(Translation) 1079年 高麗禮賓省牒

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This is a report from the Bureau of Rituals and Hospitality of the State of Koryŏ (Goryeo) sent to the Regional Government of Kyushu of Japan (the Great Japan State) in 1079 CE, which is also the 33rd year of Munjong’s reign (文宗, r. 1046-1083 CE).

In the November of 1079CE, the Bureau of Hospitality of the State of Koryŏ (Goryeo) sent a report to the Regional Government of Kyushu of Japan (the Great Japan State), requiring physicians who can cure contagious diseases from Japan. At that time, King Munjong, who was suffering from contagious diseases, sent this report with gifts to Japan, when he heard from a merchant who traveled in both Korea and Japan that there were physicians who cured contagious diseases in Japan. However, as Koryŏ (Goryeo) and Japan did not formally establish diplomatic relations at that time, this report was transmitted by merchants, not by formal delegations or envoys.

The original document now cannot be found, but a book 朝野群載, compiled by the Japanese in 1116 and later expanded in 1135-41, includes this report in its twentieth volume 異國. This report is followed by the Japanese response [答書] sent to Koryŏ (Goryeo) king in the next year, 1080CE. In this response, the Japanese criticize Koryŏ (Goryeo)’s usage of 聖旨 to refer to their king’s command. Because in standard Japanese official documents, it was rude and overstepped to call the command of the king of Koryŏ (Goryeo) as 聖旨 which should be 处分. Then they sent back the report and gifts to the king of Koryŏ (Goryeo).

Original Script

Classical Chinese English


當省伏奉 聖旨訪聞 貴國有能理療風疾醫人今







具如前當省所奉 聖旨備錄在前請 貴府若有



己未年十一月 日牒




The Bureau of Rituals and Hospitality of the State of Koryŏ (Goryeo) notifies the Office of the Great Steward of the Great Japan State. This Bureau prostrates to receive the imperial edict, which states: “I heard that in Your Noble State exist physicians who are able to treat stroke. Now because traveling merchant Wang Ch’ichŏng (Wang Chikjeong) returned (?). Because of convenience this notice reached Wang Ch’ichŏng, stating the cause of the stroke. I kindly request that your side chooses first-class physicians and in the early spring of next year send them here to treat the stroke. If the treatment is effective, your state will not be lightly rewarded. Now I first gift brocade, large damask silk, and small damask silk, each ten bolts, musk perfume ten doses and order Wang Ch’ichŏng to carry them to the officials of the Great Steward and notify them. In addition, he serves as a trusted envoy until the gifts reach those who are able to receive them.” The notice is written according to the instruction that this Bureau previously received, and the imperial edict is completely recorded ahead. We request that Your Noble Office, if there are good physician who really can treat the stroke, allow them to be sent here. As precedents, receive the silk bolts and musk perfume as well as all notices.

The notice in the year of Kimi (Gimi), the eleventh month, on the ? day.

Vice Minister Im Kae (Im Gae)


Minister Ch’oe (Choe)

Minister Chŏng (Jeong)

大宰府解 申請官裁事


右商人往反高麗國古今之例也 因玆去年當朝商


副錦綾麝香等所送也 是則聞(?)醫師輕廻鎭西之由

牒送旨件則貞所申也者異國之吏爲蒙(?) 裁定未


不聽取 先相副彼牒狀言


承曆四年三月五日 正

The Office of the Great Steward reports[1] and requests the official judgement.

Informing one official document from the notice of the state of Koryŏ

Merchants going to and returning from the state of Koryŏ are precedents of old and present. Because of this, last year merchant of that court, Wang Ch’ichŏng became an official [envoy], opened diplomacy, and stopped going in between the continents. One notice from the Bureau of Rituals and Hospitality, and accompanying it the brocades, damask silk, and musk perfume as well as the others were that which were gifted. Thereby heard the reason of why physicians easily returning to the Western Garrison. (?)[2] The edict that was sent with the notice was that which Ch’ichŏng requested. The official of foreign state did not know.(?) Please rule and judge the unexamined brocade, damask silk, and musk perfume as well as the others. Not to mention if not receive [the gifts], please first examine the words of their notice. The above was respectfully reported as the document states.

The decision in the fourth year of Jōryaku, the third month, on the fifth day.

日本國太宰府牒 高麗國禮賓省


牒得彼省牒 稱當省伏奉聖旨

仍收領疋段麝香者 如牒者


求醫療於鼇波之外 望風懷想能不依之

抑牒狀之詞頗睽故事 改處分而曰聖旨

非藩王可稱 宅遐陬而跨上邦

誠彛倫收懌歝 況亦話商人之旅艇

奇殊俗之單書 執圭之使不至

封函之禮旣虧 双魚猶難達鳳池之月

扁鵲何得入鷄林之雲 凡厥方物皆從却廻

今以狀牒 牒到


承曆四年 月 日

The Office of the Great Steward of the state of Japan notifies the Bureau of Rituals and Hospitality of the State of Koryŏ.

Rejecting and returning the local products and other affairs

We notify that we received your bureau’s notice, stating “This Bureau prostrates to receive the imperial edict… As precedents, receive the silk bolts and musk perfume as well as various notices” as the notice says. Your Noble State suffers the unfortunate incident that illness appears within the bed chamber of your king and seeks medical treatment beyond great waves. We face the wind and think about it, how can we not cherish it? But the words of the official notice quite deviate from old practices. You changed royal order to imperial edict, not which a vassal can proclaim. You reside in a remote place and yet overstep the supreme state. You should realize the norm of human relations and retract your joy and detest. Let alone talking through the traveling boats of merchants. We are amazed by this one letter written in a strange custom and the envoy who holds ceremonial jade tablet did not come. The protocol of letter correspondence has already been breached. Even a couple of fishes is difficult to arrive at the moon of the phoenix pool, by what means does the Bian magpie enter the clouds of the chicken grove?[3] Therefore, all local products are rejected and returned to where they came from. Now with this official notice we notify you that we received the notice. We permitted this official document and thus notify.

In the fourth year of Jōryaku, ? month, ? day.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why and how did the medical exchanges become a means of developing the diplomatic relation between Korea and Japan during the 11th century?
  2. How could Koryŏ (Goryeo) people hear about such a doctor? Were there such frequent and vast exchanges between the two countries?
  3. Why was the Korean court asking for a physician from Japan? Was there a lack of qualified physicians in Korea itself? What did the request tell us about the medical culture at the time?
  4. What was the contagious disease that prompted this request? Is there any other document mentioning this issue? What regions did it affect and how was it contained?
  5. How was medicine understood and practiced in Koryŏ at this time?
  6. How does this document fit into the broader history of Korea-Japan relations? In previous interactions, how did the Koryŏ court refer to itself? What made the court of the Koryŏ kingdom choose the expression 聖旨 when addressing this letter to the Japanese? Was it the first time? How did Korea-Japan relations proceed after this rebuke from Japan?
  7. Did the court of the Koryŏ kingdom also ask the northern tribes' help? If not, why only asking the Japanese?
  8. What were the roles of merchants in the diplomatic relations between Koryŏ and Japan?
  9. Koryŏ seems to look to Heian Japan as a potential source for more advanced doctors. Was this a general pattern - did Goryeo generally regard Heian Japan as more advanced or developed? Does this have anything to do with the surprised and indignant reaction of the Heian court to the Koryŏ dispatch and its use of the term 聖旨?
  10. Is this text typical of communucation between Japan and Korea? Or were more formal rituals usually observed (as suggested by the text)?
  11. Though it will be hard to determine as this document itself is quite a rare one, was any of the objected matters, such as the use of wrds and the method of delivery, etc, real offenses or could they have been used as excuses?
  12. How did the Koryŏ court react to the negative response of the Japanese? Is there any trace of possible comments of Koryŏ scholars upon this matter?
  13. How did the Japanese view themselves in relations to Song China? Did the state of Japan notify the Song that the Koryô court was using very improper formalities as a vassal state?

Further Readings


  1. 大宰府解 was a form of communication from this local office to the central government.
  2. 鎮西府 was an alternate name of 太宰府.
  3. 扁鵲 was a famed physician in China during the Warring States period. 鷄林 was another name for Silla. Here it refers to Korea.