Characters Permissible for Name Use to Increase

The Korean Supreme Court (大法院, 대법원) has recently announced that it will increase the list of Chinese characters permitted in Korean names (人名用漢字, 인명용한자) from 5,761 to 8,142 characters “to enhance the convenience of the people,” effective next year. The court first promulgated the list in 1991, only permitting some 2,731 characters to be used in names. Korean citizens were born after January 1 of that year could not have a Chinese character in their name that was not in that list. The explanation given was to limit the use of obscure, difficult characters and to allow for easier entry into computer databases. The original list, unfortunately, was extremely lacking. One family clan in particular was especially affected, because its incoming generation then had the generation name (行列字, 항렬자 or 돌림) of 禝(직, Jik), a character not on the list. They filed a petition to include it, but the Supreme Court refused until now. In addition, there were many instances where parents would pick a rare character with some special meaning for their child, but only to find out that it was not on the list. There are also a number of famous figures in Korean history whose names would not have been permitted, such as the character 睟(수) in Yi Sugwang (李睟光, 이수광, 1563-1628), a famous scholar.

This is not the first time the list has expanded. It was increased to 3,079 in 2003 and then to 5,761 in 2005. (Note that there are over 40,000 characters in the Kangxi Dictionary (康熙字典, 강희자전), the vast majority of which were rarely used if only once or are no longer used.)

Some of the characters that have been added to the list include:

  • 侔(모, mo) – To be uniform, even (가지런하다)
  • 敉(미, mi) – To stroke or comfort (어루만지다)
  • 縑(겸, gyeom) – A type of silk (비단)
  • 晈(교, gyo) – Moonlight (달빛)
  • 婧(정, jeong) – To be thin (날씬하다); to be chaste (정결하다)
  • 夤(인, in) – To be careful (조심하다)
  • 唔(오, o) – The sound of reading (글 읽는 소리)
  • 氳(온, on) – Vigor, spirit (기운)
  • 耦(우, u) – To travel in line (나란히 가다)
  • 姺(선, seon) – To walk (걷다)

As for Korea’s neighbors, Japan has had a list of Chinese characters permitted in names since 1948. The current list only has 2,997 characters. To my knowledge, there are no such limitations in China.


Gu Wanyu

Gu Yanwu (顧炎武, 고염무, 1613-1683) was a Ming and Qing dynasty era Neo-Confucian scholar. He was born in Kunshan (崑山, 곤산), Jiangsu Province (江蘇省, 강소성); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Ningren (寧仁, 영인); and his pen name (號, 호) was Tinglin (亭林, 정림). Gu Yanwu was recognized from an early age for his intellect, but following his mother’s will he never took up any bureaucratic posts. When the Manchus invaded, he took up arms with an irregular army around Kunshan and almost lost his life on the battlefield. The poem below describes the brutal aftermath of one such battle. After he fled southern China, he roamed around northern China, reading classics and expanding his knowledge of geography, and spent his final years in seclusion in Huayin (華陰, 화음), Shanxi Province (陜西省, 섬서성). His interest in geography in particular is also apparent in the following poem. Even after his time with Ming loyalist forces, he did not support the Qing dynasty and refused Emperor Kangxi’s (康熙, 강희, 1654-1722, r. 1661-1722) attempt to appease the ethnic majority Han people (漢族, 한족) by inviting well respected Chinese scholars to the court. Gu Yanwu was also a prolific writer and composed several works, including a number on Neo-Confucianism. He heavily criticized the Yangming School (陽明學, 양명학) and also distanced himself from Zhu Xi’s teachings (朱熹, 주희, 1130-1200), and advocated a more practical and realistic approach to governance, forwarding the idea of “administrating the world and pursuing the pragmatic” (經世致用, 경세치용). Gu Yanwu laid out this in his work, the Record of Daily Study (日知錄, 일지록), a thirty two volume tome, on a variety of topics such as classics, history, politics, astronomy, geography, arts, and customs. He is considered the father of the Evidentiary School of Thought (考證學, 고증학), and one of the Three Great Confucians (三大儒, 삼대유) of the late Ming and early Qing period along with Wang Fuzhi (王夫之, 왕부지, 1619-1692) and Huang Zongxi (黃宗羲, 황종희, 1610-1695).

秋山 추산

Autumn Mountains

秋山復秋山 秋雨連山殷
추산부추산 추우련산은
昨日戰江口 今日戰山邊
작일전강구 금일전산변

An autumn mountain. Again, another autumn mountain.
Autumn rains over the connected mountains are thick.
Yesterday, there was a battle at the river’s mouth;
Today, there is a battle upon the mountain’s base.

Autumn • mountain • again • autumn • mountain
Autumn • rain • connecting • mountains • to be lush
Yesterday • day • battle • river • mouth
Now • day • battle • mountain • edge

已聞右甄潰 復見左拒殘
기문우진궤 부견좌거잔
旌旗埋地中 梯衝舞城端
정기매지중 제충무성단

I already heard that the right base has broken;
I again saw that the the left wing was slaughtered.
The standards and colors were buried in the ground;
The scaling ladder and battering ram struck the end of the fortress.

Already • to hear • right • flank • to break
Again • to see • left • wing • to die
Feathered flag • flag • to bury • earth • middle
Ladder • ram • to incite • castle • end

一朝長平敗 伏尸遍岡巒
일조장평패 복시편강만
胡裝三百舸 舸舸好紅顏
호장삼백가 가가호홍안

On one morning, Changping (長平, 장평) was lost:
Corpses faced down are all over hill and mountain.
In barbaric ornament are three hundred ships:
On each ship, there are beautiful red faces.

One • morning • geographic name • geographic name • to lose
To lay facing down • corpses • all around • small mountain • large mountain
Barbarian • ornament • three • hundred • ships
Ship • ship • good • red • faces

  • 長平(장평) – During the Warring States period (戰國時代, 전국시대), the town of Changping suffered a brutal massacre after the Zhao state (趙, 조) lost to the Qin (秦, 진). This event is referenced in Yangzi’s Model Words (揚子法言, 양자법언), eleventh chapter of Yuan and Quan volume (淵騫卷第十一, 연건권제십일):

秦將白起不仁, 奚用爲也. 長平之戰, 四十萬人死. 蚩尤之亂, 不過於此矣.
진장백기불인, 해용위야. 장평지전, 사십만인사. 치우지전, 불과어차의.

Qin General Bai Qi (白起, 백기, ?-257BC) was not benevolent. How was he used in action? At the battle of Changping, 400,000 died. Chi You’s (蚩尤, 치우) invasions did not exceed this [amount].

原野厭人之肉, 川谷流人之血, 將不仁, 奚用爲!
원야염인지육, 천곡류인지혈, 장불인, 해용위!

The plains and fields were covered with human flesh; the streams and valleys flowed with human blood. The general was not benevolent. How was he used in action!

  • 好紅顏(호홍안) – Literally “good, red face.” Refers to a beautiful woman.

吳口擁橐駝 鳴笳入燕關
오구옹탁타 명가입연관
昔時鄢郢人 猶在城南間
석시언영인 유재성남간

Wu country’s inlet is dirtied by camels;
The ringing reed pipes enter Yan Pass (燕關, 연관).
In ancient times, the people of Wan (鄢, 언) and Ying (郢, 영)
Still remained in the area south of the fortresses.

Wu • mouth • to be dirty • camel • camel
To sing • reed pipe • to enter • geographic name • geographic name
Ancient • times • geographic name • geographic name • people
Still • to exist • castle • south • area

  • 燕關(연관) – A passage near Shanhai Pass (山海關, 산해관) and Juyong Pass (居庸關, 거용관) in Hebei Province (河北省, 하북성).
  • 鄢郢(언영) – Wan and Ying were the capitals of the Chu state (楚, 초, 1030-223BC). Reference to another event during the Warring States Period after the Qin destroyed the Chu state, as recorded in the Strategies of the Warring States (戰國策, 전국책).

鄢郢大夫, 不欲爲秦, 而在城南下者百數,
언영대부, 불욕위진, 이재성남하자백수,

The noblemen of Wan and Yin did not wish to serve the Qin, and those who remained south of the capital were in the hundreds.

王收而與之百萬之師, 使收楚故地, 則武關可以入矣.
왕수이여지백만지사, 사수초고지, 즉무관가이입의.

If the King [of the Qi state] gathered and gave them one million of soldiers, they could recover Chu state’s old lands and then [our territory] could reach up to Wu Pass (武關, 무관).

  • Pentasyllabic ancient style poetry (五言古體詩, 오언고체시). This style does not adhere any tonal meter or follow rime strictly.

Huang Zongxi (黃宗羲, 황종희, 1610-1695) was a Neo-Confucian scholar of the Yangming School (陽明學, 양명학). He was born in Nanlei Village (南雷里, 남뢰리), Yuyao County (餘姚縣, 여요현), Zhejiang Province (浙江省, 절강성); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Taichong (太沖, 태충); and his pen names (號, 호) were Nanlei (南雷, 남뢰) and Master of Lizhou (梨洲先生, 이주선생). His father was Huang Zunsu (黃尊素, 황존수, 1585-1626), a famous literati bureaucrat of the Donglin Movement (東林黨, 동림당). In 1625, when Huang Zongxi was 17, all the members of the Donglin Movement were rounded up because of factional disputes, and his father was executed in prison the next year. Following his father’s will, Huang Zongxi studied under Yangming School Neo-Confucian scholar Liu Zongzhou (劉宗周, 유종주, 1578-1645). In 1630, he moved to Nanjing (南京, 남경) and participated in various scholarly associations. From 1630 to 1643, he took the civil examination (科擧, 과거) a several times, but failed every try. When the Ming dynasty collapsed in 1644, he joined anti-Qing loyalist forces, and was almost killed on numerous occasions. At the age of 40 in 1649, he decided to retire and live in solitude. Thereafter, he devoted himself to studies, founded a school to teach students, and wrote many works. Huang Zongxi’s most important work is Waiting for the Dawn (明夷待訪錄, 명이대방록), in which he advocated for various political reforms famously stating, “Under heaven, [the people] are the master; the king is a guest” (天下爲主, 君爲客 – 천하위주 군위객). Due to this work, Huang Zongxi is compared to French philosopher Rousseau. Another of his important works was the Scholarly Survey of Ming Dynasty Confucians (明儒學案, 명유학안), which summarizes the various schools of Confucian thought during the Ming dynasty with a focus on the Yangming School. He also wrote a similar survey for Song and Yuan dynasty Confucians (宋元學案, 송원학안), but was unable to complete the work. In Korea, his surveys inspired the compilation of the Scholarly Survey of Eastern Confucians (東儒學案, 동유학안), published in 1970 by a student of the late Confucian scholar Ha Gyeomjin (河謙鎭, 하겸진, 1870-1946). Even after retiring, Huang Zongxi did not forget about his time assisting anti-Qing Ming loyalists, and derided the Qing dynasty as a “fake dynasty” (僞朝, 위조) and its emperors as “barbaric kings” (虜主, 노왕). In the poem below, he mourns after one of the resistance leader’s deaths.

哀蒼水 애창수

Mourning Changshui

廿年苦節何人似 입년고절하인사
得此全歸亦稱情 득차전귀역칭정
廢寺醵錢收棄骨 폐사갹전수기골
老生禿筆記琴聲 로생독필기금성
遙空摩影狂相得 요공마영광상득
群水穿礁浩未平 군수천초호미평
兩世雪交私不得 량세설교사불득
只隨衆口一閒評 지수중구일한평

For twenty years, he bitterly maintained loyalty. What other man will be like him?
He has obtained this perfect return; it also befits his passion.
At a dilapidated temple, I chip in money to collect thrown away bones;
This old living being and his stumpy brush record the zither’s tunes.
The distant emptiness rubs against the shadows, crazily in mutual harmony;
The clumped waters pierce the sunken rocks, greatly in discontent.
For two generations, this snow-white friendship was not at all private.
Only following the mouths of the multitude, there is one fair critique.


Twenty • years • bitter • fidelity • what • person • to be similar
To obtain • this • entire • return • also • to be aligned • sentiment
Ruined • Buddhist temple • to raise money • money • to gather • to throw away • bones
Old • lives • stumpy • brush • to record • zither • sound
Far away • empty • to brush against • shadow • crazy • mutual • to obtain
Group • water • to pierce • sunken rocks • widely • not yet • peaceful
Two • generations • snow-white • friendship • private • not • to obtain
Only • to follow • multitude • mouth • one • fair • criticism


  • Heptasyllabic regulated poem (七言律詩, 칠언율시). A not too common form of heptasyllabic regulated poetry, where the first line does not end in a rhyme. The riming character (韻, 운) is 庚(경).
  • 蒼水(창수) – Refers to General Zhang Huangyan’s (張煌言, 장황언, 1620-1664) pen name (號, 호). After Nanjing fell to the Manchus, he took up base in the Zhoushan Islands (舟山群島, 주산군도) and Shaoxing (紹興, 소흥). He coordinated attacks with Koxinga (國姓爺, 국성야, 1624-1662), and fought against the Qing for nineteen years. After Koxinga’s death, he attempted to retire and live incognito in solitude, but was ratted out and caught. Zhang Huangyan was executed in Hangzhou (杭州, 항주). Huang Zongxi presumably wrote the poem sometime after the General’s death.
  • 全歸(전귀) – Literally, “complete return.” Refers to the General’s maintenance of loyalty.
  • 老生(노생) – Reference to self in the third person. Used when referencing oneself that is at an old age to a superior.
  • 相得(상득) – Literally, “to obtain one another.” Refers to being in mutual harmony.
Hankyoreh - First Edition

Hankyoreh (한겨레), which can be translated in many ways including “The One Race” or “The Great Race,” is a newspaper that was founded with an expressly anti-Hanja stance. It is one of Korea’s leading progressive newspapers today.

This is one post in a series on Hangul Supremacy and Hangul Exclusivity. Hangul Supremacy (–優秀主義, 한글우수주의) is the widespread belief that Hangul is superior, especially in opposition to Chinese characters. Hangul Exclusivity (–專用, 한글전용) is closely related and refers to writing exclusively in Hangul. The purpose of these posts is to introduce Anglophone readers to the Korean debate over Hangul and Hanja. 

Hangul Exclusivity’s Basis in Pure Blood Theory

One of the many beliefs of Korean nationalism is the pure blood theory (純血主義, 순혈주의). According to this theory, all Koreans descend from one blood line (한핏줄) originating from Altaic peoples that settled on the peninsula and have been untainted by foreign races ever since. Hangul exclusivity and Korean linguistic purism were and to some extent are explicit and conscious applications of this theory: if the Korean race is pure, then should not its writing and language be pure as well? It is not a coincidence that the South Korean military dictatorship implemented Hangul exclusivity at the same time it heightened the pure blood theory. The string “linguistic pure blood theory” (言語純血主義, 언어순혈주의) is an actual term in Korean discourse on language. There are many problems with this theory — other than the blaring irony that there is no “pure” Korean word for the word “pure” (純–, 순하다) –, a few of which are discussed here.

This theory is fairly modern. It originates from Japanese colonial period, when the colonial administration attempted to propagandize Koreans into believing that they were the same race as the Japanese. After the liberation, both North Korea and South Korea adopted the theory kicking out the Japanese and continued disseminating it to instill nationalism and legitimize their rule. (South Korea has since mostly stopped, but North Korea still holds to this theory.) In contrast, in previous generations many Koreans acknowledged that they had ancestors from outside the peninsula. Although Korea was never quite a “multicultural” country as some of its neighbors, in their genealogy books almost half of all established Korean family clans recognize that they were descended from those who moved to Korea from China, Japan, Manchuria, Mongolia, Vietnam, and even Arabia. Historical records further confirm that there were periods of increased migration into Korea.

It is not just written, recorded history that is problematic for the theory. Recent genetic studies, which can peer back further into human history, have also undermined it. Although the pure blood theory is not entirely off in recognizing that there are actual genetic variations among races, such findings show that it is empirically false. For instance, the genes responsible for the “Asian glow” during alcohol consumption are most prevalent among the Chinese (southeastern Chinese, in particular, where it is thought to have originated), Japanese, and Korean, but drastically less so in other geographically proximate groups including Altaic peoples such as the Mongols. Conversely, the gene attributed to both dry earwax and lower sweat odor production are the most frequent among Koreans (among whom it is almost 100%), Northern Chinese, Japanese, and other Northern Asian groups, but gradually less with groups further out from the region. (This might partly explain why many Koreans and other Asians today do not wear deodorant, as some ostensibly non-East Asian commentators have derisively noted.) These studies and others indicate that there was plenty of mixing between Koreans and neighboring peoples.

The contemporary Korean lexicon tangentially reflects this history: 60-70% of Korean words are based on Chinese characters, only 25% “native,” and the rest from other sources. This composition is also indicative of Hangul’s place. Hangul is provincial, primarily limited to one peninsula for only one language. Attempts to export the alphabet are quixotic. In contrast, Chinese characters, which are often portrayed in opposition to Hangul, are cosmopolitan. For almost two millennia, Classical Chinese was used among the intelligentsia in the Sinosphere. As late as the 1980s, most Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese could read one another’s newspapers and deduce the gist of any article. (Older generations of Koreans still can with Japanese and Chinese newspapers.) Today, the term “Hallyu” (韓流, 한류), meaning “the Korean wave,” quite frequently thrown around when discussing the popularity of Korean culture in other parts of Asia is of Chinese coinage.

Against this backdrop, it should be readily apparent that in an ever regionally integrated Asia, Hangul exclusivity and the underlying pure blood theory look quite out of place and outdated. While Hangul exclusivists continue to portray Chinese characters as in tension with Hangul and deride them as “anachronistic,” in the end it is they who hold the truly anachronistic belief. The creation of Hangul was no doubt a proud moment in Korean history, but it should be properly celebrated and the accompanying beliefs surrounding the alphabet ought to be reconsidered.

January 4 Edition of Maeil Kyungje

January 4, 1993 Edition of Maeil Kyungje – Economic Daily


In commemoration of Hangul Day, which is on October 9, the Korean Gallup Poll recently ran an opinion poll on Koreans’ views on Hangul and Hanja and their role in Korean language and society. The poll was conducted last week from September 30 to October 2, and asked over 1,000 Koreans from various age, occupational, and regional backgrounds. The questions studied were:

  1. Whether not knowing Hanja has made life uncomfortable.
  2. Whether Hanja is “Korean” (우리) or “foreign.”
  3. Whether Hangul-Hanja mixed script should be used.
  4. Why Koreans should use exclusively Hangul or mixed script.
  5. Whether they favored the plan to reintroduce mixed script into school textbooks in 2018.

The Gallup Poll compared the responses from this poll with a similar one they did in 2002.


1. Whether Not Knowing Hanja Has Made Life Uncomfortable (54% Yes, 46% No)

Poll 1

The pollsters asked to those that did not know Hanja whether not knowing Hanja has made life uncomfortable. The poll results in 2002 showed that 70% of Koreans overall answered “yes,” but this year’s poll showed that it had dropped to 54% for “yes.” The data also show generational differences, ranging from 63% in the affirmative in the 60 years or above group to 48% in the 19-29 year age group. There were also differences in occupation. Those who worked in white collar professions answered 54% yes, while students and blue collared workers answered 45% and 47% respectively.

2. Whether Hanja is Korean or Foreign? (48% Korean, 47% Foreign)

Poll 2

The second question pollsters asked was whether Hanja was “Korean” (or “Ours”*) or “foreign.” In sum, 47% responded it was “foreign,” 48% “Korean,” and 7% were undecided or refused to answer. This is not that different from the 2002 poll. The data showed some generational differences. While those in their 40s and 60s answered that Hanja was Korean 51% and 53% respectively, those in their 20s, 30s, and 50s responded that it was 45%, 45%, and 42% respectively. There were also gender differences. 54% of women responded that Hanja is Korean, while only 41% of men answered that it was. In addition, 54% of those who had answer that not knowing Hanja made life difficult responded that Hanja was Korean, while only 40% of those who responded they had little difficult responded similarly.

*By “Ours,” the implication is not whether Hanja was created by Koreans. (Only the ultra-nationalist fringe unfortunately too common on YouTube believe that.) Rather, the question is about whether Hanja is apart of Korean culture.

3. Whether Hanja-Hangul Mixed Script or Hangul Exclusive Script Should Be Used (53% for Mixed, 41% for Exclusive)

Poll 3

The next question was whether Hangul-Hanja mixed script should be used or Hangul exclusive script should be used. In 2002, 55% of Koreans believed that mixed script should be use, 33% believed that exclusive script should be used, and the rest were undecided. This year’s poll reveals that the percentage of Koreans in favor of mixed script actually increased to 57%. There were age differences. Only 50% of those in their 20s were in favor of mixed script, but those in their 30s or above were more supportive, with 55% and higher. In addition, there were occupational differences. 61% of White collar professionals and 59% of those self-employed were in favor of mixed script, but only 52% of blue collar workers were in favor. Those who had previously responded that not knowing Hanja has made life difficult were overwhelming in favor of mixed script with 67%, while those who responded that they had little difficulty answered only 46% in favor.

4. Why Koreans Should Use Mixed Script or Exclusive Script

The fourth question asked those in favor of mixed script or the exclusive what their reason was. These respondents were separated based on their answer in question 3.

Poll 4-1

Among those who had responded that they were in favor of mixed script, 67% responded that their reason was that Hanja conveys meaning more adequately, 11% stated because they were used to it, 5% because Hanja and Hangul are intimately related, another 5% because of foreign relations with China, 4% for cultural reasons, 4% for education, and the remaining 4% responded miscellaneously, did not know, or refused to respond.

Poll 4-2

As for those who had responded that they were in favor of the exclusive script, 26% responded that it was because there are many people who do not know Hanja, 25% because Hangul is easier and more convenient, 23% because Hangul is self-sufficient, 22% because Hangul is Korea’s native script, 3% because of their worried that Hangul might be distorted, and the remaining 2% did not know or refused to respond.

5. Support for the 2018 Plan to Reintroduce Hanja-Hangul Mixed Script Textbooks (67% in Favor, 29% Against)

Poll 5

The final question was about the plan to reintroduce mixed script textbooks to third grade elementary school by 2018, which was announced by the Korean Ministry of Education on September 24. Respondents were overwhelming in favor with 67% for and 29% against. There were age differences, however. Only 59% of those in the 19-29 age group responded in favor. In contrast, 82% of those above the age of 60 were in favor. Large disparities appeared based on questions 2 and 3. Those who had responded that not knowing Hanja made life difficult were 76% in favor, but those that stated that it has made it little difficult were only 57% in favor. Furthermore, those who were in favor of mixed script were 84% in favor, but those who were for exclusive script were only 45% in favor.

Short Informal Analysis

The responses to the first question were the most interesting. The percentage of those who stated that not knowing Hanja made their life difficult decreased from 70% to 54% from 2002 to 2014. There could be a number of reasons for this decline. (While there was a 40% percentage difference in the sample size between the two studies, they both had more than 1,000 respondents. Therefore, upon just preliminary examination, the sample size is probably not an issue.) For one, these figures could be mere reflection of the decline in the use of Hanja in Korean print. Based on personal observations, use of Hanja in newspapers, which was already low at the turn of the millennium, have noticeably decreased even further since then. Even academic texts in some studies, such as the sciences, started shunning Hanja. Another could be confirmation bias among respondents themselves. Those who had responded that they had no difficulty without knowing Hanja were more likely to view Hanja as a foreign script and were less favorable of mixed script. In addition, as the Gallup poll notes, Hangul exclusivists are quite vociferous in their anti-Hanja opinions. (I would venture to say that these opinions are so strongly held that it might very well be that they have actually experienced difficulty because of their lack of knowledge in Hanja, but refused to answer that they did.) The same could be said about those who stated that not knowing Hanja has made life more difficult; however, it should be noted that knowledge of Hanja has shown to in fact increase vocabulary.

Another interesting part of the data were the responses to the last question on opinions about the reintroduction of mixed script textbooks. Although those who were in favor of mixed script were overwhelmingly in favor of the reintroduction, almost half of those against mixed script were in favor as well. Even the younger generation was in favor of it. This might be because many recognize that learning Hanja has become popular again after long neglect, and they expect the school system to catch up along with demand for the subject.


In sum, contrary to how some Hangul exclusivists are spinning this poll, these results do seem promising for Hanja’s future in Korea. Although the poll does show that slightly less Koreans think learning Hanja is as practical as about a decade ago, many still want it being used and taught more. Even I was rather surprised that more than half of Koreans were still in favor of mixed script, more than 40 years after it was actively discouraged by the military dictatorship. (President Park Chunghee had a five-year plan to abolish Hanja use entirely.) A poll by Korean newspapers in the 1970s I remember reading awhile back showed actually the reverse, with slightly less than half of Koreans wanting mixed script. Such sentiments will hopefully further increase its popularity.

Wu Weiye (吳偉業, 오위업, 1609-1671) was a literati bureaucrat, poet, and painter. He was born in Taichang (太倉, 태창) in Jiangsu Province (江蘇省, 강소성); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Jungong (駿公, 준공); and his pen name (號, 호) was Meicun (梅村, 매촌). He passed the civil examination at the young age of 22 in 1631, and took various positions including Hanlin Academy Compiler (翰林院編修, 한림원편수) and East Palace Reader-in-Waiting (東宮侍讀, 동궁시독). When the Ming dynasty capitulated to the Manchus, he decided to retire from government office and returned to his home village. In 1653, however, Qing dynasty Emperor Shunzhi (順治, 순치, 1638-1661, r. 1644-1661) called him back into office in Beijing (北京, 북경), and Wu Weiye served as the Chancellor for the Directorate of Education (國子監祭酒, 국자감좨주). Two years later, when Wu Weiye’s mother passed away, he again decided to retire from office and spent the rest of his life back in his home village. He was well regarded for his poetry, and is considered one of the Three Masters of Jingzou (江左三大家, 강좌삼대가). He advocated for following the style of Tang dynasty poetry (宗唐派, 종당파). Many of Wu Weiye’s poems express his regret of serving the Qing dynasty government, and capture the dilemma of other Chinese intellectuals who were in a similar position as he was.

自嘆 자탄

A Spontaneous Sigh

誤盡平生是一官 오진평생시일관
棄家容易變名難 기가용이변명난
松筠敢壓風霜苦 송윤감압풍상고
魚鳥猶思天地寬 어조유사천지관
鼓枻有心逃甫里 고예유심도보리
推車何事出長干 추거하사출장간
旁人休笑陶弘景 방인휴소도홍경
神武當年早挂冠 신무당년조괘관

The only mistake in all my life was one government post.
Discarding my home was easy, but changing my name is difficult.
How dare the pines and bamboos stifle the agony of the wind frosts?
The fish and birds still think about latitude of heaven and earth.
Striking the oars, I have a heart that wishes to escape to Puli (甫里, 보리);
Pulling a cart, for what reason do I leave Changgan (長干, 장간)?
The people next to me casually laugh at Tao Hongjin (陶弘景, 도홍경, 456-536).
Upon Shenwu Gate (神武門, 신무문), earlier this year I hung my headwear.


Mistake • only • whole • life • to be • one • government post
To throw away • home • easy • easy • to change • name • hard
Pine tree • bamboo tree • to dare • to press • wind • frost • pain
Fish • bird • still • to think • heaven • earth • breadth
To drum • oars • to have • heart • to flee • geographic name • village
To pull • cart • what • affair • to leave • geographic name • geographic name
Adjacent • people • to respite • to laugh • name • name • name
Divine • arms • this very • year • earlier • to hang • hat


  • Heptasyllabic regulated poem (七言律律, 칠언율시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 寒(한).
  • 易(이) –  Pronounced 이, when read as “to be easy” (쉽다). Pronounced 역, when read as “to alter” (바꾸다) or “to exchange” (교환하다). It can be deduced that the character should be pronounced 이 in this case from the character 容(용) that precedes it. 容易–(용이하다) meaning “to be easy” is still a word used in modern Korean. Another way to deduce the proper pronunciation is from the contrast with the word 難(난) that appears few characters later.
  • 鼓枻(고예) – Refers to banging on the oars or the side of the ship to match rhythm.
  • 甫里(보리) – Refers to Luzhi Town (甪直鎮, 녹직진) near Suzhou (蘇州, 소주) in Jiangsu Province. It is where late Tang dynasty poet Lu Guimeng (陸龜蒙, 육구몽, ?-881) retired and spent the remainder of his life, devoting himself to improving agricultural techniques. He earned the nickname Master Puli (甫里先生, 보리선생).
  • 長干(장간) – Refers to an area south of the Gate of China (中華門, 중화문), a gate on the southern wall of Nanjing (南京, 남경). Wu Weiye is alluding to his departure from Nanjing for Beijing.
  • 陶弘景(도홍경) – A scholar and ascetic that lived during the Southern and Northern Dynasties period (南北朝, 남북조, 420-589). He was well versed Confucian, Buddhist, and Daoist philosophy. Tao Hongjin served as Left Palace Guard Center-General (左衛殿中將軍, 좌위전중장군) for the Southern Qi dynasty (南齊, 남제, 479-502). Sometime later, he left his post, leaving his headgear at Shenwu Gate, to live in the mountains. Emperor Wu (梁武帝, 양무제, 464-549, r. 502-549) of the Liang Dynasty (梁, 양, 502-557) called Tao Hongjin back to office, but his invitation was refused. Regardless, whenever there was a serious matter, the Emperor would send an inquiry to him. For this reason, Tao Hongjin was called the “Minister in the Mountains” (山中宰相, 산중재상). 
  • 神武門(신무문) – Old name for the western gate of Nanjing.
  • 挂冠(괘관) – Literally, “to hang headgear.” Refers to retiring from office.

Qian Qianyi (錢謙益, 전겸익, 1582-1664) was literati bureaucrat and poet. He was born in Changshu (常熟, 상숙) in Jiangsu Province (江蘇省, 강소성); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Shouzhi (受之, 수지); and his pen names (號, 호) were Muzhai (牧齋, 목재) and Yuqiaosi (漁樵史, 어초사). (All romanizations of Mandarin were obtained via online converter.) He passed the civil examination (科擧, 과거) in 1610. Qian Qianyi sometime later took the famous courtesan Liu Rushi (柳如是, 유여시, 1618-1664) as his concubine. He eventually attained the position of the Minister of Rites (禮部尚書, 예부상서) for the Ming dynasty under Prince Fu (福王, 복왕, 1607-1646, r. 1644-1645), who attempted to regather Ming forces at Nanjing. After the city fell to the Manchus in 1645, Qian Qianyi surrendered and was given the post of the Deputy Minister of Rites (禮部侍郎, 예부시랑) by the Qing dynasty Emperor Shunzhi (順治, 순치, 1638-1661, r. 1644-1661). Five months later, however, he proffered an excuse that he was ill and returned to his home village. In 1648, Qian Qianyi was implicated in an anti-Qing rebellion plot and was incarcerated in Nanjing. He was released shortly after, but was put under watch. He wrote the following poem after his release with a group of companions, one whose name was Sheng Jitao (盛集陶, 성집도, ?-?). Qian Qianyi left behind other works as well, one of which was an anthology of Ming dynasty poems (列朝詩集, 열조시집) that contains poems by non-Chinese poets including early Chosun dynasty figures. He was well regarded for his own poetry, and is considered one of the Three Masters of Jingzou (江左三大家, 강좌삼대가). He was also part of a group of poets that advocated for the style of Song dynasty poets (宗宋派, 종송파), as opposed to Tang dynasty poets (宗唐派, 종당파). After his death, some of his writing came under scrutiny and were banned by Emperor Qianlong (乾隆, 건륭, 1711-1799, r. 1735-1796).

和盛集陶落葉詩 화성집도락엽시

A Reply to Sheng Jitao’s Leaf Poem

秋老鐘山萬木稀 추로종산만목희
凋傷總屬劫塵飛 조상총속겁진비
不知玉露涼風急 불지옥로량풍급
秖道金陵王氣非 지도금름왕기비
倚月素娥徒有樹 의월소아도유수
履霜青女正無衣 이상청녀정무의
華林慘淡如沙漠 화림참담여사막
萬里寒空一雁歸 만리한공일안귀

As autumn grows old, Mount Zhong’s (鐘山, 종산) ten thousand trees become sparser.
Withering and shriveling, all of them turn to dust and fly away.
I do not whether it was because of the rustle of the frigid wind on the jade-like dew;
But they only say it was not the portent of the dynastic shift in Jinling (金陵, 금릉).
Leaning on the moon is Su’e (素娥, 수아), sitting idly with a tree;
Stepping upon the frost is the Blue Maiden (青女, 청녀), standing upright without any clothing.
The splendorous forest is miserable and wretched like the desert.
For ten thousand li, it is cold and empty with only one wild goose returning home.


Autumn • to become old • bell • mountain • ten thousand • trees • to become few
To wither • to become injured • all • group • disorderly • dust • to fly
Not • to know • jade • dew • cold • wind • quick
Only • to say • gold • mound • king • vigor • not
To lean • moon • white • beautiful woman • in vain • to have • tree
To step • frost • blue • woman • upright • to not have • clothes
Beautiful • forest • miserable • wretched • like • sand • desert
Ten thousand • li • cold • empty • one • wild goose • to return


  • Heptasyllabic regulated poem (七言律律, 칠언율시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 微(미).
  • 盛集陶(성집도) – The courtesy name of Sheng Sidang (盛斯唐, 성사당, ?-?).
  • 鐘山(종산) – Refers to a mountain in Nanjing.
  • 劫塵(겁진) – Literally “disorderly dust.” Refers to the disturbances of war.
  • 金陵(금릉) – Old name for Nanjing (南京, 남경).
  • 王氣(왕기) – Literally “king’s energy” or “king’s vigor.” Refers to an omen indicating a dynastic shift.
  • 素娥(소아) – Refers to Chang’e (嫦娥, 상아), a goddess in Chinese mythology who lives on the moon. In the myth, she is accompanied by the jade rabbit (玉兎, 달토끼) and is often depicted next to a cinnamon tree.
  • 青女(청녀) – The Blue Maiden is a celestial goddess in Chinese mythology, responsible for frost and snow. Allusion to Huainanzi (淮南子, 회남자), Lesson on Celestial Patterns (天文訓, 천문훈):

至秋三月, 地氣不藏, 乃收其殺, 百蟲蟄伏, 靜居閉戶, 青女乃出, 以降霜雪
지추삼월, 지기불장, 내수기살, 백충집복, 정거폐호, 청녀내출, 이강상설

On the third month of autumn, the energy of the earth cannot be stored, but [the earth] gathers what it killed. All the insects hide and bury themselves, living quietly and closing off where they live. The Blue Maiden then comes out to drop frost and snow.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 257 other followers