Sources: Sin Chaeho – ‘History of Ancient Joseon Culture’ (on the Sam’rang 三郞 > Jo’ui 皂衣 / hwarang lineage)

Sin Chaeho (1880-1936) is popularly regarded as the father of modern nationalist historiography and is remembered as one of the few early modern intellectuals who refused to submit to, or accept, the Japanese colonization of Korea, devoting his life to the Korean resistance movement in China, ultimately to die in a Japanese prison in Dalian.

Below is a translation of the second installment/chapter of Sin Chaeho’s Joseon-sanggo-munhwa-sa (朝鮮上古文化史 ‘History of Ancient Joseon Culture’) which was originally serialized in the Joseon-ilbo newspaper in 40 installments between 15 October ~ 3 December 1931, and then 27-31 May 1932). This work was the immediate follow up to his better known magnum opus, Joseon-sanggo-sa (朝鮮上古史 ‘History of Ancient Joseon’) in which he argued the legendary state of Old Joseon to have been an ancient continental empire responsible for most of Chinese civilization.

Forgetting that, this self-contained chapter is both interesting in itself and highly representative of Sin’s creative, nationalist historiography; today his emotive writing is largely dismissed for its obvious methodological weaknesses but it remains influential on the public imagination and popular history books of a certain persuasion. There was also no small creative genius at work.

In this chapter he seeks to establish the ‘lost history’ of the Goguryeo hwarang order – attested only as a Silla institution – projecting shared origins back to folkloric legends of the ancient Sam’rang (三郞) associated with the Dan’gun myth, and tracing their subsequent decline and remnants through to the modern era.

As well reflected in this chapter, Sin’s core historiographical strategy was to blame Korea’s contemporary predicament under Japanese colonization on the preceding centuries under Sinocentric Neo-Confucian dogma which had consequently weakened Korea’s independent spirit; a key element of this explanation was a conspiracy style theory that the compiler of the Samguk-sagi (1145), Kim Busik,  had actively created an anti-nativist pro-Chinese history, and sought to destroy all alternative histories after its completion. It should be stated that this theory involved a large degree of oversimplification and active mischaracterization of Kim Busik and the Samguk-sagi but, again, has remained highly influential in the popular imagination.

The translation below is based on a modern Korean edition (referenced below), which translates Sin’s ye olde early C20th mixed-script Korean into easier-to-read contemporary Korean.

Sin Chaeho, Danjae 단재 신채호; Bak Gibong 박기봉 (translator). 2007. 『조선상고 문화사』 [Joseon sanggo munhwasa]. Seoul: 비봉출판사 [bibong-chulpansa].

This chapter may also be interesting to compare with that of Choe Namseon who also sought to place the Hwarang in a broader diachronic perspective.

History of Ancient Joseon/Korean Culture – Chapter 2: The Sam’rang (三郞) tour (巡遊) and transmission of Seon-gyo (仙敎)

According to legend, Sam’rang-seong (三郞城 ‘three lad fortress’) on Mani-san (摩尼山) mountain, Ganghwa-do island, was constructed by three sons of Dan’gun; the Jecheon-dan (祭天壇 ‘celetial rites altar’) is where Dan’gun performed sacrificial rites to heaven. It is truly wondrous (기이하다) that the small fortress and [its tradition] have been transmitted over four millennia.

The poem Sam’rang-seong by Yi Sukcheom (李叔詹) of the Goryeo dynasty [contains the line] “Fishermen and firewood collecting children still call it the Old Celestial Capital” (漁樵猶說舊天京); that they referred to this lonely and remote place as a ‘celestial capital’, holding it in such regard is still more wondrous.

All that remains of the Sam’rang’s history is the construction of this fortress, however, during Silla and Goryeo, they erected Sam’rang-sa (三郞寺) temples and worshipped them; this too is still more wondrous.

However, it is not simply because of the fortress that the name of the Sam’rang was transmitted. If it had been only because of the fortress, how would they have come to be worshipped and held aloft in this way? Although it is not recorded in previous histories, it must be because the Hwarang (花郞) of Silla and Seon’in (仙人) of Goguryeo all traced their origins to the Sam’rang.

There is also no one of recent times who knows the origins of the Jo’ui (皂衣); only the circumstances (사실) of the Hwarang are recorded in the Samguk-sagi as follows.

“In Silla they were concerned that it was not possible to identify men of talent, so they organized them into groups for recreation. After observing their behaviour and righteousness, they would select them for employment. Choosing boys of beautiful appearance, they adorned them and called them Hwa’rang (花郞 ‘flower lad’)… By these means they could distinguish between good and bad persons.” {Samguk-sagi “Kim Heum’un-jeon” 金歆運傳 account}

On account of this passage, people are led to believe that the Hwarang were [the product] of a Silla [Confucian style] civil service examination (科擧法), but this is because we have been deceived by Kim Busik {金富軾 1075-1151 – Samguk-sagi compiler} and so do not know the true identity (참모습 lit. ‘true shape’) of the Hwarang.

The Hwarang [tradition] had [in fact] been both the soul of religion and the heart of national purity (國粹) passed down from the time of Dan’gun, but despite this, around the end of Silla and beginning of Goryeo they were obliterated by Confucians and even their history was lost.

According to the Yeoji-seungnam (輿地勝覽 {late C15th geography – still extant}), “The stele of the Sa-rang (四郞 ‘four lads’) was smashed to pieces by Ho Jongdan (胡宗旦) and only the turtle support stone (龜趺) remains.” Through this the obliteration of the Hwarang by Confucians can be openly (正面) observed. According to the Goryeo-sa (高麗史), “Because Seongjong (成宗 r.981-997) liked Chinese customs (華風) and hated worship, Yi Jibaek (李知白) sought to revive Hwarang groups/gatherings (花郞會).” {source??} Through this the obliteration of the Hwarang by Confucians can be indirectly (反面) observed.

In the case of Samguk-sagi (三國史記 ‘history of the Three Kingdoms’) compiler, Kim Busik, we can know that his extreme [anti-Hwarang] bias was even stronger than that of Seongjong or Ho Jongdan.

At the time of compiling the so-called ‘History of the Three Kingdoms’, he [actively] omitted facts concerning the Hwarang and their origins. In the Goryeo-sa ({高麗史 ‘history of Goryeo’ 1451} written a hundred years after Kim Busik’s Samguk-sagi ), Yeong-rang, An-rang, Nam-rang and Sul-rang (永郞·安郞·南郞·述郞) [who comprised] the Sa-rang (四郞), were elevated as the ‘Four Sages’ (四聖), however, Kim did not even transmit this fact [of their existence]. The fact that whenever the ‘way of the Hwarang’ (花郞의 道) was lectured upon, there would be several thousand listeners is recorded in the Joseon dynasty Jeompilje-jip (佔畢齊集 {collected works of Kim Jongjik 金宗直 1431-92}) which was compiled three hundred years after Kim, however, Kim wrote nothing about the influence exerted by the Hwarang. Throwing away the Seon-sa (仙史 ‘history of the seon ‘ {attested in Samguk-sagi entry for King Jinheung 眞興王 year 37}) in which the origin of the Hwarang was recorded, he barely quoted a few opening lines from Choe Go’un’s (崔孤雲 {Choe Chiwon 崔致遠}) Nallang-bi (鸞郞碑序) stele text; omitting the holy accomplishments (聖蹟) of two hundred Hwarang, he described only the military achievements of four or five such as Sadaham (斯多含 {general who effected the military subjugation of Dae Gaya – modern Goryeong – in 562}). This is sufficient to see his inner hatred of the Hwarang.

Why is it, then, that Kim recorded even a few lines in the Samguk-sagi ?

It is for no other reason than that at the time, foreigners (Chinese) [already] knew many stories of the Hwarang and Tang Chinese recorded them in such works as Dazhong-yishi (大中遺事) and Xinluo-guoji (新羅國記) {both by Ling Hucheng 令狐澄}; inside of Korea the Hwarang stelai could be smashed and works such as Hwarang-segi and Seon-sa could be destroyed, but that which was transmitted in foreign lands was beyond Kim’s control {능력 lit. ‘ability’}. Also the Hwarang history which had been recorded by foreigners was rough and the words close to ridicule, so even if they were transmitted they would not be a match for Confucians’ [historiography] so Kim considered there to have been no necessity [to include] these matters and omitted all facts concerning the Hwarang. For this reason, the Korean records {역사 ‘history’} of the Hwarang were not included and only those in foreign counties were included in an abridged fashion, and this is what we read today.

Ah, how sad! The stories of the Hwarang appearing in the Samguk-sagi which are read by us Hwarang descendents today, is that which was contemptuously recorded by the brushes of Chinese. How can we know the true identity of the Hwarang from this?

Concerning the Jo’ui (皂衣) of Goguryeo, Kim Busik quoted the Suishu (隨書) and simply observed that there were Jo’ui seon’in (皂衣仙人 – also called Yeseok seon’in 翳屬仙人) in Goguryeo; the [Samguk-sagi] “Myeong’rimdapbu-jeon” (明臨答夫傳 account speaks of Yeonna-jo’ui Myeong’rim-dapbu (椽那皂衣明臨答夫), but it does not say what the Jo’ui were.

{NB Myeong’rim-dapbu is attested with the title of Jo’ui, not in his biographical account, but in the Goguryeo Annal entry for King Chadae 次大王 year twenty [165], where he is recorded as assassinating the tyrant king on behalf of the people.

{Yeseok seon’in 翳屬仙人 is attested in the Samguk-sagi treatise for Goguryeo titles. In the next sentence, citing the Xin-Tangshu, Jo’ui are described as seon’in 仙人}

However, the Gaoli-tujing (高麗圖經 {still extant first hand account of Goryeo by Xu Jing 徐兢 1091-1153 who visited in 1123}) records, “The Jaega-hwasang (在家和尙 {lit. ‘at home monks’ i.e. who have not left their families for a temple}) neither wear gasa (袈裟) Buddhist robes, nor maintain precepts (佛戒); wearing white ramie clothes, they bind their wastes with black silk.[..] Residing in common houses {민가, original just has ‘home/room’ 室} they have families. They always put their energies into public projects, such as cleaning the roads, or repairing drainage systems. If war occurs they take their own rations and form units; in war they are all brave and always lead the van. In actuality they are former convicts and so have shaven heads; because this is similar to Buddhists they are called Hwasang (和尙).”

{Original passage from Gaoli-tujing 


Jaega-hwasang do not wear gasa and do not maintain precepts. Wearing white ramie clothes, they bind their waists with black silk. They walk barefooted, though some wear shoes. Constructing their own homes, they take a wife and raise children. They devote themselves to [such public tasks as] carrying items for the authorities, sweeping the roads, repairing the drains, and fixing and building the city walls and homes. If there is a nearby alert, they form groups and set out; although they are not familiar with galloping [a horse] they are quite strong and brave. When they go on military expeditions, they prepare their own rations so they are able to go to war without being a cost to the state. [I] have heard that the Khitan’s defeat by Goryeo people was precisely thanks {lit. ‘reliant’} to this group. They are actually convicted criminals. The Koreans {lit. 夷人 ‘Yi barbarian people’} shave their beards and heads and call them Hwasang.}

These are the remaining tradition (遺風) of the Goguryeo Jo’ui (皂衣 ‘black clothing’). They were called Jo’ui because they wore [the same] black silk around their waists; in Chinese histories they are also referred to as Baek’i (帛衣 Ch. Boyi ‘silk clothing’). And because seon’in believe in a different doctrine (敎) to Buddhism, they were referred to as Jaega-hwasang.

Thus the Jo’ui of Goguryeo were the martial soul (武魂), no less so than the Hwarang of Silla. With a firm belief in the state (국가) they regarded life and death lightly; they sacrificed their bodies for the common good (公益) without concern for worldly matters or renown. During peace time they trained their bodies through labour; because their bodies were in oil (?? 몸을 기름에 있어서는) they prioritized (위주) health and bravery and so were brave when at war. Because Myeong’rim-dapbu led such a group, he was easily successful in [his] regional revolution.

After visiting Goryeo and observing and hearing of these such matters, [Gaoli-tujing author] Xu Jing recorded them; how is it possible that during the same time Kim Busik could not have read or heard of the Hwarang’s history?! In order to [force] citizens to wear the tinted glasses of Confucians, he omitted all of Silla’s Hwarang history except a few lines recorded by a foreigner; concerning the Jo’ui he merely cited the Suishu and recorded just the name.

If we first look at {unreferenced} research concerning this, in Goguryeo history, seon’in (先人 ‘forebears’) were referred to as seon’in (仙人 ‘Daoist immortal/faerie’); both terms are phonetic [Sinic] renderings for the pure Korean (우리말) term seonbi (선비 {conventionally a word for ‘scholar’}). In the [Samguk-sagi] Silla music treatise (樂志), Hwarang are termed as Do’ryeong (徒領), which is a phonetic rendering of the Korean term do’ryeong (도령 ‘young man’). In later times the social status of Seon’in (先人) sunk and so the term for them was changed to Jaega-hwasang, whilst the name seonbi was taken by Confucians [to refer to themselves with the common meaning of ‘scholar’].

Also, in later times, the Hwarang became officials (벼슬아치) responsible for all genres of music and thus were [merely] in charge of one giye ‘artistic skill’ (技藝 ) of gamu ‘song and dance’ (歌舞 – {original annotation} giye was a subdiscipline 科 of gamu or hak’ye 學藝). The term do’ryeong-nim (도령님) was stolen by the [Confucian] yangban literati [as the respectful term for address of an unmarried yangban]. The social status of Jo’ui sank earlier than Hwarang and so at the time of Xu Jing, it was already a figurative term for formerly convicted criminals.

Concerning both the Hwarang (i.e. gwangdae {廣大 a non-reverential term for ‘public entertainer’}) who remain in the Eight Provinces [of Korea] today, and the Jaega-hwasang who remain in North Hamgyeong-do province {far northeastern Korea}, not only are their roots not known to others, but even they have forgotten the fact that they were once the heart (중심) of the state; for these circumstances the crime of the ruling classes including the monarchy, and of historians is great.

How could we in times subsequent to Kim Busik discover the facts about the Hwarang and Jo’ui that he failed to record? [How can we] find their origins? If we gather the remaining fragmentary accounts from the ‘old records’ (古記 {an uninformative term often used in the Samguk-sagi}) and search between the lines (反面) of the Samguk-sagi, then we can [at least] obtain something similar.

The line recorded in the Goguryeo history {SS Goguryeo annal} “Pyeongyang was the home of Seon’in Wanggeom” (平壤者仙人王儉之宅) would have been the first line of the Silla’s Seon-sa (仙史). Idu (吏讀文) script which uses Chinese characters for their phonetic value, was first created during the time of Buyeo and Goguryeo; at that time, a character would be used either for its beginning or end sound value, and two or three characters would be combined to create a single [syllable] sound. Both seon’in (先人) and seon’in (仙人) use two characters to form the seon [syllable] in seonbi.

During Silla, [phonetic] idu developed to a relative degree, however, it was only fully used for [verbal] endings, e.g. wi-ni 爲尼 → hani 하니, wi-ya 爲也 → haya/hayeo 하야·하여, but nouns most often used Chinese characters for their semantic value. As a result Saro (斯盧) was changed to Silla (新羅 {‘new net’?}), whilst monarchal titles geoseogan (居西干) or nisageum (尼師今) were changed to dae-wang (大王 ‘great king’). The Hwarang also developed at this time, and Seon-sa was written.

In later times, the [rendering of the] noun seon’in (先人 ‘forebear’) was dropped and only seon’in (仙人 ‘faerie/immortal’) was used; thus Seon’in Wanggeom (仙人王儉 ‘faerie Wanggeom’) is the same as [*]Seon’in Wanggeom (先人王儉 ‘forebear Wanggeom’) who was Dan’gun (檀君), none other than the founding ancestor (始祖) of the Jo’ui seon’in (皂衣先人).

The name Hwarang, too, was originally not hwarang; [rather], because it was seon’in (先人 ‘forebear’) the history of their origin was named Seon-sa (仙史 ‘faerie history’). As a result, even the “Hwarang-gi” (花郞記) record in the Samguk-yusa says Great King Jinheung (眞興王 {r.540-576}) worshipped sinseon (神仙 ‘holy faeries’) and created the Hwarang, but this misunderstood that the creation of the Hwarang was [itself an act of] venerating the sinseon.

However, subsequently due to concern for terms [phonetically rendered] such as seon’in and sinseon being confused with Chinese Xianjiao (仙敎: 道敎 Dao-jian {i.e. Daoism}), specific nouns such as gukseon (國仙 ‘nation faerie’) and hwarang (花郞 ‘flower lad’) were created, where the seon of gukseon is the phonetic rendering of the seon (先) of seon’in (先人 ‘forebear’), whilst the rang of Hwarang is a semantic rendering of seon’in.

However, those reading history in later generations have always confused this distinction. Thus in entries in Yeoji-seungnam for Gangneung (江陵) and Yang’yang (襄陽) which include poems and such by literati composed after observing the remains associated with the Four Hwarang Sages (四聖), they conflate them with Daoist notions of alchemy (金丹) or ‘the soul’s liberation from a corpse [to become a Daoist immortal]’ (尸解), and gukseon are understood as a school of Daoism.

Even if one explains that the seon (仙) of Seon’in Wanggeom is the seon of gukseon, of seonbi and our seon-gyo (仙敎 ‘seon religion’), and not the xian of Chinese Xianjiao (仙敎), who today would believe this?! Ah, that the downfall of the nation (國粹) has come to this!

Sam’rang (三郞), too, previous to Goguryeo would definitely have been called the Sam-seon (三仙) or Sam-seon’in (三仙人), and not Sam’rang, but in Silla with seon’in being called rang (郞) they were changed to Sam’rang, and the Sam’rang-sa temple was constructed in which they were worshipped.

Consequently, Dan’gun was the first seonbi appearing in the Seon-sa (仙史), whilst the Sam’rang are the first do’ryeong. Sam’rang-seong was a fortification constructed by the Goguryeo Jo’ui who, during a ceremonial tour/pilgrimage (巡禮) of the country (국토) found the site suitably strategic for the nation’s defence.

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