Pak Jiweon (朴趾源 박지원)


Pak Jiweon (朴趾源, 박지원, 1737-1805) was a Chosun scholar and literati bureaucrat. He was of the Bannam Pak Clan (潘南朴氏, 반남박씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Jungmi (仲美, 중미); and his pen name (號, 호) was Yeon’am (燕巖, 연암). He was raised and educated by his grandfather, who was also a literati bureaucrat. Pak Jiweon lived in great difficulty after his grandfather passed away. Although he was well versed in his studies, in 1765 he failed the civil examination and thereafter for some number of years pursued studies and writing. In 1780, Pak Jiweontraveled around Northeastern China from Euiju (義州, 의주) to Beijing (北京, 북경, Bukgyeong) and on his return published the Yeolha Journal (熱河日記, 열하일기). In 1786, Pak Jiweon did attain government posts as an Eumsa (蔭仕, 음사), which refers to someone attaining a government post by a relative’s merit.

In his letter to his friend translated below, Pak Jiweon describes playing Ssangryuk (雙陸 or 雙六, 쌍륙): he finds the game so fun that he can play by himself after a long hard day. Ssangryuk is the Korean variant of Backgammon, which is one of the oldest board games known to man, dating back as far as 3000 BC. The game entered China from India during the Southern and Northern Dynasties Period (南北朝, 남북조, 420-589). One of the variant names for Ssangryuk is “Parasaeheui” (波羅塞戱, 파라새희), which is the transcription for the Sanskrit name for the game. Chinese Records indicate that the game was played in Korea during the Baekje Dynasty (百濟, 백제, 18BC-660AD), from where it went over to Japan. Ssangryuk gained prominence in Chosun culture, as depicted in the painting by Shin Yunbok (申潤福, 신윤복, 1758-?) above. The custom of playing Ssangryuk died out sometime during the middle of the 20th century in Korea; however, there have been efforts to reintroduce the game to the Korean populace. The game died out in China sometime during the Ming  (明, 명, Myeong, 1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (淸, 청, Cheong, 1644-1912). Rules of the game can be found here ([전통놀이] 쌍륙).


A Reply to Namsu

雨雨三晝, 可憐弼雲繁杏, 銷作紅泥. 若早知如此, 豈嫌招邀作一日消閒耶?
우우삼주, 가련필운번행, 삭작홍니. 약조지여차, 기혐초요작일일소문야?

It has rained and rained for three days. I feel pity for the overgrown apricot flowers of Pirundong (弼雲洞, 필운동): they have fallen making the mud turn red. Had I known earlier that it would be like this, why would I have disdained inviting and meeting to make do away with one day’s boredom?

永日悄坐, 獨弄雙陸, 右手爲甲, 左手爲乙, 而呼五呼百之際, 猶有物我之間,
영일초좌, 독롱쌍륙, 우수위갑, 좌수위을, 이호오호백지제, 유유물아지간,

On long days, when I wearisome sit, I play Ssangryuk (雙陸, 쌍륙) alone. My right hand becomes “Gap” (甲, 갑); my left hand becomes “Eul” (乙, 을); and when I call “five” and call “hundred,” there still is a differentiation between the object (物, 물) and me.

勝負關心, 翻成對頭, 吾未知吾, 於吾兩手, 亦有所私焉歟?
승부관심, 번성대두, 오미지오, 어오량수, 역유소사언여?

Since in victory and defeat I have an interest, I alternately prepare and confront the opponent. I do not know myself and concerning my two hands also do I have favoritism therein?

彼兩手者, 旣分彼此, 則可以謂物, 而吾於彼, 亦可謂造物者, 猶不勝私扶抑如此?
피량수자, 기부피차, 즉가이위물, 이오어피, 역가위조물자, 유불승사부억여차?

If those two hands have already been separated into this and that, then they can be called objects. And I concerning them can be called their creator, but nonetheless is not prevailing over favored assistance and favoritism like this?

昨日之雨, 杏雖衰落, 桃則夭好. 吾又未知彼大造物者, 扶桃抑杏, 亦有所私於彼者歟?
작일지우, 행수쇠락, 도즉요호. 오우미지피대조물자, 부도억행, 역유소사어파자여?

In yesterday’s rain, although the apricot trees became weak and sank, the peach trees were intact and in good shape. I again did not know their creator, who helped the peach tree but suppressed the apricot tree, but is that also from favoritism concerning those [trees]?

忽見簾榜, 語燕喃喃, 所謂誨汝知之, 知之爲知之. 不覺失笑曰:
홀견렴방, 어연남남, 소위회여지지, 지지위지지. 불각실소왈:

Suddenly, I saw next to the hanging screen, a talking swallow, chattering and cackling, saying, “I have taught you what knowledge is. To know is to know it.” Not sensing and without realizing laughing, I said,

“汝好讀書. 然不有博奕者乎! 猶賢乎已!” 吾年未四十, 已白頭, 其神情意態, 已如老人.
“여호독서. 연불유박혁자호! 유현호이!” 오년미사십, 이백두, 기신정의태, 기여로인.

“You like to read books. However, you do not have Chess or Baduk! Nevertheless, you are wise!” My age is not yet forty, but already I have a white head. Its soul’s condition is already like that of an old man.

燕客譆笑, 此老人消遣訣也. 此際淸翰忽墜, 足慰我思, 而紫帖柔毫, 甚似文谷, 雅則有之風骨全乏.
연객희소, 차로인소견결야. 차제청한홀추, 족위아사, 이자첩유호, 심사문곡, 아즉유지풍골전핍.

The swallow guest joyously laughed. This is the key to [how] an old man passes his time. At this time, a clear letter suddenly fell and sufficiently consoled my mind. However, the fine calligraphy on the purple card was extremely similar to that of Mungok’s (文谷, 문곡) and was elegant and had the vigor of style that all others lacked.

此龍谷尹尙書雖爲搢紳楷範, 終非大家法意也. 不可不知.
차룡곡윤상서수위진신해범, 종비대가법의야. 불가불지.

This is, even though Yun Sangseo (尹尙書, 윤상서) of Yonggok (龍谷, 용곡) became the model of rising through government posts, in the end not the method of calligraphy of an expert. This must be known.

靜存窩記, 今承來索, 始乃省覺, 平生然諾向人易, 已遭此迫隘, 殊令悔赧然.
정존와기, 금승래색, 시내성각, 평생연낙향인이, 이조차박애, 수령회난연.

The Jeongjonwagi (靜存窩記, 정존와기), now to receive and later to find, I just have begun to understand and realize. Since, all throughout life to consent as so to another person was easy, to have already suffered this tight pressure especially made [me] regretful and embarrassed.

今旣省存, 謹當靜構, 而第其遲速, 有未可料. 不宣.
금기성존, 근당정구, 이제기지속, 유미가료. 불선.

Now, I already have considered and inquired, and sincerely and rightfully with composure framed [the letter]. Only, however, I cannot count how slowly or quickly [the letter will arrive]. I cannot announce [everything in this letter].


  • The letter is addressed to Pak Namsu (朴南壽, 박남수, 1758-1787), presumably an acquaintance of Pak Jiweon. Pak Namsu failed the civil examination after numerous tries and lived his life as a destitute.
  •  Pirundong (弼雲洞, 필운동) is an area in Seoul located just west of the Gyeongbokgung Palace (景福宮, 경복궁).
  • “Gap” (甲, 갑) and “Eul” (乙, 을) in this case refer to “first” and “second” respectively.
  • The swallow is referencing a line from the Pursuance of Governance (爲政, 위정) Chapter of Confucius’ Analects (論語, 논어, Non’eo):

子曰: “由! 誨女知之乎? 知之爲知之, 不知爲不知, 是知也.”
자왈: “유! 회여지지호? 지지위지지, 불지위불지, 시지야.”

The Master said, “You (由, 유, Yu)! Should I teach you what knowledge is? To know it is to know it; to know not is to known not. This is knowledge.

  • Pak Jiwon’s reply to the swallow is also a reference from Analects from the Yang Huo (陽貨, 양화, Yanghwa) Chapter:

子曰: “飽食終日, 無所用心, 難矣哉! 不有博弈者乎,  爲之猶賢乎已.”
자왈: “포식종일, 무소용심, 난의재! 불유박혁자호, 위지유현호이.”

The Master said, “He who has stuffed and gorged all day without using the mind [to good] is difficult [to deal with]! Are there not any Baduk or Chess players? To pursue these games would still be better than pursuing nothing at all. “

  • Mungok (文谷, 문곡) is the pen name Kim Suhang (金壽恒, 김수항, 1629-1689), a Chosun literati bureaucrat.
  • Phrases such as 不宣(불선) are added to the end of letters written in Classical Chinese, in order to state that the author has much more to say but cannot fit everything into the letter.


  • 對頭(대두) – Refers to facing an enemy.
  • 喃喃(남남) – Refers to the sound of swallows chattering.
  • 失笑(실소) – To laugh without realization.
  • 博奕(박혁) – Refers to Janggi (將棋, 장기) and Baduk respectively.
  • 風骨(풍골) – Vigor of style.
  • 迫隘(박애) – Tight pressure.
  • 赧然(난연) – To be embarrassed (창피하다).
  • 料(료) – Here, to count (헤아리다).