(Translation) 崔鳴吉 丙子封事第一

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Introduction

Ch’oe Myŏngkil (Choe Myeonggil; 1586 - 1647) was a Confucian scholar and statesman. He had a rather successful career in government as he eventually reached the position of Chief State Councilor, the highest place in the officialdom of Chosŏn. His is one of the better known names in the entire Chosŏn history. However, instead of his other successes and failures, the mark he left has to do with his political position and the fate of his country at around the time of this writing.

During the relatively short span of time between 1592 and 1636, when this memorial was composed, Chosŏn already suffered three invasions, of which the first two were by Japan and the last by Later Jin. The events and the changes in the political climate of this region of Asia was to lead to a fourth invasion--this time by Qing. Chosŏn's subsequent surrender, whose terms included kowtows by King Injo in submission to Hong Taiji of the Qing dynasty who had come to Chosŏn in person, are considered, by many, the most humiliating moment in the history of the dynasty.

Ch’oe Myŏngkil's memorial can be better understood, having these concurrent historical events in mind. However, the role he played in the unfolding of these events and the characterization imposed on him subsequently date back to the time of the third invasion, one by Late Jin. Ch’oe Myŏngkil is remembered as the leading proponent of chuhwaron as opposed to ch'ŏk'waron of Kim Sanghŏn, his opponent whose name rarely fails to accompany Ch’oe's in the discussions regarding this invasion. Chuhwaron can be, more literally, translated as "the argument for seeking peace [negotiation]," and ch'ŏk'waron "the argument for rejecting peace [negotiation]." Ch’oe supported the position favoring diplomatic solution during the Later Jin Invasion in 1627 and would again during this invasion. The two positions have often been understood in terms of "pragmatic compromise" and "adherence to principle" in relation to the tributary relationship between Chosŏn and Ming, and Chosŏn's perception of the Manchus as barbarians and Ming as the Confucian state. Along these lines of thinking, Ch’oe is sometimes characterized as someone who sacrificed his reputation and principle in order to save his country and at others, as someone who corrupted the Confucian principles and caused a disgrace to his king and his country. More recent scholarship deems this kind of view simplistic and demands a more thorough inquiry into the complexity of the situation.[1][2][3]

Original Script

Classical Chinese English

伏以臣病伏私室。不與朝廷之議。聞諸道路之傳。今此金差之言。悖慢凶狡。有不忍聞。凡有血氣。孰不憤惋欲死。竊聞句管問答。廟堂籌畫。辭直理當。有足可觀。然於臣心。有不得不爲過慮者焉。當初約和時。朝廷以君臣大義。反覆開陳。彼雖犬羊。亦有知覺。故不敢強我以非義。約爲隣國。告天立誓。十餘年間。未有他說。今忽發爲此言者何也。且虜旣跨據大漠。無所受制。肆然稱帝。誰復禁止。而必欲藉口於我國者。其心或難知。

我若只以口語答之。則事跡晻昧。無可據證。如使驕虜反其辭說。而誣我於天下。其將何以自解乎。臣之愚意。例答之外。別爲一書。備陳僞號之不可僭。臣節之不可易。尊卑之等不可紊。以明大義而存國體。仍將虜書及我國所答。移咨督府。轉奏皇朝。一面下諭八方。訓飭兵馬。以待其變。使天下之人。曉然知朝廷處置之明白。然後可以折虜謀而壯士氣。書之史冊。無愧辭矣。且聞龍胡之行。唯以春信弔祭爲名。而汗書亦無別語。其所謂悖書者。乃八高山及蒙古王子書也。

答其循例之書。而拒其悖理之言。君臣之義。隣國之道。得以兩全。於計爲宜。況今山陵未畢。守備未完。權宜緩禍之策。亦何可全然不思。金差不妨招見。所不可見者西㺚耳。西㺚不必薄待。所當嚴斥者悖書耳。

臣竊觀今日虜情。特有早晩。等是被兵。但不可矇矓處置。以致見賣。過於落莫。以促其兵耳。城門閉言路開。雖有悔端。亦不濟事。今日之勢可謂急矣。而幸未至於目前被兵。伏願殿下。益加憤發。先立大志。如頃日諫臣筵臣之言。多所採納。收敍言事之臣。勇革病民之政。振拔人才。激勵將士。以慰臣民之望。則人心旣悅。國勢自固。雖有外患。亦不至大段顚沛矣。臣之賤疾。一向沈綿。精神昏憒。全不省外事。而竊不任區區憂國之誠。冒陳所懷。唯明主裁之。取進止。

Your minister humbly prostrates in his private quarter because of his illness. Your minister did not participate in court discussion but heard the reports from all the provinces and circuits. Now the words of this envoy from the Later Jin were offensively arrogant and viciously treacherous. Your minister could not bear to hear these words. Among all those who have courage and uprightness, who will not resent to the extent of desiring death? Your minister humbly heard that as to the questions and answers of the bureaucrats and the plans and preparations of the Border Defense Command, their speeches are upright and reasonings are sound. They are good enough to be considered. Yet in your minister’s mind, there is something that your minister could not but be overly concerned. At the time when we were first negotiating peace, our court, using the great righteousness between ruler and minister, repeatedly listed our statements. They albeit dogs and sheep do have consciousness, therefore dare not to force us to violate righteousness. We agreed to be neighboring states, reported to Heaven, and swore an oath. In between these ten or so years, there were no other claims. Now they suddenly uttered this speech, why? Moreover, the caitiffs overran the great desert and were constrained by none. Presumptuously they proclaimed emperorship. Who can turn the tide to stop them? And as to those who desire to use a pretense against our state, their minds are probably hard to understand.

If we only reply with words of mouth, then the course of events is not clear and cannot serve as evidence. If it let the arrogant caitiffs reverse our words and slander us in front of All under Heaven, then what can we use to explain ourselves? In your minister’s humble opinion, in addition to regular response, we should separately write a letter, completely stating that the false title cannot be used to usurp, that the loyalty of ministers cannot be changed, and that the ranks of the venerable and base cannot be confused, so as to clarify the great righteousness and to preserve the essence of our state. As ever send the letter of the caitiffs and the reply of our state to the military command for consultation and then report to the August dynasty. At the same time, send instructions to the eight directions, discipline the soldiers and horses, so as to wait for the revolt and let people of all under Heaven clearly know how unambiguously the court handle this matter. Then by doing so, it can destroy the scheme of the caitiffs and strengthen the morale of our soldiers. Write them in historical records, and there will be no words of regret. Furthermore, your minister heard that Yonggoltae’s (Yonggoldae) trip only used the spring mission and the condolence[4] as pretexts, and the letter of the khan also does not have other words. What are called rebellious letters are those of the Eight Banners and of the Mongol princes.

Reply their regular letters but reject their words of violating principles, so that both the righteousness of ruler and minister and the way of neighboring states can be completed. With regard to plans, it is appropriate. Not to mention now our mountain fortresses are not finished and our defense is not complete. As to expedient strategy of delaying calamity, how can it be entirely neglected? There is no harm in receiving the Later Jin envoy, but whom cannot be received are the Western Tartars.[5] As to the Western Tartars, we should not treat them ungenerously, but what should be severely reproached are the rebellious letters.[6]

Your minister humbly observed the situations of the caitiffs. Sooner or later, all are the eventual invasion. But it cannot be fuzzily handled so that we are being deceived to point of overly desolate and accelerate their invasion. Shut the door of our cities and open channels of remonstration. Although there will be signs of remorse, they are not beneficial. The situation of today can be said to be urgent, but fortunately, it has yet to reach the point of suffering invasion now. Your minister prostrates and hopes Your Highness make all the more effort and first establish a lofty aspiration. Such as the words of the remonstrating ministers and lecturing ministers, Your Highness should accept more. Gather and rank the ministers who discuss affairs. Bravely reform the policies that harm the people. Promote talents and encourage officers and soldiers, so as to fulfill the wishes of your subjects. Thereby your people’s mind will be delighted, and the condition of the state will be consolidated. Although there is an external threat, it will not reach a state of grave frustrations. As to your minister’s lowly illness, it always lingers. Your minister’s spirit is muddled and totally not aware of external affairs. And yet your minister cannot bear the trivial sincerity of concerning the state, and risk displaying what he has in his heart, only to let the brilliant lord to judge, taking what to advance and what to cease.

Discussion Questions

  1. Who was Ch’oe Myŏngkil (Choe Myeonggil)? How did his background influence his writing? What can we learn about his political standpoint from this memorial?
  2. How was Ch'oe Myŏngkil situated within the political context of the Chosŏn (Joseon) court at this time? Who took the opposing view? How would his oppositions in the court respond? What would be their strategies to defend the country? Do they use the same strategies for convincing the king?
  3. Who compiled Ch'oe Myŏngkil’s memorial, when and for what purposes?
  4. Regarding the argument over the ethnicity and the political legitimacy shown in this memorial, how did Chosŏn (Joseon) people during the 16th-17th centuries understand the Chosŏn-Qing relations?
  5. Did the Chosŏn court think of itself as the most "civilized" among the peoples around China? Why were certain groups of people (such as the Khitans and Mongols etc.) viewed and written about in a pejorative manner?
  6. What was the historical context in which this memorial was written? What did the memorial tell us about Chosŏn-Qing relations in the 1630s? Why was the Chosŏn-Qing relation like this? And how about their relations in the remaining 17th century?
  7. Previous scholars have attributed Chosŏn’s cultural prejudice against the Jurchen-cum-Manchurians as a main cause of an antagonistic relation between Chosŏn and Qing. Aside from cultural causes, what about the causes in the political-economy?
  8. Was the idea of "closing the gates and opening the channels of expression" a typically Korean concept during the Yi dynasty? If not, was it also existing in Chinese dynasties and Koryô?
  9. Were memorials an effective method to influence political decisions? And why? Please elaborate your answer.
  10. The contents of this memorial are also included in the Chosŏn wangjo sillok (Joseon wangjo sillok 朝鮮王朝實錄), however the king Injo did not respond to this memorial. Why? And why is this memorial written in official writings?

Further Readings

References

  1. Huh Tae koo 허태구. “Choi Myeong-gil’s argument of supporting the pursuit of peace with the enemy, and the issue of Daemyeong Euiri” 崔鳴吉의 主和論과 對明義理. The Journal of Korean History 한국사연구 162 (September 2013): 87–122.
  2. Huh Tae koo 허태구. “The Trend and Prospect of Main Study on the Dispute between Ju’hwa-ron(主和論, argument supporting the idea of pursuing peace with the enemy) and Cheok’hwa-ron(斥和 論, argument boycotting the negotiation of peace with the enemy) during Manchu Invasion of Joseon” 丁卯 · 丙子胡亂 전후 主和 · 斥和論 관련 연구의 성과와 전망. Sahak Yonku: The Review of Korean History 128 (December 2017): 179–235.
  3. O Such'ang 오수창. “Choi Myeonggil gwa Kim Sanghŏn” 최명길과 김상헌 [Choi Myeonggil and Kim Sanghŏn]. Critical Review of History 역사비평, February 1998, 393–403.
  4. This refers to the death of Queen Inyŏl (Inyeol), the consort of Injo.
  5. They refer to the Western Mongols.
  6. A version of this suggestion is recorded in the Veritable Records of Injo: http://sillok.history.go.kr/id/wpa_11402026_002

Translation

(sample) : Jaeyoon Song


  • Discussion Questions:


Student 1 : Yishu Ma


  • Discussion Questions:

What can we learn about the writer's political standpoint from this memorial?

Regarding the argument over the ethnicity and the political legitimacy shown in this memorial, how did Joseon people during the 16th-17th centuries understand the Joseon-Qing relation?

'Student 2 : Samuel Sai Hay Chan 陳世熙 진세희"


  • Discussion Questions: What is the historical context in which this memorial was written? What did the memorial tell us about Choson-Qing relation in the 1630s? Why was the Choson-Qing relation like this? Previous scholars have attributed Choson's cultural prejudice against the Jurchen-cum-Manchurians as a main cause of an antagonistic relation between Choson and Qing. What about the causes in the political-economy?

Student 3 : Younès M'Ghari


  • Discussion Questions:

- Is the concept of "closing the gates and opening the channels of expression" something typically Korean during the Yi dynasty? If not, was is also existing in China and Koryô?

- Did the Chosôn court really think that it was the most "civilized" among the "barbarians" around China?

- Who compiled Choe Myônggil's memorial, when and for what purpose?

Student 4 : King Kwong Wong


  • Discussion Questions:

Who was Ch'oe Myŏngkil (Choe Myeonggil)? How did his background influence his writing?

Student 5 : 신동조


  • Discussion Questions:

What would the hawks say about 최명길's memorials? What would be their strategies to defend their country?

Student 6 : Stacey Lui


  • Discussion Questions:

Describe the state of Sino-Korean relations during the time of this memorial and in the years following.


Why were certain groups of people (such as the Khitan and Mongols etc.) viewed and written about in a pejorative manner?


Were memorials an effective method through which to influence political decisions? Give examples to justify your answer.

Student 7 : Russell Guilbault


  • Discussion Questions:
  1. How is Choe Myeong-gil situated within the political context of the Joseon court at this time? Who, if anyone, takes the opposing view? Do they use the same strategies for convincing the king? That is, how similar do the opposing memorials look to Choe's?

Student 8 : Q


  • Discussion Questions:

Who was Ch'oe Myŏngkil (Choe Myeonggil)? Considering the situation of the Chosŏn (Joseon) in the 17th century, what were the factors that influenced his writing?

Student 10 : Yeonjae Ra


  • Discussion Questions: The contents of this memorial are also included in the Choson Wangjo sillok(朝鮮王朝實錄), however his appeal was not responded to by the king(仁祖). Why not? But why was this memorial written in official writings?

choson wangjo sillok [1]