(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, Firstly, there is the Canon of State(治典), used for administering different states, managing the government, and ruling the people. Secondly, there is the Canon of Education(教典), used for stabilizing the states, instructing the government, and taming the people. Thirdly, there is the Canon of Ritual(礼典), used for coordinating the states, commanding the officials, and harmonizing the people. Fourthly, there is the Canon of War(政典), used for maintaining political fairness in each state, rectifying the attitude of the officials, and equalizing the taxes of the people. Fifthly, there is the Canon of Justice, used for interrogating the states, punishing the officials, and investigating the people. Sixthly, there is the Canon of Works(事典) used for enriching the states, appointing the officials, and nurturing the people. Governance is about the officials. Indoctrination is about ethics. Regime is about military affairs. Routine work is about labour.

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 are removed and the indoctrination was renewed.Assessing working performance of the officials at an appropriate time, demote officials that are badly behaved, promote officials that are enlightened. Therefore, the principle of governing is cleared. Reducing corvee and taxes, leave people some time to recuperate, to breed and grow. Therefore, the principle of indoctrinating is cleared. 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?

Further Readings


(sample) : Jaeyoon Song

  • Discussion Questions:

Student 1 : (Write your name)

  • Discussion Questions:

Student 2 : Xiaoyi Ze

Based on Chǒng's writing, at the beginning of Chosǒn dynasty, what kind of state did the founder(s) intend to establish?

  • Discussion Questions:

Student 3 : Hu Jing

  • Discussion Questions:

Since the ancient times, China and Korea have different circumstances in many aspects. How could that be possible for Joseon to adopt Chinese institutions? How did the Joseon court domesticate the Chinese institution?

Student 4 : Martin

  • Discussion Questions:

1. Does Jeong Dojeon understand a strong state or strongly regulated state power as good governance?

2. What is his understanding of the role of the king?

Student 5 : (Write your name)

  • Discussion Questions:

Student 6 : (Write your name)

  • Discussion Questions: In Chong To-jon's understanding of statecraft, what is the significance of rituals in politics?

Student 7 : King Kwong Wong

  • Discussion Questions:
  1. Why the Rites of Zhou is so important that Jeong Dojeon had to put it at the beginning of his preface?
  2. What are the reasons for the compilation of Gyeonggukjeon? How does Jeong Dojeon justify it in his preface?

Student 8 : Younès M'Ghari

  • Discussion Questions:

Was writting such a manuscript a way for the authors of the Gyeonggukjeon (MR: Kyŏnggukjŏn) and its preface to give the new king political advices? Was it a formality after having given them orally, as subjects being close to Yi Seonggye? As the case may be, was it in fact also a document adressed to the other subjects, for instance to convince them of the legitimacy of the new power?

Were Jeong Dojeon (MR: Chŏng Tojŏn) and the author of the preface of Gyeonggukjeon on the same political lines?

Student 9 : (Write your name)

  • Discussion Questions:

Although we haven't read the preface of Kyŏngguk taejŏn (경국대전), what's the difference between contents of this text and the preface of Kyŏngguk taejŏn?

Student 10 : (Write your name)

  • Discussion Questions:

Student 11 : (Write your name)

  • Discussion Questions:

Student 12 : Sanghoon Na

  • Discussion Questions:

Why did King Taejo order Chong Chong to write this preface?

Student 13 : (Write your name)

  • Discussion Questions:

Student 14 : (Write your name)

  • Discussion Questions: