The following is a translation of the concluding chapter of Choe Namseon’s Bulham munhwa-ron (不咸文化論 불함문화론 ‘discourse on Bulham culture’) completed in December 1925 and first published in August 1927. The original was written in Japanese whilst this translation is based on the modern Korean translation. Trusting that the Korean translation is faithful to the Japanese, hopefully not too much will be different. For the most part, my translation aims to reflect the Korean syntax as closely as possible at the expense of more natural English; only when the syntax becomes impossibly garbled do I try to break down the sentences. In the original Korean, most paragraphs are made up of just one or two long sentences.
Sino-Korean hanja (漢字) characters in parenthesis are either present in the Korean translation or added by myself; obviously the original Japanese would always have used characters, though it would be interesting to know if any had furigana or special readings attached. Hangul (한글) words in parenthesis are left in by myself, either when the hangul form of the word is important or if the English does not so directly or exactly translate the original Korean word (or to prove what was originally written!) It seems the premodern Korean hangul vowel known as arae-a (아래아 ‘lower a‘) cannot be rendered in hangul unicode, the syllable block is broken up with the arae-a appearing as an interpunct.
Romanization of Korean words which do not match the Revised-Romanization system (e.g. Părk and Taigăr) are original to the Korean text.
For a good discussion of Choe Namseon’s historiography, namely his influential analysis of Dan’gun and the Bulham hypothesis, see:
Allen, Chizuko T. 1990. “Northeast Asia Centered Around Korea: Ch’oe Namsŏn’s View of History.” Journal of Asian Studies 49.4:787-806.
Bulham is a classic in the genre of hyperdiffusion theories popular at the time and periodically so since. The initial inspiration and term ‘bulham’ (不咸) Choe seems to have acquired from Shiratori Kurakichi (白鳥庫吉 1865-1942) who as early as 1900 had suggested it as a Chinese transcription of ‘Burkhan’ attested as an oronym (mountain name) in the Shanhaijing (山海經).
Anyway, here’s the translation.
Chapter 18: The Bulham Cultural Region and its Linchpin (楔子)
The above is an insufficient inquiry, but [from it we] could get a general view of [just] how deep roots the Părk centered culture existed with and over [just how] expansive a region it [was spread].
And consequently in the Shanhaijing (山海經) wherein one would think that [Părk/Bulham] had not been transmitted after the Qin [dynasty – due to its lack of explicit mention], the name Bulham (Părkăn) is [instead] recorded [as] ‘Dae’in’ (大人) and ‘Baek-min’ (白民), whilst in the Hanshu (漢書), that which in present day Joseon [aka Korea] is called baeksan (白山 ‘white mountain’) is mentioned as Bun-ryeo-san (分黎山; Păr); [these both] show that through textual sources also the longevity (오래됨) of ‘Părk (ᄇᆞᆰ)’ and ‘Părkăn (ᄇᆞᆰ은)’ can be observed.
In the Weishu (魏書), the record of the beliefs of the Wuhuan (烏丸) people states that when a human dies their soul (혼백) returns to a spirit-land (靈地) called Jeok-san (赤山 ‘red mountain’), and that they send off the deceased to Jeok-san furnishing them with dogs and cows. Through this abbreviated (간략형) [notion of] Jeok-san or Daegal (Taigăr), and its correspondence both in name and actuality with [mountains] such as Tae-san and Geumgang-san, the universalism of the ‘Daegal (Taigăr)’ belief [system] can be appreciated.
The foundation myth of the Mongols recounts that a blue wolf (蒼浪) who had received the celestial mandate (天命 lit. ‘command’) and his wife, a white deer (白牝鹿), resided in Burhan (不兒罕山) mountain and [there] gave birth to the country’s founder; the foundation tale of the Manchu, meanwhile, tells of the strange (기이한) exploits of the red fruit of Bulhūri lake (布勒瑚哩地) beneath the Bukūri mountains (布庫哩山) to the east of Jangbaek-san [長白山 Ch. Chángbáishān, aka K. Baekdu-san 白頭山] mountain, [and so we cannot but] be surprised at the universalism of these [myths] possessing the traditional philosophy (사상) of the lineage of Bulham culture.
In Mongolian, gods and Buddhas (神佛) alike are called burikan (부리칸) or burhan (부르한) (burkhan); in every house of the Oroqen people (鄂倫春人) they set up a sacred alter (神壇); in Sollon (率倫人 Ch. Lǜlún) people’s homes they worship ‘borohan’ (보로한); amongst the Gilyak there is the name bad (바드) for mountain gods (山神); [thus] together with Joseon’s veneration of Bugun (府君; Pukun or Taigam), Japan’s various schools of different types of Shintō, and Ryukyuan worship in front of the sun (in Ryukyuan language ‘sun’ is fi or pi ), it can be surmised that the various ethnic groups and states of the east have tacitly developed (자라다) within a shared culture up until the present. How can the explication (자아냄) of the scholarly interest in Părk (ᄇᆞᆰ) thought simply stop with history? As one who is [trying to] vaguely explicate on Asian-ism, or as that spiritual (정신적) support, there is the need to look into (돌아보다) this [further].
In short, an ethnic group (민족 minjok) who possess a Părk based belief [system] and social organization is distributed in a line [starting from the region between] the Caspian Sea and the Tian Shan mountains which [constitute] the northeast branch of the Pamir mountains; [this line then] follows the Altay mountains, the Sayan mountains and Yablonoi mountains, and then incorporates the Xing’an and Taihaeng mountains to the south, and I’yeok (夷域 ‘yi territory’), Joseon, Japan and Ryukyu to the east. Leaving aside [the question of] the racial (종족적) relationship [between them], culturally they form a [long] chain of connections.
[Along this chain] some division emerged between [those more] civilized and [those more] primitive (야만) [depending on] the period of migration out of the original homeland (본원지) and environmental conditions (제약) in the [various] places of settlement. However, taking the legends that had diverged from the original same root as the history of the founding of [their individual] countries and transmitting them in a fragmentary fashion, [they] preserved a single culture (문화적 현상 lit. ‘cultural phenomenon’) [unified] by a single belief [system] that was both universal and strong and constituted its [own] root of origin. Because it was originally based on an immovable conviction, a model for the best way of living, even whilst being constantly oppressed by stronger cultures [they] successfully maintained a living lineage (계통적 생명) across east and west and throughout past and present.
The lineage of Bulham (Părkăn) culture constitutes a northern lineage of eastern culture that contrasts with the two southern lineages of China and India. [Amongst both] the peoples (minjok) and countries that belong to this [northern] lineage, until a certain period [we can say] they had no special [individual] histories, [and] a feeling (감정) has flowed [across place and time] of such shared commonality and correspondence that it has constituted its own distinctly colored (특색) [cultural] area. Corresponding to [the original] Părk (ᄇᆞᆰ) and [since] protected within Taigăr (대갈), both [their] actual and ideal way of living (생활) is to obtain comfort and satisfaction. Consequently, that which constitutes [both the] clear[est] proof, and [represented] an extremely important opportunity (계) [for maintaining Părk] has been [the legends of] Dan’gun and Buru (夫婁), and the teaching of ‘the Way of Pung-nyu’ (風流道) [which all belong to] Joseon history.
Today in East Asia, the northern people’s source of branching and [their] constituent cultural content (문화 구성 내용) still belongs to virgin territory [in] scholarship and it is difficult to suddenly grasp the truth and details [of it all], however, it seems [now in this writing] through [our] investigation of this Părk (ᄇᆞᆰ) philosophy, we have glimpsed the broad outline of the original source. Having pursued (더듬다) this, recently I am thinking that perhaps based on this a true explanation of the ancient culture of East Asia has been achieved.
[On the basis of] comparative research of religion and language, and [utilizing] anthropology and folkloristics, [Dan’gun is] thought to be the secret key to East Asian culture [and so] whenever I see Dan’gun slandered by those who cannot know, relying on ignorant (一知半解) uninformed (상식적) scholars [as they do], I feel nervously troubled (아슬아슬) and frustrated. And when East Asian culture is discussed, whenever I see [they] treat everything as pertaining either to Chinese or Indian [cultural] spheres and speak as though attributing value [only] to these, I cannot help but lament that the lack of progress in Oriental Studies owes to these preconceived notions (기존 인식) and preconceptions.
Recently a research tradition in the humanities (인문 과학) and folkloristics has gradually gained popularity (성행) and a new scholarly paradigm (신국면) is opening up. For the sake of the original (本地) truth of East [Asian] culture which [has been] being buried, I am truly delighted and cannot welcome [this development] enough. Consequently [it] must be said that expectations for the immediate future lie solely in this direction. We [Japanese and Koreans] are [merely] one inconspicuous part (일면) of East [Asian] culture, or [even of] all humanity; the focus of that comprehensive observation can be understood as Părk (ᄇᆞᆰ) ideology. If the secret of this ideology is [further] developed by many intelligent scholars, and its structure and nature becomes clearer, it will herald in an enormous new light which can illuminate [wider] human culture.
Source for the translation:
Choe Namseon 최남선, translated by Jeon Seonggon 전성공. 2013. 불함문화론ㆍ살만교차기 (최남선 한국학 총서8). Seoul: Kyung-in Publishing 景仁文化社.
See all a translation of Chapter 10: The great lineage of Joseon sindo (神道).