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

lawrence driscoll lawdri at hotmail.com
Mon Jun 18 12:22:35 EDT 2007

Sorry but please use this corrected version of my just sent message if you see fit.
 Dear List,I cannot make any claim to scholarship on this subject, but please allow me to offer another point of view on the topic at hand. With regard to names and descriptive phrases, East Asia has been at the mercy of itinerant Western, and Eastern, observers for some time. And as Dr. Ledyard points out it seems Korea has fared badly in that respect. Even today's name, derived from one ancient dynasty "Koryo", leaves something to be desired. But China too had no choice when it came to being named after the first Chinese Dynasty, "Chin". If its people had the choice, perhaps that name would have been Zhongguo (Central Kingdom) or Huaxia (Brilliance of Xia).  Regarding Japan, it was lucky enough to shake off China's earliest references to it as "Wa" (land of short people). It seems it cleverly deflected such an aspersion by creating the name  "Daiwa", which has a completely different meaning. But China's other more benign reference to it as "Riben" (Japan), or "where the sun rises", has endured.  Neither did Vietnam have the luxury of choosing its own name. It inherited the name China used to refer to that state's own southern territory, Yueh.  The big island to Japan's south also received its name "Taiwan" from those mainlanders who approached by boat and caught view of the "Terraced Bay".  What's more Westerners took the liberty of deciding the term to descibe these East Asian territories as organized states. China's sheer size apparently made "empire" seem appropriate. And post-Meiji Restoration PR campaigns aimed at the West, assured Japan the same classification.  But each dynasty of Korea has only managed to earn the less esteemed title of "kingdom" when  Westerners wrote their accounts. Even idealistic attempts by Koreans to alter that by naming a recent drama, "The Last Empress", are likely to have no influence to the contrary.  
 This all said, we might now wonder where Korea will choose to go, when it comes to naming itself, after unification is finally realized? Finally I would really love to hear the perspective of Koreans and East Asians themselves on this topic.  And of course I welcome the critique of my own.  All the best,Lawrence DriscollWhippany, New Jersey   

Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2007 06:06:49 -0700From: ed4linda at yahoo.comTo: koreanstudies at koreaweb.wsSubject: Re: [KS] Choson, The land of the morning calm... really?
Gari Lefyard wrote:
Mark is probably right that it was originally a Chinese phonetictranscription of some native name used among the eastern peoples inthe Korean neighborhood. It appeared in Chinese books long beforeKorean books existed, probably the 4th century BCE (depending onwhen one dates the first appearance in Chinese literature of theKija/Choson story). The problem is that no one has any idea whatkind of a name it was intended to represent.
Certainly one of the earliest appearances of the term "Choso^n",
however it may have been pronounced,  was in the Chan-kuo-ts'e
[Strategies of the Warring States].  Kenneth Gardiner in his The Early History of Korea discusses the story of the "Marquises of Ch'ao-hsien" noting that this term appears first in the Wei-lu"eh. He notes some similarities of the early stories of Choso^n and other founding stories seeming to imply that they were adapted or confused. 
There is, also, in the Tongguk Yo^ji Su^ngnam  [Augmented Survey of the Geography of Korea (Tongguk)] an reference where it asserts that there was a term 'cho kwang so'n ryo' [cho as in Choso^n, kwang as in 'Kwanghwamun', so'n as in Choso^n, and ryo^ as in Koryo^].  This is interpreted as the 'Cho' of Choso^n representing 'Tongbang' = East Country = Korea and the So^n representing the So'nbi(jok) = Xianbei, a probably Mongol people who were an early influence in eastern Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula..  
Then again, Sin Ch'ae-ho wrote in his Manju wollyu ko that the name Choso'n derived from the 'Suksin ' appellation for the Tungusic Malgal/Mohe/Matgat who were also known as the 'Chusin' 'Chu' as the "Ju" in 'Chinju' = pearl and 'Sin' = the 9th of the 12 earthly branches (horary characters). Presumably implying that this devolved in to 'Choso^n.'
Among the huge problems in dealing with the etymology of these old names is the relative inaccuracy of Chinese phonology as practiced by different writers in different eras, the subsequent interpretation of old Chinese phonology at various times due to variations in dialect prominence, the already huge gaps in time between the times of events and the recording of these events by early writers such as Ssu-ma Chien and even much later writers such as Il'yo^n, the basic disagreements on geographic references (e.g., the P'ae-su river generally identified as the Yalu, but identified as the Ch'o^ng-ch'o^n river by the eminent Korean historian Yi Pyo^ng-do), etc.  
So the question appears to remain a riddle wrapped in enigma and as Gari pointed out, "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."
Now if you want to talk about 'ASADAL', that's a horse of a different color! ;-}>
Ed Rockstein

Dr. Edward D. Rockstein Korean Language Instructor Language Learning Center (LLC) 891 Elkridge Landing Road, Rm 301 Linthicum Heights, MD 21090 Office 410-859-5672
Fax 410-859-5737 ed4linda at yahoo.com   

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