Sources: “Study of Balhae” 渤海考 (1784) – Bak Jega’s Preface

Bak Je-ga (朴齊家 1750-1815) was author of Bukhak-ui (北學議 Discussions of Northern Learning, 1778) and a close friend to Yu Deukgong.  This is an attempted  translation of his preface to Yu’s Balhae-go (渤海考 Study of Balhae, 1784).  See also Yu’s own preface.

Bak Jega’s Preface to Balhae-go 渤海考序

Early on I crossed west of the Amnok (鴨綠) [river] and, taking the Aiyang road (靉陽, in present day Fengcheng city, Liaoning Province), arrived at Liaoyang (遼陽, in central east Liaoning). Throughout the journey of some five or six hundred li (里), it was nearly all [a landscape of] tall mountains and deep valleys. [Only after] emerging from Langzi-shan mountain (狼子山) (present day Liangjia 亮甲), could [we] see an infinitely expansive plain where the sun, moon and flying birds would rise and sink in the prairie mist (野氣). But turning to view the mountains of the northeast, [the mountains] formed a ring around heaven, blocking the earth, just like a single straight brushstroke; [these] tall mountains and deep valleys that faced [us] were all beyond the thousand li perimeter of Liaodong. We sighed and marvelled, “This is the edge of heaven!”

Liaodong is [but] one corner of the world. However, nowhere has given rise to more heroes and kings (帝王) than here. The land bordered with Yan (燕, present day northeast Hebei province) and Qi (齊 present Shandong province) and thus the circumstances (勢) of China could easily be watched. Consequently the Dae clan (大氏) of Balhae, [took] the scattered remnant [folk] and, [even though they] abandoned the land outside the mountains, it was still sufficient to valiantly watch a single direction and vie (抗衝) with [the rest of] the world (天下). The Wang clan (王氏) unified the three Han (三韓, refers to the Later Three Kingdoms) but in the end they (其世) did not dare to [venture] a single step beyond the Amnok [river] and so [we] can see the traces of division and occupation, of gain and loss of the mountains and rivers.

A woman cannot see [the world] beyond the eaves of the roof; a child’s wanderings barely extend beyond the threshold: [they] certainly are insufficient to speak of anything beyond the [outer] wall [of their house]! Scholars [today] are [all] born inside the nine provinces of [Unified] Silla; their eyes are shut and ears blocked. They do not even know about the rise and fall, nor wars and battles of the Han, Tang, Song and Ming [dynasties]: less still of Balhae’s past events.

My friend, Mr Yu Hye-pung (楡惠風君, one of Yu Deukgong’s style names), is both erudite and skillful at poetry. He is expert at history (掌故) and has already compiled the Poems and Annotations of the Twenty-One Capitals (廿一都詩註) which looks in detail at internal [Korean history] (域內). [He has now] extended it writing [this] single volume Balhae-go. He has finely woven together the threads of personages, administrative divisions, a list of kings (世次) and basic chronology (沿革). That these have been brought together is a great happiness. But he says it is lamentable that the Wang clan [of Goryeo] was unable to restore the former [Go]guryeo territory. The Wang clan did not restore the old territory and so the places of Gyerim (鷄林 aka Silla) and Nangnang (樂浪 aka Goguryeo) eventually became vague (貿貿) and severed from the rest of the world (天下).

This corresponds with what I know and have previously seen, and I marvel at Mr Yu’s talent to be able to fathom the circumstances of the world and investigate the methods of good and bad kings. Further, how could this work be specially prepared [simply as] the writings of a single country; only the length could [be negatively compared with] the books of Huhui (胡恢) and Maling (馬令) [who both wrote histories of the Southern Tang]. Thus [I write this] preface and argue like this.

Autumn, 9th year [of King Jeongjo] (1785)


8 thoughts on “Sources: “Study of Balhae” 渤海考 (1784) – Bak Jega’s Preface

  1. Pingback: Biographical notes on Yu Deuk-gong (柳得恭 1748-1807) | Koreanology

  2. On another note, do you know where I could find the original text for 韓國獨立運動之血史?
    I have seen parts of it online and in books, but have never been able to find the entire text.

    • I couldn’t find it on searches either, so outside of university libraries, I am not sure. Looking at Korean bookshop sites, there seem to be a couple of modern editions but these are translations into modern Korean and it’s unlikely they have the original text included. (I’ve had a similar problem looking for Sin Chaeho’s works; even though, from what I understand, he didn’t write in Chinese, his mixed script and now archaic grammar have to be “translated” into modern Korean – which is fine except it’s therefore hard to find the original.) I think one reason particularly with this period and genre of writing is, if works are republished as modern editions, the only potential popular target market are those of a Korean nationalist (민족주의) persuasion who favour hangul over hanja.

      There are good editions of the Balhae-go (渤海考) available because it’s so highly regarded by Koreans in the history dispute with China; here they’re keen to demonstrate academic legitimacy so they include the original text (and perhaps also because it’s short it helps make the book bigger!)

      • The only portion I was able to find was the story about Ahn Junggeun’s assassination of Ito Hirobumi and it was cached! So, I was unable to open the website because it no longer existed.

        “…the only potential popular target market are those of a Korean nationalist (민족주의) persuasion who favour hangul over hanja…”

        Misguided Korean nationalists, who want to abolish Hanja, are the bane of my existence. Luckily, there are a number who are for it.

        When you say “good editions of 渤海考,” do you mean original texts?

  3. Pingback: Sources: “Study of Balhae” 渤海考 (1784) – Author’s Preface 自序 | Koreanology

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