[KS] Choson, The land of the morning calm... really?

Mark Byington byington at fas.harvard.edu
Sun Jun 17 12:17:37 EDT 2007

Hello again,

I'd like to add a few comments with regard to the chao/zhao distinction 
that Kirk Larsen pointed out, and the "tide" reading of the same character 
(when the water radical is added) that Gari Ledyard indicated as the 
original reading in the name read ChosOn in modern Korean.

The earliest discussion of the possible meaning of the name ChosOn I have 
come across is contained in two commentaries on the treatment of ChosOn 
(Chaoxian) in the Shiji (compiled over a long period before and after 
circa 100 BC). These comments are found at the heading of the account of 
Chaoxian in juan 115 of that work.

The first is the fifth century Jijie commentary by Pei Yin, who, citing an 
earlier commentator, states that Chaoxian had three rivers, called the Shi 
(meaning damp), the Lie (meaning transparent) and the Shan (a kind of 
fishnet). These three rivers converge and form the Lie river (same 
character as above), and the commentator supposes that the place names 
Lelang and Chaoxian derived somehow from these river names (presumably 
because le in Lelang sounds like Lie, and xian in Chaoxian sounds like 
Shan - for the latter see below). It can be argued, by the way, that the 
Lie river is to be identified with the lower course of the modern 
ChaeryOng river.

The eighth century Suoyin commentary by Sima Zhen gets more specific, 
first by giving phonetic readings for the two characters in Chaoxian 
(which come out to Zhaoshan in modern reading - I won't attempt to 
reconstruct the eighth century readings). Then he notes that the name 
Chaoxian was derived from the Shan river (written with the character for 
mountain with the water radical added), which he notes is also pronounced 
shan (mountain with speech radical, meaning to slander).

The gist of all these linguistic gymnastics is that fifth- and 
eight-century commentators guessed that the name Chaoxian derived from the 
name of the Shan river, based on a similarity of the pronunciation for the 
river name and the second character in the reconstruction Zhaoshan. This 
seems like quite a stretch to me, and I am very doubtful as to the 
reliability of the reconstructions (already many centuries removed from 
the fourth century BC, by which time the term Chaoxian was being used) and 
of the likelihood that the name actually derived from that of the river.

Nevertheless, there are a couple of interesting points here. First, the 
Suoyin commentary, in attempting to reconstruct the pronunciation of the 
name Chaoxian as Zhaoshan, notes specifically that the first character in 
Chaoxian is homophonous with chao, the character meaning tide. But here 
the association is phonetic, not semantic, so I wonder if there ever was
any early source claiming that the chao in Chaoxian was ever read to mean 
tidal (as opposed to sounding like the character for tidal).

Second, these attempts to account for the origin of the name Chaoxian by 
associating the name with that of the Shan river are the closest thing I 
have found for explanations of the meaning of the name. However, even if 
we accept this dubious hypothesis, we have still merely traced back to the 
name Shan River, which is likely just another non-Chinese place name, the 
meaning of which was lost long before the later commentators came along (I 
doubt the original meaning was fishnet).

I think it is important to point out that the earliest extant references 
to Chaoxian that give any clue as to the location of that place relate to 
the affairs of the Yan state. Yan was based near modern Beijing from about 
the tenth century BC. Over its first few centuries it extended its 
territories northward to the Yanshan mountains and began, gradually, to 
creep northwards past Shanhaiguan along the Bohai coast toward the Daling 
and Liao rivers. By my own estimates Yan began to encounter a place called 
Chaoxian after its territories had extended to some point between the 
Daling and Liao, and it is likely, in my view, that Chaoxian (whether a 
name for people, a place, or both) was then applied to the region in the 
lower Liao river drainage system. If so, the above-described hypotheses 
relating the name Chaoxian to the names of rivers in the Pyongyang 
vicinity fall apart pretty quickly.

With regard to Ernesto's original inquiry, this all merely represents a 
confirmation that any attempt to translate the name Chaoxian into English 
is problematic from the start. I would, however, be interested to know if 
any discussions occurred during the later ChosOn period attempting to 
"recover" the meaning of the name. I would not be surprised to find that 
this was the case.

Best Regards,

Mark Byington

On Sat, 16 Jun 2007, gkl1 at columbia.edu wrote:

>   Ernesto's question is well put. The problem is that this
> "morning calm" business is so old, so deeply entrenched, and worst
> of all so blindly accepted by the Korean airline and tourist
> industry, that we will never get rid of it, even though it was
> wrong, wrong, wrong from the day it was imagined by some Western
> ignoramus, probably British or American, way back in the 1870s or
> early 1880s. Like the even sillier and actually pernicious "hermit
> kingdom," it will plague us forever. Why is it that Korea got stuck
> with these "poetic sobriquets" (as they've been described)?
> I can't think of any phrases this bad that have been pinned on China
> or Japan.
>   Mark is probably right that it was originally a Chinese phonetic
> transcription of some native name used among the eastern peoples in
> the Korean neighborhood. It appeared in Chinese books long before
> Korean books existed, probably the 4th century BCE (depending on
> when one dates the first appearance in Chinese literature of the
> Kija/Choson story). The problem is that no one has any idea what
> kind of a name it was intended to represent.
>   Kirk is right to observe that the reading given to the phrase in
> Chinese, i.e. Chao2-xian1 (numerals indicating Mandarin tones), does
> not have any direct connection with "morning," because in the
> Chinese reading that sense is represented by the pronunciation
> zhao1. But while it's true that chao2 is the reading in the sense
> of "court," that was not the primary meaning of the graph according
> to Chinese classical etymologists and lexicographers. They rather
> considered it to be the original written form of the word for
> "tide," specifically "morning tide," now written using the same
> character but with the "water" classifier affixed on the left side.
>   In the sense of "tide" or "court" the graph is believed to have
> been pronounced in pre-Han times (pre-2nd century BCE) something
> like *dhyog (>chao2), with a voiced, aspirated, dental occlusive
> initial (it's not possible in email formats to use the proper
> diacritics, which is why I say "approximately"). In the sense of
> "morning" it was pronounced approximately *tyog (>zhao1,a
> voiceless, unaspirated, dental occlusive initial.
>   As for graph -xian1, the second syllable of Chaoxian, it does not
> mean "calm" at all. Its pre-Han pronunciation has been reconstructed
> as approximately *syan, having no connection whatever to anything
> involving calm or calmness. As the graph itself (a combination of
> graphs for "fish" and "sheep") suggests, it is originally defined
> as fresh (or new) fish or meat for eating. That is the primary
> definition given in good, classically based dictionaries.
>   Considering the compound form Chaoxian (Dhyogsyan), if it had
> been intended to mean anything, the closest we could get would be
> "tidal freshness," but given the food-based, savory etymology, that
> would have probably been seen as a hopelessly mixed metaphor. In
> fact it is risky to try to translate it at all, and if it was
> indeed intended to be a phonetic transcription of some native name
> heard in the vicinity of the Korean peninsula, as most scholars
> believe, than it would be self-defeating to attempt to translate it
> at all.
>   Many late 19th-century Westerners, in particular British and
> American ones, often manifested a tendency to exoticize the east.
> They would go to a dictionary like Mathews' Chinese-English one,
> look up his definitions, and create some quaint, exotic phrase. Few
> if any of them had any idea how to look up and confirm etymologies
> of ancient Chinese graphs, much less recognize a tone or a
> voiced/voiceless distinction. "Morning Calm" and "Hermit Kingdom"
> are cases in point. It was just orientalist mischief, and rather
> than trying to translate their inventions, we should really be
> trying to weed them out of our discourse. But as I already said,
> that project is probably hopeless.
> Gari Ledyard
> Quoting "Ernie ." <recanto at hotmail.com>:
>> Dear list members, I just hope this subject has not appear
>> before, but would
>> you agree with the translation of Cho-son as “The land of the
>> morning
>> calm?”, which have been fully accepted since Lowell wrote his
>> famous book in
>> late 1880’s? I lack the knowledge on Chinese language to explain
>> these two
>> characters which form the world Cho-son, but what about changing
>> ‘CALM’ for
>> ‘RADIANCE’ or ‘FRESHNESS’, or even ‘PURITY’ as I’ve some times
>> read?
>> Thanks and regards.
>> Ernesto, from Madrid
>> _________________________________________________________________
>> Dale rienda suelta a tu tiempo libre. Mil ideas para exprimir tu
>> ocio con
>> MSN Entretenimiento. http://entretenimiento.msn.es/

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