Tag Archives: Korean Culture

Mount Baekbyeong (Source)

Mount Baekbyeong (白屛山, 백병산) in Gangweon Province (江原道, 강원도) (Source)

Jeong Yakyong (丁若鏞, 정약용, 1762-1836) was a late Chosun dynasty philosopher, bureaucrat, poet, and civil engineer. He was of the Naju Jeong Clan (羅州丁氏, 나주정씨); his courtesy names (字, 자) were Miyong (美鏞, 미용) and Songbo (甫, 송보); his pen names (號, 호) were Dasan (茶山, 다산), Sammi (三眉, 삼미), and Yeoyudang (與猶堂, 여유당), among several others; and his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Mundo (文度, 문도). He was born to a gentry family in Namyang (南楊, 남양) in Gyeonggi Province (京畿道, 경기도), just east of Seoul. In 1783 at the age of 21, Jeong Yakyong passed his first civil service examination. Thereafter, he continued his studies at the Sungkyunkwan (成均館, 성균관) and also rose through the bureaucratic ranks. Through his studies, he became introduced to Western Learning (西學, 서학), i.e., Catholicism, through fellow scholar Yi Byeok (李蘗, 이벽, 1754-1786). While there is no proof that Jeong Yakyong himself had ever converted, some of his close family members and friends were baptized into the Catholic Church. His associations with early Korean Catholics and with the Southerners’ Faction (南人派, 남인파) would later embroil him. Beginning in 1791, members of the rivaling Old Doctrines Faction (老論派, 노론파) started accusing him of being Catholic, an assertion that he repeatedly denied. For some time, however, Jeong Yakyong was still favored on the royal court. In 1792, for instance, already known for his knowledge of Western civil engineering techniques, he was asked to supervise the construction of Hwaseong (華城, 화성), a fortress in Suwon (水原, 수원). His fortunes changed with the Shinyu Year Persecutions (辛酉敎難, 신유교난) in 1801, when Jeong Yakyong was arrested and banished for his associations with Catholics. He was released in 1818, but remained out of politics and passed away in 1836 near Seoul. 

From an early age, Jeong Yakyong was recognized for his Classical Chinese composition. By the age of 10, he had already amassed a collection of his own poetry. During his banishment, he devoted himself to studying Confucian classics and started writing several notable works, including Remaining Thoughts on Managing the Nation (經世遺表, 경세유표) and Mind of Governing the People (牧民心書, 목민심서). It was also during this time that Jeong Yakyong wrote several Lyric Poetry or Ci (詞, 사).  The poem below was probably written when he was banished to Gangweon Province (江原道, 강원도). In it, Jeong Yakyong expresses his desire to return to his hometown.

水調歌頭 수조가두
思鄕 사향

To the Tune of Prelude to the Water Melodies:
Longing for Home

瀟洒粤溪水 소쇄월계수 平仄仄平仄
澹蕩白屛山 담탕백병산 仄仄仄平平(韻)
我家茅屋寄在 아가모옥기재 仄平平仄仄仄
煙靄杳茫間 연애묘망간 平仄仄平平(韻)
欲與雲鴻高擧 욕여운홍고거 仄仄平平平仄
怪有重巒疊嶂 괴유중만첩장 仄仄平平仄仄
不許爾同還 불허이동환 仄仄仄平平(韻)
一醉落花底 일취락화저 仄仄仄平仄
歸夢繞沙灣 귀몽요사만 平仄仄平平(韻)

Clear and pure are the waters of Weolgye (粤溪, 월계);
Placid and quiet is Mount Baekbyeong (白屛山, 백병산).
In my home, a thatched shack, I temporarily reside.
Amid the wide and expansive clouds and mist,
I would like to ascend on high with the geese of the clouds.
But strangely, there are arrayed peaks and layered cliffs,
Not permitting to return together with you.
Once inebriated, upon the bed of fallen leaves,
Dreams of returning home surround sandy bay.

  • 瀟洒(소쇄) – Alliterating binome (疊聲聯綿辭, 첩성연면사) meaning “to be clear and pure.”

釣魚子 조어자 仄平仄
塵網外 진망외 平仄仄
十分閒 십분한 仄平平(韻)
昔年何事 석년하사 仄平平仄
狂走漂泊抵衰顔 광주표박저쇠안 平仄平仄仄平平(韻)
風裏一團黃帽 풍리일단황모 平仄仄平平仄
雨外一尖靑蒻 우외일열청약 仄仄仄仄平仄
此個勝簪綸 차개승잠륜 仄仄仄平平(韻)
幾日湖亭上 기일호정상 仄仄平平仄
高枕看波瀾 고침간파란 平仄仄平平(韻)

The fishermen,
Outside the dusty world’s snare,
Are much at leisure.
In past years, for what reason,
Did they crazily run about and drift astray only to come to have senile appearances?
Within the winds, one round, yellow cap;
Exterior to the raindrops, one pointed, green reeded hat.
These items surpass hairpins and silk clothing.
For how many days, atop the lake’s pavilion,
Upon a tall pillow, will I be able to gaze the waves and billows?

  • 黃帽(황모) – Literally “yellow hat.” Refers to headgear worn by boatmen.


  • The poem follows the tune Prelude to the Water Melodies (Shuidiao Getou). It has two verses of ninety-five characters in total (雙調九十五字). The former verse has nine lines with four plain tone rimes (前段九句四平韻). The latter verse has ten lines with four plain tone rimes (後段十句四平韻). This poem employs near rimes (通韻, 통운). All riming characters, except one, rime with the character 刪(산). The third rime of the second verse 綸(륜) rimes with the character 眞(진). As described in the Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (欽定詞譜, 흠정사보):

雙調九十五字, 前段九句四平韻, 後段十句四平韻

OOOO仄 O仄仄平平(韻) O平平仄 OO平仄仄平平(韻) O仄O平O仄 O仄O平O仄 O仄仄平平(韻) OOO平仄 O仄仄平平(韻)

OOO OO仄 仄O平(韻) O平O仄 O仄O仄仄平平(韻) O仄O平O仄 O仄O平O仄 O仄仄平平(韻) O仄O平仄 O仄仄平平(韻)


Heo Choheui (許楚姬, 허초희, 1563-1589) was a Chosun dynasty poet and artist, better known by her pen name (號, 호) Nanseolheon (蘭雪軒, 난설헌). She was of the Yangcheon Heo Clan (陽川許氏, 양천허씨); Her courtesy name (字, 자) was Gyeongbeon (景樊, 경번). She was born in Gangreung (江陵, 강릉) in Gangweon Province (江原道, 강원도) as the third child in a gentry family. Her younger brother was Heo Gyun (許均, 허균, 1569-1618), the author of the first novel in Hangul, Tale of Hong Gildong (洪吉東傳, 홍길동전). Heo Choheui learned Classical Chinese from a young age and composed her first Classical Chinese poem at the age of 8. She married Kim Seongrip (金誠立, 김성립, 1562-1592), also another member of a gentry class and civil bureaucrat, at the age of 15. But it was not a happy marriage. Because of her ability to write well, Heo Choheui’s husband while literate was embarrassed by his own lack of proficiency, and tried to avoid staying at the household. For the same reasons, her mother-in-law was abusive toward Heo Choheui. Moreover, none of the two children that she bore survived past infancy. Outside the home, her older brother was banished and suddenly passed away in 1588, exacerbating her anguish. To cope with the problems at home and outside, Heo Choheui continued composing poetry and drawing paintings. She passed away at the young age of 27, instructing her younger brother Heo Gyun to burn her writings.

Her brother, however, decided not to destroy Heo Choheui’s writings. After the chaos wrought by the Japanese invasions (1592-1598), Heo Gyun scraped together Heo Choheui’s remaining Classical Chinese poems. Heo Gyun first showed his sister’s poems to Zhu Zhifan (朱之蕃, 주지번, ?-1624), a Chinese emissary who was visiting Korea, asking him to publish her works in China. Zhu Zhifan was greatly impressed by the quality of Heo Choheui’s writings and agreed to do so. Her poems became very popular in China and eventually reached Japan. In Korea, however, Heo Choheui’s works were not initially popular, partly because she was a noble woman. Although literacy was encouraged, women writing poetry in Korea was considered until the 18th and 19th centuries the province of courtesans (妓生, 기생). At any rate, Heo Choheui wrote several Lyric Poetry or Ci (詞, 사), unfortunately only one of which survives. In the passage below, her brother Heo Gyun critiques her lyric poem by comparing it to a rubric to see whether the poem was written properly. This excerpt also gives not only showcases Heo Choheui’s unhappy marriage, but also a sense of how complex Classical Chinese poems can be from a formal and structural perspective. 

娣氏甞自稱作詞, 則合律喜爲小令.
제씨상자칭작사, 즉합률희위소령.

My sister prided herself in writing Lyric Poetry (詞, 사). Following the poetic meter, she joyfully wrote short melodies (小令, 소령).

余意其誑人及見詩餘圖譜, 則句句之傍, 盡圈點以某字,
여의기광인급견시여도보, 즉구구지방, 진권점이모자,

I thought that she was tricking others, so I took a look at the Classifications of Besides-Poetry (詩餘圖譜, 시여도보). There, next to each and every line, there were circular marks for each character.

則全淸全濁某字, 則半淸半濁逐字註音.
즉전청전탁모자, 즉반청반탁축자주음.

Also, there were indications of wholly-clear (全淸, 전청) and wholly-muddy sounds (全濁, 전탁) for each character. Furthermore, there were annotations of sounds following each character for half-clear and half-muddy (半淸半濁, 반청반탁) sounds.

  • This is a reference to pre-modern Chinese phonology. Some Classical Chinese poets followed not only rules on tonal meter (平仄, 평측) and rime (押韻, 압운), but also rules on which types of consonants could be used. (Most did not follow the latter.) There were thirty-six initial consonant sounds (三十六字母, 삼십육자모) in middle Chinese that were classified into the following four categories:
    • 全淸(전청) Wholly Clear Sounds – Referred to unvoiced, unaspirated, obstruent consonants. In middle Chinese, these consonants were 幫[p]·非[f]·端[t]·知[ʈ]·見[k]·精[ts]·心[s]·照[tʂ]·審[ʂ]·曉[x]·影[ʔ]. In Hangul, these consonants originally correspond to ㄱ[g]·ㄷ[d]·ㅂ[b]·ㅅ[s]·ㅈ[dz]·ᇹ[ʔ].
    • 次淸(차청) Partially Clear Sounds – Referred to unvoiced, aspirated, obstruent consonants. In middle Chinese, these consonants were: 滂[pʰ]·敷[fʰ]·透[tʰ]·徹[ʈʰ]·淸[tsʰ]·穿[ʨʰ]·溪[kʰ]. In Hangul, these consonants originally corresponded to ㅋ[k]·ㅌ[t]·ㅍ[p]·ㅊ[tʃ]·ㅎ[h].
    • 全濁(전탁) Wholly Muddy Sounds – Referred to voiced, obstruent consonants. In middle Chinese, these consonants were 竝[pɦ]·奉[fɦ]·定[tɦ]·澄[ʈɦ]·群[kɦ]·從[tsɦ]·邪[sɦ]·牀[ʂɦ∼tʂɦ]·審[ʂɦ]·匣[xɦ]. In Hangul, these consonants originally corresponded to ㄲ[kk]·ㄸ[tt]·ㅃ[pp]·ㅉ[cc]·ㅆ[ss]·ᅘ[hh].
    • 半淸半濁(반청반탁) Half-Clear, Half-Muddy Sounds – Referred to sonorant consonants. In middle Chinese, these consonants were 明[m]·微[ɱ]·泥[n]·娘[ɳ]·疑[ŋ]·喩[j]·來[l] 日·[ɲ]. In Hangul, these consonants originally corresponded to ㄴ[n]·ㅁ[m]·ㆁ[ŋ]·ㅇ[ø]·ㄹ[l]·ㅿ[z]. Also referred to as 次濁(차탁) and 不淸不濁(불청불탁).

試取所作符之, 則或有五字之誤, 或有三字之誤, 其大相舛謬者, 則無一焉.
시취소작부지, 즉혹유오자지오, 혹유삼자지오. 기대상걸류자, 즉무일언.

I tested [and juxtaposed her compositions] against what was marked [in the rubrics]. Some had errors in five characters; others had errors in three characters. But there was not even one that had significant discrepancies or errors.

乃知天才俊邁, 俯而就之, 故其用切約, 而成就如此.
내지천재준매, 부이취지, 고기용절약, 이성취여차.

Then, I realized her endowed genius and incredible talent, that she endeavored in this while holding her head low, and thus was modest while successfully accomplished like this.

其漁家傲一篇, 緫合音律而一字不合. 詞曰:
기오가오일편, 총합음률이일자불하. 사왈:

One of her compositions of the tune, Idling at the Fisherman’s Abode (漁家傲, 어가오), perfectly matched the poetic tones and meter, and not even one character was in disagreement with the rubrics. The lyric poem composition went:

漁家傲 어가오

To the Tune of Idling at a Fisherman’s Abode:
Easterly Winds in the Courtyard

庭院東風惻惻 정원동풍측측 平仄平平仄仄(韻)
墻頭一樹梨花白 장두일수리화백 平平仄仄平平仄(韻)
斜倚玉欄思故國 사기옥란사고국 平仄仄平平仄仄(韻)
歸不得 귀불득 平仄仄(韻)
連天芳草萋萋色 련천방초처처색 平平平仄平平仄(韻)

Within the courtyard, the easterly winds are sorrowful and doleful.
Atop the walls, one tree’s pear blossoms turn white.
Leaning upon the jade railings, I long for the old country.
But return, I cannot.
Connecting with the heavens, the flowery grass are dense and thick in color.

羅幙綺牕扃寂寞 라막기총경적막 平仄仄平平仄仄(韻)
雙行粉淚霑朱臆 쌍행분루점주억 平平平仄平平仄(韻)
江北江南煙樹隔 강북강남연수격 平仄平平平仄仄(韻)
情何極 정하극 平平仄(韻)
山長水遠無消息 산장수원무소식 平平仄仄平平仄(韻)

The lustrous curtains and silken window block me out, alone and lonesome.
Two trails of powdered tears run down, dousing my red heart.
North of the river and south of the river, smoke rises amid the trees.
How extreme are these emotions?
The mountain are long and the waters are far, but there is no news.

朱字當用半濁字, 而朱字則全濁. 才如蘇長公者, 亦强不中律, 況其下者乎?
주자당용반탁자, 이주자즉전탁. 재여소장공자, 역강불중률, 황기하자호?

The character 朱(주) should have been a character with a half-muddy sound (sonorant), but the character 朱(주) is a wholly-muddy sound (voiced). Even one with talent like Su Shi (蘇軾, 소식, 1037-1101), who also did not conform to the rules, how much more so is one inferior to him?


  • The poem follows the tune Idling at the Fisherman’s Abode (Yujiaao). It has two verses of sixty two characters in total (雙調六十二字). The former and the latter verses each have five lines with five oblique tone rimes (前後段各五句, 五仄韻). The poem uses near rimes (通韻, 통운). All the rimes are near rimes (通韻, 통운) of the entering tone (入聲, 입성) ending in the terminal consonant -k(ㄱ). As described in the Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (欽定詞譜, 흠정사보):

雙調六十二字, 前後段各五句, 五仄韻
OOOO平O仄(韻) O平O仄O平仄(韻) O仄O平平仄仄(韻) 平O仄(韻) OOOO平平仄(韻)
O仄O平平仄仄(韻) O平OO平平仄(韻) O仄O平平O仄(韻) OO仄(韻) O平O仄平平仄(韻)

  • I have not been able to find the work Classifications of Besides-Poetry (詩餘圖譜, 시여도보) that Heo Gyun used to check his sister’s compositions. The first example for the rubric in Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics, however, shows the character 年(년), a sonorant consonant, in the same position as 朱(주).



The Korean Constitutional Court ruled 6-3 that the limits on Chinese characters permitted in personal names (人名用漢字, 인명용 한자) are constitutional. These restrictions were first introduced in 1990, as family records maintained by the government were being digitized. The original list only included 2,731 characters. Over the years, the Court has gradually increased the number of permissible characters to 8,142 characters as of last year. Korean Family Law specifies that only Hangul and “commonly used” Chinese characters are permitted in personal names and that the Constitutional Court is to define which characters are allowable.

The restrictions on Chinese characters allowed in personal names was very controversial when first introduced and has been challenged a number of times ever since. In the most recent case, the challenger attempted to use the character 嫪(로) (“to long for”) to name their child. Since the character was outside the list of permitted characters, they were only allowed to record the name in Hangul. The family sued and argued that the restrictions on characters are unconstitutional, because they are a restraint on the freedom to name one’s child and their right to pursuit of happiness.

The majority of the Court, however, disagreed and concluded that the restrictions are constitutional. They noted that the number of people who do not know Chinese characters has increased, and that using rare characters will lead to errors in keeping digital records and recognizing people’s names, causing inconvenience for people with complicated names. The majority added that restrictions on Chinese characters permitted in personal names are “unavoidable” due to technological constraints. The minority countered, pointing out that any such constraints in digitizing records that might have been true in 1990 are no longer existent.

Currently, if any part of a name is not one of the Chinese characters on the list, then it is considered a “pure Hangul” name. Korean identification cards in such instances will only give the Hangul transcriptions, not Hanja and Hangul mixed. As such, although the percentage of Koreans with “pure Hangul” names has been reportedly increasing, this figure might be inflated. A subset of such names are intended to be combinations of “pure Korean” and Chinese characters. Earlier this year, a couple tried registering their daughter’s name as “贇별(윤별).” Even though 贇 is on the list of permissible characters, the couple was forced to register only in Hangul, because it was a mix of Hangul and Hanja. Another subset are cases like the one above, in which at least one character in the name is not on the list of permitted characters. The vast majority of Korean names are still entirely in Hanja.

(On a related note, I would like to also point out that “pure Korean” names in use now, while sometimes haughtily presented as “traditional,” are not anything like actual, historically used “pure Korean” names.)



New Tales of the Golden Terrapin (金鰲新話, 금오신화) (Source)

Kim Shiseup (金時習, 김시습, 1435-1493) was a Chosun dynasty Confucian and Buddhist scholar. He was of the Gangreung Kim Clan (江陵金氏, 강릉김씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Yeolgyeong (悅卿, 열경); his pen name (號, 호) was Maeweoldang (梅月堂, 매월당) among many others; his dharma name (法名, 법명) was Seoljam (雪岑, 설잠); his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Cheonggan (淸簡, 청간). Born to a military family in Seoul, Kim Shiseup was immediately recognized as a child prodigy. He learned how to read at eight-months old and composed his first Classical Chinese poem at the age of three. (I suspect Kim Shiseup may have been a high-functioning autistic savant, as he suffered from stuttering all his life and was not very sociable.) News of his genius soon traveled around Seoul and reached the court. When Kim Shiseup was just five years old, King Sejong (世宗, 세종, 1397-1450, r. 1418-1450) invited him to the Royal Secretariat (承政院, 승정원) to write poetry. While the King did not personally meet him, he gave Kim Shiseup silk cloth as a gift. Because of this monumental event, he received the nickname “the five year old (五歲, 오세).” Others poking fun of him would later twist his nickname to “arrogant toward the world (傲世, 오세)” as a pun. In 1452, after the three-year mourning period for his mother, Kim Shiseup married a woman from another gentry family, but still feeling downcast decided to enter a Buddhist monastery to study Buddhism. While at the monastery, he heard news that Prince Suyang (首陽大君, 수양대군) had usurped the throne from his nephew King Danjong (端宗, 단종, 1441-1457, r. 1452-1455) to become King Sejo (世祖, 세조, 1417-1468, r. 1455-1468). He lamented the situation, and burned all his writings and books. Kim Shiseup then received tonsure and became a Buddhist monk. Since he survived King Sejo’s purges, he would later become known as one of the “Six Surviving Ministers (生六臣, 생육신).” For some number of years, Kim Shiseup traveled vagabond around the countryside, but eventually became a hermit on Mount Geumo (山, 금오산) near Gyeongju (慶州, 경주). In 1471, after King Sejo and his successor passed away, he decided to move to a mountain near the capital. Ten years later in 1481, Kim Shiseup gave up being a Buddhist monk (還俗, 환속) and married again. Soon after, however, when Lady Yoon (淑儀尹氏, 숙의 윤씨, 1455-1482) was dethroned for scratching the face of the monarch, Kim Shiseup again fled from the capital to wander around the countryside. He passed away in 1493 from illness with no children. 

Throughout his life, he was renowned for his poetry and writing. During his vagabond years on Mount Geumo from 1465 to 1471, Kim Shiseup wrote several works on Confucianism and Buddhism in an attempt to resolve the two, when the latter was deemed by many of his contemporary intellectuals as heterodox. It was also during this time period that he authored what is considered to be the first ever Korean novel, the New Tales of the Golden Terrapin (金鰲新話, 금오신화) . Written in Classical Chinese, this work is a collection of six stories, containing a mix of prose and poetry. Two of the poems in this novel are Lyric Poetry or Ci (詞, 사), one of which is from the first story in the novel, Playing Jeopo at the Temple of Ten-Thousand Fortunes (萬福寺摴蒲記, 만복사저포기). In this story, an old man named Yang (梁生, 양생), who lost his parents at an early age, laments his bachelor status. At a nearby Buddhist temple, Yang bets with Buddha to grant him a wife, throwing betting sticks used in the board-game Jeopo (摴蒲, 저포), and wins. The next day, a young woman shows up to the temple to supplicate for her parents that were killed in a raid by Japanese pirates (倭寇, 왜구). They both converse and welcome each other, and become husband and wife.

生雖疑怪, 談笑淸婉, 儀貌舒遲, 意必貴家處子, 踰墻而出, 亦不之疑也.
생수의괴, 담소청완, 의모서지, 의필귀가처자, 유장이출, 역불지의야.

Although Master [Yang] doubted and thought it was strange — [the young handmaiden’s] laughter was clear and elegant; her appearance as leisurely and composed –, he thought to himself that she must have come from a rich household, and stepped over a wall to escape. He then stopped doubting.

觴進, 命侍兒, 歌以侑之, 謂生曰: “兒定仍舊曲, 請自製一章以侑, 如何?”
상진, 명시아, 가이유지, 위생왈: “아정잉구곡, 청자제일장이유, 여하?”

With a chalice of wine put forward, he directed the handmaiden to sing to enliven [the aura]. Calling Master [Yang], she said, “This young one can only fit to old tunes. Please write one verse to suggest for enlivening [the aura]. Would you?”

生欣然應之曰: “諾.” 乃製滿江紅一闋, 命侍兒歌之, 曰:
생흔연응지왈: “락.” 내제만강홍일결, 명시아가지, 왈:

Master Yang was enthralled and responded, “Certainly!” He then wrote one verse of the tune Filling the River Red (滿江紅, 만강홍) and directed the young handmaiden to sing it:


To the Tune of Filling the River Red:
Sorrowful and Doleful, Chilly Spring

惻惻春寒 측측춘한 仄仄平平
羅衫薄 라삼박 平平仄
幾回腸斷 기회창단 仄平平仄(韻)
金鴨冷 금압랭 平仄仄
晩山凝黛 만산응대 仄平平仄
暮雲張繖 모운장산 仄平平仄(韻)
錦帳鴛衾無與伴 금장원금무여반 平仄平平平仄仄(韻)
寶釵半倒吹龍管 보채반도취룡관 仄平仄仄平平仄(韻)
可惜許 가석허 仄仄仄
光陰易跳丸 광음이도환 平平仄仄平
中情懣 중정만 平平仄(韻)

Sorrowful and doleful, the spring is chilly;
My silk jacket is thin.
How many times have I had my liver cut?
My golden duck-shaped burner grows cold;
Eventide mountains congeal as if eyebrow paint;
Dusk clouds open up as though an umbrella.
Upon silken curtains and feathered quilts, I have no companions to be together with:
The precious hairpin half-turned calls for the dragon-shaped pipe.
Oh, how pitiful this is!
Light and darkness easily bolt away as if a pellet.
My inner emotions remain dejected.

  • 腸斷(창단) – Literally, “to cut a liver.” Refers to heartbreak.
  • 金鴨(금압) – Literally, “metal duck” or “golden duck.” Refers to an incense burner in the shape of a duck.
  • 光陰(광음) – Literally “light and shadow.” Refers to time.

燈無焰 등무염 平平仄
銀屛短 은병단 平平仄(韻)
徒收淚 도수루 平平仄
誰從款 수종관 平平仄(韻)
喜今宵鄒律 희금소추률 仄平平平仄
一吹回暖 일취회난 仄平平仄(韻)
破我佳城千古恨 파아가성천고한 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
細歌金縷傾銀椀 세가금루경은완 仄平平仄平平仄(韻)
悔昔時 회석시 仄仄平
抱恨蹙眉兒 포한축미아 仄仄仄平平
眠孤館 면고관 平平仄(韻)

The lamp has no flame;
The silver folding-screen is short.
My lonely collected tears,
Who will follow and like?
Jovial, tonight’s Chu’s tunes (鄒律, 추률),
Once played, bring back the warmth,
And smash the resentments of the thousands of ancients in our beautiful town.
The delicate song, the Golden Silk-thread (金縷曲, 금루곡), overturns my silver bowl.
Regretting the times of the past,
I embrace resentment, with a worried frown.
And I slumber in my lonely room.


  • The poem follows the a variant of tune, Filling the River Red (Manjianghong). The variant is Spring Waters Connects with the Heavens (春水連天, 춘수연천). Its rubric has two verses of ninety three characters in total (雙調九十三字). The former verse has eight lines with five oblique tone rimes (前段八句五仄韻). The latter verse has ten lines with six oblique tone rimes (後段十句六仄韻). The oblique tone rime used throughout the poem is 旱(한). As described in the Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (欽定詞譜, 흠정사보):

雙調九十三字, 前段八句五仄韻, 後段十句六仄韻

平仄平平, 平平仄, 仄平平仄(韻), 平仄仄, 仄平平仄, 仄平平仄(韻), 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻), 仄平仄仄平平仄(韻), 仄仄平, 平仄仄平平, 平平仄(韻)

平平仄, 平平仄(韻), 平仄仄, 平平仄(韻), 仄平平平仄, 仄平平仄(韻), 平仄平平平仄仄(韻), 仄平平仄平平仄(韻), 仄仄平, 仄仄仄平平, 平平仄(韻)



Mount Chiak (雉岳山, 치악산) in Gangweon Province (江原道, 강원도) (Source)

Won Cheonseok (元天錫, 원천석, 1330-?) was a Neo-Confucian scholar that lived during late Goryeo dynasty (高麗, 고려, 918-1392) and early Chosun dynasty (朝鮮, 조선, 1392-1897) periods. He was of the Weonju Won Clan (原州元氏, 원주원씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Jajeong (子正, 자정); and his pen name (號, 호) was Ungok (谷, 운곡). Recognized for his abilities from a young age, Won Cheonseok passed the Goryeo dynasty civil service examination. He, however, did not take any positions in government, realizing that the 400 year-old Goryeo dynasty was waning. When Yi Seonggye (李成桂, 이성계, 1335-1408) took power from the royal court, Won Cheonseok left the capital of Gaeseong (開城, 개성) and rusticated to Mount Chiak (雉岳山, 치악산) in present day Gangweon Province (江原道, 강원도). There, he built a farm that he worked himself, supported his parents, and wrote several works lamenting the downfall of the Goryeo dynasty. Sometime before his departure, Won Cheonseok was the tutor of Yi Bangwon (李芳遠, 이방원, 1367-1422), who would later become King Taejong of Chosun (太宗, 태종, r. 1400-1418), the third monarch of the Chosun dynasty. Because of this, after King Taejong ascended to the throne in 1400, the King requested Won Cheonseok to join his court several times, but each time he refused. When the King tried to personally visit him, Weon Cheonseok fled deep into the woods of the mountain. Unable to meet him, King Taejong instead went up to his house, and bestowed his grandmother a present and granted the position of county magistrate (현감, 縣監) to his son.

He continued writing histories and poems grieving over the fall of the Goryeo dynasty. While Won Cheonseok was renowned for his literary talents, because his writings often conflicted with the official histories, many were intentionally burned in later generations. Among Won Cheonseok’s surviving writings, however, are a few Lyric Poetry or Ci (詞, 사). The poem below was most likely written during his self-imposed exile on Mount Chiak. In it, Won Cheonseok reminiscences about his past close to the former royal court and despairs over his own current seclusion by likening his thoughts and feelings to that of a lonely traveler longing for his home village and in search for a place of belonging.

蝶戀花 접련화
處 처

To the Tune of the Butterfly Endearing the Flowers:
A Place

客裏應難爰得所 객리응난원득소 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
鄕思悽然 향사처연 平仄平平
夢繞秋蓮渚 몽요추련저 仄平平平仄(韻)
日暮長安愁幾許 일모장안수기허 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
羨他孤鳥高飛去 선타고조고비거 仄平平仄平平仄(韻)

To a sojourner, it is surely difficult to obtain a location.
Longing for the home village is wistful:
Dreams of walking around the autumn’s lotus by the riverbank
And of the sun setting upon the Jang’an (長安, 장안), how many times has he pondered?
He envies that lonely bird flying high in the air and away.

Traveler • within • should • to be difficult • henceforth • to obtain • place
Village • longing • despair • grammatical particle
To dream • to walk about • autumn • lotus flowers • riverbank
Sun • to set • long • peace • to worry over • how many • grammatical particle
To envy • that • lonely • bird • highly • to fly • to leave

  • 長安(장안) – Refers to Chang’an, which is present day Xi’an (西安, 서안) and served as the capital of many Chinese dynasties. Korean poets often used this term to refer to the capital.

我亦凉凉無伴侶 아역량량무반려 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
閒寂幽居 한적유거 平仄仄平
只有山禽語 지유산금어 仄仄平平仄(韻)
忽憶前遊多意緖 홀억전유다의서 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
悠悠往事尋無處 유유왕사심무처 平平仄仄平平仄(韻)

I too am alone and lonesome, with neither friends nor companions.
From my free and silent, remote abode,
All there is are the birds on the mountain chattering.
Suddenly, I reminisce about my prior journeys with many wound-up aims:
Far and distant, past events cannot be found in any place.

I • also • alone • alone • to not have • friends • companions
Leisure •  silence • seclusion • residence
Only • to have • mountain • birds • talking
Suddenly • to remember • previous • journeys • many • intentions • threaded
Far • far • to leave • affairs • to find • to not have • place

  • 意緖(의서) – Refers to complicated, multifaceted thoughts.
  • 悠悠(유유) – While the meaning of this word in modern Korean is largely limited to “to be at leisure,” here it refers to something that is very far away.


  • This poem follows the tune the Butterfly Endearing the Flowers (Dielianhua). Its rubric has two verses of sixty characters in total (雙調六十字). The former and latter verses each have five lines with four oblique tones (前後段各五句, 四仄韻). The oblique tone rime used throughout the poem is 語(어). As described in the Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (欽定詞譜, 흠정사보):

雙調六十字, 前後段各五句, 四仄韻
O仄O平平仄仄(韻) O仄平平 O仄平平仄(韻) O仄O平平仄仄(韻) O平O仄平平仄(韻)
O仄O平平仄仄(韻) O仄平平 O仄平平仄(韻) O仄O平平仄仄(韻) O平O仄平平仄(韻)


(欽定詞譜, 흠정사보) (Source)

Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (欽定詞譜, 흠정사보) (Source)

I am only a hobbyist in Classical Chinese. As such, I have large blind spots that those formally educated in the subject might not have. For example, last year I was introduced to Lyric Poetry or Ci (詞, 사) by a subscriber and fellow blogger, Khoái Nhị Trà (快貳茶, 쾌이차). Previously, whenever I had come across them, I thought they were Archaic Style Poetry (古體詩, 고체시) in contrast to the familiar Recent Style Poetry (近體詩, 근체시). I did not realize that Lyric Poetry constituted such a substantial genre in Classical Chinese poetry and was marked by a definite structure.

To learn more, I started reading online sources in Korean about this genre and an anthology of Song dynasty Lyric Poetry with side-by-side original text and Korean translation. There were some aspects that I found familiar from my readings about Recent Style Poetry, but even more aspects that were new and different. As I became more and more accustomed with Lyric Poetry, I started wondering about how Korean poets had composed in this form. Surprisingly, I found that there are not that many Korean sources online on Lyric Poetry by Korean poets — at least not in an organized manner.

I thought it would be beneficial for others interested in this subject as well as my own further acquisition of the genre to examine Lyric Poetry by Korean poets using this blog. In the subsequent series of posts, I will explain the structure and form of Lyric Poetry and translate works from the following poets:

  • King Seonjong of Goryeo (高麗宣宗, 고려선종, 1049-1094, r. 1083-1094)
  • Yi Gyubo (李奎報, 이규보, 1164-1241)
  • Yi Jehyeon (李齊賢, 이제현, 1287-1367)
  • Won Cheonseok (元天錫, 원천석, 1338-?)
  • Kim Shiseup (金時習, 김시습, 1435-1493)
  • Heo Nanseolheon (許蘭雪軒, 허난설헌,  1563-1589)
  • Jeong Yakyong (丁若鏞, 정약용, 1762-1836)
  • Kim Yunshik (金允植, 김윤식, 1835-1922)

I might add or subtract authors from this series. Since I am fairly new to Lyric Poetry, any suggestions to my translations or any other form of assistance will be welcome.


Hangul nationalists protesting at the Korean Constitutional Court, which held a public hearing on the Korean government’s “Hangul-Only” Policy dating back to the military dictatorship period. (Source)


One rhetoric that is often employed by Korean Hangul supremacists against Hanja is that Chinese characters are somehow a Japanese legacy. Just to give to examples, the statistic that Sino-Korean words account for 60-70% of the Korean vocabulary is routinely denounced as a Japanese fabrication implanted by the Japanese colonial administration and Hanja-Hangul mixed script is often condemned as a Japanese creation imposed upon the Korean populace — presumably because of its similarity to modern Japanese orthography. While both are demonstrably false, this type of rhetoric is so common that one could easily come away with the impression that Hanja is a Japanese creation from reading their materials.

More distressingly, these baseless assertions can be found from people of relatively respectable positions in Korean society. One notable example is the head of the Hangul Society (한글학회), one of the most influential and well-established Korean language associations, who shares similar sentiments:

한자병기는 일제가 심어 놓은 민족의식 말살 교육정책의 찌꺼기. 지금 일본이 큰소리치는 것은 한국을 너무 잘 알기 때문이다. 일본이 가르친 대로의 친일의 뿌리가 득세하고 있기 때문이다. 한글 관련 사업을 좀 해보려고 하면 친일세력들이 들어와서 판을 흐트려 놓는다…

Hanja-Hangul mixed script is a leftover of the educational policy planted by the Japanese to obliterate our racial identity. Right now, the Japanese shout so loudly because they know Korea very well. It is because the pro-Japanese collaborators who have done as the Japanese have taught them have gained power. If you intend to work on Hangul-related manners, these powerful pro-Japanese collaborators will shake you down…

Remember, this is not some random troll in a dark corner of the Internet. This is the head of a major Korean language association spewing conspiratorial rantings. And he is not an isolated case. Hangul supremacists can be found at protests screaming at the top of their longs accusing those who want to expand Hanja education as being pro-Japanese collaborators. Professors from top universities give interviews on television shows stating the same, minus the hyperventilation.

Ironically, Hangul supremacists will not condemn actual collaborators that they perceive contributed to the advancement of Hangul. No, they brazenly genuflect in front of them. For instance, they praise Yi Gwangsu (李光洙, 이광수, 1892-1950) for being the “Father of Modern Korean Literature” and one of the earliest proponents of the “pure Korean script.” Hangul supremacists happily overlook the fact that he was a zealous supporter of Japanese policies for assimilating Koreans. Even hyper-nationalist North Korea does not mind his collaborations with the Japanese colonial government, and has enshrined him at a cemetery in Pyongyang with other Korean independence activists.

This dissonance partly has to do with their view that Hangul is an embodiment of “pure” Korean-ness, under which the fact that the Japanese would have had any hand in the script is unfathomable. Any efforts to aid Hangul is deified and any attempts at expanding Hanja is unforgivable perfidy.

A Brief History of the Development of Korean Spelling Rules

But Hangul too has been heavily influenced by Japanese colonial rule. To get of sense of the degree of influence, today’s Korean spelling rules are almost identical from the ones promulgated by the Japanese colonial General Government. (While this fact might be lost on many Hangul supremacists, most Korean sources on this subject do not deny this.) A look at how Korean spelling developed from its inception through the early modern period will make this point evident.

Dongguk Jeongun

A Chinese character dictionary arranged by tone and rime, the Proper Rimes of the Eastern Country (東國正韻, 동국정운) was one of the very first works published in the Korean alphabet. The still-in-use ㅉ and now-obsolete ㆆ (glottal stop) were originally intended for transcribing Korean and Mandarin pronunciations of Chinese characters. (Source)

Korean Spelling from King Sejong to the Late 19th Century

In 1446, King Sejong introduced Hangul with the publication of Proper Sounds to Instruct the People (訓民正音, 훈민정음). This work laid out twenty-eight letters. In order, they were:

  • Consonants (17): ㄱ (g), ㅋ (k), ㆁ (ng), ㄷ (d), ㅌ (t), ㄴ (n), ㅂ (b), ㅍ (p), ㅁ (m), ㅈ (j), ㅊ (ch), ㅅ (s), ㆆ (ʔ, glottal stop), ㅎ (h), ㅇ (null), ㄹ (r/l), and ㅿ (z).
  • Vowels (11): ㆍ (aw), ㅡ (eu), ㅣ(i), ㅗ (o), ㅏ (a), ㅜ (u), ㅓ (eo), ㅛ (yo), ㅑ (ya), ㅠ (yu), and ㅕ (yeo)

The work also explicated how each letter is to be pronounced and how the letters are to be combined to form syllable blocks. It even specified provisions for sounds that did not exist in native Korean, but Sino-Korean and vernacular Chinese (e.g., ㅱ for “w”). The Proper Sounds, however, did not give any detailed spelling rules. Its examples assumed that Korean would be spelled phonemically using the new alphabet (i.e., how they sounded). The only concrete spelling rule it proscribed was the Eight Terminal Consonants Rule (八終聲可足用, 팔종성가족용). Under this rule, only ㄱ, ㆁ, ㄷ, ㄴ, ㅂ, ㅁ, ㅅ, and ㄹ were to be used in the terminal position of a syllable (받침).

After the Proper Sounds, the next seminal work on Korean spelling the Collection of Chinese Characters to Teach the Ignorant (訓蒙字會, 훈몽자회) published in 1527 by Choe Sejin (崔世珍, 최세진, 1468-1542). The Collection of Characters systematically listed some 3,360 Chinese characters by their Korean pronunciations and meanings. Although published eighty-one years later, the work laid out different spelling rules than those of the Proper Sounds. For example, the letter ㆆ had dropped out, the distinction between ㅇ and ㆁ was lost, and some of the specific provisions for Sino-Korean and vernacular Chinese sounds were absent. It also added new rules and provisions to Korean, such as listing the alphabet in a different order with names:

  • Voiceless Consonants: ㄱ(其役, 기역), ㄴ(尼隱, 니은),ㄷ(池末, 디귿), ㄹ(利乙, 리을), ㅁ(眉音, 미음), ㅂ(非邑, 비읍), ㅅ(時衣, 시옷), and ㆁ(異凝, 이응)
  • Voiced Consonants: ㅋ(箕, 키), ㅌ(治, 티), ㅍ(皮, 피), ㅈ(之, 지), ㅊ(齒, 치), ㅿ(而, ㅿㅣ), ㅇ(伊, 이), and ㅎ(屎, 히)
  • Vowels:  ㅏ(阿, 아), ㅑ(也, 야), ㅓ(於, 어), ㅕ(余, 여), ㅗ(吾, 오), ㅛ(要, 요), ㅜ(牛, 우), ㅠ(由, 유), ㅡ(應, 응),ㅣ(伊, 이), and · (思, ㅅ·)

The Collection of Characters, however, maintained some of the rules as laid out in the Proper Sounds. It kept the Eight Terminal Consonants Rule and still assumed that Korean was to be spelled phonemically.

In the subsequent three centuries, Korean spelling rules only saw incremental changes, largely aligning with changes in how Korean was spoken. Some of the changes included:

  • Disuse of the letter ㅿ and ㆁ
  • Adding of ㅺ, ㅼ, ㅽ, ㅾ, and ㅄ for tense sounds (된소리), which probably did not exist in 15th century Korean (while ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, and ㅉ did exist, they did not originally denote those sounds)
  • Disuse of  ㄷ as a terminal sound (solely using ㅅ) by a substantial number of Korean writers

One characteristic that did not change was that Korean throughout this period was still spelled phonemically, although there were discrepancies between the spelling and pronunciation.


Published in 1908, the Book for Teaching Children (兒學編, 아학편) listed definitions of Chinese characters in Korean, Japanese, and English and also pronunciations of the Japanese, Mandarin, and English words in Hangul. Note the use of “ᅋ” (f) to spell “father,” “female,” and “wife.” Koreans today often make fun of themselves not being able to spell (or pronounce) English “f” and “v” sounds. Many might be shocked to find out that their great-grandparents’ Hangul allowed for spelling such sounds. (Source)

1894, Hangul Finally Becomes the National Script of Korea

Phonemic spelling of Korean, however, did not eliminate ambiguity. The same word could be spelled many different ways. There are actually accounts that Hangul-only texts were more difficult to read than mixed script texts. For example, the word 덮으면 (“if one covers”) in modern spelling could be spelled at least three ways under the conventional spelling of this time: 더프면, 덥흐면, 덥프면. How a Korean word was spelled was up to the whims of the individual printer  for that particular day or hour.

With Hangul becoming the “National Script” (國字, 국자) of Korea in 1894, the necessity of a clear, set spelling rules became soon apparent. This need was compounded by the fact that there were several, different attempts at formulating such rules by private individuals. One notable individual was a doctor named Ji Seokyeong (池錫永, 지석영, 1855-1935) who submitted his own rules to the court. His proposals (新訂國文, 신정국문) included:

  • Spelling of tense consonants with ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, and ㅉ
  • Adding ᅄ and ᅋ to denote “v” and “f” sounds
  • Replacing arae a (·) (아래 아) with =

The controversy grew. Some wanted Korean to be spelled morphophonemically (somewhat phonetic spelling reflective of the underlying etymological root). Others wanted Korean to be spelled like the European languages in a string. The only notable development that was widely adopted and stuck around was word spacing.

In 1907, the Korean government (now a protectorate of Japan) responded by establishing the National Script Research Committee (國文硏究所, 국문연구소) to examine this problem. Its members, some of whom were pro-Japanese collaborators, met several times to discuss standardization of Korean spelling. In 1909, they laid out their plans in the National Script Research Committee’s Proposals (國文硏究議定案, 국문연구의정안). At the time, these were considered radical:

  • Maintenance of the formation of letters into syllable blocks
  • Not restoring the use of obsolete consonants (ㆁ, ㆆ,  ㅿ,  ◇ , ㅱ, ㅸ, ㆄ, and ㅹ )
  • Adoption of spelling of tense consonant as ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ , ㅆ,  and ㅉ
  • Maintenance of the letter ㆍ
  • Adding a dot to the side of a syllable to indicate vowel length
  • Allowing the use of ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, and ㅎ as terminal consonants
  • Adoption of the names for the consonant letters as 이응, 기윽, 니은, 디읃, 리을,  미음, 비읍, 시읏,  지읒, 히읗, 키읔, 티읕, 피읖, 치읓
  • Adoption of the order of consonants as ㆁ, ㄱ,  ㄴ,  ㄷ,  ㄹ,  ㅁ , ㅂ,  ㅅ,  ㅈ,  ㅎ,  ㅋ,  ㅌ,  ㅍ,  ㅊ
  • Adoption of the order of vowels as ㅏ,  ㅑ,  ㅓ,  ㅕ , ㅗ , ㅛ , ㅜ,  ㅠ,  ㅡ , ㅣ,  ㆍ

These spelling rules never officially adopted. Within months of the release of the 1909 Proposals, Korea was annexed by Japan. The debate over Korean orthography would, however, continue. Read More