Counselor Lee of South Radish Field

Counselor Lee of South Radish Field was a member of the Gobu clan Lee family. His first name was Eun-Seong. He lived during the reign of King Suk-Jong in a place in Jungmun Village known as South Radish Field. Since he was the lead government advisor for Daejeong County, people came to call him Counselor Lee of South Radish Field. Counselor Lee was extraordinarily tall and had a very dignified appearance. Most notably, he had big bright eyes that shone like a tiger’s. He was one of Jeju’s ‘Three Tigers’. Counselor Lee always went around with his eyes half closed. If he didn’t, dogs and chickens would drop dead upon meeting his gaze, and birds would drop out of the sky, scared to death at the light shining from his eyes.

One day, Counselor Lee had to go see the governor. He presented himself and bowed down low to the ground with his eyes almost fully closed. The governor thought this a very strange way to bow, and asked him “Counselor, why are you keeping your eyes closed?” “Sir,” he replied, “how could I possibly dare to look directly at such a respectable gentleman?” “That’s all right, you may open your eyes,” the governor said. He had to repeat himself a few times. When Counselor Lee finally opened his eyes, the governor was bowled over backwards. He waved his hands wildly about, exclaiming “Close your eyes! Close them!”

In those days, there were thirteen pastures in Jeju, where one thousand of the king’s horses were raised. Each pasture was divided into an upper and lower section, and horses were sent to each section in alternating years, so the use of the upper and lower sections was constantly rotated. When the king’s horses were grazing in the upper pasture, poor people from nearby villages were allowed to cultivate the lower pasture free of charge. However, the king demanded regular payment of taxes in the form of grain. The grain tax was quite a heavy burden, so in years of poor harvest, the peasants often had nothing left for themselves. However, regardless of whether or not the lower pasture was being used to cultivate crops, if the grass in the upper pasture dried up, the governor would order the peasants to take down the stone boundary walls and give up their crops to be used as fodder for the king’s horses. At those times, life for the poor peasants became tragically difficult.

Furthermore, during that period of history, many government officials acted like awful tyrants. When strong, sensible governors were in power, things were not so bad, as they would crack down on government abuses. But when a weak governor took over, government officials would find ways to deceive him and wrest power away for themselves so they could continue to oppress the peasantry. The worst time of year for the average person was around August, when the grain was ripening. If yellow spots began to appear on the grain in the lower pasture, government officials would conspire to gain profit for themselves by tricking the governor. They would tell him “This year the upper pasture has gone dry, so the king’s horses are starving.” “What shall we do about it?” the governor would ask. “The only way to save them is to tear down the stone boundary wall and allow the horses to enter the lower pasture to feed on the crops there,” the government officials would say. The trick worked every time, and there would be an official pronouncement ordering the wall to be taken down. The royal decree would be passed down through the three county magistrates on the island, until it reached the minister of labor. At that point, the peasants had no choice but to gather together what money they could spare so as to bribe the officials into allowing them to keep their crops for themselves.  

When Counselor Lee was the minister of labor of Daejeong County, he also had to give the order to take down the boundary walls. He became quite distressed because there were seven or eight different pastures in the district. Furthermore, the order came at a time when the horses were well fed and in glowing good health. The county magistrate did not dare tell the governor, so he summoned Counselor Lee once again and ordered him to do as he had been told. “Yes, sir,” Counselor Lee replied, and left the county magistrate’s office. He just could not bring himself to tear down the walls, though. The very thought of it was repugnant.

The county magistrate once again ordered Counselor Lee to come see him. “Why have you not yet torn down those walls?” he asked. “Sir, it’s not for lack of trying. You see, I went out to the pasture, but there was an eighty-year-old man sitting at the entrance, crying out “Oh my, oh my!” I asked him what was wrong, and he told me that if his crops got eaten up, he would be ruined. So I simply couldn’t take down the walls.”

The county magistrate produced the royal decree ordering the walls to be torn down, and asked Counselor Lee what he thought they should do. Counselor Lee examined the paper, tore it into shreds and threw it into the fireplace. “What on earth do you plan on doing now?” the county magistrate exclaimed. “Don’t worry, I will go and take the blame, even if it costs me my life,” Counselor Lee replied calmly. He went to see the governor, and having faced him with his eyes closed, opened them wide. The governor was once again so stunned upon seeing Counselor Lee’s tiger-like eyes that he fell over backwards. Regaining his composure, he got up, returned to his seat, and asked “So, have you taken down the dividing wall and seen to it that the king’s horses got fed?”

“Governor, sir,” Counselor Lee replied, “have you come to Jeju only to ensure that the king’s horses stay alive, or have you also come to protect the lives of the people of this island?” “What are you talking about?” the governor demanded. “Sir, please go and have a look for yourself. The king’s horses are plump and their coats are shiny. Does it make any sense to order the horses to be fed using the people’s grain crops?” Counselor Lee asked. The governor took Counselor Lee’s hand, brought him forward, and seated him next to himself; Counselor Lee explained in full what had been going on. After putting all the conspirators in pillories and throwing them in prison, the governor immediately made Counselor Lee a Special Counselor for the town of Jeju.

When the government officials were imprisoned thanks to Counselor Lee’s disclosure of their corruption, Jeju City was thrown into chaos. Crowds of people waited for Counselor Lee to be released, and clamored for the corrupt officials to be brought out so they could beat them to death. Counselor Lee decided to leave the governor’s office and confront the mob, so as to deliver news of the governor’s sentencing of the officials. As he was saying farewell and turning to go, the governor tried to persuade him to wait a while, considering the volatility of the situation. But Counselor Lee went outside anyway, telling the governor that everything would be all right. He faced the mob of people, who were brandishing clubs and crowding towards him in a clattering uproar. “You bastards!” shouted Counselor Lee, as he stared directly at the mob. Each and every one of the ruffians, some of whom fell over backwards in shock, all took off in different directions. Not a single person stayed behind.  

Counselor Lee died at the young age of thirty-eight. He was afflicted with a disease that no strong man could overcome, and lay suffering in bed for a long time. Lying there quietly one day, he thought to himself that it was just a matter of days before he would die. When that day arrived, the Messengers of Death came rushing in to convey him to death’s door. Still lying in his bed, Counselor Lee pounded the banister next to it with his fist and shouted “Stop right there, evil spirits! My mother is still alive. Do you really think I’m going to leave this world without first telling her that her unfilial son is about to depart?” The banister snapped under the force of his fist.

The Messengers of Death halted their approach and stood in the yard outside. Counselor Lee asked to be raised out of bed. He put on his overcoat, adjusted it until it was just right, and went to his mother’s room. There he announced “Your unfilial son is going to depart this world before you.” He returned to his room and said to those gathered there “Lay me down now.” Having carefully done so, Counselor Lee fell asleep peacefully. That, it is said, is how his life came to an end.  

Counselor Lee’s gravesite was moved to a different location about seventy years after he died. There is a saying that the corpse of a hero doesn’t rot for sixty years. After seventy years, Counselor Lee’s body still had not rotted. When his grave was dug up, he was found with his eyes open in greeting, and his stiff body lay there in the same condition as the day he was buried. His coffin was home-made, and though he had ordered it to be made large, it was measured using a pole, so it ended up being a little small. Someone had to go sit in it and use a hand-ax to cut out one end before Counselor Lee’s body could be placed inside. It normally takes twelve men to carry a coffin, but in Counselor Lee’s case, twenty men were employed, and they only just managed to convey the funeral bier to the gravesite.

As recounted on March 3, 1975, by Mr. Gim Seung-Du (62) and Mr. Go Yeong-Hong (67) of Jungmun-ri.

From 99 Legends of Jeju Island, a compilation based on accounts compiled by Hyun Yong-Joon.

Counselor Lee

   Counselor Lee’s name was Lee Eun-Seong (이은성 : 李殷成). He was a jwasu (좌수: 座首), here translated as counselor. During the Joseon Dynasty, each region had an autonomous institution known as a hyangcheong (향청: 鄕廳, later called hyangjang: 향장: 鄕長), whose role was to provide advice to the local governing authorities as well as keep them in check. A jwasu was the head of this institution.

County Magistrate

   During the Joseon Dynasty, the lowest level administrative district was called a hyeon (현: 縣). There were two hyeon in Jeju: Daejeong Hyeon (대정현: 大靜縣) and Jeongui Hyeon (정의현: 旌義縣). The head of a hyeon was called a hyeongam (현감: 縣監), here translated as county magistrate.

Daejeong County 

   During the Joseon Dynasty, the lowest level administrative district was called a hyeon (현: 縣), here translated as county. There were two hyeon in Jeju: Daejeong Hyeon (대정현: 大靜縣) and Jeongui Hyeon (정의현: 旌義縣).

Gobu clan

   There are less than 300 surnames in use in Korea, with Gim, Yi, and Bak (more commonly spelled Kim, Lee and Park) making up about half the population. Surnames are divided into different clans, according to the birthplace of their first known ancestor. In this case, Counselor Lee’s ancestors were from Gobu.  

Jungmun Village : Jungmun-ri : 중문리 : 中文里

King Suk-Jong (숙종: 肅宗) reigned from 1674-1720.

Minister of Labor

   The government position here translated as minister of labor was called an ibang (이방: 吏房). During the Joseon Dynasty, ibang were placed in each district to oversee such matters as the management of personnel, performance reviews of government officials, and the awarding of medals and decorations.

South Radish Field : Muunambat : 무우남밭 or Munambat : 무남밭

Special Counselor

   This position was called yeongjwasu (영좌수: 靈座首). It may have referred to a person who was responsible for speaking on behalf of the dead. It may also have been used as the title of someone who was given the position of counselor for the remainder of their life, or in perpetuity, as the office of counselor was normally limited to a term of two years. 

Three Tigers

   The Three Tigers of Jeju were three men who reminded people of tigers. Their defining feature was the presence of two pupils per eye. Officer Tiger of Gwe, who is the subject of another legend in this collection, was another of the Three Tigers; the identity of the third is not known. 

Town of Jeju

   During the Joseon Dynasty, Jeju was divided into three districts: Jeju Mok (제주목: 濟州牧), here called the town of Jeju, Daejeong Hyeon (대정현: 大靜縣) and Jeongui Hyeon (정의현: 旌義縣).

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