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

Stefan Ewing sa_ewing at hotmail.com
Wed Jun 15 18:03:45 EDT 2005

Dear KS list members:

Thanks to Gari Ledyard for his long and very informative reply.

In particular, thank you for pointing out:
* That the modern day-of-the-week names used in Korea come from Japan rather 
than from China;
* Explaining the significance of the character /pichnal yo/;
* Filling in the history of the /yeypay/ system;
* Providing the terms /samswun, sangswun, chwungswun, hwaswun/; and
* Clearing up how the /yuksip kapca/ was and was not used for denoting 
individual days.  (The practical use of the system in error-checking the 
numbering of dates is particularly interesting.)

Please excuse the "hastiness" in my comments that Professor Ledyard 
mentioned.  I was trying to square Gale's speculation that Ming astronomers 
devised the seven-day cosmological system with its complete absence in 
modern Chinese usage.  Was Gale misinformed in his speculation that the 
"yoil" system was devised in China by "astronomers of the Mings," evidently 
in response to influence from Jesuit missionaries?  (I should have twigged 
to the fact that he made no reference to written texts that would attest to 
this; but then, he was writing a 2-page magazine article for popular 

Regarding the _Chencamun_, I hadn't considered it as a possible source of 
these ancient glosses, but why not?  That makes a lot of sense.   (Although, 
of course, words such as /sta/ (/tta/) are written with their modern 
spellings in okphyen, etc.)  Did students in fact recite "hanul chen, sta 
ci," etc., and not simply "chen.ci.hyen.hwang," however?  That's 

As for the _Ilsenglok_, yes, my mistake.  I was thinking of the word "ilgi" 
(/ilki/) when I wrote it.

In regards to the word /yeypay/, I have no trouble accepting it.  And I have 
two Kwuke Sacen and several bilingual dictionaries at home, though I did not 
have access to them when I posted my reply.  I just wanted to verify 
Deberniere Torrey's comment that in addition to its main sense of "worship," 
the word /yeypay/ had a specific application as designating days of the 
week.  The NAKL's online _Phyocwun Kwuke Taesacen_ does not mention that 
specific secondary sense, probably because it is now obsolete.  To see it in 
a reference work, would one not need to look at a dictionary of archaic 
words or word-senses?

Professor Ledyard's remarks regarding the tedium of romanization are true 
enough.  Rather than regard its inadequacy as a burden, perhaps we should 
revel in the complexity of the language, and regard its many romanization 
systems as a blessing of abundance.  Each system suits a unique purpose and 
a distinct audience.

Finally, thank you to Professor Ledyard for his appreciative comment on my 
"keeping this list humming."  As for romanization, you will see no more from 
me on the subject!

Stefan Ewing

>From: gkl1 at columbia.edu
>Reply-To: Korean Studies Discussion List <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
>To: Korean Studies Discussion List <Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>
>Subject: Re: [KS] Ch'oe Sejin; Days of the Week; Choso^n Dynasty Regnal 
>Date: Tue, 14 Jun 2005 21:21:00 -0400
>    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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