gets the message (just in time) – he’s told only that he must not agree to the publication of the letters. Minister Lee is shaken. He was confident that everything was going to plan but now he’s confused.

He goes in to see the king with the PM but he is visibly shaken. The PM asks the king what he has decided to do (close the Institute or give up the letters). The king sighs and is about to say he will give up the Institute (as he secretly has plans to start other organisations) but Minister Lee stops him. He says that he has been thinking about this issue and has had a change of heart – since ministers were against the actual alphabet being published he doesn’t think they will accept this deal! The PM looks confused. And the king glares at him wondering why the sudden change of heart. He knows that there must be a reason for this.


After the meeting, Minister Lee is given his next order – get the question for tomorrow’s kwago (civil service exam). Meanwhile, Jeong Gi Joon orders Yoon Pyeong to find Lee Bang Ji. But the others still don’t know why he wants Chae Yoon and Lee Bang Ji working with them.

Minister Lee arrives with the information about the kwago exam. But he’s still not happy with the change of plans. After all, Jeong Gi Joon said himself that the people WILL NEVER learn these letters. But Jeong Gi Joon explains that these letters can even make ‘the sun rise in the west’! So anything is possible. Noblemen are noblemen because they can read and write, he says. Noblemen study hard to learn the Chinese characters and pass the gwageo exam to become officials and rule the country.

But if everyone can read then the order of Joseon will crumble into chaos. Jeong Gi Joon has realised that the king wants to give the common people power. The sadebu nobility use hanja as a weapon. The letters are power. But what will happen if everyone can write? They will want to write and express themselves and he thinks this is dangerous for uneducated people. But Lee still doesn’t get it. Shim says that if all the classes yangban, Yangin, Chonin, nobi can read then their power will disappear. (I wrote more on Joseon social classes here)

It’s the day of the Kwago exam but the king is nervous and asks if anything seems strange, but there is nothing to report. He’s expecting Jeong Gi Joon to do something… Sure enough Jeong Gi Joon IS planning something…

After the exam, the king is given the best answers from the candidates and he chooses the best of the best. So the winner (that HE chose) comes in and kneels before him. The winner receives his certificate (they are huge. See a picture of an original kwago certificate here) and the king pours him a drink. Then the king asks him about himself.

But he simply stands up and begins to undress. It’s simple but dramatic. He takes his outer clothes off to reveal … NOBI (slave) clothes underneath. He explains that he is a nobi from Banchon to the shock and horror of the ministers and the king! The nobi says that he learnt to read but is only a slave. But now as the king is making an alphabet for everyone, he has come to show his skills. Jeong Gi Joon is showing the officials what it will be like when everyone can read. Anyone will be able to pass the civil service exam and become an official. Not just yangban – even slaves. The king is fuming. He knows this is the work of Jeong Gi Joon.


JGJ’s stunt with the nobi has had its desired effect and everyone is outraged at the thought of what could happen if everyone is allowed to learn to read. Even Park Po is shocked to think what will happen if nobi are also allowed to become guards and work their way up the ranks.

And now for Jeong Gi Joon’s next trick …

Park Sae Myeong, a young scholar from the Sungkyunkwan Institute scolds a quivering nobi for daring to read and study. But the nobi pleads innocence. The scholar rips up the books he has and burns them outside on the fire. The slaves have broken Joseon laws as they are not allowed to study Confucianism. (This annoys me to watch these really young arrogant boys that are only there because they were born into a certain family.) The nobi are all told off for being greedy and having desires above their station. Chae Yoon and Cho Tak just watch silently from the sidelines. But Chae Yoon recognises the murderous look in the scholar’s eyes. He’s seen that look before on the battlefield.


The king realises things are going to get worse and they should prepare themselves. And he recognises that the scholars will act out of fear – fear of losing their exclusive rights. Jeong Gi Joon meets with the young scholar and gets him to agree to do something. As the scholar is leaving he bumps into Chae Yoon who recognises him. Chae Yoon is suspicious and follows him to the river where the arrested nobi is tied up and being taken away.

Suddenly, the young scholar walks up to him holding a knife and stabs the nobi over and over again. Chae Yoon looks on in horror and then storms off to the Sungkyungkwan to arrest the scholar. The scholars at the gates refuse to let him in. But he’s distracted by a speech being made up on the wall.

The young scholar is up there reading out his suicide speech. He admits to killing the nobi who dared to try to pass the kwago exam. And he says he represents all the scholars who are against the king’s plans. Then he climbs up on the edge of the wall. Jeong Gi Joon is in the crowd too and watches Chae Yoon with interest. The crowd gasps as the scholar jumps to his death. Chae yoon is shocked and Jeong Gi Joon explains that to the scholars writing is power. Chae Yoon wanders back to the palace thinking about what a big deal these letters really are.


At the palace he discusses the problem with So Yi. Publishing the new letters is a bigger problem than Chae Yoon had anticipated. But they know that Jeong Gi Joon is behind all this. So Yi mentions that Jo Mal Seng has seen his face but it was long ago. Chae Yoon realises that Lee Bang Ji must know something. Then So Yi questions him AGAIN about his request for the king. But Chae Yoon says he’ll tell her after he catches Jeong Gi Joon. He thinks back to what Jo Mal Seng said about Lee Bang Ji and decides that he must find him.


Meanwhile, a milbon soldier is putting up coded messages. Lee Bang Ji grabs him and demands to see Yoon Pyeong. He is clearly not a fan of Milbon and doesn’t want Yoon Pyeong to address him as ‘master’. And it seems he won’t even meet with Jeong Gi Joon until Yoon Pyeong mentions  that Chae Yoon IS working with Milbon.

Chae Yoon tells Mu Hyul that he was Lee Bang Ji’s apprentice and now intends to find him. But is he a member of Milbon? Mu Hyul doesn’t know. But he explains the reason why Lee Bang Ji couldn’t protect Jeong Do Jeon the night he was killed by King Taejong:

Lee Bang Ji was in love with his master’s wife. So King Taejong had her kidnapped to get him away from Jeong Do Jeon. With a sword at her throat she tells him to hurry and protect his master Jeong Do Jeon. But he hesitates. He doesn’t want to leave her. So she pushes the sword into her own chest and commits suicide. He’s devastated but then also discovers that he’s too late and Jeong Do Jeon has been killed too. So in the end he couldn’t protect either of them. And the man who was holding the sword was Jo Mal Seng!

Chae Yoon packs his bags again as he’s going off to look for Lee Bang Ji. But still wonders how he’s related to Milbon. Lee Bang Ji goes to the place where his love died and pours liquor on the ground in the familiar ritual. But a nobi who was ordered to keep a look out for him see him and goes to tell Jo Mal Seng what he saw.

As Jeong Gi Joon predicted, Lee Bang Ji comes to see him. Jeong Gi Joon brags that he is now the leader of Milbon but Lee Bang Ji remains unimpressed. The big assassin is waiting in the wings and Lee Bang Ji senses this. Jeong Gi Joon works on Lee Bang Ji’s guilt and blames him for changing Joseon’s history. (By letting Jeong Do Jeon die) Lee Bang Ji argues that for that reason he trained Yoon Pyeong to be a killer. But Jeong Gi Joon doesn’t think this is enough. Now he wants Lee Bang Ji to join Milbon too and work with Chae Yoon.  Lee Bang Ji is shocked to hear that Chae Yoon wants to kill the king.

Just then they hear someone at the door. It’s Chae Yoon who wants some meat to take on his trip. Jeong Gi Joon is thinking quickly about what to do! He decides to invite Chae Yoon in to wait while he gets the meat. Chae Yoon sits opposite Lee Bang Ji. At first both men are unaware of each other. But as the two men finally recognise each other, Jeong Gi Joon looks on with relish!




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