This study analyzes the bureaucracies of the Chosun and Ching dynasties from a cultural perspective. In particular, it attempts to locate continuities with the present through analyzing the social and cultural backdrops of the respective systems. The commonalities between the Chosun and Ching Dynasties are that they are centralized systems, and both emphasize compassion, maintaining ‘face’ and relationships, misalign authority with responsibility, and may lead to corruption through pulling strings for promotion and the use of gifts and bribes.
However, differences do exist. First, the Ching dynasty was a system of centralization and equal shares. In order to consolidate the emperor’s power, Jun Ji Chu(軍機處) was established, secret messages sent to the emperor, functions of remonstrance and check were mitigated, Chinese Gentry(紳士) and scholars were controlled and a merit based civil service exam, and service checks and evasion policy were utilized. However, the principle of equal shares was upheld, and the authority of central and local bureaucrats was expanded. In particular, as local bureaucrats’(督撫) possessed intelligence, human resource and financial authority (including the military), the administration system became more distributed and independent. Secondly, the Ching Dynasty focused on capabilities. A large portion of those who passed the civil servant exam were commoners and a fixed portion were compulsorily allotted for the service check. Also candidates were selected to be trained as working bureaucrats and they were to compete with one another for promotion and in this process ‘guanxi’ took effect. Moreover, a degree of equality between the superior and the subordinate was visible. Third, processes of division and integration took place. The expansion of local authorities including the local bureaucracy, interest-seeking by Chinese Gentry, average culture, and corrupt officials prompted division and then integration under a new power.
As for the Chosun Dynasty, first of all, the system of centralization and rank prevailed. Centralized power and order was established systematically and implemented through personnel administration including the civil exam, systems allowing officials to take multiple positions and banning officials to be stationed at a specific location or take positions that they were affiliated with, term of position, evaluation of merits, and praise and censure. However, actual authority was not concentrated around the king, but instead, mostly endowed upon bureaucrats. Also the bureaucrats themselves used their rights of remonstrance to check the king. However, it took power struggle and dispute in order to justify a system of checks and balances. Secondly, a rank system based on ancestry was established. The rank of yangban was passed down and people were segregated according to where they came from. Also the people who passed the civil exam were mostly the children of bureaucrats or belonged to specific clans. In addition, lineage and faction took effect in the recommendation of candidates, evaluation of merits, and promotion. Homogenization and segregation based on ancestry(출신) prevailed and office hunting took place, while there was a stringent system of rank between superiors and subordinates.