(Translation) 柳得恭 春城遊記

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This text was written by Yu Tŭkkong (1748-1807). As an illegitimate son in his family, Yu belonged to the so-called Chungin group, the kind of people who were legally prevented from securing a high governmental position in Chosŏn Korea. For this reason, Yu’s academic performance, rather than his career, has been emphasized by existing scholarship. One of the exemplary cases is his argument of justifying the existence of Parhae and of reconstructing the history of Korea by replacing the narrative of “unified Silla” (three kingdoms) with “south and north kingdom.” [1]However,this overemphasizing on his unique, proto-nationalistic understanding of Korean history also leads to the neglecting of his literary contributions.[2] This travel notes on Hanyang in spring, therefore, will be allowing people to see his literary skill, his taste of travel, and the landscape of Chosŏn palaces and Seoul in the late 18th century.

This travel notes described the places that Yu Tŭkkong visited in Hanyang in spring 1770 and the scenes he saw during his trip. It provides the sketch of Seoul and Kyŏngbuk Palace in the late 18th century. Yu visited the place close to today’s Samch'ŏng village(三清洞), several mountains nearby Seoul, the Changhŭng Street and the Hoehyŏn Street, Kyŏngbuk Palace, Nambyŏl Palace (which is no longer existing), Kŭnjŏng Hall, the Kyŏnghoe building, and the Kanŭi observatory. Specifically, when he visited the Kyŏngbuk Palace and Kŭnjŏng Hall, Yu detailed the shapes of the items he saw there, such as statues, stones, trees, lotus, and birds. To further readers’ (or his own) understanding of the stone statues of dogs nearby Kŭnjŏng Hall, for example, he cited an anecdote about the monk Muhak, who was preceptor of the Chosŏn’s founder Yi Sŏnggye, and the origin of these statues and made a comment on it. Also, to give more vivid expression to Mt. Peak, Mt. Tobong, Mt. Inwang, and Mt. Samgak, he made analogies with caps, arrows, writing brushes, and human’s body gestures. By reading this work, people can glance at his sophisticated writing skill in classical Chinese.

This work done by Yu reveals intellectuals travel culture in the late Chosŏn. Not only Yu Tŭkkong traveled to those sites, Lee Tŏkmu and Pak Chiwŏn also joined Yu’s trip. They visited mountains, palaces, halls, streets, bridges and paid much more attention to statues, stones, animals, trees, and flowers they encountered. Some of his preference for visiting, such as going to mountain sites and palaces, still resonate with the travel culture in the 21st century. On the other hand, there is no record of what kind of food he had during the days when he was staying in Hanyang. Compared to the 21st-century tradition under which visitors tried to remember their daily life by noting the food they had tasted, Yu in the writing did not mention about this information. The reason that leads to this discrepancy might be the city’s lacking sufficient food supply or the intellectuals’ not being interested in eating, but it is hard to draw a hash conclusion here. In this sense, the unique travel preference in the 18th century could be a research topic in the future.

Original Script

Classical Chinese English



由東北角橋而渡。艸皆黃精。石皆古礎。礎有窪。似是受柱處雨水盈其中。往往見眢井。北墻之內有簡儀臺。臺上有方玉一。臺西有黧石六。長可五六尺。廣三尺。連鑿水道。臺下之石如硯如帽如缺櫃。其制不可考也。臺殊高朗。可眺北里花木。循東墻而行。三淸石壁迤迤出矣。墻內之松皆十尋。鸛雀鷺鷀。棲宿其上。有純白者。有淡黑者。有軟紅者。頭垂綬者。嘴如匙者。尾如綿者。抱卵而伏者。含枝而入者。相鬪相交。其聲齁齁。松葉悉枯。松下多退羽空卵。從遊尹生發機石。中一純白者尾。擧羣驚翔如雪。西南行有採桑臺碑。丁亥 親蠶所也。其北有廢池。內農種稻處也。入衛將所。汲冷泉而飮。庭多垂楊。落絮可掃。借看其先生案。鄭湖陰士龍爲首。扁上亦有所題詩。復出宮圖考之。慶會樓凡三十五間。宮之南門曰光化。北門曰神武。西曰延秋。東曰延春。


In the third day of the third month of the Kyŏngjin(庚辰) year (1770), I went to Samch'ŏng village(三清洞) with Pak Chiwŏn and Lee Tŏkmu. We crossed the Ch'angmun stone bridge and visited the historic site of Samch'ŏng Hall(三清殿), in which there were abandoned farmland that has turned into a place where hundreds of flowers and grasses were growing. We sat in an order, and the green liquid coming from the plants colored our clothes. Tŏkmu knew lots of names of the plants, and nothing he couldn’t answer when I picked some and asked him. I recorded tens of kind of plants. Oh, how could he do so? This shows that Tŏkmu was quite knowledgeable. All through day and night of that day, we bought liquor and drank it. On the next day, we climbed Mt. Namsan, starting from the Changhŭng street and going through the Hoehyŏn street. On the mountains near to here were many former residences of the prime ministers in the past. Within these ruined walls there were many pines and other trees that were planted in the ancient time: they stood there naturally and gracefully. We tried to climb the hills and see their views. Mt. Peak was round but sharp as [a man was] placing a hat; Mt. Tobong was tidily crowded and placed as arrows in the pot and writing brushes in the buckets; Mt. Inwang’s shape was like a man ending grappling with his two hands while his shoulders swiftly moving; Mt. Samgak’s shape was like, among people’s crowding and looking at something, a tall man overlooking from behind – and the “people” were like bamboo hats that are embedded with “the tall man’s” chin. The houses in the wall [of Hanyang] were like hazel farmlands, which are clean newly reclaimed. The avenues are like wide rivers, sometimes crooked, that divide wildland, and people and horses are like fish and shrimp in the rivers. The numbers of household registration in the capital were said to reach to 80,000. If people were put in higher places to have a bird’s-eye view on the scene [of the capital] – people’s singing, crying, eating, gambling, praising someone, criticizing someone, working, and planning at that moment, they would laugh at it. On the next day, we went to the east pavilion of Court of Imperial Sacrifices.[3] The buildings of Six Minister, the willows and rivers going around the palace, the white tower in the Kyŏnghaeng street, and fog covering mountains had slightly emerged. The most surprising one was [the scene of] places nearby Mt. Raksan. There were white sands and green pine trees, as blight and beautiful as a picture. There was another hill, colored lightly in ink, like the head of a duck. Since the hill stands in the east of Mt. Raksan, I started to doubt that whether it was “the mountain of Yangju” among clouds.[4] At that night, I was so tired that I slept in Sŏ Yŏo’s home(?). On the next day, I went to the former Kyŏngbuk palace. In the palace, there was a bridge; on the east of the bridge, there were two stone statues of ancient Chinese holly monster ch'ŏllok; on the west of the bridge, there was a statue of a dragon, which is such a masterpiece in shaping its wriggling. Behind the Nambyŏl palace, there was a statue of Cheonbae ch'ŏllok, which was similar to the dragon statue. For this reason, the Cheonbae ch'ŏllok one must be brought from the west of bridge [in the palace], although no clear evidence could prove it. I crossed the bridge and went toward the north, reaching the historical site of Kŭnjŏng palace, which had three flights of steps. At the east and west corner of steps, there were stone statues of male and female dogs. The female one was holding a puppy in its arm. These were the statues [of dogs] by which the holly monk Muhak warned the bandits from the south (Japan), who said that the descendant [of the dogs] would do its duty when the two get old. However, [the palace] could not survive the Imjin war. How could that be the fault of the dog stone statues? This were the stories coming from books of rumors and legends, so they were unreliable. There are two stone statues of a dragon whose horns have not grown, in left and right, respectively, and, upon the statues of dragon there are small hollows. Recently, I read History of Song, so I began to know they were the inkstones for royal historiographers. Moving toward the north from the Kŭnjŏng palace, I reached the Iryŏng pavilion; Moving toward the west from the Iryŏng pavilion, I reached the historical site of the Kyŏnghoe building, which is in a pond and which could be reached through a ruined bridge. Carefully crossing the bridge, I unconsciously broke out in a sweat. The height of pillars of the building was about three chang. There were 48 pillars, eight of which were broken. The shape of the outer pillars was square, and that of inner pillars was round. And dragons and clouds were carved in the pillars, which was, according to the envoy from the Ryukyu Kingdom, one of “the three magnificent.”

The water of the pond is green and clean. When a gentle breeze is blowing, lotus’ seed pod and roots went up and down on the surface of the water and moved. A school of small goldfish gathered into where the water got shallow, drinking the water and playing there. When hearing the voice of someone’s approaching, they went into [where the water was deep] and then show themselves again. There were two islands in the pond, where pine trees planted were dense and standing with reverence. The shadow of the pines was like cutting the wave of the water. At the east of the pond, there was a guy who was fishing. At the west of the pond, there were Imperial Guard and the place where the king lives.

After crossing the bridge in the northeast corner, I found that, in there, the grass was blight and energetic, and that stones were long-lasting and firm. On the stones, there were hollows, in which used to be pillars and in which now are full of waters coming from rains.

There were ruined well. Within the north wall, there was the Kanŭi observatory. Upon the observatory, there was a square jade. On the west of the observatory, there were six stones with yellow and black, whose height could be five to six ch'ŏk, and whose width were three ch'ŏk. Those six stones were connected and built as a waterway. The based stones of the observatory were like inkstones, caps, or something ruined, so the original specifications were untraceable. The observatory is high, in which people could see flowers and trees in the north. Following the east wall, the stone wall of Samch'ŏng village continually emerged. The height of all the pine trees within the wall was ten shim, and crane, sparrow, heron, and cormorant lived and hatched eggs in the trees. Among those birds, some of them were pure white, some slight black, and some slight red; some’s head were like suspend ribbons, some’s beak like spoons, and some’s tail like cotton; some were hatching eggs and sitting there, some holding branches in their mouths. They fought with each other and voiced like huhu. Leaves of pine trees were all fallen. Under the pines, there were lots of faded feather and hollow eggs. Mr. Yun who took a trip with me (us) threw a stone toward birds, hitting a white one. The hit one then raised its tail, others shocked and flying away as if it were snowing. Walking toward southwest, we found there was a pavilion of picking mulberry leaves, where the rite of Ch'injam was conducted in 1767. On the north of the pavilion, there was an unused pond, where the farmers who worked for the need of members of royal family farmed. After entering the place where the officers of imperial guards were in, we got some cool spring water to drink. In the courtyard [of the place], there were lots of suspended willows, whose fallen catkins could be removed. I borrowed and looked at the records of former officers who severed here, turning out that the first one was called Chŏng hoŭn saryong. In the horizontal board, there was a poem. After the visiting, I found out the pictures of the palace and examined it. There were 35 rooms in the Kyŏnghoe building; the southern gate of the palace was called Kwanghwa, the northern called Shinmu, the southern called Yŏnch'u, and the east called Yŏnch'un.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the difference between the scene of palaces in the late 18th century and that in the 21st century?
  2. What kinds of descriptions were missing in this travel note?
  3. By reading this text, what can we characterize as intellectual’s (literati’s, and Chungin’s) travel culture in the late Chosŏn?
  1. 허태용, 「조선후기 남북국론(南北國論) 형성의 논리적 과정 검토」, 『동방학지』152, 2010.
  2. 안대회,「북학파(北學派) 문인(文人)의 작품(作品)에 나타난 해학(諧謔)과 농담(弄談)의 분석」,『韓國漢文學硏究』67, 2017.
  3. The original title of this place is 太常寺.
  4. The the original term "雲問" here seems to be the typo of "雲間."