Social Change and Adversity

Map of East Asia

Map of East Asia

Hideyoshi from Eiji Yoshikawa’s Taiko and Kung Chae Yun from Korean Drama Tree with Deep Roots have difficult childhoods, but through their adversity become leaders. Their difficulties early in life makes them more relatable than their counterparts, King Sejong and Nobunaga, but all of them implement social change.

Taiko by Eiji Yoshikawa is a novel that depicts Hideyoshi’s rise to power and the unification of Japan during the Tokugawa period. Hideyoshi is a retainer to Nobunaga. Tree with Deep Roots is a Korean television drama series about the creation of Hangul. King Sejong, Crown Prince Gwangpyeong, and the Prince’s ladies in waiting have been developing Hangul. Kung Chae Yun is a palace guard.

 Early Life

 Yaemon, Hideyoshi’s father influences him during childhood. “Yaemon rested impossible hopes on him” (Yoshikawa 10). Yaemon was a low ranking soldier, but Hideyoshi wants to wear his armor when he grows up. His father also wants him to become a samurai. Hideyoshi acted out when he was younger, but his father is the only one who is able to discipline him. His father and stepfather, Chikuami, were alcoholics. Seeing his fathers drink makes Hideyoshi wary of drinking when he is older. His father and stepfather do not provide for the family nor improve their situation. Hideyoshi when he grows up wants to provide his wife, sister, and mother with a good life. He wants to make sure his mother is comfortable and treated well. His stepfather spends money on sake instead of food for the family. His mother, Onaka, supports Hideyoshi, but does not want him to become a samurai. Hideyoshi is sent away multiple times to find work, but things do not work out for him at many of the places. Hideyoshi is also teased as a child and is called Monkey because of his looks. Hideyoshi was rambunctious and disorderly as a child, but faced many personal challenges at home.

Ddol Bok teaching his father, Suk-Sam to stand up for himself

Ddol Bok teaching his father, Suk-Sam to stand up for himself

Kung Chae Yun, also known as Ddol Bok, is a slave for King Sejong’s wife’s father, Chancellor Shim. His father, Suk-sam, is mentally handicapped. So-Yi, a slave and childhood friend of Ddol Bok is also seen with only a father. Suk-sam delivers a letter to his master, Chancellor Shim, to try and save him. Slaves in Korea were “public, belonging to the government, or private, belonging to the individual” (Kim 155). The letter has been switched and the royal army has travelled quickly and caught up with Suk-sam’s master. Without knowing any better Suk-sam admits to being the letter carrier and is struck down. Suk-sam dies in Ddol Bok’s arms. This scars Ddol Bok and So-Yi. So-Yi can no longer talk after this incident. Suk-sam’s death enrages the slaves and they begin a prison revolt. Ddol Bok blames So-Yi and King Sejong for the death of his father. King Sejong saves Ddol Bok, but Ddol Bok has already found out that the King has inadvertently killed his father and vows to avenge his death. Ddol Bok was a slave, but becomes a warrior and a royal palace soldier.

Compared to Kung Chae Yun and Hideyoshi, Tree with Deep Roots and Taiko do not have much of a focus on King Sejong and Nobunaga’s childhoods. King Sejong is seen as a teenager. His father, King Taejong, abdicates the throne and allows King Sejong to be a figurehead ruler, but King Taejong makes all of the decisions. King Sejong does not always agree with King Teajong, but he plays Sudoku instead of facing the situation. King Sejong’s mother is never seen. In episode 19 Jung Ki Joon tells King Sejong that he is king because his grandfather and father were king. King Sejong and Nobunaga were born into their roles. Nobunaga’s childhood is not mentioned, but he was born into a high-ranking samurai family. He took over the Oda clan after his father died (McClain 194). Nobunaga has three sons and a grandson who could be an heir. Compared to Kung Chae Yun and Hideyoshi’s childhood, King Sejong and Nobunaga do not experience the same struggles.

 Social Change

Hideyoshi and Kung Chae Yun’s first chances at leadership affect social change because they alter social hierarchy. They are given leadership opportunities because of their skills and merit instead of social class and order. Kung Chae Yun is given the task of investigating the deaths of the scholars in Jip Hyun Jun instead of the royal army. Hideyoshi must build a castle wall in three days. Nobunaga and King Sejong have always been given leadership positions to challenge them and to let them learn before serious situations occur. People were willing to put their trust with Nobunaga and King Sejong because of their positions of power, “Nobunaga meant more to them than their own children, husbands, and lovers” (Yoshikawa 214). King Sejong was told by Jung Ki Joon to not do anything when he was a teenager, but as he grew older he started to implement change. The first thing he did was to build Jip Hyun Jun, which was a place for scholars to come together and learn from each other. Kung Chae Yun, Hideyoshi, King Sejong, and Nobunaga’s leadership opportunities helped them with their social change.

Map of Feudal Japan

Map of Feudal Japan

Nobunaga brought social change to Japan through order and harmony. Even though he fought for unity, it did unite the clans throughout Japan and strengthened the power of the shogun and emperor. One of the most influential things Nobunaga did was to create the “castle-town…personal retainers to reside at the base at the base of the castle” (McClain 197). The retainers lived close to their lord and other people would set up businesses to support the castle and other people living there. It strengthened the relationship between the lord, retainers, and others because they all relied on each other. It was the duty of the lord to take care of everyone. The lord and retainers lived further away from each other and had less of a dependent relationship before the castle town. Before Nobunaga took control the shogunate was in disrepair and did not have any “real authority” (Yoshikawa 218). Nobunaga changed the way the government and military acted. Nobunaga followed Buddhism, but he welcome the Christian missionaries. He wanted to understand the Christian missionaries, and he kept them close to him just in case they were to attack or to do something he disliked. Nobunaga captured other lords, but appeased them through money and land that helped unify the different areas of Japan. Nobunaga’s social change influenced Hideyoshi when he took over.

Hideyoshi took power after Nobunaga’s death. Hideyoshi continued many of Nobunaga’s ideas because of his lord-retainer relationship he had had with Nobunaga. One of the biggest social changes is that Hideyoshi worked for his position, merit based promotions instead of family lineage promotions. Towards the end of Taiko many of the lords are displeased that Hideyoshi has taken control, but realize there is no other viable option. When Nobunaga dies all of his lords come together and are split between deciding one of his two sons, but Hideyoshi supports the two-year-old grandson of Nobunaga as the rightful heir. By letting the grandson inherit Nobunaga’s lands and lords, Hideyoshi assumes the role of lord since the grandson is too young to be able to do anything. Hideyoshi also married for love instead of marrying for politics and power, “he had to marry her” (Yoshikawa 148). Hideyoshi married Nene because he loved her, not because it would help him politically. Similar to other men of the time he also has concubines. While he changed marriage, he continued the social tradition of having concubines and multiple wives. Hideyoshi influenced social change through his actions.

King Sejong changes Korea forever by creating Hangul. It is the power to break away from China and to recreate Korean culture. The sound of the alphabet is the voice of Koreans. In episode 9 Sam Moon, a scholar, expresses his dislike of the alphabet. King Sejong explains to the scholars how the letters reflect their sound. King Sejong goes against the teachings of Confucianism in episode 11 when he is present during the dissection of a throat. He is doing thorough research to make sure that the alphabet will be great. In episode 19 King Sejong and Jung Ki Joon have a conversation where Jung Ki Joon tells King Sejong why Hangul is such a terrible idea. Jung Ki Joon believes that order will be disturbed because common people and scholars will be able to have the same skills as the aristocrats; it is bad enough for him that the bureaucrats have similar power to the aristocrats. King Sejong is looking out for all of his constituents. He wants life to be good for all and for Korea to stop being an imperial power of China’s. Hangul is a recreation of Korean identity and culture. It is a break from China’s cultural influence with Confucianism and Kanji.

Kung Chae Yun did not physically implement social change, but represents the social change in Korea. He was born a slave, but he taught himself 1000 Kanji characters and Hangul. His social class he was born into does not stop him from achieving and dreaming things that most slaves would not have done. In episode 24 he and So-Yi are united in the afterlife and are teaching their children Hangul. It shows that anybody can have access to Hangul and learn it. Kanji took a lot of time and money to learn. Slaves did not have time or money to spend learning, but people of better class standing could potentially learn it because they could spend time and money on tutors or going to school. Kung Chae Yun is promoted by merit and actions. When he is a teenager he wants to fight with soldiers, but they do not take him seriously until he accomplishes their tasks. King Sejong wants Kung Chae Yun to lead the investigation; Kung Chae Yun wants to prove himself and be given the opportunity to be close to King Sejong. King Sejong wanted to make Hangul reflect the voice of his people. King Sejong looks favorably upon Kung Chae Yun because he represents the people of Korea that are affected by the rules and introduction of Hangul.

Taiko and Tree with Deep Roots reflect the Confucian ideals in the time periods they represent. Nobunaga, King Sejong, Kung Chae Yun, and Hideyoshi affect Confucianism in the social realm of their lives. East Asia is defined as using the Kanji alphabet and having elements of Confucianism. Confucianism was ingrained in the cultures because China ruled over these lands. Confucian relations were important in maintaining social and familial order. It also described responsibilities that people had. There are five Confucian relations: lord to retainer, father to son, elder brother to younger brother, husband to wife, and friend to friend. King Sejong changes the power that China and Confucianism has on Korea. King Sejong realizes that it is time for Korea to break away from China, and the best way to do that is to change the Confucian rules. Nobunaga does not change the influence that Confucianism has on Japan because it is strengthening his power.


Nobunaga and King Sejong have a different form of influence than Kung Chae Yun and Hideyoshi. Social change was experienced due to class systems. Kung Chae Yun and Hideyoshi influence change because they work hard for their roles. Their difficult childhoods make them appreciate their roles.


Kim, Bok Rae. “Nobi: A Korean System of Slavery.” Slavery and Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies 24: 155-168. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.

McClain, James . “Book Review of Japonius Tyrannus.” Journal of Japanese Studies 28: 194-198. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.

Tree with deep roots. YA Entertainment, 2011. Film.

Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko: an epic novel of war and glory in feudal Japan. Tokyo: Kodansha International ;, 1992. Print.

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