Hello, everyone. Welcome to “Korean Folktales.” This Monday corner takes you into the world of interesting Korean folk stories. I’m Jinny Na.
During the Korean kingdom of Joseon, honest and upright government officials were dubbed “cheongbaekri,” which is roughly translated as “a man of strict integrity” or “Mr. Clean” in English. Less than 150 people were officially recognized as a cheongbaekri throughout the 500-year history of Joseon Dynasty.
One of the most exemplary cheongbaekri was a leading court official named Yu Gwan (유관), who served as the State Councilor during the reign of King Sejong in the 15th century. Although he was a high-ranking official, he is said to have lived in a house with a thatched roof his entire life, only wearing humble hemp clothes. It is also said that the minister used to go to work on foot, with the help of a stick, even though he was allowed to use a sedan chair. He also grew vegetables in his backyard. The official could easily be mistaken for a farmer or commoner. The following story shows how humble and righteous he was.
One summer’s day, Minister Yu was reading a book in his room, when a water drop fell from the ceiling and landed on his book. He looked up and found that water was leaking through the ceiling, leaving stains. He opened the window and looked out. He had been so absorbed in reading that he didn’t notice that it was raining heavily. His house was very old and shabby, and the straw roof was unable to withstand heavy rain, making the ceiling leak. He was alone as his wife was out at the time. He was pacing around the room in total confusion, trying to figure out what to do. Soon, he found an umbrella on the rack. He slapped his knee and smiled to himself.
Before long, his wife came back. When she opened the door of her husband’s room and looked inside, she was stunned. She saw her husband reading a book, holding the umbrella over his head. She exclaimed at the strange scene, “My goodness! What is going on here?” Minister Yu answered, still with a smile on his face, “As you can see, I’m reading a book under the umbrella, since the roof is leaking.” The simple answer left his wife speechless. But she knew her husband all too well, so she didn’t say anything. She sat next to her husband, holding her own umbrella.
Minister Yu said, “Thanks to the umbrellas, we can avoid the rain at least. How lucky we are! But what about people who don’t even have umbrellas? This rainy season must be very difficult for them, I guess.” His wife was dumbfounded again at her husband, who was worried about other poor people even amid his own difficulty. But this time, too, she didn’t complain but said in a soft voice, “Don’t worry. Those who don’t have umbrellas will probably find their own way to handle the situation.” She didn’t go as far as to say that people living under a roof that is not leaking don’t even need umbrellas.
The rumors of Minister Yu and his umbrella spread throughout the town and people began to call him the “Umbrella Minister.” When the minister died, King Sejong lamented the death of the honorable official and wore white clothes as a sign of condolence.
That’s it for today’s edition of Korean Folktales. Tune in again next time for another interesting Korean folk story. Thank you for listening. I’m Jinny Na. Goodbye, everyone.