Battle of Ningyuan

Battle of Ningyuan (寧遠之戰, 영원성 전투) (Source)

One of the books I purchased during my stay in Korea was an anthology of Qing dynasty Classical Chinese poetry (淸代詩選, 청대시선), translated by Kim Hakju (金學主, 김학주) a professor at Seoul National University and published by Myungmundang (明文堂, 명문당). Since most of the Classical Chinese poems by Chinese poets I have read before were from the Tang dynasty (唐, 당, 618-907), I found this work very refreshing. About half of the book is on poets from the early period of the Qing dynasty, i.e., 17th century. Many of them reflect upon the turbulence of the Manchu invasions of China (1613-1683). I found these poems so interesting and insightful that I have decided to translate a few of them into English and will publish them in upcoming blog posts. I do acknowledge that this is somewhat outside what I usually post, but I do hope readers appreciate these poems as much as I did. (As many might already know, the fall of the Ming dynasty was also quite important in Korean history as well as Chinese history.)

I will be covering these poets: Qian Qianyi (錢謙益, 전겸익, 1582-1664), Wu Weiye (吳偉業, 오위업, 1609-1672), Huang Zongxi (黃宗羲, 황종희, 1610-1695), Gu Wanyu (顧炎武, 고염무, 1613-1682), Wu Jiaji (吳嘉紀, 오가기, 1618-1684), and Qu Dayun (屈大均, 굴대균, 1630-1696). If there are any others whose works readers would like to see translated, please let me know via email (kuiwonblog[at] or comments.

Full Moon

Jeong Dojeon (鄭道傳, 정도전, 1342-1398) was a literati bureaucrat and politician, best known for helping to establish the Chosun dynasty (朝鮮, 조선, 1392-1910) and laying down its foundations. (He was also recently popularized in a Korean period drama that I have yet to watch.) He was of the Bonghwa Jeong Clan (奉化鄭氏, 봉화정씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Jongji (宗之, 종지); his pen name (號, 호) was Sambong (三峰, 삼봉); and his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Munheon (文憲, 문헌). He was born to a gentry family, but his ancestors up till his father had held mostly low ranking bureaucratic positions. Jeong Dojeon together with his friend Jeong Mongju (鄭夢周, 정몽주, 1338-1392) studied Neo-Confucianism under the tutelage of the famous scholar Yi Saek (李穡, 이색, 1328-1396). At the age of 20 in 1362, he passed Goryeo’s civil examination and in 1370 was awarded a position at Sungkyunkwan (成均館, 성균관), the national education academy. As the Yuan dynasty (元, 원, 1271-1368) was falling, Jeong Dojeon advocated alliance with the newly formed Ming dynasty (明, 명, 1368-1644). For this stance, in 1375, he was exiled by the pro-Yuan faction on the Goryeo court. After being released in 1377, Jeong Dojeon met General Yi Seonggye (李成桂, 이성계, 1335-1408), who was then stationed in Hamheung (咸興, 함흥) fighting Jurchens (女眞, 여진) and fending off Japanese pirate raids (倭寇, 왜구). In 1388, General Yi was dispatched to attack Ming forces in Liaodong (遼東, 요동); however, when he arrived at Wihwado (威化島 , 위화도), an island on the Yalu River at the edge of Goryeo’s territory, he realized the futility of fighting the Ming and decided to turn back the army to take the capital. Jeong Dojeon would be later instrumental in helping Yi Seonggye overthrow the Goryeo dynasty and establish the Chosun dynasty. One of his legacies was moving Korea’s capital from Gaeseong (開城, 개성) to Hanyang (漢陽, 한양), what is now Seoul.

In the poem below, Jeong Dojeon describes his thoughts during the Mid Autumn Festival (中秋, 중추 or 仲秋, 중추), which is on the 15th day of the eighth month on the lunar calendar and is more often called Chuseok (秋夕, 추석) or Hangawi (한가위) in Korean. More specifically, he is thinking about his hometown. The widespread custom still to this day is for families to travel back to their hometown and meet at one member’s house to carry out ancestral rites (祭祀, 제사). Other customs include eating a rice cake known as Songpyeon (松-, 송편) and partaking in various folk games.

中秋歌 중추가

A Mid Autumn Festival Song

歲歲中秋月 세세중추월
今宵最可憐 금소최가련
一天風露寂 일천풍로적
萬里海山連 만리해산련
故國應同見 고국응동견
渾家想未眠 혼가상미면
誰知相憶意 수지상억의
兩地各茫然 량지각망연

Year after year, the mid autumn moon.
Tonight, it appears the most pitiful.
All of the heavens’ winds and dew are silent;
For ten thousand li, seas and mountains are connected.
The old country should have the same sight;
The entire household likely is not yet asleep.
Who will know the meaning of mutual longing?
The two places each are in a daze.

Year • year • mid • autumn • moon
Today • night • most • to be able • pitiful
One • heaven • wind • dew • silent
Ten thousand • li • sea • mountain • to connect
Old • country • surely • same • to see
Entire • house • likely • not yet • to sleep
Who • to know • mutual • longing • thought
Two • land • each • vast • grammar particle

  • Pentasyllabic regulated poem (五言律詩, 오언율시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 先(선). Note that 見(견) in the fifth line is an oblique tone (仄聲, 측성).
  • 故國(고국) – Literally “old country.” Refers to his hometown.
  • Korean translation available here.
Seokjeondaeje 0

2565th Year of Confucius.

I normally do not do personal blogging, but I am currently in Korea for Chuseok (秋夕, 추석) and I heard that the Ceremony in Honor of Confucius and the Great Sages (釋奠大祭, 석전대제) was going to be held on September 3rd, while I would be here. Since I have never attended one before, I decided to make room in my schedule to attend the ceremony at the Sungkyunkwan (成均館, 성균관). In this blog post, I present pictures that I took along with a brief explanation. The officiants did not allow non-press attendees into the shrine (大成殿, 대성전), so all my photos are from the outside. For a look inside, here is a news article. (On a related note, my email is kuiwonblog[at], not kuiwon[at] Apologies for the confusion.)

A Brief Overview of the Seokjeon

The Ceremony in Honor of Confucius and the Great Sages is known as Seokjeon (釋奠, 석전) in Korean. The Chinese character 釋(석) means “to lay out” (차려놓다); the character 奠(전) depicts alcohol 酋(추) being placed on top of a stand 大(대) as an offering. Together, the word means “to lay out offerings.” The Seokjeon is one of the primary reasons why Korea is often characterized as the most Confucian nation. The ceremony has been celebrated in Korea in continual existence since the 4th century, when Goguryeo’s (高句麗, 고구려, 37BC-668) King Sosurim (小獸林王, 소수림왕, r. 371-384) adopted Confucianism. Contrast this with China, Confucius’ birthplace, where the ceremony was discontinued in 1949 — even before the Communist Cultural Revolution (文化大革命, 문화대혁명, 1966-1976) — and was restarted in 1984, when the Chinese government sent a delegation to Korea to relearn the ritual. Recognizing the importance of this ceremony, in 1986 the Korean government designated Seokjeon as the 85th Important Intangible Cultural Property of Korea and called for the preservation of the rites in their pristine form. Korea thus boasts that it has the best preserved ceremony in Confucius’ honor. Today, in some two hundred Confucian village schools (鄕校, 향교) across the peninsula, the rite is held twice every year once in the spring and once in the fall (or more technically, the Sangjeong (上丁, 상정), the first day with the celestial stem of 丁(정) in a month, on the second and eighth months of the lunar calendar).

The ceremony is held in honor of thirty nine Confucians. They are grouped into the sages (聖, 성), wise (哲, 철), and men of virtue (賢, 현). The Five Sages (五聖, 오성), listed with their posthumous titles, are:

  • Confucius (孔夫子, 공부자, Gongbuja) – (大成至聖文宣王, 대성지성선문왕)
  • Yanzi (顔子, 안자, Anja) – (兗國復聖公, 연국복성공)
  • Zengzi (曾子, 증자, Jeungja) – (郕國宗聖公, 성국종성공)
  • Zisi Zi (子思子, 자사자, Saja Ja) – (沂國述聖公, 기국설성공)
  • Mencius (孟子, 맹자, Maengja) – (鄒國亞聖公, 추국아성공)

Confucius had several disciples during his lifetime; however, only some of them are memorialized in the ceremony. The Ten Wise Confucius’ Disciples (孔門十哲, 공문10철) are:

  • Min Sun (閔損, 민손, Min Son) – (費公, 비공)
  • Ran Geng (冉耕, 염경, Yeom Gyeong) – (鄆公, 운공)
  • Ran Yong (冉雍, 염옹, Yeom Ong) – (薛公, 설공)
  • Zai Yu (宰予, 재여, Jae Yeo) – (齊公, 제공)
  • Duanmu Ci (端木賜, 단목사, Danmok Sa) – (黎公, 여공)
  • Ran Qiu (冉求, 염구, Yeom Gu) – (徐公, 서공)
  • Zhong You (仲由, 중유, Jung Yu) – (衛公, 위공)
  • Yan Yan (言偃, 언언, Eon Eon) – (吳公, 오공)
  • Bu Shang (卜商, 복상, Bok Sang) – (魏公, 위공)
  • Zhuansun Shi (顓孫師, 단손사, Danson Sa) – (陳公, 진공)

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Kimhongdo - Hunjang

In Kim Hongdo’s (金弘道, 김홍도, 1745-1806?) famous painting of a Confucian private school, children of lower class (left row) and gentry families (right row) are seen seated in the same room.


All over the world, literacy historically has been associated with the elite. This was also true in Korea. For much of its history, the written language used was Classical Chinese (漢文, 한문) and those who knew how to read and write were mostly male members of the gentry. This started changing during the Chosun Dynasty (朝鮮, 조선, 1392-1910). As many know, with regards to the script, King Sejong (世宗, 세종, 1397-1450, r. 1418-1450) attempted to bring literacy — and more importantly, Confucianism — to the lower classes by promulgating Hangul (한글). The new alphabet first caught on among gentry women, some of whom already literate in Classical Chinese, and gradually proliferated to members of the lower classes. Classical Chinese also had begun to take root as well.

Beginning in the 18th century, as Chosun’s economy became relatively wealthier, the lower classes, who previously had to devote most of their time to backbreaking manual labor, had the time to devote to other activities. They now had the opportunity to gather and listen to traveling bands of dancers and musicians playing pansori (판소리) and storytellers (傳奇叟, 전기수) reading from novels written in the vernacular. A number of them also had the opportunity to partake in Chosun’s high culture. Lower class families enrolled their children in Confucian private schools (書堂, 서당) to learn Chinese classics. Some even started forming poetry societies (詩社, 시사) to compose Classical Chinese poetry (漢詩, 한시) together.

Chosun’s Non-Gentry Poets and Poetry Societies

The Classical Chinese composed by of the lower classes is collectively called Yeohang Munhak (閭巷文學, 여항문학), or “Literature of the Hamlets and Streets.” There were four classes in Chosun Dynasty’s social order (身分制度, 신분제도): (1) the gentry Yangban (兩班, 양반), (2) skilled middle class (中人, 중인), (3) freed commoner class (良民, 양민 or 常民, 상민), and (4) vulgar class (賤民, 천민), of which slaves (奴婢, 노비) were a part. The last three comprised of the lower classes. (It should be noted that unlike China, which had abolished hereditary slavery fairly early in its history, Korean slavery was largely a hereditary system until its abolition in the mid 19th century. In addition, by the 18th and 19th centuries, many members of gentry families had fallen destitute (殘班, 잔반) and became indistinguishable from commoners.) The bulk of the poets from the lower classes were of the skilled middle class, but there were a number of freed commoners and even slaves that participated. They composed poetry on variety of themes, but the most reoccurring subject concerned the lives of the lower classes.

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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.


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