Whenever I mention that one of my hobbies is to read Classical Chinese texts (漢文, 한문) to other Koreans, their first reaction is astonishment that a Gyopo (Korean-American) would and could endeavor such a task. Their second reaction is their opinions on the role of Classical Chinese in Korean culture and history, and they can vary from positive to extremely negative. First, towards the positive end, the opinions are one of great appreciation in the language’s role in just about everything in Korean history from art to philosophy. Then, those who hold a somewhat positive view reluctantly acknowledging its position in Korean history and accepting that Sino-Korean words comprise a substantial portion of the Korean vocabulary. Lastly, toward the extremely negative end, the opinions are those of derision, disparaging Classical Chinese as foreign and elitist, and thus “less” Korean.

Unfortunately, it has been those who hold this last position that are the most vociferous and rancorous. For a people whose flag is laden with symbols that originate from China, namely the blue-red Yin and Yang (靑紅陰陽, 청홍음양) and the four tetragrams (乾坤坎離, 건곤감리), I have found such views utterly baffling. While the desire to appear independent from China is certainly understandable, this view jettisons a significant and important part of the Korean cultural patrimony. To overcome their hostility, I have found it very helpful to show them the Classical Chinese writing of Korean independence activists. This undermines the notion that Classical Chinese is a “threat” to Korean identity. In this blog post, I will first walk through where such views concerning Classical Chinese originate, then demonstrate that widespread knowledge of Classical Chinese was more recent than many believe, and finally exhibit the Classical Chinese writings of Korean independence activists.

The Hangul Narrative

Dongguk Jeongun

The Proper Rimes of the Eastern Country (東國正韻, 동국정운). Published in 1448, it was a Chinese Character dictionary, and one of the first works using Hangul.

The extremely negative view originates from the following narrative concerning Hangul (한글) that is held by most Koreans today. The story goes that Koreans originally used Chinese characters and Classical Chinese to write. Commoners found the script too difficult to learn. Finally, in the 15th century, King Sejong (世宗, 세종, 1397-1450, r. 1418-1450) created the Hangul, intending to entirely replace Chinese characters with his new alphabet. The haughty aristocracy, however, continued to use Chinese characters and purposefully kept commoners illiterate until the 19th century when reformers finally overthrew the script and declared Hangul the national script. (Other versions of the narrative have that Koreans suddenly stopped using Chinese characters after Hangul was promulgated.)

Though King Sejong’s creation of Hangul is undeniably a watershed moment in Korean history, there are several issues with this narrative. The most problematic is the claim that King Sejong created the script to entirely replace Chinese characters. While in The Proper Sounds for the Instruction of the People (訓民正音, 훈민정음) the King explicitly states that Hangul was created for commoners, he did not intend to supplant Chinese characters, but supplement them. It can be readily recognized that Hangul was designed to transcribe the pronunciation of Chinese characters. Each block of Hangul represents one syllable, and can correspond to the pronunciation of one Chinese character (e.g., 韓 for 한). Most strikingly, the original script provided for consonants and vowels that were never present in Korean, but in Chinese vernacular dialects. As for its application, one of the first uses of Hangul was to teach – or if one takes a cynical view, propagandize – the Korean populace with Confucian tenets. Many of the earliest works in Hangul are Confucian classics with parallel Classical Chinese and vernacular translations in Hangul, some of them in mixed script.

Widespread Knowledge of Classical Chinese in Early 20th Century Korea

Kyunghyangshinmun March 23 1959

Classical Chinese poetry submission section in the Mar. 23, 1959 edition of the Kyunghyang Shinmun (京鄕新聞, 경향신문).

Another issue with the narrative is that Classical Chinese did not all of the sudden die out in the late 19th – or 15th – century. This misconception has probably been fed by the fact that most Koreans especially of the younger generation today are primarily exposed to Classical Chinese through period dramas (史劇, 사극), where court scholars in traditional Hanbok garb are seen occasionally reciting Chinese classics. In reality, the widespread knowledge of the language is much more recent than is widely believed. Classical Chinese was very well alive in the former half of the 20th century in Korea. (I would not be surprised if it were shown that Classical Chinese literacy had actually peaked during this time period.) Many new Classical Chinese works were written during this period:

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Hanshiwa Hanmun Iyagi

한시와 한문이야기
Classical Chinese Poetry and Prose Stories

Bibliographic Summary

  • Title: 한시와 한문이야기 (Classical Chinese Poetry and Prose Stories)
  • Authors: Yi Gweonjae (李權宰, 이권재), Professor at Korea University
  • Publisher: Korean Studies Information (한국학술정보)
  • ISBN: 978-89-268-3943-0
  • Price: 15,000 Won
  • Language: Korean and Classical Chinese original text
  • Pages: 362


I have never received any formal education in Classical Chinese (漢文, 한문). Although I had some help from a few of my relatives that had some exposure, I learned the language largely by myself from various Korean books. I first started learning Chinese characters in elementary school in Korea through rote memorization, copying one character every morning one hundred times. Sometime later, after having moved to America, I decided that I would go a step further, and began to Rosetta Stone my way through Classical Chinese by reading Confucian classics with parallel original text and Korean translation and attempting to deduce the language’s grammar from the translation. (While I was able to deduce many of the grammatical rules, I would not recommend this.) Until a few years ago, I had no clue that Classical Chinese was still taught in middle and high schools in Korea as an elective or that it has been one of the “secondary foreign languages” that students could take on the Korean College Scholastic Ability Test (修能, 수능) since 2005. I was curious at what textbooks and materials Korean students used, and obtained Hanshiwa Hanmun Iyagi (한시와 한문이야기), or in English Classical Chinese Poetry and Prose Stories, to get a glimpse of Classical Chinese education in Korea.


The book contains materials from 10 different Classical Chinese textbooks. There are 210 lessons or excerpts in the book that are divided into two sections. The first section has 80 lessons on poetry. The second section has 130 lessons on prose.

1. Classical Chinese Poetry

Hanshiwa Hanmun Iyagi - Poem

The first ten pages or so give a very high overview of the rules of Recent Style Poetry (近體詩, 근체시), summarizing the tonal meters (平仄譜, 평측보) and rimes (韻, 운). The rest of the section are lessons on a wide selection of poetry. Each lesson has the original text with Korean grammatical markers called Hyeonto (懸吐, 현토), a Korean translation, annotations about some of the words used in the original text, biographical information about the poet, and historical context.

All the poems are pentasyllabic (五言, 오언) or heptasyllabic (七言, 칠언), either of the Recent Style or Archaic Style (古體詩, 고체시). Approximately three-fourths are from Korean poets, most of whom are from the Chosun Dynasty period (朝鮮, 조선, 1392-1905), but a few from the Three Kingdoms Period (三國時代, 삼국시대, 57BC-668AD) and Goryeo Dynasty (高麗, 고려, 918-1392), and even some from the Japanese colonial era (日帝强占期, 일제강점기, 1905-1945). Although most of the poets were — not surprisingly — learned Yangban (兩班, 양반) men, many were women, either from courtesans (妓生, 기생) or noblewomen, and commoners (委巷, 위항). As for Chinese poets, almost all are from the Tang Dynasty (唐, 당, 618-907), including the famous Li Bai (李白, 이백, 701-762), Du Fu (杜甫, 두보, 712-770), Bai Juyi (白居易, 백거이, 772-846) and Wang Wei (王維, 왕유, 699-759).

2. Classical Chinese Prose

Hanshiwa Hanmun Iyagi - Prose

The Classical Chinese prose section is in the same format as the poetry section. Roughly seven-eighths of the passages are from Korean authors, the majority of which are from the Chosun Dynasty but a few from the Goryeo Dynasty period and Japanese colonial era. The prose were from a wide variety of subjects. Here is a listing of a few of them:

  • Histories: Samguk Sagi (三國史記, 삼국사기), Samguk Yusa (三國遺史, 삼국유사), Balhaego (渤海考, 발해고), and Dongguk Tonggam (東國通鑑, 동국통감).
  • Children’s texts: Dongmong Seonseup (童蒙先習, 동몽선습), Gyeokmong Yogyeol (擊夢要訣, 격몽요결), Haedong Sohak (海東小學, 해동소학), Monghak Hanmun Chogye (蒙學漢文初階, 몽학한문초계), and Sohak Hanmun Dokbon (小學漢文讀本, 소학한문독본).
  • Novels: Geum’o Shinhwa (金鰲新話, 금오신화), Heosaengjeon (許生傳, 허생전), and Hanmun Chunhyangjeon (漢文春香傳, 한문춘향전).

There were also a number of works from Chinese sources, the majority of which were philosophical texts or histories. The following is a list of some of the texts excerpted:

  • Philosophical texts: Analects (論語, 논어), Mencius (孟子, 맹자), Xunzi (荀子, 순자), Hanfeizi (韓非子, 한비자), Zhuangzi (莊子, 장자), Liezi (列子, 열자), and Elementary Learning (小學, 소학).
  • Histories: Records of the Grand Historian (史記, 사기), Records of the Three Kingdoms (三國志, 삼국지), Book of Later Han (後漢書, 후한서), Lü’s Annals of Spring and Autumn (呂氏春秋, 여씨춘추), and Eighteen Concise Histories (十八史略, 십팔사략).


As someone who learned the Classical Chinese through Korean but outside the Korean education system, I am not too familiar on all the details of Classical Chinese education back in Korea. I do hope this that this book review gave some insight. Assuming that this book is representative of how students learn the language, I do have a few comments. It is understandable that the vast majority of the works cited are from Korean sources, because it is after all Korea. It was quite delightful to see early modern era sources. The other resources I have often cite Korean sources, but not to this degree; they vary anywhere between almost none to two-thirds roughly. For the poetry section, conspicuously missing are poems that are neither heptasyllabic nor pentasyllabic. It might be more beneficial to have a few Chu Songs (楚辭, 초사) or quadsyllabic poems (四言, 사언) in the style of the Classic of Poetry (詩經, 시경). Another beneficial addition would be to have more grammar lessons. An understanding of grammar is not only standard for learning any language, but necessary for its quick comprehension.

Monghak Hanmun Chogye Sample

The First Step in Children’s Learning of Classical Chinese

Bibliographic Summary

  • Title: 蒙學漢文初階(몽학한문초계) (The First Step in Children’s Learning of Classical Chinese)
  • Authors: Written by Weon Yeongeui (元泳義, 원영의, ?-?); edited by Yu Geun (柳瑾, 유근, 1861-1921) and Jang Jiyeon (張志淵, 장지연, 1864-1921)
  • Publisher: Central Bookstore (中央書館, 중앙서관), 1907
  • Price: Free (Available in entirety on Google Books for those in the US)
  • Language: Classical Chinese with Korean grammatical markers


Today, the vast majority of books on learning Classical Chinese (漢文, 한문) — especially those in English — primarily focus on reading Chinese classics, such as the Analects of Confucius (論語, 논어) and Mencius (孟子, 맹자). With this post, I would like to focus attention on one early modern source on teaching Classical Chinese, the Monghak Hanmun Chogye (蒙學漢文初階, 몽학한문초계), or translated into English The First Step in Children’s Learning of Classical Chinese. Although I had read about this book before, I found out that the entirety of it is available on Google Books from one of my readers. The book was published in 1907, when Classical Chinese was a living, working language, by Weon Yeongeui (元泳義, 원영의, ?-?). He authored a number of modern style textbooks on Classical Chinese and on Korean history as a part of Korea’s modernization efforts, such as: Chodeung Jakmunbeop (初等作文法, 초등작문법), a primer on composing Classical Chinese; Shinjeong Dongguk Yeoksa (新訂東國歷史, 신정동국역사), a textbook on Korean history written in mixed script; and Sohak Hanmun Dokbon (小學漢文讀本, 소학한문독본), another primer on Classical Chinese. His works were so popular because of their patriotic content that they were put on Japanese colonial administration’s (統監府, 통감부) list of prohibited books. The Monghak Hanmun Chogye itself was put on the list in 1909, merely two years after its first publication. Unlike many of the resources on Classical Chinese today, the work does not cite old Chinese Classics, but is itself new source material.

Contents of the Book

In the preface, Weon Yeongeui emphasizes the continuing need for Classical Chinese education in the modern era for proper moral education and to grasp Korean vocabulary. The Monghak Hanmun Chogye was just one of the several textbooks that were published during the early 20th century in a movement to modernize Classical Chinese language education in Korea. The book contains a series of lessons (課, 과), 213 lessons in all, each with two or three sentences in Classical Chinese annotated with Korean grammatical markers (懸吐, 현토). The lessons touch on a variety of topics, including wildlife, flora, food, basic science, and geography:


Lesson 19

小兒이 問其兄曰: “禽何善飛며 獸何善走니잇고?”

A small child asked his brother saying, “Why do birds like to fly and why do beasts like to run?”

曰: “禽有兩翼故로 善飛오, 獸有四足故로 善走니라”

[His brother replied] saying, “Birds have two wings and therefore like to fly; beasts have four feet and therefore like to run.”

The primary focus of the work is on Confucian tenets, particularly on human relationships. Below is an excerpt about the importance of literacy and studying:


Lesson 20

祖父이 問二兒曰: “汝兄弟二人이 已入塾讀書乎아?”

A grandfather asked [his] two children saying, “Your elder and younger brothers, have you two already entered school to read books?”

一小兒答曰: “予兄은 讀書이 已二年矣오. 我는 年幼하여 尙未讀書也이로소이다.”

One small child replied saying, “My elder brother has been reading books already for two years. I, as [my] age is young, have still not yet read books.”

In addition, the work has a number of lessons on history, particularly on Korean history. There are also lessons on the history and customs of the Chinese, Indians, Vietnamese, and Thai, and even two on Mohammed and Jesus.


Lesson 119

新羅之末에 弓裔이 叛于北京하여 國號를 泰封이라하고,

At the end of Shilla (新羅, 신라, 57-935), Gung’ye (弓裔, 궁예, 869?-918) [caused a] rebellion in the Northern Capital (Pyongyang). The country’s name was Taebong (泰封, 태봉).

甄萱이 叛據完山하여 自稱後百濟라하니,

Gyeon Hweon (甄萱, 견훤, 869-936) [started a] rebellion at Mount Wan (完山, 완산), calling his [country] Later Baekje (後百濟, 후백제).

新羅이 漸見侵削하여 遂至於亡하니라.

Shilla gradually succumbed to capitulation, and finally reached ruination.


I found the Classical Chinese in the Monghak Hanmun Chogye fairly easy to read. For one, it does not use too many difficult, rarely occurring characters. For another, it does not use complicated sentence structures and often employs parallel structure between sentences. These observations should not be surprising, because Weon Yeongeui specifically wrote it for educating children. Readers might find this work refreshing, as it is stands out from the typical resources on Classical Chinese in use today in that it presents newly created text rather than reciting Chinese Classics. The work seems to be influential even today in Classical Chinese education in Korea: a quick Google search for the work reveals that it has appeared a number of times on the Classical Chinese portion of the Korean Collegiate Scholastic Ability Test (修能, 수능). Unlike most English sources, Korean sources on learning the language typically cite not only Chinese Classics, such as the Analects and Mencius, but also heavily reference much later works — although I have yet to see them create new sentences only for the book. This raises the question of whether learning Classical Chinese should be strictly based on reading the old, venerable classics.

Post 04172014

I have been asked a few times about how I have found the source material for my blog. With this post, I hope to demystify this blog, and at the same time attempt to systematize my technique and make it more consistent. The basic method is: (1) obtain the original text, (2) translate from the original, (3) check with the Korean translation, (4) add annotations, and lastly (5) find allusions.

1. Obtaining the Original Text

There are a few ways I obtain the original text for my posts. Although I have a number of books in Korean on Classical Chinese, I get all my original text for the blog online. It cannot be stressed enough that there are plenty of Korean blogs that do what I do. Most, but not all, of the blog posts here have Korean translations somewhere online. The quickest and simplest way to find these blogs is to run a search on Google or Naver either on their general search page or encyclopedia. For search terms, I usually enter a topic that I am looking for plus the words “한시” (Classical Chinese poetry) or “한문” (Classical Chinese prose). There are also other Korean websites I search to find original texts:

I prefer Classical Chinese texts that have Korean translations for checking purposes. On occasions when I do feel ambitious, I use text that do not have Korean translations obtained from the Database of Korean Classics.

2. Translating from the Original

After having obtained the original text, I read the text and then proceed to translate. My philosophy in translating Classical Chinese into English is to translate as literally as is idiomatically possible. Even if the translation appears awkward or clunky, as long as it is comprehensible, I do not mind. If there is any information that is necessary to the full appreciation of the text, I add annotations. I believe that this method is the most suited for the purposes of learning another language. This closely approximates how most Korean translations present Classical Chinese texts.

3. Checking with Korean Translation

If there are any Korean translations available, I then check my English translation with that of the Korean. There are some instances where I think the Korean translation is a bit too loosely translated, and do not follow them. For the most time, however, I defer to the Korean translator, whom I assume — with good reason — that they are more knowledgeable at interpreting Classical Chinese texts than I am.

4. Adding Annotations 

Next, I add annotations to assist the reader — including myself — in being able to appreciating the text. These are typically idioms and references to history or to other classics. Most Korean translations are annotated already; however, there are some idioms and references not explained in the annotations. This is because they might be considered common knowledge among Korean readers. I thus add more annotations to tailor them to a Western or non-Korean audience. Idioms can be typically found on Naver’s Hanja Dictionary. Finding allusions to history or other classics is a bit more difficult.

5. Finding Allusions 

Some Korean poets are known for their esoteric allusions to Korean and Chinese history and classics. Fortunately, there are resources online for finding such references, especially on the Korean blogosphere. I typically search either on Google or Naver using the original text plus the Korean pronunciation as the search terms. Sometimes, I prefer to get the original text of what is being alluded to, and also check the following sources to obtain those texts:




As I have been working on the Classical Chinese primer, one question I have been pondering about is how many Chinese Characters (漢字, 한자) should one memorize before embarking on learning Classical Chinese (漢文, 한문). The Korean Hanja Proficiency Exam (漢字能力檢定試驗, 한자능력검정시험) specifies that people should learn at least up till the first rank (一級, 1급), or 3,500 characters, to read Classical Chinese “without difficulty.” This is a somewhat subjective judgment, and depends on how willing a reader is in looking up characters that he does not know while reading Classical Chinese texts. I like to conceptualize this in more mathematical terms:


where p(x) is the probability that reader does not know character xC(x) is the cost (e.g., time and effort) reader is willing to spend on looking up each character x, and T is the threshold at which reader will “give up” on finding all the characters. The equation as a whole states that a reader will be willing to find the character, as long as the cost and probability of doing so does not exceed the threshold. C(x) and especially are highly subjective, and depend on the individual reader. p(x), on the other hand, is not. I was interested in seeing how p(x) looked like, and how I could interpret it.


I had some downtime over Easter, and decided to code a very short script to determine this. The pseudo-code is very simple, and is as follows:

  1. Load file with Classical Chinese source text.
  2. Remove all the punctuation, spaces, new lines, et cetera.
  3. Count the number of time a particular character occurs in the source text.
  4. Output data.

The Classical Chinese source text chosen was Analects of Confucius, Annotated by Zhu Xi (論語集註, 논어집주). I believed that this was very representative of Classical Chinese texts, as many people learning Classical Chinese at the very least read Analects unannotated.

Data & Analysis

The total number of characters in the Analects is 80,964. There are 2,373 different characters. Sorting from the most frequent to the least, the top 20 most frequent characters are:

Top 20 Most Frequent

Table 1 – Top 20 Most Frequent Characters in Analects

This result should not surprise anyone, as most of these characters serve common grammatical functions and thus are likely to appear quite frequently. For instance, from experience, 也(야) occurs at the end of sentences very often. It is no surprise that Table 1 reflects this. One curious result was how quickly the frequency dropped: from 3756 with 之(지) to 644 with 矣(의). This is further illustrated in the table below:

Random Characters

Table 2 – Assorted Characters

Table 2 shows a few characters by the order of their frequency in the text. By the most common 150th character, the frequency has dropped into two digits. By the most common 850th character, the frequency has dropped to just one digit. By the most common 1900th character, the frequency has dropped to 1.

Freq v Percent

Table 3 – Frequency & Percentage

In Table 3, characters that appear less than 1000 times in the text occur with 74.8%, those that appear less than 250 times occur with 50%, and those that appear less than 50 times, occur with 22.2%.


First, a caveat. This quick, informal analysis does have some weaknesses, particularly with the sample source text chosen. Some characters that are considered as “easy” in resources for learning Chinese Characters surprisingly showed up as occurring very few times in Analects. For instance, 雨(우) (“rain”) only occurred a total of three times in the text. Perhaps the most fatal weakness is that there were not even 3,500 different characters in Analects. For future analysis, I would like to do add other texts to increase the sample size.

As for the relationship between learning Classical Chinese and memorizing Chinese Characters, the data suggest that readers should have an expansive of knowledge of Chinese Characters. Most notably, although characters that appeared less than 10 times or less occur with 6% probability, those that 100 times or less occur with 33% of the time in the text. In general, the less likely the character occurs, the more it is considered “difficult.” I would presume that most readers, who have not yet memorized less frequent characters, would not want to be flipping through their dictionaries one-third of the time while reading through Analects, as this would exceed the threshold cost they are willing to endure. This data, although not perfect, may give an idea where this threshold may be.


The Cloud Dream of the Nine (九雲夢, 구운몽) was the first Korean novel to be translated into English in 1922. It is uncertain whether the work was originally written in Hangul or Classical Chinese.

Third Person Pronouns

Third person pronouns  (三人稱代名詞, 3인칭대명사) are those that refer to someone or something else besides the speaker and the audience. Examples in English include, “he,” “him,” “she,” “her,” “it,” et cetera. Unlike English but like Korean, third person pronouns in Classical Chinese lack gender and describe what is being referred to in relation to some external spatial frame of reference. (In linguistics jargon, this frame of reference is called spatial deixis.) These are called demonstratives (指示代名詞, 지시대명사). Examples of English demonstrative include “this” and “these,” which refer to someone or something close to the frame of reference, and “that” and “those,” which refer to someone or something more distant. Similar to English and Korean, most demonstratives in Classical Chinese can be used as either determiners (冠形詞, 관형사) modifying the word coming after it or as standalone pronouns (代名詞, 대명사). One of the challenges in interpreting demonstratives is in determining whether the character is being used as a determiner or a standalone third person pronoun. Based on their frame of reference, Classical Chinese demonstratives can be classified into four categories: (1) proximal (近稱, 근칭), (2) medial (中稱, 중칭), (3) distal (遠稱, 원칭), and (4) generic (總稱, 총칭).


Proximal demonstrative are those words that refer to something close to the frame of reference. In English, these correspond to “this” or “these.” In Korean, the proximal demonstrative is 이. In Classical Chinese, the characters used are: 是(시), 此(차), 斯(사), 玆(자), 這(저), and 焉(언), which is an abbreviation of 於(어)+此(차). Note that 玆 is not often used as a demonstrative as the other characters listed and 這 is seen only in much later Classical Chinese texts.


This certainly is a person whose talents are sound but whose virtues is not shown.
► Zhaungzi (莊子, 장자), Inner Chapters (內篇, 내편), Seal of Virtue Complete (德充符, 덕충부).

終而復始, 日月也.
종이부시, 일월야.

To end but to begin again, the sun and moon are [like] this.
► Sun Tzu’s Art of War (孫子兵法, 손자병법), Strength (勢, 세).

日也, 放聲大哭
일야, 방성대곡

Upon this day, [we] release our sighs and loudly wail.
► Imperial Capital Gazette (皇城新聞, 황성신문), Nov. 11, 1905 Edition by Jang Jiyeon (張志淵, 장지연, 1864-1921).

有道伐無道, 天理也, 所從來久矣.
유도벌무도, 천리야, 소종래구의.

[What] has the Way strikes [what] does not have the Way. This is heaven’s principle. Where it originated came from long ago.
► Luxuriant Dew of the Spring and Autumn Annals (春秋繁露, 춘추번로) by Dong Zhongshu (董仲舒, 동중서, 176-104BC).

讐若除, 死卽無憾.
수약제, 사즉무감.

If these enemies are removed, then if [we] die there will be no regret.
► Complete Works of Admiral Yi Sunshin (李忠武公全書, 이충무공전서).


These following [articles] establish a treaty of commerce and amity.
► Treaty of Amity and Commerce between the United States of America and Korea of 1882 (朝美修好通商條約, 조미수호통상조약).

逝者如夫, 不舍晝夜.
서자여부, 불사주야.

Those [things] that depart are like this: [they] do not cease day and night.
► Analects (論語, 논어), Zi Han (子罕, 자한).

長者假喜怒, 愧小兒矣.
장자가희노, 괴소아의.

When an elder fakes being happy or being angry, this shames the small child.
► A Book on the Ear, Eye, Mouth, and Heart (耳目口心書, 이목구심서) by Yi Deokmu (李德懋, 이덕무, 1741-1793).

樓以四望, 聊暇日以銷憂.
루이사망, 료가일이소우.

Ascending this pagoda to gaze at four [directions], somehow on [this] leisurely day [my] worries have disappeared.
► A Lyric on Ascending the Pagoda (登樓賦, 등루부) by Wan Can (王粲, 왕찬, 177-217).

文王旣沒, 文不在乎?
문왕기몰, 문불재호?

King Wen (周文王, 주문왕, 1152-1056 BC) has already passed away, but does culture not reside in this [place]?
► Analects (論語, 논어), Zi Han (子罕, 자한).

是駝卵, 能治難名奇疾.
시타란, 능치난명기질.

This is an ostrich’s egg. [It] can cure strange diseases that are difficult to name.
► Jehol Journal (熱河日記, 열하일기) by Pak Jiwon (朴趾源, 박지원, 1737-1805).

議論極明快, 甚不易.
의론극며왜, 심불이.

This controversy is extremely lucid; [it] is not very easy.
► Records of the Teachers and Friends of the Eastern Confucians (東儒師友錄, 동유수우록) by Pak Sechae (朴世采, 박세채, 1631-1695).

然, 昔者吾舅死於虎, 吾夫又死.
연, 석자오구사어호, 오부우사.

Yes, a long time ago my father-in-law was killed by a tiger. My husband again was killed by this (於+此) [tiger].
 Record of Rites (禮記, 예기), Tan Gong Part II (檀弓下, 단궁하).


Medial demonstratives are those words that refer to something not too close but not too far from the frame of reference. There are no equivalents in English, although they can be thought of as “that” and “those.” Oftentimes, it might be suitable to translate these demonstratives as “he,” “she,” or “it.” In Korean, medial demonstrative is 그. The characters used are: 其(기) and 厥(궐).

人之性惡, 善者僞也.
인지성악, 선자위야.

Man’s nature is evil. Those who [claim that it is] good are lying.
► Xun Zi (荀子, 순자, 312-230 BC), Nature is Evil (性惡, 성악).

北冥有魚, 名爲鯤. 鯤之大, 不知幾千里也.
북명유어, 명위곤. 곤지대, 불지기천리야.

In the Northern Oceans, there is a fish. Its name is Kun (鯤, 곤). [As for] Kun’s size, [I] do not know its [size] in how many thousand li (里,리).
► Zhuangzi (莊子, 장자), Inner Chapters (內篇, 내편), Enjoyment in Untroubled Ease (逍遙遊, 소요유).

今有米在十斗桶中, 不知數.
금유미재십두통중, 불지수.

Now, there are rice grains in the middle of this bottle of ten dou (斗, 두) (180 liters). [I] do not know its number.
The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art (九章算術, 구장산술), To Fill Not Sufficiently (盈不足, 영부족).

鋪子新設者, 免鋪稅五年.
포자신설자, 면포세오년.

For those who have newly constructed stores, exempt their shopping stores for five years.
 The Following Records of Ban’gye (磻溪隨錄, 반계수록), On Currency (錢幣, 전폐) by Yu Hyeongweon (柳馨遠, 유형원, 1622-1673).

寡君聞楚爲不道, 荐伐吳國, 滅民人.
과군문초위불도, 천벌오국, 멸민인.

Our lord heard that the Chu (楚, 초) did not pursue the Way (道, 도), and recommended [that we] strike the Wu State (吳, 오) and exterminate their people.
 Zhou’s Commentary on the Spring and Autumn Period (春秋左傳, 춘추좌전), Duke Ai (哀公, 애공), Fifteenth Year of Duke Ai’s Reign (哀公十五年, 애공십오년).

農夫餓死, 枕種子.
농부아사, 침종자.

The farmers die of starvation. They lay on their seeds.
A Collection of Heard Words (耳談續纂, 이담속찬) by Jeong Yakyong (丁若鏞, 정약용, 1762-1836).

若藥不瞑眩, 疾不瘳.
약약불명현, 질불추.

If the medicine makes [him] not dizzy and somber, then his illness has not been cured.
► Classic of History (書經, 서경), Charge to Yue Part I (說命上, 열명상).


Distal demonstratives are those words that refer to something far from the frame of reference. In English, these correspond to “that” or “those.” To elucidate the distinction between medial and distal, it might be better to conceptualize the latter as “that over there” or “those over there.” Similar to medial demonstratives, they can be often translated as “he,” “she,” or “it” in English. In Korean, the distal demonstrative is 저. In Classical Chinese, the characters used are: 彼(피) and 夫(부). Note that there are at times where 夫 need not be translated.

以小易大, 惡知之.
이소역대, 오지지.

Having traded something small for something large, how will those [people] know it?
► Mencius (孟子, 맹자), Liang Hui Wang Part I (梁惠王上, 양혜왕상).

江南紅何妓女, 意志眼目如高尙?
강남홍하기녀, 의지안목여고상?

What kind of Gisaeng (妓生, 기생) is Gang Namhong (江南紅, 강남홍) for [her] intentions and discerning eye to be similar to that [person's] elegance?
Dreams in the Jade Tower (玉樓夢, 옥루몽) by Nam Yeongro (南永魯, 남영로, ?-?).

西山兮, 采其薇矣.
서산혜, 채기미의.

[I] have ascended that mountain in the west, and have plucked its ferns.
► Records of the Grand Historian (史記, 사기), Biography of Bo Yi (伯夷列傳, 백이열전).


That old man transformed into a white crane and flew away.
► Precious Mirror of Eastern Medicine (東醫寶鑑, 동의보감), Inner Scene Chapter (內景篇, 내경편) by Heo Jun (許浚, 허준, 1539-1615).


Those three people’s words, what were [they]?
Analects (論語, 논어), Xian Jin (先進, 선진).

我過矣, 夫是也.
아과의, 부시야.

I was wrong. That man was right.
 Record of Rites (禮記, 예기), Tan Gong Part I (檀弓上, 단궁상).

小子! 何莫學詩?
소자! 하막학시?

Little child, why did you not study poetry?
► Analects (論語, 논어), Yang Huo (陽貨, 양화).


Generic third person pronouns are those without any frame of reference. That is, they can refer to anyone or anything proximal, medial, or distal. These are similar to English third person pronouns and thus can be translated to “he,” “she,” or “it.”  Likewise, in Korean, these can be any of 이, 그, and 저. In Classical Chinese, the characters used are: 他(타), 渠(거), 伊(이), 之(지), and 諸(제), which is an abbreviation for 之(지)+於(어). Note that: 他 is more often used to mean “other” or “another”; 渠 is used as a pronoun beginning in later Classical Chinese texts; and 之 is only used as a standalone pronoun and only functions as an object referring to something or someone described previously.

促還馬, 赦汝罪.
촉환마, 사여죄.

If [you] quickly return his horse, [I] will forgive your transgressions.
Book of the Later Han (後漢書, 후한서), Biographies of Alchemists (方術列傳, 방술열전).

女壻昨來, 必是所竊.
여서작래, 필시소절.

The daughter’s husband came yesterday. It must be he who stole.
Records of the Three Kingdoms (三國志, 삼국지), Book of Wu (吳書, 오서), Biography of Zhao Da (趙達傳, 조달전).

旣要淸淨寂滅, 如何不坐禪?
기요청정적멸, 여하불좌선?

He already needed to become clean and pure (Taoist term) and quietly destroy [himself] (Buddhist term). How was [he] not to sit in Zen meditation?
 Arranged Words of Master Zhu (朱子語類, 주자어류), On Sakyumi (釋氏, 석씨).

一雨三日, 誰之力?
일우삼일, 수지력?

It rained once for three days. Whose power is it?
► Record of the Happy Rain Pavilion (喜雨亭記, 희우정기) by Su Shi (蘇軾, 소식, 1037-1101).

勿學汝兄, 汝兄自不如!
물학여형, 여형자불여!

Do not learn from your older brother: your older brother by himself was no more like him!
► A New Account of the Tales of the World (世說新語, 세설신어), Evaluation (品藻, 품조) by Liu Yiqing (劉義慶, 유의경, 430-444).


But the four [beginnings] (四端, 사단) are emitted [from] the principle force (理, 리) and the material force (氣, 기) follows it.
► Reply to Ki Myeong’eon (答奇明彦, 답기명언) by Yi Hwang (李滉, 이황, 1502-1571).

參不敏, 何足以知?
삼불민, 하족이지?

I, Shen (參, 삼), am not nimble. How am [I] sufficient to know it?
► Classic of Filial Piety (孝經, 효경), The Scope and Meaning of the Treatise (開宗明義, 개종명의).

我皆令入, 無餘涅槃, 而滅度.
아개령입, 무여열반, 이멸도.

We all will make [them] enter, without remainder, into nirvana, and will liberate them.
► Diamond Sutra (金剛般若波羅蜜經, 금강반야바라밀경).

祝訖, 遂擲, 生果勝.
축흘, 수척, 생과승.

[He] prayed exerting [himself], finally chucked them, and became in the end victorious.
► The New Tale of the Golden Terrapin (金鰲新話, 금오신화) by Kim Shiseup (金時習, 김시습, 1435-1493).


Cui Ming (崔明, 최명, Choe Myeong, ?-?) at night buried him in (之+於) the large tomb.
► Commentaries of Zhou on the Spring and Autumn Period (春秋左傳, 춘추좌전), Duke of Xiang of Lu (襄公, 양공).

Songseokweon Shisa Meeting

This concludes the series on non-aristocratic poets of the hamlets and streets (閭巷詩人, 여항시인). I was previously aware that Classical Chinese literacy was not limited to only the aristocratic Yangban (兩班, 양반) elite during the Chosun Dynasty; however, I first became fascinated in the subject after having read about the slave poet Jeong Chobu (鄭樵夫, 정초부, 1714-1789). I knew very little about this subject prior to these posts, and learned quite a lot through preparing and reading about these poets. (There is still a lot I do not know.) I was fairly surprised at how many resources there were on the internet. Here are the list of poems in this series:

The list can be found in the exhibit tab at the top of the blog. I have corrected some of these posts, and as requested have added links to Korean translations. I have only done Korean translations for those poems that did not have one. Furthermore, there are many more non-aristocratic poets that I did not get to cover. For those readers that can read Korean and further interested, there are a ton of resources at Naver Encyclopedia’s (네이버 지식백과) entries on Chosun dynasty’s non-aristocracy culture (閭巷文化, 여항문화).

On another note, I have revised my plans for the blog for the remainder of the year. In particular, I would like to focus on the Classical Chinese primer, and would greatly appreciate feedback on that project. In addition, I will work on editing the resources tab above, do a few book reviews, other assorted articles, and might do one more exhibit. Also, feel free to use any post from this blog, but please do properly attribute.


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