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Pre-Modern Korean Literature and Culture

Pre-Modern Era (Paleolithic to Choson)

Kate Page-Lippsmeyer

on 6 April 2014

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Transcript of Pre-Modern Korean Literature and Culture

500,000/400,000 BC
6,000/5,000 BC
1,000 BC
Paleolithic Age
began around 400,000~500,000 BC
cave dwellings
pre-agricultural economy
Neolithic Age
began 5,000 ~ 6,000 BC
self sufficient clan community
religious beliefs in animism/shamansism
Bronze Age
began 1,000 BC - to 400 BC
highly stratified society
dolmens and bronze weapons
rice cultivation
400 BC
300 BC
200 BC
100 BC
300 AD
500 AD
900 AD
700 AD
100 AD
Korean Literature & Culture
Pre-Modern Period
One of over thirty thousands of dolmens in Korea

confederated kingdoms
Chinese iron culture +
Scytho-Siberian bronze culture

Blue Dragon
White Tiger
Red Phoenix
Black Tortoise

2007 Korean TV drama based on the foundation myths of Tan’gun and King Kwanggaet’o, the legendary expansionist king of Koguryo
The Legend
or the Story of the Great King and the Four Gods

■ Archeological remains
■ Written Records
Sources for Early Korea
Old Chosŏn (Kochosŏn/ Chosŏn)
Tan’gun Chosŏn:
Founded by Tan’gun
in BC 2,333 with its
center in Pyongyang

Contested origin and territorial boundaries
400 BC: Developed into a confederated kingdom
Claimed to be succeeded by later states: Koryŏ, Chosŏn, and North and South Korea
Kija Chosŏn:
Founded by Kija,
a Chinese prince
from the Yin
Dynasty,in BC 1000
with its center in
The Liodong region.

Image of the legendary king from the Sajik Park of Chongno, Seoul

The Mausoleum of King Tan’gun “Reconstructed” in Pyongyang, 1993

(37 BC?~668 AD)
King Kwanggaet’o’s Stele:
The gravestone of Kwanggaet’o the Great (391-413)
built by King Changsu (413-491) in Jian, Manchuria.
Discovered in the late 19th Century
stands at the center of the controversy over Imna Kaya between Japan and Korea.
The wall painting of a military march in Anak Tumulus No. 3

The wall painting of a royal couple in Anak Tumulus No. 3, 5 CE.
The ceiling painting of a Koguryŏ tumulus, 7 CE
Iron Age (began 400 BC)
King Chun deposed by Wiman, a refugee from China
Wiman Chosŏn fell to Han China and four commandaries established in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.
194-180 BC
108 BC
contested origins
Tan’gun Wanggŏm
Three Kingdoms/Unified Silla
Koguryo 37 BC - 668 AD
Silla 57 BC - 935 AD
Kaya 42 BC - 562 AD
Paekche 18 BC - 660 AD
Origin: Founded by Chumong (King Tongmyŏng) from Puyŏ between the Yalu River and the T’ung-chia River basin (north of the current DPRK border with China)

Territory: conquered Puyŏ, Okcho, Ye, and two Han commadaries (Lo-lang and Xuantu), expanding deep into Eastern Manchuria

Relations with neighboring countries:
Military conflicts with Han, Sui, and Tang.
Strategic alliance with Northern and Southern Dynasties of China, Silla, Peakchae, and Turks.

Chinese Cultural Influences:
In 372, King Sosurim (371-384) adopted Buddhism as a state religion and established T’aehak, the first Confucian academy in Korea.
Adoption of Chinese Characters
Compilation of National History

Royal emissaries from Koguryŏ, Paekche, and Silla
from a documentary painting “Royal Banquet,” Tang 7CE

Unified Silla
(668-935 AD)

A map of Tang dynasty China circa 742, showing the surrounding kingdoms and peoples.

Silk Road
and Ancient Maritime Trade Route

Silla Artifacts

The Ch’ ŏmsŏngdae observatory
in Kyungju

Society and Culture
Centralized aristocratic state:
the Hwabaek (Council of Nobles) institution
Silla village registers (changjŏk): detailed records of villages (size of the land, census by gender and age, kinds and number of slaves, trees, domestic animals)

Rigid Social Hierarchy: (cf. Chang Pogo’s rise)
the bone-rank system + slavery.

Economic Prosperity: maritime trade and agriculture
Queen Sŏndŏk, 2009 Korean TV Drama

14th Century Portraits in the Kyoto National Museum, Japan
Martyr Yi Ch’adon’s memorial, 818 AD

4 CE (Koguryŏ, Paekchae) ~ 6 CE (Silla)

justified the social hierarchy through the concept of karma and rebirth
created a spiritual unity in the nation
allowed the Koreans to participate in a sophisticated cosmopolitan culture
stimulated the development of arts and architecture

Syncretic: merged with Taoism, Shamanism, and Confucianism
State Buddhism (Hoguk pulgyo)
in the Three Kingdom Period
▲ Hwarang (flower boy), a member of Silla’s elite military institution.

1. Serve your sovereign with loyalty
2. Attend your parents with filial piety
3. Treat your friends with sincerity
4. Do not retreat from a battle field
5. Be discriminating about the taking of life

“Five Commandments for Laymen”

Seated Stone Buddha,
Paekche, 7 CE
Puyeo National Museum
Silla’s Buddhist Arts: Sŏkkuram Grotto (751-774),
In Kyŏngju, Granite, H. 127 in. (326 cm)

Gilted Bronze Incense Burner

Ornament for a royal crown

Elegant artefacts from Peakche, the Lost Kingdom

“not a single thatched roof house within Kyungju’s walls, while the never-sending sounds of music and song filled the streets night and day”—from Tang’s official history

“The customs of this society have degenerated day by day owing to the competition among the people for luxuries and alien commodities, because they detest local products”—from “King Hungdok’s edict,” 9 CE, in Samguk sagi
1100 CE
1200 CE
1400 CE
1300 CE
1000 CE
900 CE
Syaka Triad at the Horyuji Temple
The Asuka Period, 7CE
Nara, Japan
613 CE
Wang Kŏn,
Founder of Koryŏ

Kyŏn Hwŏn of
Latter Paekche

Late Three Kingdoms Period (900-935)

Kungye of
Latter Koguryŏ

(935-1392 AD)

T’aejo Wanggŏn,
the founder of Koryŏ.
Bronze statue, 10th Century.
Found next to his mausoleum in Kaesŏng, North Korea

Northern Song (960-1127)
& Khitan Liao (907-1125)
Koryŏ in East Asia
(10th~12th Century)
Southern Song (1128-1279) & Jurchen Jin (1115-1234)
The main source of our current knowledge about Koryŏ is History of Koryŏ (Koryŏsa), which was compiled in the Chosŏn era, between 14th and 15th century, by the order of King Sejong in the style of shiji, or samguk sagi, with annals and biographies.
The Stipend Land Law (998)
Privileged merit land/ inheritable stipend land
The aristocratic society of Koryŏ
from an aristocratic confederation to a centralized bureaucracy of officials with aristocracy at the center
Centralized monarchy:
Replacement of the bone rank (kolp’um) system with the clan origin (pon’gwan) system
local governments led by appointed officials
The State Council (Todang) dominated by major aristocratic families
The civil service examination (kwagŏ chedo 958) :
Classics, Composition, and Miscellaneous (law, medicine, accounting, geomancy, divination)
Protected Appointment System
The Jogye Temple in Seoul

Portrait at the Songgwang Temple
in Sunch’ŏn, South Chŏlla Province

-Entered priesthood through the state exam for
Buddhist monks

-Synthesized the Textual School (the Flower
Garland Sutra) with the Contemplative School
(=Zen Buddhism).

-Established the Jogye sect, which became the
biggest sect of Korean Buddhism.

Chinul (1158~1210) and Koryŏ Buddhism

Yangryu Kwanŭm
(Willow Tree Avalokitevara Bodhisattva)
Buddhist Paintings of Koryŏ
Blue Celadon

Koryŏ T’aejo Wang Kŏn (847-918)

Song Taizu Chao Kuang Yin (927-976)

Song vs. Koryŏ

I. Early Koryŏ (932~1170): Centralized government; the civil service examination (958); continued strength of aristocracy

II. Military Rule (1170~1271): In 1170 a group of generals, provoked by the ill treatment of the military under the civil government, staged a coup d’etat. The ruling Ch’oe family kept the royal court in place but created a private organizations to monopolize the administration and the military (1196-1258). Cf) Japan’s shogunate system.

III. Mongol Domination (1271~1356): Koryŏ became Yuan’s tributary state and son-in-law country. This colonization brought economic hardship and inspired nationalist passions among the elites, leading to the publication of Korean history and Buddhist scriptures. But it also allowed Koreans to participate in Yuan’s cosmopolitan culture.

IV. The Demise of Koryŏ (1356~1392): General Yi Sŏngye and a group of Confucian officials overthrew the corrupt royal court with the aim of establishing a Confucian state.

A Brief Overview of Koryŏ History

Genghis Khan in16th century Persian miniature

Genghis Khan

The Great Mongol Empire

China in Koryo
China in Three Kingdoms Period
China in Unified Shilla Period
Process: Invasion & resistance (1231~1271)
Political: Koryŏ became Yuan’s tributary state and son-in-law country.
Social: the emergence of new aristocrats; the weakening of the government; and the increased hardship for the commoners.
Cultural: Koreans’ participation in the cosmopolitan culture of the Yuan empire; the nationalist compilation of Korean history (Samguk yusa, 1279) as well as Buddhist canons (Tripitaka Koreana 1236~1251).
Koryŏ under the Mongol Domination (1271~1356)
Chinese portrait of the Yuan Empress
Empress Ki as a femme fatale
In 2005-2006 Korean TV drama Sin Don

Empress Ki (1320?~ )
Ch’ǒyong dance performed at the Chosǒn court on New Year’s Eve

Chǒyong in the Korean Music Treatise (Akhak koebǒm ), 1493

Ch’ǒyong’s mask
used for a mask dance

-Koryo songs, initially of a folk origin, were later adopted by the court and aristocracy.
-Performed and transmitted orally until the 16th century to be first recorded in the Korean alphabet.
-The songs were often composed with refrains and nonsense jingles, which may have been onomatopoeic imitations of instrumental sounds.
-Given the frequent themes of love, sexuality, and exorcism, main performers would have been female entertainers and shamans. But as the songs were played at the court festivals, it is highly likely that courtiers and even aristocrats took part.
Koryǒ Songs

With the support of his queen, King Kongmin adopted an anti-Yuan policy (1356) and established diplomatic ties with the rising Ming dynasty. After the queen’s premature death, however, his reign declined, as the king allegedly indulged in drinking and having affairs with young aristocratic men (hinted at the film Frozen Flower). Following his assassination, a 10-year-old prince by his concubine was enthroned as the last king of Koryŏ, but his reign was marred by aristocratic power struggles and lasted only until 1388.
The Decline of Koryŏ King Kongmin (1341-1374)
King Kongmin and his royal consort, Princess Noguk.
At the Jongmyo shrine, Seoul.
(Account of Eastern Barbarians)
a section of Sanguozhi
(Record of Three Kingdoms)
Composed around: 297 AD
By: Chen Shou
Korean sources:
Samguk sagi
(History of Three Kingdoms)
Date: 1145 AD
By: Kim Pusik, a Koryŏ confucian scholar official
Consists of: annals, biographies, and treatises on various topics
Samguk yusa
(Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms)
Date written: 1279 AD after the Mongol invasion
Compiled by: the monk Iryŏn
Includes many stories about Buddhism and also other stories of wonders including the earliest record of Tan’gun
Chinese sources:
(The Historical Record)
Date written: 100 BC
By: Sima Qian

T’aejo Yi Sŏnggye
Chosŏn (1392-1910 )
■ Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC) left writings that advocated the ideal of a civil monarchy led by a sage king and supported by scholar-officials. His writings became a basis of Confucianism, a political, social, ethical, and philosophical system of thought.
China, 500 BC, warring states

■ Chu Hsi (1130-1200) in Song Dynasty developed Neo-confucianism, a metaphysical reinterpretation of Confucianism that incorporated Taoist and Buddhist cosmology. It is in this synthetic, spiritually reinforced version that Confucianism became more than principles of administration and predominated in the intellectual and cultural life of East Asia until the 19th century.

Origins of Confucianism

Chosŏn’s foreign relations
Sadae (Serving the Great)
Kangindo, or Honil kangni yŏktae kukto chido

[Map of integrated lands and regions of historical countries and capitals]:

The oldest surviving world map of East Asia.
Choson, 1470 [1402]
Prime Minister Chŏng Tojŏn, a scholar, lawyer, architect, and musician
Confucian Ideal of Writing:
Writing should carry the way / Write but do not make up

In the Chosŏn dynasty the classics licentiate (saengwŏn) and the literary licentiate (chinsa) exams were held triennially in local cities. In the final exam, which took place in Seoul, the candidates were tested in classics, literary composition (poetry, rhyme-prose, eulogy, admonition, treatise, memorial or edict), and a problem essay. Only 33 civil officials and 28 military officials were chosen.

For the classics examination candidates studied the Four Books and Five Classics.
The Civil Service Examination


Public Works





State Councilor


Left High
State Councilor


Chosŏn’s government structure
The high state council, the six ministries,
and the three institutions of the censorate

*King’s advisory committee

Office of Censor-General
(inspects officials)

Military Affairs


Right High
State Councilor

Office of Inspector-General
(supervises the king)
Office of Special Advisors
(maintains the royal library and
composes state-sponsored documents)
Scribes of the Annals of the Chosŏn Dynasty
The Royal Court of Chosŏn
Thick extensive set of records is considered to deal with the longest period of a single dynasty in the world. They include not only general affair of the state but also diplomatic relations among neighboring northeast Asian countries, politics, social system, economy, religion, astronomical and atmospheric phenomena, geography, music, science, military affairs, transportation, and arts, as well as the modus vivendi of all classes from the royal household to the populace.
The Annals of the Choson Dynasty
comprise 1,893 books covering 472 years (1392~1863) of the history of the Choson Dynasty, from the reign of King Taejo, the founder, to the end of the reign of King Cheoljong.
The contents of these annals are encyclopedic.
Their daily drafts and the various documents and daily records of the king and government offices became the main sources for the compilation of the annals. When a king died and the coronation of his successor finished, the annals of his reign were started by the Sillokcheong, the Office for Annals Compilation.
Professional officials, who were legally guaranteed independence in their record-keeping and the right to keep secrets, directly collected material, wrote drafts, edited them, and published the annals.
These strict regulations lend great credibility to these records. The compiled annals were made in four copies and stored with one set in Chunchugwan, the Office for Annals Compilation, and one set in each of three archives in deep mountain sites built to avoid unforeseen damage and to ensure that the annals would be transmitted to posterity.
Suwŏl Kwanŭm
(Water Moon Avalokitevara Bodhisattva)
958 CE
992 CE
998 CE
The rank-based organization of the national university (kukchagam; 992) and private academies
Five ancient Chinese books on poetry, history, rites, and geomancy, all supposedly compiled or edited by Confucius himself:
Classic of Changes
Classic of Poetry
Classic of Rites
Classic of History
Spring and Autumn Annals
Core Confucian texts on politics, philosophy, and ethics chosen by Chu Hsi:
The Great Learning
The Doctrine of the Mean
The Analects of Confucius
The Mencius
The Four Books
The Five Classics
Nobody was allowed to read the Draft History, not even the king, and anyone who disclosed its contents was severely punished.
of Hangul
(Korean Alphabet)
Kim Manjung (1637-1692)
The Cloud Dream of the Nine
written ~1689
Palace Ladies of Chosŏn

Unyŏngjŏn: A Love Affair at Royal Palace of Chosŏn Korea
Early 17th Century
Hong Kiltong
author Hŏ Kyun (1569~1618)
Folk paintings of Princess Bari
The Abandoned Princess
from Chosen fuzoku no kenkyu (1939-1938)
“Wretched Married Life”
“Song of an Old Maid”
KASA (Narrative Poetry)
Developed mid 15th century
popular with both men and women
enjoyed special popularity among elite women
Relevance to modern literature: After the advent of modernity in the 1880s, kasa also served as a main poetic medium for the propagation of modern ideas including Christianity.
Sirhak (Practical Learning)
reformist intellectual movements in the 17th~19th century.
Chŏngjo (1752~1800), a grandson and successor of Yŏngjo, is known as the “Enlightened Monarch” for his interest in new knowledge and science. His premature death at the age of 40 is a subject of much speculation among historians, all the more because Chosŏn began its decline after his death.
Yŏngjo the Great (1724~1776) is known to be the wisest king of Chosŏn next only to King Sejong, and his reign, the longest of all Chosŏn kings, is largely remembered a time of peace and prosperity. He managed to keep factional struggles under control and implemented policies that benefited the poor.
Chosŏn’s Enlightened Monarch #1
Chosŏn’s Enlightened Monarch #2
Pak Chega (1750~1805)
Discourse on Northern Learning (1778).

Born to a yangban’s concubine, he was Pak Chiwŏn’s disciplie and an erudite literatus. He became an interpreter for royal emissaries to China and tried to spread the new knowledge from Qing to Chos
Chǒng Yagyong (1762~1836);
Sirhak scholar par excellence; Korea’s “renaissance man”
Tonghak as a social movement:
1st uprising in April 1894
2nd uprising in October 1894
The Tonghak Uprising
Tonghak as a religious movement:
Ch’oe Cheu’s syncretic doctrine that combines Confucianism with Buddhism, shamanism, and Catholicism;
propagated by Ch’oe Sihyŏng (1827-1897) upon the strength of its message of social equality
Documents from the Tonghak Peasant Uprisings
Pak Chiwǒn (1737~1805)
Jehol Diary (Yǒrha ilgi; 1790):
Record of his travel to China
and Satirical novels in Chinese
“The Story of Master Hŏ”
“Memorial of 1786”
“Tools and Techniques”
Full transcript