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.
A Mid Autumn Festival Song
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.