Kwon Pil (權韠, 권필, 1569-1612) was a Chosun dynasty poet. He was of the Andong Kwon Clan (安東權氏, 안동권씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Yeojang (汝章, 여장); and his pen name (號, 호) was Seokju (石洲, 석주). He was highly skilled in the Chinese classics, but did not take the civil examination and thus did not attain a bureaucratic post. Instead, he wandered around Chosun, finding scenery, and composed poetry while drinking. Kwon Pil was banished for composing a poem lampooning various members of the court.
In his essay below, he compares politics to a board game known as Seunggyeongdo (陞卿圖, 승경도), meaning “rising civil servant drawing,” also known as Jongjeongdo (從政圖, 종정도), meaning “working in government drawing.” The game is played on a board with a list of all the bureaucratic posts ordered from lowest to highest rank. The objective is to reach the highest rank by the end of the game. There seem to be a number of theories on the origin of the game. One is that, according to Seong Hyeon (成俔, 성현, 1439-1504), Ha Ryun (河崙, 하륜, 1347-1416), a literati bureaucrat at the end of the Goryeo dynasty, first created the game. Another theory is that it was based on the “becoming Buddha drawing,” or Seongbuldo (成佛圖, 성불도), which is yet another board game. Yet another theory is that it originates from a Chinese board game known as Touzi Xuange (骰子選格, 투자선격, Tuja Seon’gyeok), which has the same objective as Seunggyeongdo. Touzi Xuange appears prominently in the Qing dynasty era Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢, 홍루몽). Unfortunately, with the abolition of bureaucratic system during the latter years of the Chosun dynasty and the subsequent Japanese annexation, Seunggyeongdo became less and less popular and died out sometime during the first half of the 20th century. There have been efforts at reintroducing the game to the Korean populace.
世之游閑者, 群居無事, 則聯數幅之紙, 列敍官班爵秩, 而附以升降黜陟之法.
세지유한자, 군거무사, 즉련수복지지, 렬서관반작질, 이부이승강출척지법.
In this world, if those who are at leisure group together with [others] without work, they connect papers of a number of lengths, list and enumerate the classes of government posts and rank of nobility, and attach the rules on how to rise and fall and how to be promoted and demoted.
削木爲六面, 刻德勳文武貪軟六字於其面. 如此者, 凡三顆.
삭목위륙반, 각덕훈문무탐연륙자어기면. 여차자, 범삼과.
Cutting a piece to have six faces, they chisel “Virtue” (德, 덕), “Merit” (勳, 훈), “Literati” (文, 문), “Officer” (武, 무), “Avarice” (貪, 탐), and “Feebleness” (軟, 연), six characters, onto each side. Those which are like this [dice] are in general three pieces.
於是數人對局, 呼而擲之, 隨其所得, 而升黜其班秩, 視班秩之貴賤, 以決其輸嬴.
어시수인대국, 호이척지, 수기소득, 이승출기반질, 시반질지귀천, 이결기수영.
Then, a number of people face off in the match, shouting and throwing [the die]. Following what they have obtained, they either rise or fall in class and rank. By seeing highness or lowness of their class and rank, they decide their victory and defeat.
自之曰: 從政之圖. 其來蓋久.
자지왈: 종정지도. 기래개구.
From it, they call it the drawing of working in government (從政之圖, 종정지도). Its origin is probably long ago.
余自少時, 不嗜此戲, 見儕輩爲之, 則必麾而去之.
여자소시, 불기차희, 견제배위지, 즉필휘이거지.
I, from a young age, did not enjoy this game. If I saw my group of peers pursue it, I certainly shook [my hands] and departed from there.
歲丙申, 客于湖南. 一日, 偶步出野亭, 有數客方設此戲. 余從傍而諦視之.
세병신, 객우호남. 일일, 우보출야정, 유수객방설차희. 여종방이체시지.
During the Byeongshin Year (1596, 丙申, 병신), [we had] a guest in Honam (湖南, 호남). One day, coincidentally walking out toward the field pavilion, there were a number of guests at that time constructing that game. I followed from the side and closely examined [their playing].
有升而貴者, 有降而賤者, 或始黜而終陟, 或始陟而終黜, 疑亦有數存焉於其間也.
유승이귀자, 유강이천자, 혹시출이종척, 혹시척이종출, 의역유수존언어기간야.
There were some that rose and became highly ranked; there were those that fell and became lowly ranked. Some at the beginning got demoted and in the end become promoted; some at the beginning got promoted; and in the end become demoted. It seemed to me also that there is some luck on this space [of the board].
夫升而貴者, 未必皆賢. 降而賤者, 未必皆愚.
부승이귀자, 미필개현. 강이천자, 미필개우.
In general, those who rose and became highly ranked were not necessarily all wise. Those who fell and became lowly ranked were not necessarily all stupid.
始黜而終陟者, 豈前拙而後巧? 始陟而終黜者, 豈前巧而後拙?
시출이종척자, 기전졸이후교? 시척이종출자, 기전교이후졸?
Were those, who at the beginning got demoted and then got promoted, obtuse before and then became adept after? Were Were those, who at the beginning got promoted and then got demoted, adept before and then became obtuse after?
其所以升降黜陟者, 旣不可以賢愚巧拙論, 則但卜其偶不偶耳.
기소이승강출척자, 기불가이현우교졸론, 즉단복기우불우이.
Their reasons for rising and falling and being promoted and demoted already cannot be a discussion over their wisdom or stupidity, adeptness or obtuseness. It is merely forecasting their obtuseness and non-obtuseness.
嗚呼! 余觀夫今之從政者. 其有不類乎是圖者耶?
오호! 여관부금지종정자. 기유불류호시도자야?
O, alas! I saw today in general those who work in government. Are they similar to this drawing?
或曰: “非偶也. 其機巧之智, 有以致之.” 此說, 余未信之.
혹왈: “비우야. 기기교지지, 유이치지.” 차설, 여미신지.
Someone said, “It is not by accident. With their adeptness and tact, they were able to reach there.” This talk, I do not yet believe.
- “There is some luck on this space” (有數存焉於其間, 유수존언어기간) may possibly be a reference to the Way of Heaven Chapter (天道, 천도) of the Outer Chapters of Zhuangzi (壯子外篇, 장자외편):
桓公曰: “寡人讀書, 輪人安得議乎! 有說則可, 無說則死.”
환공왈: “과인독서, 륜인안득의호! 유설즉가, 무설즉사.”
Duke Huan (桓公, 환공, Hwan Gong) said, “How should you, a wheelwright, have anything to say about the book which I am reading? If you can explain yourself, very well; if you cannot, you shall, die!”
輪扁曰: “臣也, 以臣之事觀之. 斲輪, 徐則甘而不固, 疾則苦而不入.
륜편왈: “신야, 이신지사좐지. 착륜, 서즉감이불고, 질즉고이불입.
The wheelwright said, “Your servant will look at the thing from the point of view of his own art. In making a wheel, if I proceed gently, that is pleasant enough, but the workmanship is not strong; if I proceed violently, that is toilsome and the joinings do not fit.
不徐不疾, 得之於手而應於心, 口不能言, 有數存焉於其間.
불서불지, 득지어수이응어심, 구불능언, 유수존언어기간.
f the movements of my hand are neither (too) gentle nor (too) violent, the idea in my mind is realised. But I cannot tell (how to do this) by word of mouth; there is a knack in it.
臣不能以喻臣之子, 臣之子亦不能受之於臣, 是以行年七十而老斲輪.
신불능이유신지자, 신지자역불능수지어신, 시이행년칠십이로착륜.
I cannot teach the knack to my son, nor can my son learn it from me. Thus it is that I am in my seventieth year, and am (still) making wheels in my old age.
古之人與其不可傳也死矣, 然則君之所讀者, 古人之糟魄已矣.”
고지인여기불가전야사의, 연즉군지소독자, 고인지조백의의.”
But these ancients, and what it was not possible for them to convey, are dead and gone: so then what you, my Ruler, are reading is but their dregs and sediments!”
Translation by James Legge
- 黜陟(출척) – Refers to demotion and promotion.
- 顆(과) – Grain or corn (낟알); a unit of measurement for small and round objects.
- 擲(척) – To throw (던지다).
- 輸嬴(수영) – Refers to victory and defeat.
- 諦(체) – To examine (살피다).
- 麾(휘) – Flag or ensign (깃발); to point out or gesture toward (가리키다).
- 儕(제) – Group (무리).