The ultimate downsizing: dispatching court officials to concurrent provincial posts

How does this idea sound? Would this be feasible in pre-modern times? Let us find out what King Sejong thought.

The Veritable Records of King Sejong, Volume 36, Year 9 (1427), Month 4, Day 6, Entry 2



Left Censor 司諫院左司諫 Kim Seop 金涉 and others memorialized as follows:


臣等竊謂舊制, 各道都觀察使節制使及經歷都事, 廣選於時散臣僚, 皆下批而遣之, 誠良法也。

As your subjects humbly observe, according to the former system, the governor, commander, secretary, and inspector of each province were widely selected from among both former and current officials, all of whom were recommended to, and then appointed by, the King before being dispatched [to their posts]. Truly, this was a good law.


今觀察使、都節制使、處置使、經歷都事, 皆以京官遣之, 臣等以爲其不可者有三。
At present, governors, chief commanders, [naval] commissioners, secretaries, and inspectors [of the provinces] are all dispatched from among officials with concurrent posts in the capital. Your subjects consider this improper for three reasons.


我朝兩府及各司吏員之數, 本不多矣, 而上項出使之員, 二十有五, 又況不得已遣使中國, 歲常不絶。 由是在朝之臣, 實爲鮮少, 每於使臣迎送之際, 朝列不充, 而有虧於邦國之光, 其不可者一也。
The number of our court officials in both civil and military councils and in other offices is small to begin with. And the personnel assigned to provincial posts as mentioned above numbers twenty-five. Furthermore, it is unavoidable to send envoys to China every year without interruption. For this reason, the officials present in the court is indeed limited in number. Whenever welcoming and sending off [Chinese] envoys, the assemblage of court officials are not sufficient, thereby marring the dignity of our country. This is the first reason that makes it improper [to continue assigning court officials to provincial posts].


觀察使, 統察一方, 黜陟臧否, 任莫重焉。 節制使處置使, 專制閫外, 折衝禦侮, 其任亦重, 不可不精選也。 但以時任選用, 則賢路不廣, 或有遺才之嘆, 其不可者二也。
The governor is charged with administering one region. Being responsible for the demotion and promotion of magistrates subordinate to him, his duties are of utmost import. [Provincial army] commanders and [naval] commissioners are devoted to defending frontiers and repelling foreign aggression. Bearing heavy responsibilities, they too must be selected with care. However, assigning current officials [to provincial posts] reduces the chance for the worthy to advance and thus may lead to failures in recruiting those with talent. This is the second reason that makes [the current practice] improper.


各供爾職, 以成其務, 設官之意也。 棄其本職, 乃治外事, 以致曠官, 其不可者三也。
The intent behind establishing an office is to allow each to perform his duties and thereby achieving his tasks. [The current practice] forces officials to neglect their priorities and engage instead in coping with provincial matters, turning them into negligent officials. This is the third reason that makes [the current practice] improper.


願自今各道監司、節制ㆍ處置等使, 皆於時散二品。 經歷都事, 六品以上, 選其賢能, 下批而遣之, 則朝列不虛, 而國有光矣, 賢路益廣, 而才不滯矣, 衆職畢擧, 而官不曠矣。

It is hoped that hereafter, the governor, army commander, and naval commissioner of each province be all selected from among second-rank officials with or without office, and secretaries and inspectors from among those of the sixth rank or above, and that they be recommended to and appointed by the King before their dispatch. This would help the assemblage of court officials remain sufficient and thus accord dignity to our country. The path by which the worthy can advance would be broadened, and recruiting unimpeded. All the duties would be fulfilled and no post left vacant.


若以下批爲祿俸之費, 則諸使之在外, 久不過周年, 雖無祿俸可也。 伏望聖裁施行。

If new appointments are feared to increase [government] expenditure for salaries, [it is our opinion that] it would not be impossible to make provincial posts unsalaried positions. After all, terms of office for provincial posts expire within one year at the longest. We humbly hope that Your Majesty will make a decision in favor of our request for execution.


The King did not grant this request.

Now we know that King Sejong refused to grant the Left Censor’s request for abandoning the new practice of dispatching court officials to concurrent provincial posts. So the King thought it was feasible, and indeed necessary, to concurrently appoint officials to posts geographically separated by days, or even weeks, of journey. To be fair, the people were suffering from a series of poor harvests year after year when this new practice was introduced in an attempt to cut government spending by reducing in effect the number of salaried officials. Thus it can be said that adopting this apparently unreasonable policy was perceived as an economic necessity at the time.  This policy was later revoked when the need for such a stringent measure disappeared.

Translated with comments by Hacksun Cha from the original Sillok text. Copyright © 2017 & 2018. All rights reserved.