Before the modern concept of the state took shape, what were the methods that enabled monarchies to survive for so long as stable systems of government? Perhaps the simplest method was that of force, as found in medieval Europe. Those with large armies were victorious in war and held onto their land, while the weak saw their land and peoples snatched away. But there was a kingdom that ruled by the pen rather than the sword. This was the Choson dynasty, which reigned over the Korean peninsula for over 500 years through a system of civil governance where policy was decided through discussion between subjects and kings, based on Confucian ideology.
This book introduces the Choson dynasty’s ruling system, which managed to embody Confucian ideology in a political order that used elaborate systems and apparatus to prevent the concentration of power in any one center. It offers a broad examination of the Choson system of civilian governance, including the Government Service Examinations where officials were selected based on knowledge of Confucian classics, the keeping of “Choson Sillok (The Annals of Choson Dynasty)” records that kings were not even allowed to read, and a system of audits and inspections to curb the tyranny of high-ranking officers.