I wanted to share a quote from the Memoirs of Lady Hyegyeong, which I had talked about recently. This is a postscript to the 1795 memoirs where she warns her younger relative about the rise and fall of the Pungsan Hong clan:
Our family has enjoyed power and fame for generations. Father reached the highest official posts. My two uncles and my three brothers, one after another, entered officialdom. The power and prestige that our family enjoyed for a time was truly immense. We did feel a certain trepidation, but, as affinal relatives, we did not think it possible to separate ourselves from the throne. Yet because we did not reckon upon the jealousy of the world, our family fortunes reversed.1 The root of the calamity was that we were infected by power and wealth. What a fearful thing the holding of office is!
…Now none of my nephews holds even the low degree granted to successful candidates in the preliminary examinations. Living in obscurity, you are not usefully employed [in the government]. While this occasionally brings pangs of regret, I most emphatically do not wish members of our family ever to hold high office again.
In some ways, this reminds me of the infamous rise and fall of the Heike family in 12th century Japan. The Heike, under Taira no Kiyomori, let power to go their heads and brought about their own ruin when the rival Genji opposed them.
However, unlike the Heike if Lady Hyegyeong’s account is accurate and her family was indeed innocent, their fall was due more to bitter rivalries in the Joseon Court, but their fall was no less tragic.
It also kind of reminds me of a quote from the book Dune Messiah:
Here lies a toppled god.
His fall was not a small one.
We did but build his pedestal,
A narrow and a tall one.
The greater one’s rise, the greater the fall.
1 Lady Hyegyeong’s father, Hong Ponghan, was executed after false charges were repeatedly brought to the court by rival factions over the death of Prince Sado. Her third brother, Hong Nagim, was similarly executed on separate charges of becoming a Catholic (illegal at the time in Joseon Dynasty Korea). In both cases, they were exonerated after death, but the damage had been done.