To have female entertainers at provincial governments, or not have them–that is the question.

Here the issue is described only in economic terms, but moral concerns were also raised in other entries of the Sillok. King Sejong discusses the matter toward the end of his dialogue with the chief royal secretary. Prior to that, other matters including the advisability of the newly introduced practice of daily holding a one-on-one royal interview with a mid-level official, known as yundae 輪對, are addressed.

The King discusses whether to eliminate the system of female entertainers attached to the provincial governments

The Veritable Records of King Sejong, Volume 51, Year 13 (1432), Month 3, Day 5, Entry 1


○己巳/輪對, 經筵。

On gisa day, the King received one of the officials of the fourth rank and above for a private interview held in succession. He then attended the Royal Lecture.


講至宋朝讒毁之事, 嘆曰: “讒說, 何如此盛行乎? 是則人主致然也。 今聞中朝讒說盛行, 皇帝之事, 亦且不諱。 我國幸無此風。”

When reading a passage on the incidents of slander in the court of Song China 宋朝, the King sighed and said, “How could slanders have become rampant to such an extent? Sovereigns must have been the cause of all this. I hear that calumnies are widespread in the Chinese court these days and that not even affairs involving the Emperor are safe from slanderous attacks. It is fortunate that our country has no such custom.”


知申事安崇善對曰: “姦邪之臣, 無代無之, 在人主辨之耳, 人主待賢士大夫之日多者, 能保其治, 否者亂。 今設輪對之法, 兼聽廣納, 誠美法也。 當此之時, 聖鑑昭昭, 固無讒說之虞, 至于後世, 安知讒訴之風, 不由玆而起乎? 此不可不慮。”

Chief Royal Secretary 知申事 Ahn Sungseon 安崇善 replied, “Treacherous officials are to be found in any eras. It is only by virtue of the sovereign’s wisdom that such can be screened out. If the sovereign welcomes the company of worthy scholar officials for long periods of time, he can maintain stable governance. Otherwise, disorder ensues. Recently, a new law has been established so that officials of the fourth rank and above may be received in audience by the King each in turn for a private interview. This truly is an excellent law in that it makes it possible for the King to listen to various sources of information and accept good policy recommendations from a broader base of officials.

“[There is cause for concern, however.] The present era enjoys impeccable royal brilliance of Your Majesty, which precludes the potential for the growth of calumniation. However, how can one be assured that the practice of allowing officials to report singly to the King will not give rise to the custom of calumniation in the future? This must be taken into consideration.”


上曰: “言此者亦多, 然輪對之語, 君上獨聽, 而不洩於外, 言或不中, 亦不加罪, 故心有所蘊, 則盡陳無隱, 間雖眞僞相混, 然有益於人主者多矣。 觀其人、聽其言, 而知其賢否得失, 亦一幸也。 自古雖善法, 必有其弊。”

The King said, “That is a concern that many have expressed. However, during private interviews with the King, each official speaks his mind singly, and only the King listens and never divulges what he has heard. Even when there are occasional errors in their reports, mistaken officials are not punished for their errors. Thus they can confide what they have in mind without reservation. While there might be some falsities intermingled with truths from time to time, the overall effect is beneficial to the monarch. During a private interview, the King can observe an official and listens to him in person and thus can discern his worthiness and merits or lack thereof. This too is one of the benefits. From time immemorial, even good laws cannot but have their drawbacks.”


又曰: “萬務至煩, 非人主所能盡知, 然專委於下, 以誤國家者, 古亦有之, 故不獲已親決細事者多矣。”

The King also said, “It is impossible for the monarch to possess exhaustive knowledge of all state affairs. However, in ancient times there were cases in which the monarch entrusted all matters to those below him and thereby endangered his country. Thus in many cases, it is unavoidable for the monarch to make decisions on detailed matters personally.”


崇善對曰: “人主之職, 在論一相。 相得其人, 則庶事康, 不得其人, 則萬事墮。”

Sungseon replied, “It is a monarch’s responsibility to select one good chief minister. If a qualified chief minister is secured, all matters will be properly administered. Otherwise, nothing will be maintained.”


上曰: “然。”

The King said, “That is true.”


上又曰: “守令殿最, 易致漏洩。 連中者則謂將遞任, 懶於職事。 如何則不洩乎? 予與代言, 見而還封, 則必不洩矣。 然不得不下吏曹, 旣下吏曹, 則必洩。 往者吏曹以此得罪, 後復如故。 且不加資, 則守令自知多中, 將何術以處之?”

The King also said, “Results of the performance evaluation of magistrates are prone to be disclosed without authorization. Those who are informed that they have consecutively received medium grades tend to become neglectful of their duties, knowing that they will soon be replaced. How can we prevent such unauthorized disclosure? If the evaluation results are sealed again after the royal secretaries and I have read them, surely the results will not be disclosed without authorization. However, in the end the results must be transmitted to the Ministry of Personnel 吏曹, and once the results are transmitted to the Ministry of Personnel, they will certainly be divulged.

“Previously, the Ministry of Personnel had been penalized for divulging evaluation results, and yet unauthorized disclosure resumed after a while. Also, if magistrates are not promoted, they can infer that they have earned mostly medium grades. By what measure can we best cope with this?”


崇善對曰: “殿最之時, 監司但與經歷同議, 然未啓之前, 皆得知之。 我國人胸次淺露, 不使漏洩難矣。”

Sungseon replied, “During the performance evaluation of magistrates, the governor discuss the matter only with his principal aide. But even before the evaluation result is reported to the throne, everyone gains knowledge of the result. The people of our country have a tendency to be indiscreet, and so it is difficult to make them maintain confidentiality.”



The King concurred.


又曰: “外方官妓多奴婢, 大官外欲皆除之, 若選上者少, 則擇京中巫女之女及絃首, 補之何如? 【隨巫女業絃歌者, 俗稱絃首。】 其下詳定所擬議。 若中朝使臣來往平安、黃海兩道, 不在此限。”

The King then said, “Slaves constitute a great proportion of female government entertainers in the provinces. Except in large towns, I intend to eliminate the institution of provincial female government entertainers. If the government ever experiences a shortage of female government entertainers drafted from the provinces to meet the needs in the capital, then such deficiency might be best supplied by selecting the daughters of female shamans in the capital and string girls. 【Those accompanying female shamans for playing stringed instruments and singing are commonly known as string girls 絃首.】

“You shall refer this matter to the Office for the Establishment of Ceremonies 儀禮詳定所 to discuss whether adopting this new measure is proper. As far as Pyeongan 平安 and Hwanghae 黃海 Provinces are concerned, they shall be exempted from this new limitation on female government entertainers because [they are needed to entertain] Chinese envoys who travel along the pathway across both the provinces.”


蓋以江原監司高若海, 因淮陽府奴婢之少, 請革官妓也。

Probably, this new policy was discussed here because Governor of Gangwon Province 江原監司 Ko Yakhae 高若海 had requested the abolishment of female government entertainers due to a dearth of slaves in Hoeyang Strategic Prefecture 淮陽府.


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