Oh Sechang – On the Drawing of the Tree Roots and Orchids


Oh Sechang (吳世昌, 오세창, 1864-1953) was a Korean artist, poet, journalist, and independence activist. He was of the Haeju Oh Clan (海州吳氏, 해주오씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Jungmyeong (仲銘, 중명); his pen name (號, 호) was Wichang (葦滄, 위창); and his Cheondoist name (道號, 도호) was Han’am (閒菴, 한암). In 1884, he became a translator for the Chosun government. In 1886, he became a journalist in the Hanseong Weekly Paper (漢城旬報, 한성순보), the first modern newspaper in Korea. In 1897, he was sent to the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (東京外國語大學, 동경외국어학교), where he studied for one year. He fled again to Japan in 1902 due to the Reform Party Scandal (開化黨事件, 개화당사건), and became a Cheondoist (天道敎, 천도교). When he returned in 1906, he took up journalism again and became the head of the Manse Newspaper (萬歲報, 만세보), a Cheondoist newspaper, and the Korean People’s Newspaper (大韓民報, 대한민보). During the March 1st Movement of 1919, Oh Sechang was one of the signers of the Declaration of Korean Independence, and was imprisoned for three years for his involvement. He continued in Korean independence activities after his release. After the independence of Korea, he joined various political organizations in South Korea. He also wrote a fair amount a fairly large amount of Classical Chinese poetry. The poem below was composed on a painting (pictured above) by Min Yeong’ik (閔泳翊, 민영익, 1860-1914), a late Chosun dynasty painter.

露根墨蘭圖 노근묵란도

On the Drawing of the Tree Roots and Orchids

漪蘭九畹誠多種 의란구원성다종
不及墨池三兩花 불급묵지삼량화
此日國香零落盡 차일국향령락진
王孫芳艸遍天涯 왕손방초편천애

The rippling orchids in the nine Weon fields truly are plentifully planted.
The ink pond cannot be compared to the three or two flowers.
On this day, our country’s fragrance has fallen and lie in waste.
The King’s offspring are like flowery grass blades that have been scattered across heaven’s edge.


Ripple • orchids • nine • Weon • truly • many • to be planted
Not • to reach • ink • pond • three • both • flowers
This • day • country • fragrance • to fall • to fall • to be exhausted
Royal • offspring • flowery • grass • to be scattered • heaven • edge


  • 露根(노근) – Literally, “dewy root.” Refers to an exposed tree root.
  • 畹(원) – Weon is a unit of area. 1 Weon is about 20 furrows on a rice paddy.
  • 墨池(묵지) – Literally, “ink pond.” Refers to the deeper end of an inkstone (벼루).
  • 王孫(왕손) – Literally, “royal offspring” or “the King’s grandchildren.” Probably refers to Koreans who fled the Korean peninsula after the Japanese occupation of Korea.
  1. Jeff said:

    不及 = cannot be compared, incomparable. He is referring that the paltry number of flowers in the painting cannot be compared to the myriad ones in the field.

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