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

gkl1 at columbia.edu gkl1 at columbia.edu
Tue Jun 14 21:21:00 EDT 2005

   Stefan Ewing asks interesting questions that don't have simple
answers. In responding I'll use Yale, convenient in email talk for
its lack of diacritics and the ease of transliteration into Hankul.

1. On the lexical tags for identifying Chinese characters (e.g.
Hanul chen, Tta[ng] ci, etc., "Hanul heaven, earth ci," etc.): when
did they come into use in Korea? Many of them were probably frozen
into convention in by the age-old Korean manner of dealing with the
so-called "Thousand Character Classic" (Chencamwun/ Qianziwen), a
long, riming poem of 1,000 characters, each of which appears only
once. It was supposedly composed in China in the 6th century,
though it is not certain that the received version isn't the result
of later changes or revisions. Chinese school kids would memorize
the entire poem, and supposedly this indicated that they knew those
1,000 characters. While Chinese children read, recited and
understood the text as a poem containing 1,000 useful characters,
and referred to it by reciting a particular line if they wanted to
call attention to a given character, Korean kids treated it as a
list of 1,000 useful characters prefaced by a short Korean
vernacular gloss and recited them in groups of four. The poem
began, "hanul chen, sta[ng] ci, kamul hyen, nulu hwang" or "chen
for heaven, ci for earth, hyen for black, hwang for yellow"...and
on for another 249 lines. It's not known exactly when this text came
to be used in Korea, but it was undoubtedly early, even perhaps in
Silla times. Whence the archaisms that one sometimes notices in the
lexical tag, such as tta < sta (but modern ttang), which identifies
the second character in the poem. Because of the high degree of
homophony in any group of 1,000 characters, it was natural for the
Koreans to use the vernacular to identify and teach. The learner
had it imprinted on his skull that chen (<thyen) was the
pronunciation for the character for "heaven," and that "hanul" was
its meaning. It's quite amazing how many of these ancient tags are
still in use, even though I dare say no one any longer memorizes
the thousand-character text.

2. On the second issue- the origin of the names for the days of the
week, there was some confusion in both Stefan's original question
and also in his somewhat hasty conclusions in later postings. The
hard fact is the Japan-originated system based on "yo^bi" (K. yoil)
for naming the seven days of the western week was not invented in
China and was never used in China. Christopher Liao in his posting
today is absolutely right in emphasizing how strange this would
sound to Chinese ears. The phrase yo^bi/yoil/Ch. yaori/ is not
attested as a Chinese usage in standard Chinese dictionaries, even
in the more encyclopedic ones. The 16th-17th century Jesuits in
China, and even those in Japan, had nothing to do with this system.
   The seven-day week was not known in China until the coming
of Christianity. But I'm not sure that the Jesuits in China had
anything to do with the Christian "libai" (K. [l]yeypay) system
either. I do know that in reading a fair amount of the 18th and
19th century Korean hanmun literature related to Catholicism (which
DID come to Korea from China) there is no reference to this system.
There were liturgical calendars that indicated the major feast days
and saints' days. There was a term chemlyey, which meant "worship,"
for Sunday, but I have never seen any sign of its being connected
with a system for the seven-day week. Korean Catholics knew the
chemlyey day came every seven days and supposedly marked it on
their liturgical calendars or even their civil calendars, which were
a common household item.
   The libai/yeybay system may well have been a Protestant rather
than a Catholic invention. In this system, Libairi (Yeypayil),
"worship day," was the word for Sunday; Monday thru Saturday were
Libai/Yeypay -one thru -six. This system was certainly in play in
the Protestant Christian community in China during the early
decades of the 19th century, possibly sooner in the Canton area. As
westernizing trends developed and the seven-day week became better
known, some modernizing Chinese who were not Christians developed
the secular form xingqi (K. sengki), "star period," as the basis
for the numeral names of the days of the week; it worked on the
same principle as the Libai system.  This secular, or civil, xingqi
system, now in common use in all parts of the Chinese speaking
world, was never used in Korea or Japan. The Christian libai/yeypay
system was apparently introduced into Korea by the Protestant
missionaries in Manchuria, who spurred the earliest Korean
Protestantism. Judging by Gale's remarks as given us by Ross King,
that system overlapped the newer Japanese system before it died
   The Japanese yo^bi (yoil) system for the seven-day Western week
was invented in Japan without any Chinese precedent. One indication
that the term was not imported from China but rather coined in Japan
is its Japanese pronunciation, yo^bi (here the ^ is as it stands,
not the upside-down diacritic used in McC-R). Had the
term been recognized as appearing in Chinese literature, the
Japanese form would undoubtedly have been Yo^jitsu or Yo^nichi. The
fact that the form ends in the vernacular -bi strongly suggests that
there was no Chinese model.
   There was however a distant Chinese input into the Japanese
system in the syllable yo^ (Ch. yao), "asterism" or "luminary". The
Chinese phrase qiyao (K. ch'il.yo), "Seven Luminaries," attested
already in Former Han times (last two centuries BCE) and defined as
the Sun, the Moon, and the five (then known) planets, is seen in
ancient Chinese texts on astronomy and prognostics. While there was
then absolutely no concept of a seven-day week in China and that
term never had anything to do with Chinese names for days of the
week, we can quickly see that this phrase conveys no more and no
less than the seven members needed for the Japanese yo^bi system.
It is however interesting to see that the hwa-swu-mok-kum-tho order
of the Japanese/Korean names for Tuesday thru Saturday does not
correspond to any of the three orders (or sequences) for these five
terms conventionally observed in China. But as Stefan noted in his
first posting, it DOES correspond to the western planetary order as
associated with the mythical deities whose names stand behind
Tue-Wedn-Thur-Fri-Satur of the old English week. The Japanese took
their inspiration from the "Seven Luminaries" of ancient Chinese
astronomy, but rearranged the sequence of the planets to correspond
to that of the deities/ planets of the English week.
   The question than becomes, exactly when did the Japanese yo^bi
come to Korea and emerge as yoil? This appears to have been after
Korean Protestant Christians had already started using the
libai/yeypay system in the early 1880s, but possibly even as late
as the early years of the 20th century.
   Stefan goes on to ask if traditional Koreans had any unit of time
corresponding to the week and if so what were the names of the days.
Others have already posted the information that Koreans divided the
lunar month into three ten-day periods. These periods, usually
called the samswun (-swun is often replaced by a literary
term -han in more formal usage) were sangswun, cwungswun, and
haswun, "upper, middle, and lower ten-day periods. If the month had
only 29 days, as about half of them did in an average lunar year,
the haswun only had nine days.
   The days of the swun had no individual names. The cyclical
indications for days that Stefan and Don Baker refer to constitute
an overall consecutive system that proceeds without reference to
weeks or days or months or even years. Since lunar years have
variable numbers of days and sometimes even thirteen months, and
months can have 29 or 30 days, and since the consecutive cycles of
sixty names are never broken and do not restart from the beginning
of a new year or month or swun, these combinations are not "names"
at all but rather a different system of sequential enumeration using
an ever repeating sixty-unit cycle. Those sixty-day cycles have been
repeating themselves for at least two thousand years or more (there
were some glitches in the chaotic 4th century, but the Tang
calendrical mathematicians cleaned them out).
   Stefan says the days are named with this cycle in the
"Ilso^nggi". Surely he means the "Ilso^ngnok" (Ilsenglok). However
in that work the days of the month are numbered from 1 to 29 or 30
(as the case may be) and start with a new enumeration on the first
day of each month. In smaller characters under the number
of the day are given the two characters indicating the sixty-unit
cyclical enumeration. But as already stated, that enumeration does
not stop at the end of the month but continues in its normal
sequence into the next month until the sixtieth combination (K.
kyeyhay) is reached, whereupon it starts all over again with the
first combination (K. kapca), no matter at what point in the month
that re-beginning occurs. In no sense are these cyclical
designations "names." Just look at them as a separate, independent
enumeration system that helps the calendar makers keep the days
straight and discover quickly if any date or cyclical combination
has been inadvertantly skipped. Needless to say, these cyclical
combinations also have very important astrological functions which
cannot be served by the numerical count of days. Cyclical dates are
the only indication of the day in formal court historiography, as in
the basic annals of the Kolyesa or the various sillok of the Chosen
kings. Ordinary people would not normally know them without looking
at a calendar. They were certainly in no sense "names".

   Before I check out, let me just say that if I have another book
in me it won't be on romanization. I can't think of a more boring
topic to write a book about. It's bad enough that we always have to
deal with it! What would a book solve? We need a language that is
easier to romanize, and Korean is not willing to be that language.
Sorry David and Stefan!

I just saw Stefan's last posting. Why is it taking so long for him
to understand that Yeypay/"worship" is a perfectly good word to use
for the seven-day week that Christian Westerners introduced to
China, even if it wasn't the Jesuits who made it up? Why does one
need an on-line dictionary? Why not just buy a good pocket
dictionary and save the trouble?   ...But thanks to him for being a
one-man stoker who keeps this list humming. Look for more questions
unrelated to romanization. A few of us are suckers for that topic,
but most of the list, I think, has the idea that they've heard too
much about it for years.

Gari Ledyard

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