Letter of Instruction Appointing Yi Tammyŏng as Provincial Governor of Kyŏngsang Province, Concurrently Army and Navy Commander, Border Inspector and Magistrate of T’aegu

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Primary Source Text

English Classical Chinese
The King says: To control the roots and branches,[1] I use the theory of animal sacrifice. To balance the inner and the outer, I use the discourse of holding the balance.[2] I may be ten thousand li away, but I am as near as the clay atop the potter’s wheel. I may be as far as the ninth layer of heaven,[3] but I am as close as the candle that illuminates the room. By following the legacy of the Zhou and Han dynasties, I address heavy responsibilities through delegation. By adopting the legislation of the Tang and Song dynasties, I plan carefully with repeated supplementation.

I thus take up the primal responsibility of Jingmen,[4] temporarily putting aside books of the royal library. I gaze on the realm of seventy prefectures, a land of riches providing for a thousand years.[5] On the Yangzi River’s path to the sea, nothing is greater than Dongting Lake; among the steep mountains that pierce the void, the cliff-face paths can be rivaled. Its topography is like Wu and Chu,[6] providing sufficient resources; its natural endowment is like Zou and Lu,[7] raising tax income. Since its rivers and mountains foster daring men, it has long gathered luminaries of repute. Since the recitation of classics has become local custom, it has long produced talent for the needs of the day.

Its abundant materials and vast territory are of great service to the state. For this reason its numerous duties and vexing administration are the worst among the eight circuits. Due to widespread decline, its affairs must be salvaged from imminent ruination. With indulgence in pleasure taken to extremes, rectification will be truly difficult. With no harvest ripening in the fields, corpses will soon be filling the ditches. As parent of the people, how can I not pursue all possible means to bring aid? Rescuing our people truly lies in the responsibility of selecting officials.

Your father has this son, whom I desire to appoint as minister. Upholding family precepts, you receive the mantle of instruction in the school of Confucius.[8] Obeying bureaucratic principles, you follow the golden rules of the Chancellor of Zheng.[9] Your father, your brother and yourself are held in esteem in the Ministry of Personnel. Four generations in one hundred years have illuminated your family repute in the royal academy.

With sudden cruelty, flames on blazing ridges burned intensely, yet luckily the egg remained whole in the overturned nest. The calamities of petty men fill the sky, yet they they dare to speak of the grievances of loyalty. A gentleman’s errors are like the moon: he deeply contemplates the statues of the eminent of old. Ji Shao had the manner of his father, in appearance displaying the bearing of a dragon.[10] When Dou Yi had an audience with the sovereign, he did not advance beyond the entrance pillars.[11] This is indeed the loyalty of one who does not contravene his father; this is entirely the righteous conduct of withholding nothing from one’s sovereign.

Moved by memorials containing endless words of appeal, why should I to wait to hear petitions presented with beaten drums? I have been sympathetic to your three requests to attend your parents, and now intend to fulfill my wish for your service. That you had to bide your time as governor of Cholla must have been the consequence of ministers’ chatter. That you now face challenges in the position of governor of Kyŏngsang was a result originating from the explanations of the grand councilor. Even though one with the elevated behavior of Li Xuzhong should not serve in the provinces,[12] one without the fine reputation of Zhao Bian cannot be entrusted with distant regions.[13] Circumstances of the times differ in urgency; the talented value suitability in appointment. Thus opinions at court on the selection of officials accord with my initial intention.

Now I appoint you to the position of Provincial Governor of Kyŏngsang province, concurrently the army and navy commander, border inspector and magistrate of T’aegu. You should carefully consider the gravity of this appointment and remain constantly mindful of the present predicament. If you were fighting a fire, how could you spare time to consult elders? You should rather face it immediately. Without flour, there can be no skilful cook. How can you scrape hairs from a turtle to make felt? There is no inch of skin that you should not cherish. It is better to be delighted in a group than alone. A bucket of water can save a multitude. The hunger of the people is like one’s own.

The content of memorials presented to the throne already provide an overview of the situation. After you arrive and survey conditions, do as should be done. If you want to achieve the gradual protection of the people, nothing is better than the removal of corrupt clerks. Just as there is concern for depletion of the region’s funds in receiving Japanese envoys, all of the people are repeatedly burdened by military taxes. With anxiety and suffering pervading their minds, some fear the trading of swords for plowshares. With difficulties and concerns filling their eyes, the wandering geese of the wilds should be gathered together.

In submitting admonition, earth must be tamped before the rain. In official service, orchids must be watered in a timely fashion. Beyond this, I will not give you further instruction for you are knowledgeable. Your position is comparable to the premier lord: shining on the constellation of retainers, they bow northwards. Your rank is as high as junior guardian: as they gaze up to you as to the moon, you take position facing south. The top of your jade adornments already brush against your embroidered robe. By the office in your hometown, you will build a hall for your honors.

Extra diligence in loyalty drawn from filial piety is sure to coalesce in the merit of administrative reports. Since I have not seen you betray emotions in moments of delight, anger, anxiety or joy, I have no doubt in your ability to manage affairs. Since I have seen you maintain your composure amid worry, anguish, haste and pressure, I imagine you can bring order with great ease. It is my deep wish that you take up this position. I make the appointment for this reason. Remain mindful of it.

On the second day of the eighth month in the 29th year of the Kangxi reign period.

王若曰: 制本末則有體牲之說,均內外則有持衡之言。萬里之遠而如泥在匀,九重之邃而如燭照室。遵周漢之遺意,責重分釐。取唐宋之成規,計深迭補。



惟卿父有是子,君願爲臣。佩家訓則稟木鐸於孔門,服官箴而受金科於鄭相。一翁二季,雋時望於天曹。四世百年,赫家聲於翰苑 。








Discussion Questions

Further Readings


  1. The fundamental and the incidental, the beginning and the end, a concept common to Chinese philosophical discourse.
  2. A metaphor for evaluating the ability of officials.
  3. Kuchung 九重 is also a reference to the court and, by extension, the ruler.
  4. A strategic site in Chinese history.
  5. The king is here refering to Kyŏngsang Province, where Yi Tammyŏng is to be posted.
  6. Two states of the south during China's Warring States period (475-225 BC).
  7. The native places of Mencius and Confucius respectively, in modern-day Shandong province.
  8. Part of this and the following phrase are taken from in a directive penned by Xu Jingzong 許敬宗 (592-672). See "Ju xian lang zhao" 舉賢良詔 in Wenyuan yinghua 文苑英華 j.462.
  9. During the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BC), the Chancellor of Zheng reputedly refused gifts of fish to protect the integrity of his position. See Liu Xiang 劉向 (79-8 BC) (comp.), Xin xu 信序.
  10. Ji Shao 稽紹 (253-304) was an official of the Jin dynasty. He died attempting to protect Emperor Hui (r.301-307). His father was Ji Kang 嵇康 (223-262), one of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove and famously executed by Sima Zhao 司馬昭 (211–265), regent of the Wei dynasty. See Jin shu 晉書, j.89.
  11. Dou Yi 竇儀 (914-66) entered the service of the Song after having served the Later Jin (936–47), the Later Han (947–51) and the Later Zhou (951–60). Once when proceeding to an audience with Emperor Taizu (r.960-72) and seeing the emperor was not properly attired in shoes and hat, he stopped outside the hall. He only entered after the emperor quickly attended to his attire and called Dou in. Dou then explained to the emperor the importance of proper deportment in court affairs. See Zizhi tongjian houbian 資治通鑑後編, j.1.
  12. Li Xuzhong 李虛中 (761-813) was a scholar-official and renowned astrologer of the Tang dynasty. His tomb inscription was written by Han Yu 韓愈 (768-824), perhaps adding to Li's fame. See Chang li xiangsheng wenji 昌黎先生文集, j.28.
  13. Zhao Bian 趙抃, an official of the Song dynasty (960-1279), excelled as a regional administrator. He is celebrated in a poem by Su Shi 蘇軾 (1037-1101). See Song shi 宋史 j.316; Dongpo quanji 東坡全集, j.11.