(Translation) 鄭道傳 朝鮮經國典 序

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Jeong Dojeon (鄭道傳;1342-1398; Sambong 三峯) served as the Prime Minister (or First Chief State Councilor) of Joseon during the period from 1392 to 1398. He was killed in 1398 by Yi Bang-won (李芳遠,1367-1422) who would be King Taejong (r. 1400∼1418) of the Joseon dynasty. Jeong Dojeon was an adviser to Yi Seong-gye and also the principal architect of the Joseon state: he framed the Joseon dynasty's ideological, institutional, and legal frameworks which would endure for five centuries to come. Statutes of Governance for the Joseon State (Joseon Gyeong Gukjeon 朝鮮經國典), which was completed and presented to the king in 1394, reflects Jeong's visions of good government. As the systematic framework of the Joseon state, this book would influence Joseon politics for five centuries. This book states the way by which the king ought to rule the country and defines the roles and responsibilities of bureaucrats at all levels. It also served as an indispensable basis for statutes and ordinances promulgated throughout the Joseon dynasty.

The following document is the preface to Joseon Gyeong Gukjeon(朝鲜经国典), composed by the royal decree. Joseon Gyeong Gukjeon(朝鲜经国典) literally means the statutes of governing for the Joseon state. In the preface, the writer justifies their work by reference to the Confucian classics. At the beginning of this preface, he cites the preamble section of the Rituals of Zhou (Zhouli 周禮), to map out the constitutional framework of the new government. He refers to the Rituals of Zhou and discussed the Six Canons that are believed to be the standard ways of governing a polity, including the Canon of State(治典), the Canon of Education(教典), the Canon of Ritual(礼典), the Canon of War(政典), the Canon of Justice(刑典), the Canon of Works(事典). In the preface, Jeong defines these Six Canons as to road to good government. This document shows that the Confucian Classics framed the very structures of the Joseon state and informed its fundamental political values.

Original Script

Classical Chinese English


惟我殿下應天順人。除殘去暴。乃革舊弊。一新敎化。以時考績。黜陟幽明。而治典明矣。輕徭薄賦。休養生民。而敎典明矣。車服有章。上下有別。則禮典可謂明矣。克詰戎兵。折衝禦侮。則政典可謂明矣。議刑得情。民無寃抑。刑典不可謂不明也。允釐百工。以煕庶績。事典不可謂不明也。於是。判三司事奉化伯臣鄭道傳。作爲一書。名之曰經國典。以獻 殿下。

宸心是悅。付諸有司藏之金樻。爰命臣揔。序其編端。臣揔竊伏惟念。一代之興。必有一代之制作。苟非明良相得。有同魚水。則何以臻此焉。今我 殿下推赤心。委任宰相。而三司公以天人之學。經濟之才。贊襄丕基。馳聘雄文。克成大典。非唯有補於 殿下乙夜之覽。且爲子孫萬世之龜鑑也。於戲。其至矣乎。若視爲文具。則書自書人自人矣。何益於治道哉。子思之作中庸也。論九經曰。其所以行之者一也。一者何謂。誠也。臣於是書。亦以此言焉。

Preface to the Statutes of the Governance of Joseon

“The six principles of administering a country have been created for a long time. If we look back on the Rituals of Zhou, the first is the Canon of State(治典)for administering [the regional states], managing the bureaucracy, and disciplining the people. The second is the Canon of Education(教典)for pacifying the regional states, instructing the bureaucracy, and soothing the people. The third is the Canon of Ritual (礼典) for harmonizing the regional states, unifying the bureaucracy, and coordinating the people. The fourth is the Canon of War(政典)for pacifying the regional states, rectifying hundreds of officials, and bringing equity to the people. The fifth is the Canon of Justice for interrogating the states, punishing the officials, and investigating the people. The sixth is the Canon of Works(事典) for enriching the regional states, appointing hundreds of officials, and letting the people live and flourish. Governing concerns bureaucracy. Education concerns rituals. War concerns the military. Work concerns construction.

From ancient time, the rise and fall of a country can be clearly observed in history. The reason why a country become politically stable and prosperous is that it has a clear understanding of the six principles. The reason why a country became politically instable and perished is that it is ignorant of the six principles. Towards the end of the end of the Goryeo dynasty, the regime and indoctrination have declined. The so called six principles existed in names only. People with noble aspirations sigh while wringing their hands for a long time. Once a country reaches its uttermost of instability, it will return to the status of stability, this is inevitable.” Your highness follows the mandate of heaven and comply with the popular wishes of the people. Abolished those are ruthless and disposed those are cruel. Therefore, the problems have been removed, and moral suasive has been renewed.

Your highness follows the mandate of heaven and comply with the popular wishes of the people; your highness has abolished those are ruthless and disposed of those who were cruel. Therefore, the problems have been remedied, and moral suasion has been renewed. By evaluating the performance of the officials at an appropriate time, Your Highness should demote under-performing officials, promote enlightened officials. In this way, the principle of governing could become clear. By alievating corvee labors and taxes and giving people some time to recuperate, to breed, and to grow. In this way, the principle of moral suasion can become clear. The use of carriage and clothing are standardized, and there are clear differences between up and down. Therefore, the principle of ethics is cleared. Having the ability to rule the country properly, and defend the country from outsiders. Therefore, the principle of regime is cleared. The conviction of criminals is precisely based on details of each case, there isn’t any injustice among the people. The principle of justice is no doubt cleared. All the officials fulfill their own part of duty, many of the things will be prosperous. The principle of routine work is no doubt cleared. Therefore, 判三司事奉化伯 Jeong Dojeon collected all these principles into one book, named it Statutes of the Governance of Joseon and presented it to your highness. The king was therefore pleased in mind, gave it to the official who is in charge of this, and put it in the golden cabinet. Then ordered minister 㧾 to undertake the task and write a preface to this book. Minister 㧾 once thought about it privately, when there is a rise of a new dynasty, there are some new establishments. If it’s not because of a wise king meets with some good officials, like a fish gets into the water, how could it reaches this particular situation? Your highness assigned this task to the Grand Councilor with sincere heart. 三司公 exerted his intelligence of heaven and people, and skills of governance and benefiting the people, to support the foundation of the dynasty, to write down these articles with vigorous energy. Finally, this great book of statues was finished. Not only will this be presented as a supplement to what your highness has been reading at night, it will also serve as an example or warning to the future generation. Ah!Would this be the uttermost of this? If we regard it just as an object of decoration, then this book is just a book and we people are just ordinary people. How could it has anything good to the governance of a country? Zisi(子思) wrote Zhongyong(中庸), he commented on the nine classics (九经) and said: what these classics shared in common is just one thing, what is that? That is sincerity. My comment on this book is also the same.

Discussion Questions

  1. How could it be possible for the new dynasty to set up their government according to the principles from the The Rites of Zhou?
  2. How does the author justify the legitimacy of the the new dynasty and the compilation of Joseon Gyeong Gukjeon?