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

naomi lowenmaulchen at hotmail.com
Tue Jun 19 00:03:33 EDT 2007

Regarding Gari Ledyard's response, a recent example related to a remote
corner of Mainland China might be the renaming of Northwest Yunnan
(Zhongdian - Xianggelila) as the indisputable location of a forgotten
"Shangri-La" featured in James Hilton's fictitious 1933 novel, Lost Horizon.
Irony was possibly the only thing lost in the government's efforts to
capitalize on the Shangri-la name and cajole 100,000 million tourists to
Yunnan by 2020 (CNTA); Shangri-la not only symbolized an outpost of Western
imperialism, but also a peaceful, harmonious land untouched by the evils
that plague developed civilizations (Cingcade, 1998).

-----Original Message-----
From: koreanstudies-bounces at koreaweb.ws
[mailto:koreanstudies-bounces at koreaweb.ws] On Behalf Of gkl1 at columbia.edu
Sent: Saturday, June 16, 2007 8:08 PM
To: Korean Studies Discussion List
Subject: Re: [KS] Choson, The land of the morning calm... really?

   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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