Sources: Yi Gyubo’s “Ballad of King Dongmyeong” 東明王篇 – part 2 of 3

See part 1.

河伯責厥女  하백책궐녀  The River Earl reprimanded that girl,
挽吻三尺弛  만물삼척이  He pulled her lips stretching them three cheok (尺, 1 cheok roughly equals 36cm).

乃貶優渤中  내폄우발중  He exiled her to the middle of Ubal (優渤)
唯與婢僕二  유여비복이  giving her just two servants.

The River Earl was greatly angered with his daughter [saying], “You did not follow what I taught you and in the end have brought shame on my house. Ordering [attendants] left and right to pull her lips, they were lengthened to three cheok. He banished (貶) her to the middle of Ubal waters. Ubal is the name of a swamp; today it is south of Taebaek-san mountain (太白山).

漁師觀波中  어사관파중  A master fisherman saw through the waves
奇獸行駓騃  기수행부애  a strange creature clumsily moving around.

乃告王金蛙  내고왕금와  He informed King Geumwa [lit. ‘golden frog’];
鐵網投湀湀  철망투규규  throwing an iron net deeply with a splash
引得坐石女  인득좌석녀  he pulled in the girl sitting on a rock.
姿貌甚堪畏  자모심감외  [Her] face was extremely frightening;
唇長不能言  진장불능언  with long lips she was unable to speak.
三截乃啓齒  삼절내계치  Cutting [them] three times her teeth could open.

A master fisherman, the mighty Buchu (强力扶鄒) said, “Recently there is something stealing the fish [but I] cannot tell what creature it is.”

The king had the fisherman catch it with a net. The net was shredded apart. Then using an iron net he was able to pull in a girl. Sitting on a rock she emerged. [Only] after [the king] ordered [her] lips cut three times [could] she speak.

王知慕潄妃  왕지모수비  The king discovered it was [Hae] Mosu’s queen;
仍以別宮置  잉이별궁치  he had a separate room [for her] prepared in the palace.
懷日生朱蒙  회일생주몽  Embracing the sunlight she gave birth to Jumong.
是歲歲在癸  시세세재계  The time was the Gye[hye] (癸亥) year.
骨表諒最奇  골표량최기  [His] physiognomy was truly the strangest;
啼聲亦甚偉  제성역심위  [his] crying, too, was extremely great.
初生卵如升  초생란여승  At first [just] an egg was born the size of a doe (升, a small cubic measuring container made of wood);
觀者皆驚悸  관자개경계  people who saw it were all astonished.
王以爲不詳  왕이위불상  The king considered it inauspicious,
此豈人之類  차개인지류  “What kind of person is this?!”
置之馬牧中  치지마목중  [He had] it left with the horses
群馬皆不履  군마개불이  [but] the herd would not trample it.
棄之深山中  기지심산중  He abandoned it deep in the mountains
百獸皆擁衛  백수개옹위  [but] a hundred animals protected it.

Discovering [she] was the queen of the imperial son of heaven, a separate room in the palace was set aside for [her]. The girl embraced the sunlight and so she became pregnant. In the 4th month [during] summer of the 4th year of Shenqiao (神雀), Gyehae (癸亥), Jumong was born. [His] crying was great, his physiognomy was outstandingly strange. When first born, [he] was born as a single egg [through] her left armpit/side (腋) and was as large as five doe. Thinking this strange the king said, “A person giving birth to a bird’s egg can be considered inauspicious.”

He had men leave it with the horses [but] the herd would not trample it. They abandoned it deep in the mountains [but] a hundred animals protected it. [Even] on days of cloud and rain the egg always had the sun shining on it. The king took the egg and sent it back to [its] mother who took care of it. Finally the egg hatched and there was a boy (男 lit. ‘man’). Within a month all his speech was accurate (實).

母姑擧而養  모고거이양  Taking [the baby] in her arms and rearing him,
經月言語始  경웡언어시  within a month he began to speak.
自言蠅噆目  자언승참목  By himself he said that flies had bitten (噆) his eyes
臥不能安睡  와불능안수  and [even] lying down he could not sleep peacefully.
母爲作弓矢  모위작궁시  His mother made him a boy and arrows;
其弓不虛掎  기궁불허기  this bow he did not wantonly pull.

[He] said to his mother, “A swarm of flies has bitten [my] eyes and I cannot sleep. Mother, make me a bow and arrows!”

His mother made a bow and arrows together using brier (蓽). By himself he shot at the flies above the spinning wheel (紡車); the arrows he released [all] hit their mark. In Buyeo a good archer was called a jumong (朱蒙).

年至漸長大  연지점장대  As his age gradually increased
才能日漸備  재능일점비  he gradually attained talents by the day.

夫餘王太子  부여왕태자  [As for] the crown prince of the Buyeo king,
其心生妬忌  기심생투기  envy grew in his heart.
乃言朱蒙者  내언주몽자  Whereupon he said of the jumong
此必非常士  차필비상사  that he definitely was not a normal man (士) [and that],
若不早自圖  약불조자도  “If [we] do not quickly devise a plan by ourselves
其患誠末已  기환성말이  this worry will have no end.”

Growing in age [the jumong] attained all skills. [King] Geumwa had seven sons who always went hunting together with Jumong. The princes were accompanied by more than forty men [but] would only catch one deer. Jumong [by himself] would shoot many deer. The princes resented [妬 lit. ‘envied’] this and so, taking him, they tied him to a tree, stole his deer and left. [But] Jumong pulled up the tree and went back [too]. Crown Prince Daeso (帶素) said to the king, “The jumong is a divine and valiant man (士) and his countenance (瞻視) is extraordinary. If we do not quickly devise a plan we will certainly have worry later.”

王令往牧馬  왕령왕목마  The king ordered [Jumong] to go and look after the horses;
欲以試厥志  욕이시궐지  he meant to test his intentions.
自思天之孫  자사천지손  [Jumong] thought by himself that for the grandson of heaven
厮牧良可恥  시목양가치  being a horse herder was truly shameful.
捫心常竊導  문짐상절도  Caressing his heart he always reproached himself,
吾生不如死  오생불여사  “My life is no better than death.”
意將往南土  의장왕남토  He intended to go to lands south
入國入城市  입국입성시  [and] establish a country and citadel,
爲緣慈母在  위연자모재  [but because] the mother he loved was [here],
離別誠未易  이별성본역  it truly was not easy to separate.

The king had Jumong herd the horses. He meant to test his will. Inside himself Jumong harboured anguish (恨). He said to his mother, “I am the grandson of the Celestial Emperor, herding horses for someone else my life is hardly better than death. I want to go to the southern lands and establish a state (國家) [but because] you are [here] I dare not act as I wish (不敢自專).”

His mother spoke [to him].

其母聞此言  기모문차언  His mother hearing these words
潛然抆淸淚  잠연문청루  wiped the clean tears that engulfed [them].
汝幸勿爲念  여행물위염  “You should not think [of me];
我亦常痛痞  아역상통비  I also am constantly in pain.
士之涉長途  사지섭장도  For the long road of a great man
必須憑騃駬  필수빙애이  [you] definitely need a trustworthy steed.”
相將往馬閑  상장왕마한  Together they went to the horse stables;
卽以長鞭捶  즉이장편추  cracking a long whip
郡馬皆突走  군마개돌주  the herd all bolted off.
一馬騈色斐  일마병색비  One horse with a shining pattern
跳過二丈欄  도과이장란  jumped over a two jang (丈,1 jang is approximately 3 metres) high fence,
始覺是駿驥  시각시준기  [so] they could tell it was a superior junma steed.

According to the Dojeon (道典) the horses ridden by Jumong were all called gwaga (果下).

潛以針刺舌  잠이침자설  Secretly he pierced its tongue with needles,
酸通不受飼  산통불수사  the burning pain stopped it from receiving its feed.
不日形甚癯  불일형심구  In hardly a day its form became emaciated;
却與駑駘似  각여노태사  it resembled the most inferior horse.
爾後王巡觀  이후왕순관  Later the king came by
豫馬此卽是  예마차즉시  and as expected [gave] that horse [to Jumong].
得之始抽針  득지시추침  Having obtained it, [Jumong] pulled out the needles
日夜屢加餧  일야루가위  and day and night it gradually ate great amounts.

[His] mother said, “[Concerning] this, my heart [too] has been in torment [腐] day and night. I have heard that on the long road of a great man a reliable junma steed is definitely required. I am able to select a horse [for you].”

Going to the horse pastures (馬牧) [she] wildly cracked a long whip and the herd all bolted in surprise. One horse jumped a two jang fence [whereupon] Jumong knew it to be a junma steed in flight. Secretly he stuck needles in beneath its tongue. The horse’s tongue hurt and it could neither [drink] water nor eat grass and became severely emaciated. The king visited the horse pastures and seeing most of the horses were well fed was greatly pleased. He rewarded (錫) Jumong with the emaciated [one]. Having acquired it, Jumong pulled out the needles and increased its feed.

暗結三賢友  암결삼현우  He made a secret bond with three wise friends;
其人共多智  기인공다지  they all shared great wisdom.

There was O’i (烏伊), Mari (摩離) and Hapbu (陜父).

南行至淹滯  남행지엄체  Journeying south, they reached the Eomche [river].

Another name is the Gaesa-su (蓋斯水), it is to the northeast of the present day Amnok river (鴨綠江).

欲渡無舟艤  욕도무주의  They wanted to cross but there was no boat.

[They] wanted to cross but there was no boat. Fearful of pursuing soldiers suddenly arriving, [Jumong] pointed his whip towards the sky and in anguish lamented, “I am the grandson of the Celestial Emperor and the River Earl; [we] have arrived here in flight [from peril]. Emperor of Heaven and Empress of Earth, take pity on this fatherless child and quickly [provide] a boat [or] bridge!”

With these words he struck the water with his bow, whereupon fish and turtles floated up and, emerging from the water, formed a bridge. Jumong [and his friends] crossed. Shortly after the pursuing soldiers arrived.

秉策指彼蒼  병책지피창  Holding his whip, he pointed at the blue,
慨然發長喟  개연발장위  in anguish he let out a long sigh,
天孫河伯甥  천손하백생  “The Celestial Grandson, and grandson of The River Earl,
避難至於此  피난지어차  has fled from difficulty and reached here.
哀哀孤子心  애애고자심  With a heart pitying [this] fatherless child,
天地其忍棄  천지기인기  [can] heaven and earth bear to abandon it?”
操弓打河水  조궁타하수  Taking his bow, he struck the river water;
魚鼈騈首尾  어별병수미  fish and turtles aligned themselves head to tail,
屹然成橋梯  흘연성교제  a tall bridge formed [and]
始乃得渡矣  시내득도의  thereupon they were able to cross.
俄爾追兵至  아이추병지  Shortly after the pursuing soldiers arrived
上橋橋旋圮  상교교선비  [but] when they went up the bridge, it twisted and collapsed.

[When] the soldiers arrived at the river, the fish and turtle bridge disintegrated; those already on the bridge all plunged [into the water] and died.

雙鳩含麥飛  쌍구함맥비  A pair of pigeons flew with barley in their mouths;
來作神母使  내작신모사  they became messengers of the divine mother (神母).

Considering the prospect of leaving, Jumong could not bear to separate (睽違). At this his mother said, “You must not worry on account of one mother.”

She wrapped seeds of the five cereals and sent them. But Jumong’s heart had been earnest and fresh (自別之心) [at the thought of] parting [and so] he had forgotten the barley seeds. Resting under a large tree, pairs of pigeons came flocking. Jumong said, “[These] must be barley seeds my divine mother has had sent.” [or “seeds brought by my divine mother’s emissaries” 神母使送麥子]

Whereupon he pulled his bow and fired. With one arrow he felled them all (一矢俱擧) and, opening their throats, obtained the barley seeds. Splashing water on the pigeons they came back to life and flew away, etc.

Continue to part 3..


Sources: Yi Gyubo’s “Ballad of King Dongmyeong” 東明王篇 – part 1 of 3

This is the first part of Yi Gyu-bo’s (李奎報 1168-1241) Dongmyeongwang-pyeon (東明王篇 ‘Ballad of King Dongmyeong’) famous both for being Korea’s earliest known example of epic narrative verse and also for its detailed rendition of the Jumong legend, the mythical founder of Goguryeo.

One interesting thing to perhaps note is how the structure alternates between verse and prose in a manner not dissimilar to the chang aria (唱) and aniri recitative (아니리) passages of pansori which did not itself become fully developed until the 18th century.   Obviously this is not unique to Korean oral literature and in this case the prose sections are strangely repetitive and frequently add little elaboration to the verse so it’s hard to know why Yi Gyubo wrote them like this. 

NB: Text and characters in purple indicate where I am most uncertain of the meaning.

Note also, use of “etc” translates 云云 which regularly appears; there is no abridgement in the translation.

Ballad of King Dongmyeong  東明王篇

In [this] world [people] often recount the divine and supernatural (神異) affair of King Dongmyeong (東明王 ‘eastern light king’). Even foolish men and quick wives (駿婦) are quite able to relate these matters. When I first heard it, I smiled saying, “Master (先師) Zhongni (仲尼, aka Confucius) did not speak of strange (怪) [or] powerful (力) [things, nor of] disorder (亂) or gods (神). This is truly [both] preposterous and bizarre (奇詭). It cannot be related by us.”

[But] subsequently reading the Weishu (魏書) and Daodian (道典 perhaps refers to the Tongdian 通典), they [both] recorded this story though they were brief and not detailed. Perhaps this is the meaning of ‘being detailed on domestic [affairs] and rough on foreign [matters]’.

Then, in the 4th month of Gyechuk (癸丑, 1193), [I] acquired the Old History of the Three Kingdoms (舊三國史) and [upon] reading the Basic Annal section (本記) [discovered that] the vestiges (迹) of those supernatural (神異) [happenings] were related to a greater extent (踰) than matters of [this] world. Things [I] had at first not been able to believe, [I] had considered them demons (鬼) and phantoms (幻), [but] upon reading deeply [some] three times [I] gradually [realised] (漸涉) that its origin was not devilish (幻) but holy (聖). [They were] not demons but gods. What is more (況), would a handwritten book of national history have falsely transmitted these [things]?! Lord Kim Busik (金公富軾) recompiled the national history [but] significantly abridged (略) the story (其事). Thinking about this, the lord [wanted to] make a book of national history which corrected worldly [matters] (矯世), it was not good to have exceptionally strange stories (大異之事) [that would be] shown to later generations and so perhaps [therefore] he omitted them. Examining further, in the basic annal of Tang [emperor] Xuanzong (玄宗) [and] the biography of [his consort] Yang-guifei (楊貴妃), there are no stories of fangshi Taoist wizards (方士) ascending to heaven [or] entering [down] to earth; only the poet Bai Letian (白樂天) was afraid that these stories would disappear (淪沒 lit. ‘sink in water’) [and so] he composed a song with which to record (志) them. These were in fact preposterous (荒), lewd (淫), strange (奇) and untrue (誕) stories, but even so [he] sung of them and [thus] showed them to posterity (後). What is more (矧), the story of [King] Dongmyeong is not [something that] dazzles the common people’s eyes through metamorphoses (變化) and the supernatural (神奇), it is an actual divine vestige of the country’s foundation and so if this is not narrated [now] what will there be to see in the future? For this purpose [I] have composed a poem with which to record it; [I] want all those under heaven (夫天下) to know that our country was originally the capital (都) of holy men (聖人).

元氣判沌渾  원기판돈혼  [When] the primal energy distinguished (判) chaos,
天皇地皇氏  천황지황씨 [there was] the Celestial Emperor and Earthly Emperor.
十三十一頭  십삼십일두  [They had] thirteen [and/or] eleven heads;
體貌多奇異  체모다기이  the shape of their bodies was very strange.
其餘聖帝王  기여성제왕  The remaining holy emperors
亦備載經史  역비재경사  are all recorded in the classics and histories.
女節感大星  여절감대성  Nüjie (女節) sensed a large star
乃生小昊摯  내생소호지  and gave birth to Xiao Haozhi (小昊摯 aka Shao Hao);
女樞生顓頊  여추생전욱  Nüshu (女樞) gave birth to Zhuan Xu (顓頊)
亦感瑤光暐  역감요광위  having sensed the light of the Great Bear constellation.
伏羲制牲犧  복희제생희  Fu Xi (伏羲) established sacrifices,
燧人始鑽燧  수인시찬수  Suiren (燧人) first made fire;
生蓂高帝祥  생명고제상  ming[jia] (蓂莢) grass [first] grew as an omen of the high emperor [Yao 堯],
雨粟神農瑞  우속신농서  [whilst] rain [falling on] millet was an omen (瑞) [from] Shennong (神農 ‘divine farmer’)
靑天女媧補  청천여와보  The blue sky was looked after (補) by Nüwa (女媧);
洪水大禹理  홍수대우리  floods were controlled by Yu the Great (大禹) [of Xia 夏].
黃帝將升天  황제장승천  When the Yellow Emperor ascended to heaven,
胡髥龍自至  호염용자지  a bearded dragon spontaneously arrived.
太古淳朴時  태고순박시  During primitive ancient times
靈聖難備記  영성난비기  with difficulty [they] made records of spirits and sages.
後世漸澆漓  후세점요리  [Through] subsequent generations they gradually diminished (澆漓);
風俗例汰侈  풍속예태치  customs invariably (例) became decadent.
聖人間或生  성인간혹생  Holy ones were sometimes born
神迹少所示  신적소소시  [but] only a small trace of divinity was shown [by them].
漢神雀三年  한신작삼년  In the 3rd Shenqiao year (神雀) of the Han [dynasty]
孟夏斗立巳  맹하두립이  in early summer the Great Bear (refers only to the equivalent constellation, duseong 斗星, but with no explicit bear reference) rose in the southeast.

The 3rd Shenqiao year of Han was the 4th month of Gab’in [year] (甲寅).

海東解慕漱  해동해모수  East of the sea, Hae Mosu (解慕漱)
眞是天之子  진시천지자  was truly the son of heaven.

The Basic Annals (本紀) state that the king of Buyeo, Hae Buru (解夫婁), was old and had no son. Performing sacrificial rites by the mountains and streams he found (求) an heir. The horse he was riding (所御馬至) came to a pool of fish eggs (鯤淵) and seeing a large stone, shed tears. Thinking this strange, the king had one of his men roll the stone [away] and there was a small child shining gold (金邑) in the shape of a frog. The king said, “This is heaven giving a fine heir (令胤) to me.”

[He] took care (牧) of [the baby] and raising it, named him Geumwa (金蛙 ‘golden frog’) making him crown prince. The soothsayer/prime minister (相), Aranbeul (阿蘭弗), said, “The one of the sun (日者) descended from heaven and said [to me], “Soon I will have my grandson establish a kingdom here, you must move away (避). Beside the eastern sea (東海) there is land called Gayeop-won plain (迦葉原); the land is suitable for the five cereals [and so you] should [re]establish your capital [there]. Aranbul [thus] foretold (觀) the king moving the capital. [The new] name was East Buyeo (東夫餘). On [the site of] the old capital, Hae Mosu came as the son of the Celestial Emperor and established [his capital].

初從空中下  초종공중하  At first [he] came down through the air,
身乘五龍軌  신승오룡궤  [his] body riding a five dragon chariot (五龍軌).
從者百餘人  종자백여인  Those following numbered more than a hundred;
騎鵠紛襂襹  기곡분삼려  riding swans (鵠), their feathery robes were splendid,
淸樂動鏘洋  청악동장양  [their] clear music was stirring, sonorous and broad.
彩雲浮旖旎  채운부의니  Coloured clouds thickly floated.

In the 3rd Shenqiao (神雀) year of the Han, the Imsul year (壬戌, of the sexagenary calendar), the Celestial Emperor sent the crown prince who descended and wandered (遊) [on the site of] the Buyeo king’s old capital. He was name Hae Mosu. From heaven he descended riding a five dragon car (五龍車). [His] followers numbered more than a hundred and they rode on white swans (鵠). Coloured clouds floated up [whilst] the sound of music moved through the clouds. Stopping [on] Ungsim-san mountain (熊心山 ‘bear heart mountain’), [he] spent more than ten days before starting to descend. On his head, he wore a crown (冠) of bird feathers; on his waist a sword of dragon light (龍光之劍).

自古受命君  자고수명군  From times of yore, a sovereign who receives a command,
何是非天賜  하시비천사  what is this if not a celestial bestowing?
白日下靑冥  백일하청명  White sun descends to the blue dark;
從昔所未[目+示]  종석소미시  since long ago, it has not been seen.
朝居人世中  조거인세중  Living amongst the world of men in the morning
暮反天宮裡  모반천궁리  [and] in the evening returning to the inside of the celestial palace.

In the morning [he] listened to matters, in the evening [he] ascended to heaven. [People of the] world called him the Young Celestial King (天王郞).

吾聞於古人  오문어고인  I have heard from people of old (the ancients)
蒼穹之去地  창궁지거지  that the distance between the sky and earth
二億萬八千  이억만팔천  is two hundred million, eight thousand
七百八十里  칠백팔십리  seven hundred and eighty li.
梯棧躡難升  제잔섭난승  It would be difficult to ascend with a ladder;
羽翮飛易瘁  우핵비역췌  feathers and wings easily tire from flying.
朝夕恣升降  조석차승강  Freely ascending and descending morning and night
此理復何爾  차리복하이  what principle is this?
城北有淸河  성북유청하  North of the fortress (citadel) is the Cheongha river.

The Cheong-ha river (淸河) is the present day Amnok-gang river (鴨綠江).

河伯三女美  하백삼녀미  The three daughters of the River Earl (Habaek) were beautiful.

The eldest was named Yuhwa (柳花), the next Hwonhwa (萱花) and the youngest Wihwa (葦花).

壁出鴨頭波  벽출압두피  Emerging from the head of the Amnok waves,
往遊熊心涘  왕유웅심사  Bear-heart swam in the waters.

Bear-heart emerged from the Cheongha and played above the pools.

鏘琅佩玉嗚  장랑패옥오  The jewels hanging from his belt jingle.
綽約顔花媚  작약안화미  His soft, delicate face is beautiful as a flower.

His divine form was attractive and pretty (艶麗), his jewels jingled; there was no difference to Han’go (漢皐).

初疑漢皐濱  초의한고빈  At first Han’go was suspicious of the water.
復想洛水沚  복상낙수지  [Then] he thought again of the Naksu river’s sandy bank.
王因出獵見  왕인출엽견  The king set forth to hunt and look,
目送頗留意  목송파유의  Casting his eyes it greatly appealed to him.
玆非悅紛華  자비열분화  It wasn’t that he only liked wonderful things,
誠急生繼嗣  송급생계사  he was truly in a hurry to have born a successor.

The king said to his attendants, “I’ll take her and make her queen, then I can have an heir.”

三女見君來  삼녀견군래  The three daughters saw the lord approaching.
入水尋相避  입수심상피  Entering the water, he search and they avoided.
將作宮殿  의장작궁전  He would build a palace
潛候同來戱  잠후동래희  so that hiding he could watch them play together.
馬撾一畫地  마과일획지  He struck his horse whip on the ground
銅室欻然峙  동실훌연치  a copper house suddenly erected itself.
錦席鋪絢明  금석포현명  Silk seats were dazzlingly bright;
金罇置淳旨  금준치순지  golden cups were set out [filled] with a simple taste.
蹁躚果自入  편선과자입  In the end they entered of their own accord;
對酌還徑醉  대작환경취  they drank facing one another and became intoxicated.

These girls seeing the king went straight into the water. His attendants said, “Great King, could you not build a palace, wait for the girls to enter and then block the doors?” The king thought to do this. Striking his horse whip on the ground, a copper house suddenly formed magnificently. Inside were set three seats and wine was placed. The girls each sat at one of these seats; facing one another drinking wine, they became drunk etc (云云).

王時出橫遮  왕시출횡차  At this time the king went out and barred [the gate],
驚走僅顚躓  경주근전지  surprised they ran and almost fell over.

The king waited for the three girls to get very drunk, then he hurried out to bolt [the gate]. The girls were surprised and ran; the eldest daughter, Yuhwa, was stopped by the king.

長女曰柳花  장녀왈유화  The eldest daughter called Yuhwa
是爲王所止  시위왕소지  was stopped by the king.
河伯大怒嗔  하백대노진  The River Earl was greatly angered;
遣使急且駛  견사급조사  he dispatched emissaries who sped forth.
告云渠何人  고운거하인  They spoke their message, “What person are you
乃敢放輕肆  내감방경사  who dares to act in such an impudent manner?”
報云天帝子  보운천제자  [He] replied, “I am the son of the Celestial Emperor
高族請相累  고족청상누  I ask to form a bond between two noble families.”
指天降龍馭  지천강룡어  Pointing to heaven, down came a dragon he could ride [or simply ‘a dragon carriage’];
經到海宮邃  경도해궁수  driving it, he arrived deep in the sea palace.

The River Earl was greatly angered and dispatched emissaries saying, “What person are you who holds my daughter?”

The king replied, “I am the son of the Celestial Emperor I wish to marry the River Earl[‘s daughter].”

The River Earl again sent his emissary, “If you are the son of the Celestial Emperor and seek to marry [into my family], you must used an appropriate intermediary. What rudeness is this to suddenly restrain (留) my daughter?!”

Feeling ashamed [the king] planned to visit the River Earl, but was unable to enter [his] palace (室). He wanted to release the girl but she had already developed feelings (情) for him and was unwilling to leave. She said to him, “If we had a dragon carriage (龍車) we would be able to go to the River Earl’s realm.”

The king pointed at the sky and spoke [some words] whereupon a dragon carriage descended from the air. The king and girl got in the carriage, wind and clouds suddenly rose up and they were at the palace.

河伯乃謂王  하백내위왕  The River Earl said to the king,
婚姻是大事  혼인시대사  “Marriage is a big matter,
媒贄有通法  매지유통법  it requires an intermediary and exchange of gifts.
胡奈得自恣  호내득자자  How can you be so willfully impudent?”

The River Earl received [the king] with correct ritual and taking [her] seat [or ‘them both sitting’], said, “The way of marriage is conducted according to the rules under heaven. How can [you] behave with such impropriety and insult my family (門宗)?!” etc.

君是上帝胤  군시상제윤  “If you are the son of the emperor upon high,
神變請可試  신변청가시  you would be able to compete in divine metamorphoses.”
漣漪碧波中  연의벽파중  In the surging green waves,
河伯化作鯉  하백화작리  The River Earl changed into a carp.
王尋變爲獺  왕심변위달  In pursuit the king transformed into an otter;
立捕不待跬  입포불대규  [He] did not wait a few steps [before] catching [her].
又復生兩翼  우복생양익  Again [she] grew two wings,
翩然化爲雉  편연화위치  Flying up he changed into a pheasant
王又化神鷹  왕우화신응  The king again changed into a divine hawk
搏擊何大鷙  박격하대지  [He] attacked him [like] some great bird of prey.
彼爲鹿而走  피위녹이주  The other became a deer and ran off;
我爲豺而趨  아위시이추  This one became a dhole [wild dog] and chased after.
河伯知有神  하백지유신  The River Earl [now] knew [he] had divine [powers],
置酒相燕喜  치주상연희  He prepared wine and they joyfully feasted together.
伺醉載革輿  사취재혁여  Waiting for their intoxication, he put him in a leather palanquin,
並寘女於[車+奇] 병치여어의  And his daughter beside him in the ui.

The side of a palanquin (輿) is called a ui (車+奇).

意令與其女  의령여기녀  [Her] intention was to [take] him and the girl
天上同騰  천상동등비  and ascend up to heaven (轡?)
其車未出水  기거미출수  [But] before the vehicle had emerged from the water,
酒醒忽驚起  주성홀경기  [he] sobered up and suddenly stood surprised.

The River Earl’s wine took seven days to sober up from.

取女黃金釵  취녀황금채  Taking the girl’s golden hairpin,
刺革從穹出  자혁종궁출  [he] pierced the leather and went out through the hole.
獨乘赤霄上  독승적소상  Alone [he] mounted the red sky and ascended;
寂寞不廻騎  적막불회기  Lonely and sad, no news came back.

The River Earl said, “[If] the king is the son of the Celestial Emperor, you would have some divine difference (神異).”

The king said, “It is only [visible] in contest.”

Now The River Earl went to the water in front of the garden and changed into a carp. Following the waves he [swam] around. The king changed into an otter and caught him. The River Earl then changed into a deer and ran; the king changed into a dhole and pursued him. The River Earl changed into a pheasant; the king changed into a hawk and attacked him. With this The River Earl [knew] he was truly (誠) the son of the Celestial Emperor. With proper rites they were married, [but The River Earl] was afraid that he might not have the heart for [his] daughter. Providing music (樂) and wine, he offered them to the king who became greatly intoxicated. Together with his daughter, they got inside the little leather carriage; riding the dragon carriage, [he] intended to order [it] to ascend to heaven. [But] before the vehicle had emerged from the water, the king sobered up; taking the girl’s golden hairpin, he pierced the leather carriage. Emerging through the hole, he ascended to heaven by himself.

Continue to part 2..

Sources: Yu Deukgong’s “Nostalgic Reflections of the Twenty-One Capitals” 二十一都懷古詩 (1792) – part 6 of 6

See Introductionpart 1part 2part 3, part 4 and part 5.

高麗  Goryeo

In the Wudaishi (History of the Five Dynasties 五代史) it is written, “In the 3rd Changxing (長興 930-3) year of Later Tang emperor Mingzong (明宗), emissaries came sent from the Goryeo gwonjiguksa (權知國事, a title used before rulers were ‘enfeoffed’ by Chinese emperors) Wang Geon (王建). Mingzong appointed Wang Geon as high magistrate of Hyeondo-ju (玄菟州), supplied (充) him with dayi-junshi military messengers (大義軍使) and enfeoffed him as king of Goryeo-guk.”

In the Goryeo-sa (高麗史) it is written, “The surname of Divine and Sagacious Great King Taejo (太祖神聖大王) was Wang (王) and his first name Geon (建). His style name (字) was Yakcheon (若天) and he was from Song’ak-gun (松岳郡). When the administration of Silla began to decline, Gung-ye (弓裔) took control of the former territory of Goguryeo and, establishing his capital at Cheorwon (鐵原), named the country Taebong (泰封). Taejo (太祖 ie Wang Geon) was received as jeonggi-daegam (精騎大監) and owing to his many deeds accumulated further ranks becoming both pajinchang (波珍澯) and sijung (侍中). In the 4th Zhenming (貞明 정명 915-20) year of Later Liang (後粱 후량), gijang marshalls (騎將) Hong Yu (洪儒), Bae Hyeon-Gyeong (裵玄慶 d.936), Sin Sung-gyeom (申崇謙 d.927) and Bok Ji-gyeom (卜智謙) met in secret and inaugurated [Wang Geon as king]. They called the country Goryeo and revised the era name (年號) to Cheonsu (天授 ‘receiving heaven’). In the 2nd year of Taejo’s reign they established the capital to the south of Mount Song’ak (松岳山).”

In the Munheon-bigo (文獻備考) it is written, “Gaeseong-bu (開城府) is the former capital of Goryeo-guk.”

荒凉二十八王陵  황량이십팔왕릉  平平去入入平平(蒸)
風雨年年暗漆燈  풍우년년암칠등  平上平平去入平
進鳳山中紅躑躅  진봉산중홍척촉  去去平平平
春來猶自發層層  춘래유자발층층  平平平去入平平

hwang ryang i sip pal wang reung
pung u nyeon nyeon am chil deung
jin bong san jung hong cheok chok
chun rae yu ja bal cheung cheung

The twenty-eight royal burial mounds [stand] forlorn and desolate.
[Weathered by] wind and rain year upon year, the lacquer lamps [a term for graves n.116] grow dim.
[Yet] the red royal azaleas at Mount Jinbong
In spring will spontaneously bloom layer upon layer.

the twenty-eight royal burial mounds (二十八王陵): according to the Munheon-bigo (文獻備考), “Starting with Goryeo Taejo (太祖), there are twenty-eight royal tombs located in Gaeseong-bu around Mount Song’ak (松岳山), Mount Jinbong (進鳳山), Byeokgot-dong (碧串洞 벽곶동) and Mount Bongmyeong (鳳鳴山).”

the royal azaleas at Mount Jinbong (進鳳躑躅): according to the Yeoji-seungnam (輿地勝覽), “Mount Jinbong is nine li to the east of Gaeseong-bu. Many azaleas (杜鵑花 두견화) bloom there so they are known as Jinbong azaleas (進鳳躑躅).”

鳳輦逶遲降帝姬  봉연위지강제희  去上 平去去平(支)
春寒氈帳祓羊脂  춘한전장불양지  平平平去平平平
浮生白眼應難較  부생백안응난교  平平入上平平去
紅淚先沾勺藥枝  홍누선첨작약지  平去平平入入平

bong yeon wi ji gang je hwi
chun han jeon jang bul yang ji
bu saeng baek an eung nan gyo
hong nu seon cheom jak yak ji

The emperor’s daughter slowly travels down [from the Yuan capital Beijing] in the Phoenix [i.e. royal] palanquin.
In the spring cold, [her] ger tent [has already been] erected and an exorcism performed with sheep fat.
In this fleeting life it is difficult to vie with white eyes;
Red tears fell first on the peony branch.

the emperor’s daughter (帝姬): according to the Goryeo-sa (高麗史), “King Chungnyeol’s (忠烈王) queen (后) was the Great Princess of Qi [aka the Mongol Empire] (齊國大長公主 1259-97 n.117). Her [Mongol] name [in Korean] was Holdo’rogerimisil (忽都魯揭里迷失) and she was the daughter of Yuan Shizu (元世祖 aka Kublai Khan). In the 15th year of King Wonjong’s (元宗 r.1259–1274) reign, King Chungnyeol whilst [residing as] a crown prince in Yuan, married the princess.”

an exorcism performed with sheep fat (祓禳脂 불양지): according to the Goryeo-sa (高麗史), “When King Chungnyeol ascended to the throne and returned to the east [ie to Goryeo] with the princess, they entered the capital [Gaeseong] together on a palanquin (輦) and the older men of the capital congratulated one another. The emperor had sent Tuohu (脫忽) to [serve] the princess and, arriving first he set up a ger tent (穹廬 궁려 n.118) and performed an exorcism (祓) using white sheep fat.”

white eyes (白眼): according to the Goryeo-sa (高麗史), “After the princess gave birth to a boy a feast was held during which Palace Madam, Queen Jeonghwa (貞和宮主 d.1319, Chungnyeol’s first Korean queen n.119), poured wine [for the princess] to congratulate [her]. When the king looked back at the princess, the princess said, ‘How can you look at me with white eyes? Is it because the Palace Madam (宮主) has knelt [before] me?’ So saying [she] ordered the banquet to stop and descending from the palace building cried bitterly.”

the branch of a peony (芍藥枝 작약지): according to the Goryeo-sa (高麗史), “In the 5th month of the 22nd year of King Chungnyeol’s reign, when the peonies were in full bloom at Su’nyeong-gung palace (壽寧宮 n.120), the princess ordered a flower to be brought to her. Holding it for a good while her emotions gave way to tears. She became sick and died at the age of thirty-nine.”

結識中朝趙子昻  결식중조조자앙  入入平平上上平(陽)
風流都尉瀋陽王  풍류도위심양왕  平平平去上平平
敎人提擧征東省  교인제거정동성  平平平上平平上
留醉盧溝萬卷堂  유취노구만권당  平去平平去上平

gyeol sil jung jo jo ja ang
pung ryu do wi sim yang wang
gyo in je geo jeong dong seong
yu chwi no gu man gwon dang

[King Chungseon] formed a close friendship with [painter/calligrapher] Zhao Zi Ang of the Chinese [Yuan] court.
Enjoying music and arts, he was the imperial son-in-law and the Shenyang king.
He entrusted the Eastern Expedition Field Headquarters [by now only an institute used for controlling Goryeo’s affairs] to others [Chungseon handed power to his son Chungsuk in 1313],
And spent his time drunk at the Ten-thousand Volume Library in Lugou [southeast district of Beijing].

the Shenyang king (瀋陽王 심양왕): according to the Yuanshi (History of the Yuan 元史), “The Goryeo king Won (言+原 원, aka King Chungseon 忠宣王) was the son of Geo (昛, aka King Chungnyeol) and succeeded him to the throne. In the first year of Emperor Chengzong (成宗 r.1294-1307) he was married to Princess Bodasiri (寶塔實燐公主 d.1315 n.124) and in the 11th year he was enfeoffed as king of Shenyang (瀋陽 심양, a Yuan title for the Goryeo kings, referring to the region of Liaoyang 遼陽 요양 where many Goryeo people had been displaced during the Mongol invasions. n.125).”

the Eastern Expedition Field Headquarters (征東省): according to the Yuanshi (元史), “In the 21st Zhiyuan (至元 c.1284) year, the Eastern Expedition Field Headquarters (征東行中書省 n.126) was established in Goryeo.”

the Ten-thousand Volume Library (萬卷堂): according to the Goryeo-sa (高麗史), “King Chungseon’s (忠宣王) name before death (諱 휘) was Jang (璋), his earlier name was Won (言+原) and his Mongol name was Ijireubuka (益知禮普花). After around ten years residing in Yuan, he assisted Emperor Renzong (仁宗 r.1311-20) in suppressing an internal rebellion and welcomed the enthronement of Emperor Wuzong (武宗 r.1307-11).  As dawei Great Lieutenant (大尉) he resided in a mansion in [the southeast district, Lugou 盧溝 노구, of] Beijing (燕京) and there constructed the Man’gwon-dang library (萬卷堂 ‘ten thousand volume hall’ est.1314 n.127) where he entertained himself (自娛) with history books. Yao Sui (姚燧 1239-1314 n.128), Yan Fu (閻復 염복 1236-1312 n.129), Yuan Mingshan (元明善 1269-1332 n.130) and Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322 趙孟頫, aka Zhao Zi Ang n.121) all used to meet (遊) in the king’s courtyard.”

銀燭如星照禁扃  은촉여성조금경  平入平平去平
題詩多上牧丹亭  제시다상목단정  平平平上入平平(靑)
如今破瓦嵩山在  여금파와숭산재  平平去上平平上
不復三呼繞殿靑  불복삼호요전청  入入平平去去平

eung chok yeo seong jo geum gyeong
je si da sang mok dan jeong
yeo geum pa wa sung sang jae
bul bok san ho yo jeon cheong

Like star[light], silver candlelight illuminates the crossbar of the palace [gate].
Many [people] climb up to the Peony Pavilion to compose poems.
Just as there are now [only] broken tiles [to be found] on Mount Sung,
So too will the three calls never again echo around [lit. “surround”] the palace paintwork.

Peony Pavilion (牧丹停 목란정): according to the Yi-sang-gukjip (Collected Works of Minister Yi 李相國集), “When the peonies bloom around Sanho-jeong pavilion (山呼亭 n.132) the number of people there composing poems reaches a hundred.” According to the Yeoji-seungnam (輿地勝覽), “Sanho-jeong is inside Yeon’gyeong-gung palace (延慶宮 n.133).”

Mount Sung (嵩山): according to the Yeoji-seungnam (輿地勝覽), “Song’ak (松岳) is five li to the north of Gaeseong-bu. It was originally called both Buso (扶蘇) and Gongnyeong (鵠嶺 곡령); it is also known as Sung-san (崧山) and Sinsung (神嵩)”

the three calls surround (echo around) the palace paintwork (三呼繞殿靑 삼호요전청): according to the Goryeo-sa (高麗史), “During the time of King Chunghye (忠惠王 r.1330-32, 1339-44), Song’ak mountain would call (鳴) during the night. Thinking it strange, he asked about it and Jinmujak-geum (陣無作金 n.339) told him, ‘It is nothing to worry about. In an old poem is a line saying, Seong’ak calls thrice enveloping the palace paintwork.’ The king rejoiced.”

指點前朝宰相家  지점전조재상가  上上平平上去平(麻)
廢園風雨土牆斜  폐원풍우토장사  去平平上上平平
牧丹孔雀凋零盡  목단공작조영진  入平上入平平上
黃蝶雙雙飛采花  황접쌍쌍비채화  平入平平平

ji jeom jeon jo jae sang ga
pye won pung u to jang sa
mok dan gong jak jo yeong jin
hwang jeop ssang ssang bi chae hwa

[One can] point with their finger to the prime minister’s house of the previous dynasty [ie Goryeo];
[Battered by] wind and rain, the earthen walls of the overgrown garden are leaning over.
The peonies have withered and the peacocks are gone;
[Only] pairs of yellow butterflies flit amongst the herbs and flowers.

peonies and peacocks (牧丹孔雀): according to the Goryeo-sa (高麗史), “At the beginning of [King] Sinjong’s (神宗 r.1197-1204) reign chamji-jeongsa (參知政事) Cha Yak-song (車若松 n.134) and teukjin (特進) Gi Hong-su (奇洪壽 1148-1209, n.135) together entered the Chungseo-seong (中書省 Chancellery for Internal Affairs). Yak-song asked Hong-su, ‘How is [your] peacock?’ To which Hong-su answered, ‘It died after eating a fish and getting a bone stuck in its throat.’ Hong-su then asked about cultivating peonies to which Yak-song gave a detailed explanation. Those who heard this mocked them for it.”

潮落潮生急水門  조락조생급수문  平入平平入上平(元)
年年商舶到江村  연년상박도강촌  平平平入去平平
攢峯十二巫山似  찬봉십이무산사  平入去平平上
只少三聲墮淚猿  지소삼성타누원  上上平平上去平

jo rak jo saeng geup su mun
yeon nyeon sang bak do gang chon
chan bong sip i mu san sa
ji so sam seong ta nu won

The tide ebbs and flows at Swift Water Gate;
Each year trade ships arrived at the river village.
The twelve peaks [were said to] resemble the Wu mountains [巫山, on the Yangtze River by Wu Xia],
Only the three voices of monkeys crying are missing. [Both Li Bai and Du Fu wrote poems about the monkeys of the Wu mountains n.136.]

Swift Water Gate, Geupsu-mun (急水門): according to the Songshi (History of Song 宋史), “The Yeseong River (禮成江) is between two mountains and is bound together as a stone ravine. The water swirls and violently flows downwards. The place where it is most dangerous is called Geupsu-mun (Swift Water Gate).” According to the Damingyitongzhi (Complete Records of the Great Ming 大明一統志), “Geupsu-mun is in the sea to the south of Gaeseong. It resembles Wu-xia gorge (巫峽) [on the Yangtze River].”

trade ships (商舶): according to the Goryeo-sa (高麗史), “Song merchants gathered at the Yeseong River.”

天壽南門春暮時  천수남문춘모시  平去平平平去平(支)
丹樓碧閣影參差  단누벽각영참차  平平入入上平平(麻)
風蓑雨笠何村客  풍사우립하촌객  入平平入
終日沈吟看鷺鷥  종일침음간로사  平入平平去去

cheon su nam mun chun mo si
dan nu byeok gak yeong cham cha
pung sa u rip ha chon gaek
jong il chim eum gan ro sa

On a spring evening as light fades by the south gate of Cheonsu Temple
Shadows cast by the red and green pavilions become indistinguishable.
A rustic traveller wearing a straw coat and hat to protect himself from wind and rain,
Has spent the day reciting poetry watching a white heron.

Cheonsu-won academy (天壽院): according to Yeoji-seungnam (輿地勝覽), “Cheonsu-won is to the east of the fortress (城) and is the former site of Cheonsu-sa temple (天壽寺).”

watching a white heron (看鷺鷥 간로사): according to the Goryeo-sa (高麗史), “In order to write the poem White Heron (鷺鷥), Gang Il-yong (康日用 n.138) would brave the rain each time and go to the stream south of Cheonsu-sa Temple to watch them.”

紫霞洞裏艸霏霏  자하동리초비비  上平去上上
不見宮姬並馬歸  불견궁희병마귀  入去平平上上平(微)
爲是辛王行樂地  위시신왕행락지  平上平平平入去
至今猶有燕雙飛  지금유유연쌍비  去平平上去平平

ja ha dong ri cho bi bi
bul gyeon gung hwi byeong ma gwi
wi si sin wang haeng rak ji
ji geum yu yu yeon ssang bi

The vegetation grows densely in Purple Afterglow Valley;
The palace lady returning on her horse beside [King Sin] is [nowhere] to be seen.
This was once the playground of King Sin,
However now only swallows [remain] flying together with their mates.

Purple Afterglow Valley, Jaha-dong (紫霞洞): according to Yeoji-seungnam (輿地勝覽), “Jaha-dong valley is beneath Mount Song’ak (松岳山). The valley (洞府) is deep and dangerous. The stream water is clear and flows gently. It is the most scenic of places.”

King Sin (辛王 r.1374-1388): according to the Mingshi (History of Ming 明史), “Goryeo king Jeon (顓 aka 恭愍王 r.1330-74) had no son and so he adopted U (禑 aka King Sin n.139), the son of Chongsin Sin Don (寵臣 辛旽 d.1371 n.140).” According to the Goryeo-sa (高麗史), “When he was young, Sin U’s (辛禑) name was Monino (牟尼奴). He was the child of Sin Don and his slave concubine (婢妾) Ban’ya (般若).”

swallows fly together with their mates, yeon-ssang-bi (燕雙飛 연쌍비): according to the Goryeo-sa (高麗史), “Sin Don had the gisaeng Yeon Ssang Bi (Flying Pair of Swallows 燕雙飛) carry a bow and play a flute. Dressing her in a dragon embroidered dress, they would ride with their reins adjacent to one another.”

可憐靑木未藏龍  가련청목미장룡  上平平入去平平(冬)
蕭瑟千年鵠嶺松  소슬천년곡령송  平入平平入上平
鐵犬寥寥東向吠  철견요요동향폐  入上平平平去去
白雲飛盡見三峯  백운비진견삼봉  入平平上去平平

ga ryeon cheong mok mi jang ryong
sol seul cheon nyeon gok ryeong song
cheol gyeon yo yo dong hyang pye
baek un bi jin gyeon sam bong

It is pitiful that a dragon cannot hide in a green tree [Refers to the prophecy of Taebong in poem 34];
Cold and sad, [only] the pines of Tundra Swan Pass (Gong-nyeong 鵠嶺, another name for Song’ak Mountain n.141)* [survive] a thousand years.
Iron dogs [were placed] to silently bark at the east,
For only when the white clouds blew away was Three Peak Mountain seen.

* [Refers to the message sent by Choe Chiwon to Wang Geon when he first established Goryeo “鵠嶺靑松 鷄林黃葉 (곡령청송 계림황엽)” mentioned in poem 24.]

iron dogs (鐵犬): according to the Songgyeong-japgi (Miscellaneous Records of the Pine Capital aka Gaeseong 松京雜記 n.142), “It is said that, ‘Holy monk Doseon (道詵 n.143) determined the site south of Mount Song’ak for the [new Goryeo] capital. A little later, the clouds lifted revealing to the southeast the three peaks, Samgak-san, of Hanyang (漢陽 三角山) which reached the sky. Seeing this, Doseon collapsed in surprise and lamented. They made twelve iron dogs and had them bark in that direction. This is because Samgak was a gyubong (窺峰 n.144) mountain that effected the auspiciousness of Mount Song’ak. (They also placed on a large rock the Sangmyeong-deung (Ever Shining Lantern 常明橙), a type of lantern used to ward away robbers n.145).'” Now to the east of Gaeseong is Jwa’gyeon-ni (座犬里 Sitting Dog Village, referenced in a poem by Kim Yuk (金堉 1580-1658) n.146).

Sources: “Looking at Goryeo History through the Personages” – forward and contents

Goryeo Personages 720

Song Eun-myeong 송은명. 2010: 인물로 보는 고려사 (Looking at Goryeo History through the Personages). Seoul: SIAA 시아출판사.

In the following all hanja characters and dates are added by me.  Comments in parenthesis are also mine, not the original author’s.  I think this book is good popular history writing!


Recently, with the production of television dramas dealing with Goryeo history, such as Taejo Wanggeon (태조 왕건), Jeguk’ui achim (제국의 아침 ‘Empire’s Morning’) and Muin-sidae (무인시대 ‘Age of the Military’), interest in Goryeo is steadily increasing. Actually, compared to the history of the Three Kingdoms and [later] Joseon period, it is not only the wider public, but to researchers also that [Goryeo history] is an unknown terra incognita (the double “unknown” is present in the original Korean 알려지지 않은 미지). Whilst possessing five hundred years of history similar to Joseon, owing to a lack of surviving relics and sources, the period of our [Korean] history most enveloped in a dark veil is none other than Goryeo; what is worse, [Goryeo] history is understood [only] as [having had] a society less developed than Joseon and as having been [nothing more than] a period of transition.

Well then, what kind of country was Goryeo? What sort of events were unfolding in this land (referring to modern Korea) one thousand years ago? To find the answer there is first a need to examine the relationship between history and [its] personages. This kind of investigation (고민 lit. ‘troubled anguish of thought’ – but used to mean “thinking hard about something”) which was presented in the previous volume [of this series] Looking at Joseon History through Personages, continues in a similar manner in this book as well.

If, as it is said, the importance of history is [in allowing us to] reflect on the present through records of the past, then there is no more effective medium than [through] the lives of personages. This book tries to shine new light on the historical characteristics and significance of Goryeo through [looking at] the lives of personages from the Goryeo period. [I] hope that [the reader] can feel the vitality (생동감) and immediacy (현장감) of history through the energetic (생생하다 lit. ‘lively’) lives of the personages included in this book.

Well then, what kind of historical characteristics does Goryeo, [a country which so] embellished the medieval era of Korea, possess? Before beginning the main text, let us consider some characteristics of the Goryeo period.

First of all, except for the period of stability under King Munjong (文宗 r.1046-83) the majority of the [Goryeo] period experienced [continuous] states of disorder, both internally and externally. Externally there were continuous invasions; this was because [Goryeo] was unable to actively deal with the state of constantly changing power on the Chinese continent where, following the Tang, [came] the [Khitan] Liao, the Song, the [Jurchen] Jin and the [Mongol] Yuan. [Goryeo’s] northern expansion policy (北進政策) advocated from the foundation of the dynasty also played a role in the friction with the Chinese dynasties. Except for the Song, Goryeo was a number of times at war or military confrontation with Liao, Jin and Yuan. Through this process, it was impossible for [Goryeo’s] national strength not to be spent and the land exhausted. Internally the country was impeded by both large and small disturbances. In particular, beginning with the Yi Jagyeom (李資謙 d.1126) rebellion (1122) during the middle period, [followed by] Myocheong’s (妙淸 d.1135) rebellion (1135) and then the military uprising, social disturbances intensified as the ruling class changed and eventually [Goryeo] came under the rule of the Yuan.

Surviving for more than five hundred years whilst experiencing these internal and external trials, Goryeo possessed the following historical characteristics. Firstly, Goryeo was an ‘aristocratic country’ [meaning] a class maintaining special rights, the aristocracy, controlled the country. The aristocratic class that ruled Goryeo changed slightly (in fact significantly) as a result of repeated sudden rises and falls; the ruling class was transformed [from] the powerful clans (豪族) who participated in the unification of the Later Three Kingdoms (後三國) and founding [of Goryeo; then] as royal authority and a system of governance was established, [there were first] the maternal relatives (外戚) who married into the royal clan and the hereditary aristocracy (門閥貴族) bureaucratized through the state examination system [who were, in turn, to experience] military coup d’état and, later, the Mongol invasion and period of [Mongol] Yuan rule [from which time] until the end of the dynasty the influential clans [that collaborated with the Mongols] (權門勢族 lit. ‘influential houses’) were the dominant ruling class.

The aristocracy led Goryeo politics, economics, society and culture and left many achievements, but with a monopoly on power and wealth, there was despotism giving birth to many abuses which ultimately caused the weakening of national strength and [finally] its downfall.

Secondly, Goryeo was a ‘Buddhist country’ making Buddhism the state religion. Following the initiation of the state examination system there emerged as bureaucrats scholars who had studied Confucianism, but just as it appeared in Wang Geon’s Ten Injunctions (訓要十條), Buddhism remained the fundamental ideology of the country. During the early period, the scripture focused doctrinal school (敎宗) which had received the support of the king and hereditary nobles, namely the Hwa’eom-jong (華嚴宗) and Cheontae-jong (天台宗) sects became the intellectual basis for leading the country; following the military coup, the meditation centered Seon-jong sect (禪宗) which had the support of the military regime and pro-Mongol clans (權門勢族), and the Jogye-jong sect (曹溪宗) which united the Nine Mountain seon temples (九山禪門), [together] led the Buddhist establishment. There was an inseparably intimate relationship between those in power and Buddhism; high monks were invariably at the centre of national reform and restoration. However, due to various abuses and side effects of excessively preferential policies [towards] Buddhism, during the later period Buddhism was completely rejected by the new [class of] sadaebu (士大夫) scholar-officials.

Thirdly, during the Goryeo period sahak private academies (私學) greatly developed. With the initiation of the Confucian based gwageo (科擧) civil service examination, [sons of] regional clans (土豪) and commoners (良民) such as provincial officials (鄕吏) [all] sought social advancement through this [system]. As a result the national Gukja-gam (國子監) academy [took on a] nominal [position] whilst private schools established by Confucian scholars, starting with the Gujae-hakdang academy (九齋學堂) of Choe Chung (崔沖 984-1068), became prevalent. These Confucian scholars were mostly of bureaucratic backgrounds having emerged from the jigonggeo (知貢擧) offices which supervised the gwageo examination, as such there was nothing more effective [for them] than the private academies.

Fourthly, for a period military officials seized control of the government. This is an anomaly of [Korean] dynastic history where, uniquely, governance was controlled by the military. Following the initiation of the gwageo system, civil officials including the hereditary nobility dominated (총괄) state governance; the civil officials also had command over the military. On account of this the military officials were completely excluded from power resulting in the 1170 coup d’état. The military leaders Yi Uibang (李義方 d.1174), Jeong Jungbu (鄭仲夫 1106-79), Gyeong Daeseung (慶大升 1154-1183), Yi Uimin (李義旼 d.1196) and Choe Chungheon (崔忠獻 1149-1219) ruled Goryeo for around eighty years until the kingship was restored during the Yuan dynasty.

Together with these characteristics, in order to approach the five hundred years of the Goryeo dynasty in a more interesting way, [I] have tried to narrate Goryeo history through twenty-eight lives that were at the centre of the era. Looking into history through the life of an individual is an extremely interesting task, and [I] believe this is precisely the attraction of the ‘Looking at History through Personages’ series. Of course, seeing this is only one person’s writing (talking about himself), the individual’s bias and lack of historical awareness will likely be revealed. I request much whipping.

Song Eun-myeong


Part 1 – A new era begins

Wang Geon (王建 r.918-943) – Opening the gates of Goryeo’s 500 years.

Gwang-jong (光宗 r.949-975) – Centralization of power towards the strengthening of royal authority; preparing the foundation of centralized authority.

Gyun’yeo (均如 923-973) – Taking the lead in the unification and popularization of Buddhism.

Seong-jong (成宗 r.981-997) – Receiving the title of “sagacious ruler” (聖君).

Seo Hui (徐熙 942-98) – A master diplomat who repelled the Khitan army with a single word.

Gang Jo (康兆 ?-1010) – A traitor [but who] maintained his allegiance to [his] country.

Yang Gyu (楊規 ?-1011) – Leave the Khitan army to me!

Gang Gamchan (姜邯贊 948-1031)  The famous general of the Great Victory of Gwiju (龜州大捷).

Part 2 – Achieving the flourishing of culture on a [now] stable foundation

Mun-jong (文宗 r.1046-1083) – Leading the highest golden age of Goryeo.

Choe Chung (崔沖 984-1068) – Establishing the craze for sahak private academies (私學).

Yi Jayeon (李子淵 1003-1061) – The glory of a family attained through intermarriage with the royal house.

Uicheon (義天 1055-1101) – The prince who became a monk.

Yun Gwan (尹瓘 ?-1111) – An eternity of anguish; a moment of glory.

Part 3 – Dominance of the queens’ relatives and period of military [rule]

Yi Jagyeom (李資謙 ?-1126) – Dreaming of a usurption of the thrown [by] the queen’s clan.

Myocheong (妙淸 ?-1135) – The Dream of a [truly] independent [from the Khitan Liao] country that vanished together with the failure of a revolution.

Kim Busik (金富軾 1075-1151) – Author of Samguk-sagi, a perfect example of sadae-juui [‘serving the greater’ toadyism towards China] (事大主義)

Jeong Jungbu (鄭仲夫 1106-1179) – Opening the doors to the period of military [rule] through coup d’état.

Choe Chungheon (崔忠獻 1149-1219) – The longest ruling dictatorship in the history of the military regime.

Yi Gyubo (李奎報 1168-1241) – The great writer [and poet] who established the revival of Goryeo literature.

Jinul (知訥 1158-1210) – Creating the Jogye-jong sect (曹溪宗) and [thus] contributing to the unification of [Korean] Buddhism.

Part 4 – The Mongol invasions and final writhing for restoration

Kim Yunhu (金允侯) – [From] origins of [being] a monk, rising to the [highest military] position of sangjanggun (上將軍).

Bae Jungson (裵仲孫 ?-1271) – Leading the Goryeo partisans, the Sambyeolcho (三別抄), and resisting against the Mongols.

Il’yeon (一然 1206-1289) – Writer of the Samguk-yusa, valued [by Choe Namseon 1890-1957] higher than the Samguk-sagi.

An Hyang (安珦 1243-1306) – The Zhu Xi (朱熹) of the East who tried to rearm Goryeo with Neo-Confucianism (性理學 seongni-hak).

Yi Jehyeon (李齊賢 1287-1367) – A realist in an age of chaos.

Gongmin-wang (恭愍王 r.1351-1374) – Writhing [struggle] for the restoration of Goryeo.

Choe Yeong (崔瑩 1316-1388) – The failed dream of a Liaodong conquest [campaign].

Jeong Mongju (鄭夢周 1337-1392) – Sharing the fate of the Goryeo dynasty.