[KS] Ch'oe Sejin; Days of the Week; Choso^n Dynasty Regnal Years

Stefan Ewing sa_ewing at hotmail.com
Fri Jun 10 21:22:55 EDT 2005

Dear KS list members:

I have three arcane questions, all on topics that have nothing to do with 
romanization.  The first concerns the _hun_ readings (traditional 
definitions) of hanja, the second the Korean names of the days of the week, 
and the third the numbering of years using Korean versus Chinese reign 
names.  The first two may perhaps be of the "Why is the sky blue?" variety, 
but I am confident that at least some among you may be able to answer them.

1.  In _okp'yo^n_ (hanja dictionaries), the _hun_ readings (native Korean 
definitions) of characters often use archaic words or _natch'ummal_ for 
nouns, or the determinative _-(u^)l_ ending for verbs and adjectives.  
Examples will be familiar to most readers: _me san_ for "mountain"; _o^mi 
mo_ for "mother"; _kal wang_ for "go."

This practice would appear to be of rather ancient origin.  The question is, 
how ancient and to whom may we attribute these delightfully fascinating but 
fossilized forms?  Is this due to the work of Ch'oe Sejin in his 1527 
_Hunmong Chahoe_, his great collection of hanja with Hangul glosses?  I 
don't suppose there could be any attestations to this practice that are much 
older than his work, unless Koryo^-era scholars wrote definitions in Idu!

2.  How did the naming of days in Korea and Japan after the Sun, the Moon, 
and the planets (or traditional five elements) come about?  The 
correspondence between the seven days of the week in Korean and Japanese on 
the one hand and European languages on the other is surely too similar to be 
a coincidence.

The English names of the days of the week denote the Sun, the Moon, Mars 
(the Teutonic deity Tiw), Mercury (Woden), Jupiter (Thor), Venus (Frigga 
(sp.?), and Saturn, in that order.  Similarly, the Korean and Japanese names 
of the days of the week denote the Sun, the Moon, Mars (Hwaso^ng), Mercury 
(Suso^ng), Jupiter (Mokso^ng), Venus (Ku^mso^ng), and Saturn (T'oso^ng) 

I notice than in modern written Chinese, days of the week are numbered, 
their names having nothing to do with any sort of cosmological system.  I 
also see that in the Kyujanggak's online edition of the _Ilso^nggi_ (late 
Choso^n-dynasty court diary), days are named or numbered using the _yuksip 
kapcha_, the same system used for numbering years in vernacular documents of 
that period.  Was there any system for naming days of the week (rather than 
as part of a 60-day cycle) in use at that time?  How did the correspondence 
between names of days of the week and the planets (or five elements) come 
about?  Is this a modern contrivance from the late 19th-century drives for 

3.  Someone recently informed me that he believed that during the 
Choso^n/Joseon Dynasty (at least prior to 1896 when the era _Ko^nyang_ 
began), while Korean regnal years (reign years; yo^nho) were used for dating 
the Sillok (royal chronicles), _Chinese_ regnal years were used for dating 
official documents.  Thus, the year 1887 would have been recorded as "Kojong 
25 nyo^n" in the _Kojong Sillok_, but as "Kwangso^ [Guangxu] 13 nyo^n" in 
official documents.  Could someone please tell me whether this is in fact 
the case?

I will be grateful for any and all answers to these vexing questions!

Stefan Ewing

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