Bak Mun-su(朴文秀)

Bak Mun-su

Headword

박문수 ( 朴文秀 , Bak Mun-su )

Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Folk Literature > Folk tales > Legends

Writer ShinDongheun(申東昕)

This legend narrates the story of Bak Mun-su (1691-1756), who served as secret inspector (amhaengeosa) in Joseon and had a reputation as a man of justice.

A significant number of folk tales about Bak Mun-su are documented in written form, but the number is incomparable to oral narratives, which outnumber tales about any other figure. The oral tradition includes not only accounts of Bak’s achievements but also traditional narratives that have been combined with Bak’s character. In folk literature, the name Bak Mun-su is often used as a generic name for secret inspector characters, so legends that involve Bak cannot simply be categorized as stories about an individual character.

The most central element in a Bak Mun-su legend is his adventures as a secret inspector, which begins with anecdotes about how he succeeded in the state exams. In one of the anecdotes, Bak is on his way to take the exam when he meets a woman dressed for mourning, who appears ominous. He lodges at her house and upon learning that she is engaged in an extramarital affair, Bak leaves, determined to solve the issue on a later date, when he encounters a young nobleman who offers him the contents of the test. This helps Bak pass the state exam and become a secret inspector, upon which he learns that the woman in mourning dress had conspired with her lover to kill her husband, and that the young man who had given him the test question was the haunted spirit of the dead husband. Bak Mun-su embarks on a brilliant career as an inspector, and one day he visits a poor home where he receives kingly hospitality from a brother and sister, during which he learns that the siblings are being abused by the sister’s rich fiance. Bak reveals his identity and offers to become the sibling’s guardian, helping them find good spouses. Then one day Bak is accompanying a monk and in conversation learns that the monk was in fact a criminal in hiding, who had raped and killed a woman. Bak arrests the unforgivable man and resolves the grievance of the dead woman. In another anecdote, Bak loses consciousness in the mountains and his life is at stake, when a woman finds him and pumps her breast milk to feed him. When he comes to, Bak heads to the woman’s house to reveal his inspector identity and claims to be her blood relation to bring her family success and fortune.

Bak is not, however, always portrayed as capable of solving all problems. Once he fails to protect an innocent man chased by rogues, and a boy pretending to be a magistrate as part of a game, admonishes Bak that all he had to do to save the man was to act blind for a minute. The boy follows Bak, solving problems for Bak with great wisdom and courage. Once in a remote village deep in the mountains, the two are surrounded by villainous servants threatening violence on their master, and the boy exercises his wit to escape the village and contact the authorities. Bak is also sometimes portrayed less as a problem solver but more as an object to be taken advantage of: For example, a rich but lowly butcher pretends to be a relation of Bak’s and with Bak’s help, comes to be accepted as a virtuous nobleman.

Bak Mun-su legends found in written literature portray Bak in a different light. References to Bak include anecdotes of him helping an old man who has fallen while carrying a load of salt up a mountain and of Bak saving the life of a man suffering a sudden seizure attack by feeding the man to a female spider. One of the most widely observed folk tales about Bak in books is that of his success in the state exam, which was due to his agreeing to engage in intimate relations with an ugly maidservant who fetches water. Some tales also say that he passed the state exam by stealing another applicant’s answer sheet. Bak Mun-su’s role as patron of a brother and sister experiencing misfortune is found in both oral and written narratives.

Bak Mun-su is one of the most popular folktale characters based on a real person, portrayed as a powerful man possessing the authorities bestowed by the king who hides his identity to perform his righteous duties, emphasizing that he was someone who stood on the side of the ordinary folks, a trait that is highlighted even when Bak is depicted as one who needs assistance or is taken advantage of. Thus even his mistakes are perceived as acceptable human folly. Bak’s character reflects the people’s expectations in noblemen and high officials, “ a friendly and human individual who stands on the side of the people and exercise his authority righteously, ”which gives the character a timeless appeal.

Bak Mun-su

Bak Mun-su
Headword

박문수 ( 朴文秀 , Bak Mun-su )

Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Folk Literature > Folk tales > Legends

Writer ShinDongheun(申東昕)

This legend narrates the story of Bak Mun-su (1691-1756), who served as secret inspector (amhaengeosa) in Joseon and had a reputation as a man of justice.

A significant number of folk tales about Bak Mun-su are documented in written form, but the number is incomparable to oral narratives, which outnumber tales about any other figure. The oral tradition includes not only accounts of Bak’s achievements but also traditional narratives that have been combined with Bak’s character. In folk literature, the name Bak Mun-su is often used as a generic name for secret inspector characters, so legends that involve Bak cannot simply be categorized as stories about an individual character.

The most central element in a Bak Mun-su legend is his adventures as a secret inspector, which begins with anecdotes about how he succeeded in the state exams. In one of the anecdotes, Bak is on his way to take the exam when he meets a woman dressed for mourning, who appears ominous. He lodges at her house and upon learning that she is engaged in an extramarital affair, Bak leaves, determined to solve the issue on a later date, when he encounters a young nobleman who offers him the contents of the test. This helps Bak pass the state exam and become a secret inspector, upon which he learns that the woman in mourning dress had conspired with her lover to kill her husband, and that the young man who had given him the test question was the haunted spirit of the dead husband. Bak Mun-su embarks on a brilliant career as an inspector, and one day he visits a poor home where he receives kingly hospitality from a brother and sister, during which he learns that the siblings are being abused by the sister’s rich fiance. Bak reveals his identity and offers to become the sibling’s guardian, helping them find good spouses. Then one day Bak is accompanying a monk and in conversation learns that the monk was in fact a criminal in hiding, who had raped and killed a woman. Bak arrests the unforgivable man and resolves the grievance of the dead woman. In another anecdote, Bak loses consciousness in the mountains and his life is at stake, when a woman finds him and pumps her breast milk to feed him. When he comes to, Bak heads to the woman’s house to reveal his inspector identity and claims to be her blood relation to bring her family success and fortune.

Bak is not, however, always portrayed as capable of solving all problems. Once he fails to protect an innocent man chased by rogues, and a boy pretending to be a magistrate as part of a game, admonishes Bak that all he had to do to save the man was to act blind for a minute. The boy follows Bak, solving problems for Bak with great wisdom and courage. Once in a remote village deep in the mountains, the two are surrounded by villainous servants threatening violence on their master, and the boy exercises his wit to escape the village and contact the authorities. Bak is also sometimes portrayed less as a problem solver but more as an object to be taken advantage of: For example, a rich but lowly butcher pretends to be a relation of Bak’s and with Bak’s help, comes to be accepted as a virtuous nobleman.

Bak Mun-su legends found in written literature portray Bak in a different light. References to Bak include anecdotes of him helping an old man who has fallen while carrying a load of salt up a mountain and of Bak saving the life of a man suffering a sudden seizure attack by feeding the man to a female spider. One of the most widely observed folk tales about Bak in books is that of his success in the state exam, which was due to his agreeing to engage in intimate relations with an ugly maidservant who fetches water. Some tales also say that he passed the state exam by stealing another applicant’s answer sheet. Bak Mun-su’s role as patron of a brother and sister experiencing misfortune is found in both oral and written narratives.

Bak Mun-su is one of the most popular folktale characters based on a real person, portrayed as a powerful man possessing the authorities bestowed by the king who hides his identity to perform his righteous duties, emphasizing that he was someone who stood on the side of the ordinary folks, a trait that is highlighted even when Bak is depicted as one who needs assistance or is taken advantage of. Thus even his mistakes are perceived as acceptable human folly. Bak’s character reflects the people’s expectations in noblemen and high officials, “ a friendly and human individual who stands on the side of the people and exercise his authority righteously, ”which gives the character a timeless appeal.