The Cruel End of the Sinyu Persecution and a Quiet Interlude – Martyr’s Country, Part 5

In this post, I promise I’m going to finish up volume 2 of Dowon Park’s Martyr’s Country (박도원의 ”순교자의 나라”) for real this time.  I keep saying that and then find it really interesting and dramatic, and it takes me longer than I thought to get through what I want to cover.  I’m not sure how accurate the novel is, because this is historical fiction rather than a non-fiction history book, but it’s hard to put down regardless.   This is a good time to remind readers that most K-drama and historical novels are exciting but often only use actual history as source material, so they shouldn’t be taken as factual.  Since this was set only a few centuries ago, more of it should be accurate than is typical of such novels.

Picking up with volume 2 chapter 10, the first paragraph begins “Mun Yeongin is dead.  Kang Wansuk is dead.”  Very dramatic, even traumatic, statements after the last few chapters depicting the executions.  They look for a place to bury Yeongin Mun out in the mountains, then Kapnyeong visits with Yoo Sosa and Hasang before he goes out with Kim Hanbin to look for a man named Hwang Shim.  They go back to his hometown to find him, meet with friends and relatives trying to come up with some lead on his whereabouts, also stopping in Kang Wansuk’s hometown of Deoksan where they try to find Hong Pilju.  Then they resume their search for the elusive Hwang Shim in Hanyang.

One of Hwang Shim’s realtives suspects Kapnyeong of being with the police, but Kapnyeong reassures him that he is not.  Apparently Hwang Shim was driven out of the area because he is a church member, so there is some concern as to who might be asking about him.  Kapnyeong wants to meet him and presses for more information.

Chapter 11 is a very long chapter that begins the details history of Hwang Sayeong, who is sitting alone in a cave in the mountains thinking of his past.  His father died before he was born, leaving his mother Widow Yi to raise him alone.  There were rumors in his youth that he was a prodigy, and his mother vows to raise him to be a man her late husband would be proud of.  Of course, Korean men took a new name upon reaching adulthood, and his name back then, called an 아명 amyeong, was Shibok, not Sayeong.  His mother tries to get him a tutor, but the ones she hires don’t last more than a year.  When he turns 15, he goes to Majae to implore Jeong Yakjong to become his tutor and teach him the Confucian classics.  Jeong Yakjong for his part arranges for Widow Yi, to come live in Jeong Yakyong’s empty house since he is now in Hanyang working for the king.

After studying together for awhile, Jeong Yakjong wants him to apply for the state exam in the fall, and Shibok asks if he’s too young.  Yakjong tells him there are no age restrictions, so Shibok applies and begins studying for the exam day and night.  Some observers think he can’t pass the exam.  Finally, Shibok goes to Hanyang alone to the testing place, which is the Myeongnyundang Lecture Hall where several hundred Confucian scholars aged twenty through forty are waiting.  The next day at the hall a public notice has been posted with a crowd surging around it.  Shibok is surprised to see he passed the initial exam in first place.  He hadn’t expected to place so high.  The next court examination is rumored to be held a year later.

Meanwhile, Shibok marries the daughter of Jeong Yakjong’s oldest brother Yakhyeon.  This daughter was known by her childhood name as Nanju, but her adult name is Jeong Myeongryeon.  At this time, Jeong Yakjong gives Shibok the official name Sayeong and a pen name of Deokso.  His fiancee goes to Jeong Yakyong’s house to live with Widow Yi while Hwang Sayeong goes to Hanyang for more exams.

King Jeongjo is in attendance when they read off Hwang Sayeong’s name as the top exam candidate for the jinsa degree.  The king comes over to have a word with Hwang Sayeong and asks his name, family origin, and age.  When he answers that he is only 17, Jeongjo looks surprised.  Then Hwang Sayeong returns to Majae to give Jeong Yakjong the good news.

The novel at this point goes deeper into Jeongjo’s policy of appointing a lot of Namin faction members, the movements of the Noron at royal court, and the mention of Jeong Yakjong leading Hwang Sayeong to Catholicism.  One day Jeong Yakjong is reading books in a sneaky manner that catches his eye, and Hwang Sayeong asks him what kind of books they are.  He answers they aren’t books Hwang Sayeong needs to know about.  But Sayeong wants to borrow them, so Jeong Yakjong goes into his attic and brings him one, and Sayeong stays up all night to read it.  It is Matteo Ricci’s explanation of Catholic doctrine, and this part goes back into that history of the faith coming to China.  Sayeong questions him about it later, and they discuss things like the doctrine of the trinity and the saints, etc.  He finally asks Jeong Yakjong how to formally become a believer, but first he goes through with the marriage ceremony to Myeongryeon.

Later in Hanyang, he gets into discussions about Catholicism and Jeong Yakjong, even with Jeongjo, but when he sees Jeongjo’s impatience with him, he realizes he shouldn’t speak about it and that he could throw away his glorious future at the royal court if he joins the church.  He spends a little more time thinking about Chu Munmo’s arrival and the years leading up to Jeongjo’s death that resulted in the current factional disputes before chapter returns to the present and the errand he sent Kapnyeong on.

The next chapter turns back to Kapnyeong and Kim Hanbin as they look for Hwang Shim out in the villages.  Kapnyeong eventually finds him and brings him back to Hwang Sayeong, who has related many stories about Hwang Shim.  However, Kim Habnin stays in Hanyang to meet someone, though this surprises Hwang Sayeong, who was expecting him to return to the countryside.  In reality, Kim Hanbin is at the police bureau tied up and being plied with liquor by the officers.  Finally, Kapnyeong, Hwang Sayeong and Hwang Shim return to Hanyang, though most of the rest of this chapter is them discussing Mun Yeongin, and the next chapter continues following the storylines of these three until the plot climaxes with the decision of Hwang Sayeong to send abroad for help for the community.

Hwang Sayeong asks Kapnyeong to get some silk then writes his letter on the silk to the bishop in China.  This chapter has a number of long excerpts from that letter, though I’m not going to get deeply into those details and the controversy surrounding them since they have been discussed in various forums over the internet (see link below in this post for some of that conversation – Hwang Sayeong continues to be a somewhat polarizing figure for this letter).  In the letter, he primarily describes the persecution of Catholics in Joseon and is looking for some way that the community beyond Joseon’s borders can come to their aid before the entire community is slaughtered by the authorities.   He suggests everything from diplomatic pressure to military intervention as ways for the outside church to help them.

The storyline then shifts to two men at the police bureau, Kim Hanbin and Hwang Shim. They both are interrogated in a trial by Investigator Im, who questions them about their beliefs and about Hwang Sayeong.  They are then thrown back into the jail, where they are crumbling under the pressure and discuss how hard it is to stay silent in the face of the various torture methods used on them.  That night, Hwang Shim breaks down and talks about Hwang Sayeong, so Investigator Im takes him the next day for a separate trial.  The most severe forms of leg screw torture are applied to him for hours until he begs for his life.

In the next chapter, Hwang Sayeong is taken to the police bureau because they found the silk letter he wrote to the foreign bishop asking for him to aid the Catholic community.  They had used a method of sewing the silk letter into clothing to smuggle it out, which was a common method for the church to use, but the letter still fell into their hands in spite of that precaution.   Inspector Im is involved in the investigation, and he has Hwang Sayeong whipped severely and sent for trial.

The investigators find the writing on the letter to be very exotic, and when the Royal Court finds out about it, Dowager Empress Jeongsun has her ministers pass judgement on it.   When Hwang Sayeong’s trial begins, he is brought in wearing a cangue and shackles.  The judge orders them removed so he can be seated in a chair.  He demands to know who wrote the silk letter for him, trying to find who else may be involved, but Hwang says it is his work alone.  The judge wants to know more about the letter’s recipient.  Apparently at this point in the handoff of the letter, it was Hwang Shim, and as we saw in the previous chapter he has already been arrested by the police bureau and told them whatever they wanted to know.   Hwang Shim was supposed to act as a messenger to deliver the letter to a bishop in China.

The judge moves on to question Hwang Sayeong about the contents of the letter and demands to know if he is a citizen of Joseon or a citizen of some other country since the letter is a declaration of war!  When Hwang doesn’t answer, the judge accuses him of being a traitor to the country and says that the letter is proof since it is written in his own hand.  The judge goes further with his condemnation, saying he doesn’t understand Hwang at all and mentions Hwang’s heritage as a descendant of a yangban house with a strong Confucian pedigree, holding a jinsa degree from the civil service exam, even receiving royal favor and more!  Now he is a criminal, and his actions can’t be tolerated.  It is impossible to pardon such a tremendous crime.  Everyone is silent.  Hwang Sayeong just chews his lip.

The judge then allows him to speak before his execution.  Hwang launches into a very long speech detailing how he feels free to speak his mind now since he knows there is no way he can escape death.  The general themes of his speech include the history of scholarly learning, Catholic teaching arriving from China after coming originally from the West, Confucianism and heresy.  He talks about Chu Munmo and why the Chinese priest came to Joseon to minister to the community.  Hwang Sayeong ultimately calls the assembly narrow-minded.  I was thinking as I read this that it’s a good thing that he was already sentenced to death when he said that, though he was already wanted even before the letter became a factor and likely would have been killed anyway.  He does suggest that there is no way they can interpret his words the way they are given the context of the letter and accuses them of distorting his meaning.  They for their part point out the part where he calls for Western armies to come to Hanyang and the royal court.

Meanwhile, as Hwang Sayeong’s trial comes to a close, a memorial is prepared to request Jeong Yakyong (Dasan) and Jeong Yakjeon be sent into exile.  Then Hwang Sayeong’s conspirators Hwang Shim and Kim Hanbin are punished.  At this point, the text is interrupted by an excerpt of some other document detailing the fate of both of these men; they are to receive the death penalty, too.  I’m not going to get into the details, but they mention Kim Hanbin as Jeong Yakjong’s steward, which I hadn’t picked up on earlier.  They list where each man to be exiled will be sent, so Yi Chihoon will be exiled to Geoje Island, Jeong Yakjeon to Shinji Island, but Jeong Yakyong’s exile location is left a little unclear.

Hwang Sayeong’s trial ends, and on November 5th, 1801, he is taken to be executed.   The executioners’ sword dance begins after the judgment is publicly read.  There are five or six executioners since others are to be executed with Hwang.  As they rush toward him, Hwang says a final prayer echoing Jesus on the cross, then calls out for his mother, asking her to forgive him for being a bad son. He also addresses his wife Myeongryeon and child Kyeonghan, saying all of them will meet again in paradise.  The executioner beheads him before he can finish his sentence.

Hwang Sayeong’s letter caused the arrest and deaths of at least some of the remaining Catholics, and the list given here is long: Jeong Kwangsu, Hong Ikman, Kim Kyewan, Son Kyeongyoon, Kim Ilho, Byeon Teukjung, Jang Deokyoo, Kim Wiho, Song Jaegi, Han Deokyoon, Hong In, Kwan Sangmun, Choi Seolae, and Yi Kyeongdo.

In the final chapter in part 1, a small ship ferries beheaded criminal Hwang Sayeong’s family to Moseulpo on Jeju Island during a wintry night.   This short chapter tracks Widow Yi, his wife Myeongreyon and his two year old son Kyeonghan as they travel from Mokpo to the mostly uninhabited Chuja Islands nearby where they will live in exile.  The Chuja Islands are rather remote and forbidding, and I doubt most people have heard of them, so here are some photos:

It’s a very cruel end for two women and a child.

Part 2 in volume 2 is titled “Waiting for the New Age,” and I’m only going to briefly go over them since this is the transition to the Gihae Persecution of 1839, so it covers a little of what happens in the 38 years until it occurs.  In chapter 1, two boys are walking along a country road.  One of them looks as haggard, as if they were forty.  That young man is actually twenty-year-old Kim Kapnyeong.  Believers are gathering near Bulgoksan Mountain in this chapter at the beginning, and by 1802 Kapnyeong visits Jeong Yakjong’s son Hasang again as a child, there are some details about the church community more generally, but by the last chapter of this volume, Kapnyeong is 28 years old andmarried to a woman named Kayeong.  They have started a family and are living in the village of Sugudae.  This is ten years after he had been expelled from the village of Gajaeul.   It ends on a really quiet note, but the next volume picks up in 1839 almost immediately.  I’ll start that volume next time and supplement it with a manga I picked up at the main shrine and museum on these historical events in Seoul.

It would be interesting to investigate whether there was a trial transcript for Hwang Sayeong.  There might be, since we have a record of an analogous Western figure, Joan of Arc, that is often used for dramatizations.  Obviously, they have a copy of the silk letter, so perhaps there is more extant.  Clearly, author Dowon Park is highlighting the similarities between Hwang’s execution and  Jesus’ crucifixion in this novel.  It is a very sympathetic portrayal given the controversies surrounding the actual historical figure of Hwang Sayeong, which you can read about here:

I’m slowing down a little for this series since I’m pushing to get my Korean language textbook written and published, but I specifically picked something long and juicy in Korean like this to supplement my work on that project to help it along.  I’ll eventually catch up once this is done, but I’m adding a lot of content to my secondary blog, too, The Sun Rises in the East, so be sure to look there if it’s getting too long between posts here.

Part five of an eight part series

Posted in Korea | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Waiting for the New Age: The Wave of Bloody Executions Begins – Martyr’s Country, Part 4

In this post, I’m continuing to look at volume 2 of Dowon Park’s Martyr’s Country (박도원의”순교자의 나라”).  In part 1 chapter 6, the story continues with Kang Wansuk being taken to jail.  Hong Pilju is there to see her, and she tells him to keep his wits about him, that the Lord is always at his side.  She sees the guards watching them and says it louder.  The guard tells them to shut up.  Yoon Jeomhye is also brought to the jail, and so they have a little reunion though Jeomhye finds the cell’s conditions rather disgusting.  They talk about heaven and receiving their reward.  There are other women in the cell, at least three, and Wansuk introduces herself to them by her baptismal name Columba and explains she is the attendant to the community’s priest.  The old woman asks her where the priest is now, and Wansuk says she doesn’t know and hasn’t had any news from him since he left them.

In the next scene, Mun Yeongin arrives at her mother’s house, aware that the police bureau officers are following her.  She approaches cautiously, but she doesn’t see them.  Her mother lives at the house alone now, and she asks her daughter why she has come home.  Yeongin tells her she wanted to see her mother, but also mentions how uneasy she feels about the situation.  Her foster mother Wansuk sent all of them back to their families.

The next morning, Minister Chu stops by the house and tells her not to worry, that she’ll be safe there, but later when her mother goes out to run an errand, the police arrive and question Yeongin when she comes to the door.  They ask her if she’s part of the church community, and she replies that she is.  One officer tells her she’s beautiful and wonders how she ended up a Christian.  She preaches to them a little about receiving Jesus and gaining eternal life, but the officer explains why he doesn’t believe in such things.  They arrest her, though I’m not sure if that’s before or after her mother gets home.

Then Minister Chu returns and hears the details about Yeongin’s arrest.  He’s flabbergasted and rushes over to the police bureau to inquire about her.  He ends up at a nearby pub for a bit but is drawn outside as three carts go past, each carrying two prisoners sentenced to death.  The street is full of spectators who are taunting them, though the prisoners seem aloof.  As he considers going back to the pub to drink, Minister Chu hears Jeong Yakjong shouting and someone beating a drum.  The group is being taken to the execution ground.

The next chapter continues the scene with the death row procession passing through Seosomun.  Minister Chu sees who specifically is riding in each of the three carts: Yi Seunghun and Choi Pilgong are in the first, Choi Changhyeon and Hong Kyoman are in the second, and Hong Nakmin and Jeong Yakjong were in the last one.  The executioners do a sword dance in the middle of the spectators.  The text notes that they don’ t just chop off heads in one stroke, and the first of the prisoners called to the executioner’s spot is Yi Seunghun.  Choi Pilgong comes next, and his execution is described in more detail with his hands being cut and bloodied.  Then Choi Changhyeon is brought forward, his face full of light.

At this point, Jeong Yakjong begins speaking, though there is a lot of speechifying in this chapter anyway.  He talks about Jesus and why death isn’t frightening to believers, then the military guard and executioner end his talk and cut his head off.  This part has a little more detail than the other deaths, though it doesn’t linger in any case.  After he dies, Minister Chu hears the people reacting to his death, including believers who are wondering if he truly was now in heaven and other theological reflections.

Minister Chu immediately thinks of Mun Yeongin and what she may face; somewhere when I was flipping through the rest of this volume to get a feel for the whole story arc and the book’s organization, I ran across a place where Kapnyeong calls Minister Chu Yeongin’s beloved, so there must be some low-grade romance going on there that he’s so interested in her and now agonizing over what may happen to her.

그렇게 사람들이 말하는 소리를 듣던 추 봉교는 심각하게 고민하지 않을 수 없었다.  문영인!  그녀가 아니었으면 이렇듯 절박하게 생각할 필요도 없었으리라.  그것이 모두 문영인을 인연으로 천주교를 알게 된 까닭이었다. ( Martyr’s Country, Volume 2, p. 112)

Hearing what people were saying, Minister Chu couldn’t help but feel despair.  Mun Yeongin!  If it wasn’t for her, he would have nothing to worry about.  Because everyone knew her connection to the Catholics.  (My translation)

He wonders how he can bail her out of the police bureau jail, however, and stops by a pub to meet Capital Officer Kam from the left police bureau there.  He introduces himself to Kam as Chu Samgil of the arts inspection bureau or someplace along those lines in the capital.  After they greet one another, Minister Chu launches into his questions about the Catholic community, which seems to surprise Kam.  Minister Chu explains further his concern is regarding a woman who he can’t forget and whom he wants to make his wife immediately.  Kam asks if he would take her as a concubine, and Chu says no and asks how many more days until he loses his wife to execution!

(I’m not sure about the requirements for someone of Minister Chu’s station or what Yeongin’s exact status is at this point in the story, but perhaps it was considered more appropriate because she is a criminal and a Catholic for her to be taken as a concubine instead of a legal wife in spite of her earlier role as a court lady serving in the bedchamber of King Jeongjo.  Perhaps that is the source of Kam’s strange question.)

Kam seems a bit indignant, but Minister Chu asks how much money he wants to release Yeongin.  He also tries to explain how Yeongin was arrested and her Catholic beliefs.  In this section, Chu uses the “사랑하는 여인” phrase, his beloved woman, which solidifies the idea that they are romantically linked.  Nothing really comes of this conversation, and the chapter turns instead to Yi Junchang in 1791.

The next chapter returns to the storyline of Hwang Sayeong and Kim Kapnyeong.  They start off discussing whether they should return to Hanyang and finally decide to leave the next morning.  Three days later they arrive in Hanyang, and when they arrive at the house in Hundong, they discover a group of police bureau officers there!  Now they discover that Kang Wansuk was taken to jail along with her female attendants and that Jeong Yakjong was among six people in the church that were beheaded.    Kapnyeong decides to go to Majae to see Jeong Yakjong’s family, but they are no longer living in their house but are staying elsewhere.  Their original home has been abandoned and is considered the house of a traitor.  Kapnyeong is directed to Sir Cha’s house instead, which turns out to be an ordinary farmhouse.  He immediately runs into Jeong Yakjong’s young son Hasang.

Hearing them talking, Jeong Yakjong’s wife Yoo Sosa appears and begins crying when she sees Kapnyeong.  They had gotten Jeong Yakjong’s corpse but were unable to put it in the ancestral graveyard.  There was some controversy with his older brother Jeong Yakhyeon over burying him there because Yakjong was declared a traitor, so the family turned to Kim Hanbin for help.   When Sosa asks about where Scholar Hwang has been, Kapnyeong explains they were roaming the mountains.

This is another very long chapter, but it goes into more detail briefly about the fate of the rest of the Jeong brothers.  His oldest brother Yakhyeon remains head of the clan, while his other two brothers Yakjeon and Yakyong (Dasan) were sent into exile and confined.  Since volumes 3 and 4 will skip ahead nearly 40 years to the Gihae persecution, characters like Yoo Sosa and Hasang, Hasang’s sister Jeonghye, and even perhaps the uncles in exile should become central characters, but we’ll see.  Kapnyeong probably ties the whole series together, too, but these are just my predictions.  I haven’t flipped through those books yet.

1801 Jail

The next day, Kapnyeong beings traveling again and is reunited with Hwang Sayeong in a pottery workshop.  They realize the church community’s core leaders have been massacred!  Hwang Sayeong is having a hard time dealing with Jeong Yajong’s death since not only did he consider Yakjong a mentor, but he also is an in-law to Yakjong since Hwang Sayeong is married to Jeong Yakjong’s niece.  The rest of this chapter has Hwang Sayeong reminiscing and reflecting on the situation.  More details are given about some of the others executed with Jeong Yakjong.  At the end of the chapter, he sends Kapnyeong back to Hanyang to assess the situation and quietly return with a full report.

In chapter 9, Kapnyeong meets Kim Hanbin along the way back to Hanyang, and Kapnyeong confirms to Kim Hanbin that Hwang Sayeong is hiding out in a remote cave.  They discuss the rumors surrounding Chu Munmo since they don’t really know where he is.  When Kapnyeong arrives in Hanyang again, he seeks out the house of Yi Kyeongdo and asks for the latest news on the situation.  He hears about another woman Yi Suni who was also beheaded from the community as well as a list of people who were taken into custody and subjected to an even more brutal method of dismemberment using animals instead of swords.

Kapnyeong leaves Yi Kyeongdo and heads for the jail where Mun Yeongin is being held.  He plans on talking with her about her situation and trying to confirm rumors that the priest Chu Munmo has turned himself in.  Kapnyeong is told that Minister Chu’s request to have Yeongin released was rejected.   I’m not sure which character Kapnyeong is discussing this with since a few names are flying around, perhaps Yi Kyeongdo here, but they talk about the possibility of the death penalty judgement being dropped against the women.  However, the women have not made a declaration of apostasy but instead have been preaching and singing loudly about their faith.  It’s hopeless to expect the women to be freed, which leaves Kapnyeong depressed.

He goes to the jail to see Yeongin and runs into Minister Chu, so they visit her together.  The conversation doesn’t go well, and Minister Chu is particularly upset since Yeongin can’t be persuaded to do what’s necessary to save herself.  She says they will meet again in heaven and asks about Hwang Sayeong.  Kapnyeong tells her not to worry about Hwang.

The next scene of the chapter occurs on July 3, 1801.  Kapnyeong is waiting at the police bureau office.  Finally, the guards start leading the prisoners out of jail.  There are four women: Yeongin is third in line, and Kang Wansuk is first.  Someone points out that Yeongin was formerly a court lady, and they all admire her unusual beauty with some rude commentary.  Questioning begins as to what crime they had committed that led to the community being wiped out.  The answer of course is Catholicism, though there is some acknowledgement that this is also the Noron faction sweeping away the Namin faction.

As the crowd gets rowdy, Kang Wansuk is suddenly beheaded.  The executioner goes quickly down the line: Kim Yeonyi, Mun Yeongin, and lastly Kang Kyeongbok.  Kapnyeong approaches and looks upon Yeongin’s corpse and her blood all over the ground.  He says a prayer.  The police immediately notice him and demand to know what he thinks he’s doing.  Minister Chu comes forward, and they try to claim her body and prepare it for burial by replacing her bloody clothes.  Kang Wansuk’s remains are also seen to, but the situation for Yeongin was different since her household had no son.

Mun Yeongin

Mun Yeongin

I’m going to stop reading here and wrap up volume 2 next time since this is a good moment in the story to pause.

Part four of an eight part series





Posted in Korea | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Video Book Reading of Noir-Magical Girl Novella Kumori and the Lucky Cat!


I finally got around to preparing some videos of me reading my 2016 noir-magical girl novella Kumori and the Lucky Cat.  This time I was able to learn more about how to use the recording software, so the audio should be better.  They are posted to my Enlightened Rabbit Scholastic Society channel, where you will be able to access all of my book reading videos as I post them, so feel free to subscribe to that channel.  I don’t plan on posting a lot there, but any video I post will be located there.  Here are the KLC videos:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

In these videos, I’m doing a little of the cosplay that I like to do at my personal appearances.  Incidentally, I just got word that I’ll be presenting “Godzilla, Kaiju Eiga, and the Amazing Toho Studios” at Tekko this year on April 7thin addition to me selling my books at Steel City Con across town later that weekend.  Details on Tekko can be found here:

Otherwise, things are progressing well on the Beginning Korean textbook I’m working on for the rollout of my next two online classes.  More details will be forthcoming on that soon, as well as some exciting coverage and interviews on East Asian publishing on my affiliate blog, The Sun Rises in the East, in the coming months.



Posted in Japan, Palace Interludes | Tagged | Leave a comment

Author Appearance at Steel City Con in April

Steel City Con comic book conference is around the corner, and I’m planning to be in attendance, so if you want to stop by and chat or pick up copies of my novels, be sure to mark your calendar.  The event will be held April 7th through the 9th, and they’ve got some great celebrities lined up, everything from classic Batman, Star Wars, Harry Potter, the Bionic Man and the Bionic Woman, and more.  Details are here:

Hope to see you there!

Posted in Introduction | Leave a comment

A Silk Letter Written in Blood – Martyr’s Country, Part 3

Moving from volume 1 to volume 2 Dowon Park’s Martyr’s Country (박도원의”순교자의 나라”), chapter 2 of part 3 in volume 1 kicks off with a few shady characters among the gamblers at a gambling house.  One is Yi Anjeong, a moneylender at the establishment, and the other of note is Kim Yeosam, who is watching the proceedings in disgust, thinking that the money handling methods are questionable.  Thoughts of Chinese priest Ju Munmo come to Kim’s mind, and it is revealed that Yi Anjeong is a faithful member of the Catholic community.

Some friction, however, had developed between Kim Yeosam and Ju Munmo.  As his temper flares, Kim Yeosam goes to inform the police that he knows where Ju Munmo’s residence is.   When the police bureau chief hears the story, he sends his most capable and clever underling to meet with him.  So Kim Yeosam ends up at a pub talking with Im Seongyeol about the reward involved if he gives them the information on Ju Munmo, which is revealed to be a low-ranking government post.  They promise to meet a few days later when Im is to bring along another officer from the police bureau to discuss this further, but they don’t show up.  Meanwhile, the text reminds the reader that Kang Wansuk’s house has an escape route planned for Ju Munmo should the situation arise that her house is raided.

On the other side of town, Jeong Yakjong is entrusted with a box of important church goods.  Kapnyeong prepares a courier Im Daein to carry the box of church goods secretly at night so he can avoid being noticed by the police, but suddenly they are swarming around Im despite their precautions, accusing him of carrying illegal meat.  They take him to the police bureau and try to open up the locked box over Im’s protests.  When they open the lid, they are puzzled to find holy objects and a crucifix, as well as a letter with strange writing on it that they decide is Western script connected to the Catholics.

In the next chapter, news of the bust reaches the church community, leaving Kang Wansuk feeling very anxious about the situation.  Ju Munmo talks with her about his own concerns, suggesting that after staying with her for six years they should now part.  He is unsettled by events and wants to leave.  The novel relates at this point that when Ju Munmo entered into Joseon 7 years earlier, an informant tipped off the police bureau, and he was nearly caught.  Kang Wansuk stepped in with three young men from the church community who were willing to sacrifice themselves for him.  Now as he announces his departure, the women are all crying.  Ju Munmo leaves in search of Hwang Sayeong to have a talk with him before his departure.

After leaving Hwang Sayeong, Ju Munmo , he goes to Hong Ikman’s house and discusses the political situation with him.  The novel rehashes King Yeongjo’s clash with his son, Crown Prince Sado, whom he had pushed to the edge of insanity and had cruelly executed, and Sado’s other children with Lady Im, the half-brothers of King Jeongjo.  Yeongjo was not well disposed toward the two princes.  This is a rather long and involved section on that whole story of palace intrigue.

The Lunar New Year arrives marking the Sinyu year, which literally refers to the Year of the Rooster.  This is where the persecution cycle gets its name, and it is the 58th year of the 60 year branch cycle, which pairs all twelve of the Chinese zodiac animals with one of the five elements, though I’m not sure which rooster year in the cycle this would be.  The first arrest took place in December if I remember correctly, so this would only be a month or two later.  At Kang Wansuk’s house, a group of people are celebrating the festival, though they are melancholy since their priest has gone.   They are making clothes for Kapnyeong and honey cakes and persimmon punch for the holiday.

Mun Yeongin and Kapnyeong discuss Jeong Yakjong’s household and son Hasang as well as other interactions between Yeongin and various people.   Then the next chapter returns to discussion between Kim Yeosam and the police bureau chief about Kim giving him Ju Munmo’s address so the priest can be apprehended and brought to the police bureau.

In the last chapter, we see Kapnyeong helping Jeong Yakjong at his house.  The pair makes the rounds, meeting with a number of other colleagues, including Kim Hanbin.  Among the things discover as they meet with various people is that Hwang Ilkwang has been arrested.  This startles them.  The story then goes into a quick flashback of Hwang’s arrest.  The next day, they visit Jeong Yakhyeon, his oldest brother, to whom he expresses worry that he too might be in danger.  They also discuss Yakjong’s son Hasang, who is seven, and his daughters, who are still very young.  He asks his brother to take care of them, but Yakhyeon angrily refuses.  Yakjong gets on his knees to plead with him.  By the end of volume 1, Kapnyeong and Jeong Yakjong encounter the minister of the royal court in charge of interrogating criminals, which seems rather ominous.


Painting of Hwang Ilkwang

Volume 2 part 1 is titled “A Silk Letter Written in Blood” and is 16 chapters long.  It starts out on the first page with Kapnyeong telling Kang Wansuk the news when he arrives at her house that Jeong Yakjong has been arrested.  He relates that they met this court official as they were traveling between Majae and Hanyang.  They debate whether he will get the death penalty since he committed no crime.  They also think of a list of men, including Dasan, who have not heard of the arrest, but Wansuk sends Kapnyeong to visit Hwang Sayeong first.

He runs into Mun Yeongin on the way, and she asks Kapnyeong to take Hwang Sayeong some of her personal ornaments so he can sell them off and relieve his financial troubles.  Then he meets Hwang Sayeong’s mother as he reaches Hwang’s house.  Kapnyeong explains to her that all of the yangban church members are being arrested.  She wonders where they can escape to, but Kapnyeong has no suggestions.  He waits, but Hwang Sayeong doesn’t return until evening.  They spend time with Hwang’s mother and discuss the situation, then go to eat at Kim Kyeowon’s.  They talk about which bureau that Jeong Yakjong was being held at, but Kim Kyewon doesn’t know the details.  Then Hwang Sayeong, Kapnyeong and Kim Hanbin have some extended dealings with the police bureau officers. The next few chapters follow the activities of Hwang Sayeong and Kapnyeong as they travel together through the mountains and meet with Kim Kwitong.  The road trip continues with them drinking with even more colleagues.

In chapter four, the narrative returns to Hong Pilju and Kang Wansuk.  Word arrives from Minister Chu that the police bureau officers are always hovering around her house.  Wansuk wants to adopt emergency measures since the police are planning to arrest the entire community. The situation is very serious.  Minister Chu says they are arresting all of the yangban in the Namin faction, but Wansuk points out that this is the same as eliminating the Catholics.  Jeong Yakyong (Dasan) also risks imprisonment.  Minister Chu and Wansuk discuss the tension between the Noron and Namin factions going back all the way to the incident with Crown Prince Sado, leaving Wansuk in tears.

In the next scene, the story returns to Jeong Yakjong as his trial begins.  The prime minister is involved in the trial, and he is interested in finding out the whereabouts of Chinese priest Chu Munmo and delving deeper into Catholic ideas.  The trial starts with questions about the book box they confiscated and who owned the items within it. They also ask about the foreign script in the letter they found in it and what it said.  When Jeong Yakjong says he thinks Chu Munmo may have returned to his native country, the prime minister tells him not to lie because Kim Yeosam told them Chu Munmo has been staying with Kang Wansuk for years!  The prime minister wonders how the yangban could just hide such a huge criminal as Chu Munmo.  The questions include how they got the Catholic goods, who gave them to the community, and how they use them, primarily focusing on the pictures and cross.  Jeong Yakjong just says he doesn’t remember any of that.  By the end of this scene, I think Jeong Yakjong might be dead since it mentions his spirit leaving his body on its way to heaven, but it isn’t really detailed about what that might mean.  If this was his execution scene, it was very subtle, but maybe he just got hit and blacked out.

Chapter  5 begins with the fate of Yi Kahwan, who is next in line for a trial after Jeong Yakjong.  He is unable to move because he went through a particularly harsh interrogation a few days earlier.  The trial largely focuses on a young man he sent on an errand and gave money to, his study of Western civilization, Western priests, and someone’s names.  His interrogator shows him a list of names, and Yi Kahwan notices the brothers Jeong Yakjeon and Dasan are on it.  The passage mentions that in the early days of the Western Learning movement, members were denounced as heretics.  Yi Kahwan pleads ignorance when they talk further about the list, and he thinks back on Jeongjo’s death when the Norons gained influence.  He knows he can’t deny his faith, thoughts of his son and wife come to mind, and he thinks the old men will get whipped as the situation changes.  I’m unclear who he specifically means here, but I suppose it may be the two Jeong brothers.

The next section returns to Minister Chu and Kang Wansuk.  Minister Chu is looking for a way to bribe some official from the bureau that handles interrogations, so he goes to a bar that that official frequents.  He asks the official how many people he arrested today, and the man answers he caught a good number of Catholics and made a clean sweep of the yangban.  There is only one man they haven’t caught yet who seems to have escaped Hanyang.  Minister Chu asks who that is, and the official replies it is Hwang Sayeong.  I think the official says nearly all of their leaders are dead.  They drink together before Minister Chu leaves.

The next day, Minister Chu goes to Kang Wansuk’s house, and they discuss how the perimeter of her house is under surveillance.  Chu leaves, and she calls for Mun Yeongin and sends her out into the night back to her family home, thinking it will be safer for her there.  As Yeongin leaves, the police bureau officers watching Wansuk’s house follow her home in the shadows but don’t arrest her.  However, police bureau officer Im Seongyeol, whom we met at the beginning of this post with the informant, arrives at Kang Wansuk’s.  The chapter ends dramatically with Kang Wansuk being dragged off to the police bureau.


Painting of Kang Wansuk

I should note that there are still photos from a movie or TV series about Kang Wansuk that show the actress who played Lady Han in “Dae Jang Geum aka Jewel in the Palace” in the title role, so K-Drama fans may want to be on the lookout for that.

Here’s another video I dug around to find that is a bit more pious than the others, but it shows a lot of the Jeong family, such as Yakjong’s wife, son Hasang as an adult and his daughter who were killed in the 1839 massacre. Jeong Yakyong (Dasan) is also shown in paintings and a diorama:

I assume these are all something you can see at Majae, though I’m not entirely sure since I’ve never been there.  Some of the key figures we have been talking about in this series are mentioned in the lists they flash across the screen in places, and it goes through the brothers individually in their birth order with details also flashed across the screen for each, then Jeong Yakjong’s immediate family.  His son Hasang is fairly well-known, but his daughter Jeonghye and his wife Yu Sosa aren’t mentioned in English at all really.  One thing about reading these novels is that it is a tough challenge to my online research skills, and she was one of them I wasn’t sure about.  I finally discovered, too, that Mun Yeongin is also a historical figure, not a fictional character made up in the novel. That took some serious digging around, but I’ll talk more about her next time.  She isn’t in the video here.

Finally, the video gets to Dasan, who wears the thing, tall black minister’s hat instead of the wide-brimmed gat around the 2:40 mark. Hwang Sayeong appears around the 3:15 mark.  The video also references a Dasan Museum and Silla Museum that must be connected to this around the 6:20 mark.  Later in the video around the 7 minute mark they show the grave of Dasan in Majae.  Again, Dasan was a Confucian, not a Catholic, though a lot of his family members were Catholic, and most of them were very important figures of the day.  After that it shows the Jeong brothers’ birthplace, and so forth. It’s a really well done video with lots of educational value, so be sure to take the time to review it.

Source for the pictures of the individual martyrs (Korean only):

Part three of an eight part series




Posted in Korea | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Raging Wind Sparks a Fire – Martyr’s Country, Part 2

For post 2, I’m continuing my look at volume 1 of Dowon Park’s Martyr’s Country (박도원의 “순교자의 나라”).  The story picks up with Yeongin and Kapnyeong returning to Kang Wansuk’s house to visit  Jeong Yakjong.  Kapnyeong is grateful to meet him since he didn’t see Jeong Yakjong during the incident at Sir Shim’s house.  Wansuk is also there, as is Hwang Sayeong, because people gathering for a meeting at the hidden church.  Women are cooking in preparation for the meeting.  Yeongin and another girl accompany Wansuk as they attend to the guests’ needs while some men stand guard, aware that a crowd of people coming in could attract attention.

When the meeting begins, the priest Chu Munmo sings with them then discusses the death of the king.  Wansuk interrupts the meeting to announce that they can all gather to eat since they have a long night of discussion ahead of them, and Hwang Sayeong introduces Kapnyeong to the assembly with a long speech right before the meal begins.

Part one of the first volume wraps up with a discussion between Hwang Sayeong and Kim Kyeonsun, who have moved into another room to have their talk while the rest of the congregation eats. Hwang expresses his concern about the Queen Dowager ruling behind the veil with the young king on the throne officially.  Kim Kyeonsun asks him if he thinks the king’s death was due to natural causes.  Hwang says he thinks it was poison. There is a court lady who is a believer that he has quietly investigating behind the scenes, and he notes how active the Noron faction has been since the king’s death.  A messenger comes in to let them know the meal has ended and everyone is back in their seats awaiting the second half of the meeting.

The story focuses briefly on the security arrangements for the meeting, particularly guarding the alleyways.  Some unidentified man may have come around that has them a little worried, but Wansuk has a plan in case of emergency to slip out a secret passage to the adjoining house.  Once the meeting starts up again, Jeong Yakjong explains his strategy of nonviolence against the Noron faction that has taken over since the king’s deathto everyone.  The assembly is shocked when Hwang Sayeong mentions he thinks the Queen Dowager poisoned the late king based on what some of the court ladies have said, but someone suggests they have Sir Yi Shisu at the royal court look into the matter further.

I forgot to mention last time that volume one is split into three parts, and this ends the first segment titled “The Death of a King.”  The second part is called “A Light in the East,” and part three is “The Raging Wind Sparks a Fire.”  Part two kicks off with a look back at the historical origin and situation of Catholicism in East Asia.  Chapter 1 begins at the time of the establishment of the Portuguese base in Macau in 1557, then describes the arrival of Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci in Macau in 1582.

Macau is an interesting place, I was glad to eventually make it there since it was high on my to-do list, and the most relevant tourist sites for this story would be perhaps Senado Square and the ruins of St. Paul’s, which is an important icon for the zone.  Both of them are listed on this page of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so you can check out the details:

St. Paul’s was one of the most important churches built by the Jesuits in Asia.  It’s on a lot of the tourist items that you can buy in the area.  Macau is more famous for its gambling, but it also has a lot of good museums, temples and churches that make it worthwhile for tourists.


Photo by Mimihitam

Of course, Matteo Ricci was interested in going to China itself.  The novel briefly mentions some of his preparation before going to Macau and then China included studying mathematics and astronomy as well as the Chinese language.  Finally, he ends up in Nanking and brings the Chinese the best of European technology.  It also touches on the controversies surrounding ancestor worship, among other details of his activities. One significant mention is the way Ricci’s De Deo Verax Disputatio made its way to Choson Korea through diplomat Yi Sugwang who compiled the first Korean encyclopedia, The Jibong Yuseol.  All of the intellectuals in Korea are immersed in Western books, particularly that books that Ricci wrote in Chinese.

The chapter then moves on to 1777 when Jeong Yakjong, Jeong Yakjeon and about eight others formed a study group.  One young man in this circle that is mentioned here is Yi Byeok, whose father Yi Buman is some sort of military official.  This character becomes rather prominent in the story at this point.

The next chapter jumps ahead to the year 1783 and talks about the delegations sent to China by Joseon Korea.  Yi Seunghun is in Beijing, called in this novel by a very old name for the city Yeonkyeong, and the first thing he did was go looking for the city’s Catholic churches.  The Catholic missionaries built churches in all four directions, so there was a southern church, an eastern church, a northern church and a western church.  Yi Seunghun ends up at the northern church and is startled to see a blonde-haired, blue-eyed westerner, a French missionary priest named Grammont.  Yi Seunghun tells the priest he wants to become a believer at the end of the services.

The next year, Yi Seunghun entertains Yi Byeok in his home and tells him he received his baptism in the northern church while in China.  He gives Yi Byeok an icon from among his collection of religious items, and Yi Byeok asks if this is Jesus.  Yi Seunghun explains that it is and talks more about his baptism in China.  The next day, he meets Yi Byeok again, and they decide to establish a church in spite of how difficult it may be.  They plan to get one or two friends to join the faith before attempting to convert thousands.

Next, we see Yi Byeok sailing down the Han River in a boat.  Yi Byeok it seems has a strong bond with the illustrious Jeong brothers.  The firstborn brother Yakhyeon is Yi Byeok’s brother-in-law, and he’s close to the others through their affiliation with the Namin faction.  This chapter shows Yi Byeok in a flashback talking with at least three of the Jeong brothers about Yakjong’s role as a leader in their spiritual cultivation, comparing him to the Taoist masters.  It then launches into some criticism of the Confucian yangban noblemen, the Confucian anti-Buddhist campaign and other historical topics.  Talk of creating a new world also dominates their discussion.  Yi Byeok then requests baptism and formal entry into the church.

I’m not sure if this brother-in-law character Yi Byeok is historical or not, but if he is, it’s rather significant to note that it seems like much of the family of Jeong Yakyong (Dasan) was Catholic though Dasan himself was one of the most important Confucian scholars of the day and perhaps in Korean history. Neo-Confucian scholars as a general rule were very dismissive of Christianity in that time, so it’s worth pointing that out.  Many of Dasan’s close family were killed in the waves of executions of Catholics in 1801 and 1839, and we’ll get into that more in this series.  The first episode in 1801 is known as the Sinyu Persecution, which is covered in this volume and in volume 2.  The 1839 episode is known as the Gihae Persecution, which is covered in volumes 3 and 4 in this book series.  Korea is known for its literati purges, and there were four targeting Catholics, though other factions were targeted in earlier waves in the Joseon era.

The next chapter continues to discuss how Yi Byeok’s life has changed.  Of course, Yi Byeok is aware that the yangban ridicule the idea of the resurrection.  The story then turns to a discussion of the Western Learning movement with Yi Seunghun and connects Jeong Yakyong with another man named Yi Kahwan in court factional struggles.  Jeong Yakyong succeeded Yi Kahwan in his position, and somehow Yi Kahwan and Yi Byeok have the same level of power in the court, or did, since Yi Byeok is now no longer in his position there.  He had such a high position because his family had an illustrious military background and perhaps he himself was considered a military genius, though I was a little unclear as to who that description meant.

Yi Byeok has a gathering of scholars at his house with Jeong Yakyong in attendance.  Yi Seunghun’s wife is also there to receive Yi Kahwan.  They end up getting involved in a theological discussion of what to call God.  This was a major controversy in East Asia going back to the time of Matteo Ricci in China, so this is no big surprise that it comes up here.  However, I’m not going to get into the theological arguments in much depth as I cover these books since I’m more interested in the history and dramatization of it.  Yi Byeok asks if Yi Kahwan is going to join the church, and though he denies it at this point, even without reading further, I can guess that he did since his death date is also listed as 1801.  It’s kind of spooky reading this story and looking back at the lists of who died in these purges, but I think it adds to the poignance of the story that so many of the characters were tragic historical figures.

The story then skips to the year 1785 and gets into a few more vignettes with Yi Byeok and Yi Seunghun and the local church.  There are more prominent historical figures introduced here, such as Gwan Ilshin, but a book of this length has a lot of characters, and I am going to skip around to get back to our familiar characters of Kapnyeong and Hwang Sayeong and more dramatic scenes, which happens in part 3 of volume 1.

Five months after his first church meeting, Kapnyeong has been exploring Hanyang, walking the streets daily.  One day as he passes the royal palace, he sees a crowd gathered there.  It looks like they’re mourning the death of the king.  They are crying and telling stories that Kapnyeong is able to overhear, mainly about the successor to Jeongjo and how Queen Dowager Jeongsun will reign from behind the veil.  Some details of her past are brought up here, such as how she was married very young to King Yeongjo when he was over seventy and that her younger brother Kim Kwiju became a powerful figure in the Noron faction.  He also hears about the theory that Jeongjo was poisoned again among the crowds, though there is some grumbling for the speaker who mentioned it to keep their voice down.

The next scene turns to King Jeongjo’s state funeral and the mourners.  The Catholics are on edge with the Norons taking over the royal court after his death.  Character Choi Pilgong appears as in this part of the story, and he has a post in the royal court as a doctor treating poor patients.  He becomes an enthusiastic Christian, and the yangban have him dragged to the police bureau for preaching in the streets, though he isn’t deterred by it.  This section relates a conversation he had with King Jeongjo about the faith in a flashback.  Jeongjo asks him to explain how Catholicism compares to Buddhism, for one thing, which Choi Pilgong unhesitatingly does.  Jeongjo, however, is impressed with neither Buddhism nor Catholicism.  They have this type of conversation regularly until his death.

As the period of mourning for Jeongjo now ends, the Norons have taken over and intend to  punish the Namin faction that the Catholics belong to.  The scene returns to Choi Pilgong’s arrest.  At the police bureau, he is flogged and tortured.  Word of this spreads through the Catholic community rapidly.  They see this only as a prelude to the coming massacre.  A few days later, a number of believers gather at the home of Choi Pilje on a festival day, and patrolling officers hear something suspicious going on near a medical dispensary and raid Choi’s home, expecting to bust gamblers.  However, they don’t find gambling at all.  The sounds they thought was the shuffling of wooden Korean flower playing cards was actually the believers praying!  The officers misheard the sound of playing cards somehow.


Royal Hwatu Korean Flower Cards, photo by Simon Wintle

The officers demand to know what is going on.  Since it’s a festival day, they are suspicious and wonder what the people mean by saying they are a Catholic study group.  They take all of them to the police bureau for questioning.  At the bureau, they ask where other Catholics might be hiding, then they raid more of their houses and bring them to prison.  Kapnyeong, meanwhile, goes to report to Hwang Sayeong.  Very upset about the situation, he sees Mun Yeongin as he slips through the door.  He asks who she’s waiting for, and she tells him to lower his voice.  He wonders if she is aware of the situation.

I’ll finish up the rest of volume 1 and start volume 2 next time.

I was digging around for more interesting items that illustrate this story and found this video, which is a 5-minute recap of a stage play held at Majae dramatizing these events:

It’s a nicely produced short video to give you a taste of the story.

Part two of an eight part series





Posted in Korea | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

New Interview with Hong Kong Poet Yinxiang

I just published my second interview on my affiliate blog with a Hong Kong poet who came in the fall to the Pittsburgh area.  You can read about it here:

I’m hoping to bring you more interesting profiles of artists and translators from the region in the future, and I’m trying to arrange to get copies of Yinxiang’s out of print works of poetry to cover later this year for one of my Chinese language selections, but I’ll have more details on that later.


Posted in Introduction | Leave a comment

A Scandal Arises When a Wayward Slave Seduces a Young Widow – Martyr’s Country, Part 1

For this year’s first foreign language selection, I have decided on Dowon Park’s Martyr’s Country (박도원의”순교자의 나라”), which is a four volume historical epic from 2007, probably about a thousand pages total.  We’ll see how far I can get through it.  You can buy all four volumes here:

This series picks up where a number of popular K-drama TV series have left off or carries on with a few familiar characters.  As far as I’m concerned, I’m ready for anything remotely connected to King Jeongjo, and it connects back to TV series “Yi San” and “Sungkyunkwan Scandal” with some of the minor characters.  It tells the story of the early Catholic community in Korea, which I think isn’t that familiar in the West, though if you travel to South Korea, you’ll see a lot of tourist sights and museums connected to its history.

The novel starts off right before Jeongjo’s suspicious death in 1800 and the evil Queen Dowager Jeongsun taking over as regent for the boy king.  Jeongsun, for anyone who caught “Yi San,”was Yeongjo’s young concubine that stirred up so much factional trouble in that series.  She was a very prominent character, and while most viewers would know she was one bad mama who wanted Jeongjo dead, I think it may not be as widely known that she went on to be quite the bloody queen when she grabbed the reigns of power after Jeongjo’s son was put on the throne.  This novel details that part of her story.

“Yi San” also connects to this novel since the servant girl who is Jeongjo’s love interest in the series, Seong Songyeon, has a long lost brother shown in later episodes briefly who is part of this Catholic community, plus one of Jeongjo’s advisors late in the series is the famous Confucian scholar Dasan,  his birth name Jeong Yagyeong.  Dasan and his brilliant brothers are major characters in this story since his brother Jeong Yakjong was a prominent Catholic at that time.  Of course, Dasan shows up in “Sungkyunkwan Scandal” because Jeongjo is also a minor character in it, and Dasan is connected to the academy where the main characters are studying.  So be sure to check out those shows to provide some context to this novel.

Volume 1 begins with a description of the villages of Majae and Sonae, which are across from each other on the Han River.  Here is a tourist video by HLKIM001 of the church and grounds of the shrine that has been constructed there:


Since this aspect of Korea is not as well known in the West, I think this video is very educational.  We’re used to thinking of Korea as a Buddhist country perhaps by default, but that’s far from accurate.  I haven’t been to this shrine myself, though I went to the museum in Seoul featuring a different but related massacre.  Here is the tourist website for this shrine (Korean only):

I found a painting of one of the main characters in the novel that was based on a real historical figure.


Painting of Jeong Yakjong

In this preface to the novel, we are immediately introduced to the four illustrious sons of Jeong Jaewon, and their names are listed: Yakhyeon, Yakjeon, Yakjong, and Yakyong (sometimes written Yagyeong).  Once the announcement of King Jeongjo’s death is made in the text, the story focuses in on one of these brothers who is traveling by boat down the Han River to Majae.  He is a forty-something scholar in mourning for the king, Jeong Yakjong, and his attendant is in his thirties.  The men disembark at the bustling port full of sunburned peasants busily unloading baskets of different vegetables from the boats at the dock.  It mentions in passing his elder brother and his younger brother Yakyong are famous and serving at court.

His presence in Majae causes a minor commotion, but he ends up at an inn where he and Kim Hanbin have breakfast.  While they are there, word comes that a local slave named Kapnyeong tried to commit suicide.  As the barmaid and slave reporting the incident prepare to run back to the village to intervene, Jeong Yakjong asks what has happened.  The barmaid explains that the widowed young daughter-in-law at Sir Shim’s house had thrown herself into the river and died a few days earlier, and the slave Kapnyeong had gotten caught up in a swirl of gossip about her death, with accusations flying.  Sir Shim had him under guard and interrogated about the matter.  Moved by the barmaid’s emotional story, he goes with them to Sir Shim’s house in the nearby village of Gajaeul.

At Sir Shim’s, about a hundred villagers are gathered outside, very upset by the situation.  Sir Shim sends his steward out to fetch Yakjong, but Yakjong notices a covered straw mat nearby, probably a corpse.  The barmaid drops beside it, ranting about Kapnyeong already being dead.  She relates how he helped at the inn and mentions his young age, only 16 or 18.  But the boy isn’t actually dead yet.  Yakjong remembers meeting Kapnyeong when he was a child and thinking he was quite polite.  He had befriended the boy back then and had seen Kapnyeong only the year before.  Comparing him to Sir Shim’s son, he felt Kapnyeong seemed innocent and dignified, while Shim’s son was frivolous and had a roving eye.

Sir Shim had quickly married his son off before his interest in the maidservants caused them trouble.  His daughter-in-law, from the Gwangsan Kim family, was pretty and careful in her behavior, but his son had died of a snake bite suddenly at the age of twenty not long after their marriage.  Now a widow, Miss Kim was now forced into uncomfortable circumstances since in old Confucian society widows weren’t allowed to remarry.  The villagers sympathized with her but couldn’t do anything to help her.  Yakjong immediately realizes that given Miss Kim’s restricted living in her in-laws house, she would only have contact with the men of the house, including the menservants.  Such a noblewoman risking an affair with a slave would stain the honor of Sir Shim and his family, and such an evil could not be tolerated.

The novel mentions the factional affiliations of Jeong Yakjong and Sir Shim, which may become more important later as the dramatic tension of the story increases and the action shifts to the royal court, but let me note here that Sir Shim was of the Noron faction while the Jeong family was in the Namin faction.  It also mentions how the Shims were excited when Yakjong’s brother Yakyong had gotten promoted into King Jeongjo’s close circle of advisors and conducted business at the Hongmungwan Confucian Library.  Sir Shim’s family had not done as well as the Jeongs.  Most of Jeongjo’s advisors were from the Namin and Shimpa factions, especially the Namin.

The family calls a meeting of the Shim clan elders to discuss what to do with Kapnyeong.  Jeong Yakjong is asked to attend the clan meeting as well since he was rather close to Sir Shim.  They hold the meeting in the men’s quarters of the house.  The men are concerned that outsiders have already guessed at the nature of the relationship between Miss Kim and Kapnyeong, though they take Yakjong into their confidence on the matter.  The clan elders are split on whether to kill Kapnyeong or not, though they had strong reason to punish him to save face since Sir Shim had not been able to preserve the chastity of his daughter-in-law and stop the adultery.  Exile is also considered.  But Yakjong is asked to give his opinion, and he secretly wants to save the boy’s life, disagreeing with their nation’s harsh traditions regarding widows.

He asks Sir Shim if there were any witnesses to the adultery, but there were only rumors.  Sir Shim reveals, however, that Miss Kim’s corpse showed signs of pregnancy which all could clearly see and that they got Kapnyeong’s confession.  He tries to argue that harshly punishing Kapnyeong would make matters worse by confirming the more sordid rumors floating around.  By pardoning the slave, people would gradually forget the rumors and move on, perhaps assuming they were meaningless.  He also asks if perhaps it could be that Miss Kim could have river water in her stomach to make the corpse look pregnant.  The elders decide these are reasonable suggestions and agree, forcing Kapnyeong into exile instead of executing him.

In chapter 3, Kapnyeong sets off by boat into exile, a large group of villagers seeing him off.  Hanbin Kim is on the boat with him and marvels at how much affection the locals had for a mere slave boy.  He reflects on how mature Kapnyeong seems for his age and how he has the appearance of a noble rather than the average slave.  As the boat floats along the river, Kapnyeong sobs at the sight of his childhood home receding in the distance.  Meanwhile, Yakjong observes Kapnyeong’s departure but is invited to Sir Shim’s family banquet.  After the banquet, Yakjong ponders how saving Kapnyeong’s life was God’s will and is sharply reminded of the king’s unexpected death, which he was still in mourning over.

Next, he meets a scholar named Gwon Cheolshin and remembers ten years earlier how there was a big dispute over a scholar who didn’t observe the ritual burning of the mortuary tablet of his deceased mother, which caused one of Gwon’s Catholic relatives to be rounded up by the Security Bureau.  Because of that incident, Gwon’s relatives had turned their back on the Western Learning movement since anything short of complete rejection of Catholicism would get one branded a traitor, and Gwon Cheolshin had become a recluse.  Yakjong joins him beneath a tree, and they mourn the passing of the king together.

It seems word has come explaining the cause of Jeongjo’s death, which is thought to be poisoning rather than the progression of a natural illness.  Gwon Cheolshin gives him the letter from Hwang Sayeong that describes in detail what the men of the royal court suspected happened to the king.  Yakjong thinks that Hwang was reckless in sending such a rumor to them by letter, and it is revealed Hwang passed the civil service examination in first place at a young age.  He was very talented but perhaps had moved up the ladder too soon, even receiving the Jeongjo’s attention at only 20 years of age.  His ability to advance in the royal court would be hampered by his acceptance of Catholicism, much like Yakjong’s was.  Hwang also was working quietly with Catholic priest Ju Munmo.

The novel delves a little into the factional strife over Prince Sado’s death, King Yeongjo’s policies in dealing with factional strife, and Jeongjo’s rise to power at this point.  In those days, the factions at court were the Byeokpa  and Shipa; the Byeokpa were the strongest at court while the Shipa was most strongly associated with Catholicism.  I don’t think the Shipa were all Catholics, but the Catholics were all Shipa.  The Byeokpa faction used the intelligence networks of the royal court to ferret out secret Catholics and get rid of them.  A court lady was reportedly victimized in this way, and Hwang Sayeong was trying to determine if the rumor about her was true.

Jeongjo in his late years suffered from a boil on his back, and it became more or less of a problem over time until the pain increased.  Medical infusions didn’t help.  Rumor had it that Queen Dowager Jeongsun had visited his bedchamber alone the night he died.  She reportedly screamed, and Jeongjo was found dead.  Hwang Sayeong explains his list of reasons why he thinks Jeongsun and the Norons may have had him murdered.  Among those reasons were the political connections of the medical office and royal physician with a Noron Byeokpa leader and Jeongsun herself; his eleven-year-old son had only just been named Crown Prince with Jeongsun named regent who would really hold the reigns of power until the Crown Prince was of age; Noron leaders took over after his death; and the boil wasn’t really a serious illness that should have killed the king.  Yakjong and Cheolshin discuss the theory in detail.  One of their concerns is that while Jeongjo had tolerated and defended Catholics, Jeongsun was a different story.

Meanwhile, Kapyneong arrives at Majae and is escorted by Kim Hanbin to Jeong Yakjong’s house.  They meet Yakjong’s wife Miss Yu and his young son Hasang.  A butcher named Old Hwang Ilkwang also stops by the house, has a meal with them, and reveals himself to be quite a jokester.  That night, Kapnyeong dreams of Miss Kim, and broken-hearted, he hopes that she is in a happier place now.  He also thinks back to when he was a child and first came to Sir Shim’s house, when he and his mother were sold together, and when his mother died the following year.  Sir Shim then gave him as a personal servant for his son Chunshik since his son had the sort of character that made the other servants avoid the boy.  The two boys became good friends since they were about the same age.  As they became teenagers, Chunshik’s fascination with  girls forced the servant girls to avoid him or flee from him.  He tried to assault a servant girl who was playing music for him, but she hit him with the instrument.

Lady Shim was horrified to discover her son’s assault, so they hurriedly married him off to Miss Kim.  She was two years older than Chunshik.  After Chunshik had been bitten by the snake and suffered a horrible death, Miss Kim was forced to wear white mourning clothes and to live in a separate house alone like a criminal.   Lady Shim blamed Miss Kim for bringing bad luck upon her son and killing him.  The servants mostly felt sad for her though they too rarely saw her.  Miss Kim had only been widowed a month when she turned to the pitying Kapnyeong for comfort.

The affair started when he would bring her wild grapes and berries to leave at the house to cheer her up.  He did this regularly.  He realized he was in love with her.  They finally meet and talk a little.  Later, the servants notice something is happening to Miss Kim physically and suspect she is pregnant.  They knew the consequences would be terrible for Miss Kim if she was.  However, Kapnyeong hopes to run away with Miss Kim and tries to cheer her up even as she thinks of suicide.  But he can’t stop her and sees her corpse wrapped in a straw mat by the river.  Rumors fly about Miss Kim’s pregnancy, and Kapnyeong is interrogated.  He hopes only to join her in death.

The next day Kapnyeong spends time again with Old Hwang, whose family had been butchers for generations and therefore were part of the untouchable class.  It was a profession in a very low social position, and they were not even allowed to live among the rest of the villagers.  Butchers were also forced to speak with even tenant farmers’ children using honorific language.  Only when he became a Christian did Old  Hwang understand this wasn’t how things had to be.  He had heard a scholar preaching about Adam and Eve in a village at the time of the Harvest Moon Festival, and he had emphasized the equality of all people regardless of class distinctions.  The scholar even singled out Hwang to point out that butchers deserved to be treated with the same dignity as noblemen.  After this, Hwang abandoned his trade as a butcher and started traveling with the scholar, Yi Jonchang.  But his new ideas caused him trouble.  Now he refused to carp before noblemen who treated him with contempt and had been beaten by a mob for his insolence.  Because his hometown had been upset by his behavior, he had been traveling alone to Hanyang.  He had stopped at the Jeong house on the way and was both flabbergasted and liberated by their respectful treatment of him.   He also became Kapnyeong’s boisterous roommate at the Jeong house.

The story then turns to Kim Yusan, the courier of the Catholic community.  He was known as a fast walker, able to cover 50 miles a day on foot, so he carried messages around the peninsula and knew all of the news faster than the rest of the population.  This was how he heard about Catholicism.  Since his father was a relay station slave, the Christian message of the equality of men also was very attractive to him.  When he stops by the Jeong house to chat, Kim Yusan brings news that the changes at the royal court may bode ill for their community, which was functioning in a state of emergency since Jeongjo’s death.  Everyone is afraid of Queen Dowager Jeongsun.  Hwang Ilkwang announces that Kapnyeong has decided to become a believer and that he also plans on traveling to Hanyang.

Kapnyeong leaves for Hanyang with Kim Yusan.   I guess Hwang Ilkwang was going to travel there separately.  Hanyang, of course, is known as Seoul today, so this is the capital where the royal court is located.  It’s a huge, bustling city, so Kim Yusan leads Kapnyeong to the local church, which appears to be a wholesale shop full of thread and instruments used in embroidery.  The owner is Hong Pilju, and Kim Yusan asks to see “Mother.”  Yusan leads Kapnyeong through a doorway to another building.  They have an audience with a middle aged woman who seems very dignified.  Kapnyeong introduces himself as being part of the Kim clan, and she is introduced as Kang Wansuk.  She warns him spies of the court are watching the house and could crack down on the community at any time, so he should be careful.  She suggests he could ask the priest she is secretly harboring questions about the faith if he doesn’t understand their community’s requirements.

After their meeting, Kapnyeong sees a young woman out in the courtyard.   The woman who has caught his eye is drop dead gorgeous, even more beautiful than his beloved Miss Kim.  He hears Wansuk calling for her, and her name is Mun Yeongin, though her baptismal name of Viviana is what Wansuk calls the woman here.   Wansuk introduces her to Kapnyeong and charges her with his care.  They talk a bit after Wansuk leaves.  Since Viviana knows Kapnyeong’s history and his status as an orphan slave, the two promise to be family to each other.

The story then explains that Mun Yeongin had been selected to be a court lady at age six because of her extraordinary beauty.  She served Lady Hyegyeong, Jeongjo’s mother, though she was pressed by Lady Hyegyeong later in her service to try to seduce Jeongjo in his bedchambers since he had begotten no royal heir.  She was not particularly upset with the assignment, but Jeongjo was preoccupied with his studies and didn’t notice her.  After two years passed without Yeongin gaining the king’s affections, Lady Hyegyeong scolds her.  She finally admits to herself that the role of king’s concubine was distasteful since he was already married to the queen.  Afterward, she fell deathly ill and was sent home when court remedies were of no effect.  Lady Hyegyeong released her from serving in the royal court, which ruined her ambitious father.  In desperation, Yeongin’s mother sent her to Kang Wansuk to protect her from her husband’s bouts of drunkenness.  Now she serves Kang Wansuk and the priest Ju Munmo, and they have been making plans to establish a catechetical school where Yeongin would teach.  As a former court lady, this is a role she is well suited for.  Kapnyeong feels lucky to have met her.

We’ll pick up the second half of volume 1 next time.

Part one of an eight part series




Posted in Korea | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Introducing the New Online Korean Studies Certification Program

As we begin a new year, I have a new project that I’m launching that I hope you’ll find as exciting as I do.  I was thinking about my knowledge base and how I can expand my reach with that and realized I could offer private one-on-one classes or small group classes via video conferencing on Skype and Appear.In.  The end result is my new Online Korean Studies Certification Program.   You can peruse my PDF brochure of the entire program here:


I’ll be updating that brochure regularly as I roll out classes.  Here is the website with more information and links for registration:

I’m doing this under the auspices of my new Enlightened Rabbit Scholastic Society project, and my first class now available for the program is Korean History.  You can also follow the roll out of the other eleven classes at my ERSS Facebook page:

I have a free 30-minute trial class available for potential students uncertain if the program is something they would like and want to pay money for.  You can enroll in that free class too at the WordPress link above.  I’m also accepting donations to defray the costs of marketing, materials for course development and equipment upgrades here for any interested parties:

My affiliated You Tube channel can be found here, though right now I have no plans to do much in the way of videos other than maybe throw out a few more book readings from my other three novels.  My recent book readings of The Haunting at Ice Pine Peak, can be found here, too:



In addition to all of this, let me recap what I did and didn’t accomplish last year.  I had some technical troubles with my manga software, so the webcomic based on my fox novel, The Vulpecula Cycle, had to be postponed indefinitely, though I will be updating my webcomic that I started based on The Haunting at Ice Pine Peak on my affiliate blog, The Sun Rises in the East.  Here is the link for that site in case you can’t find it in my sidebars:

Since I’m learning how to work with charcoals, the less intense, rougher artwork of that webcomic is a little easier for me to manage than the manga software right now.  Otherwise, I got sidetracked last year with publishing Kumori and the Lucky Cat as well as winning the award.  I didn’t have as much time as I had anticipated to work on some of these projects.

Be sure to check out the PDF brochure and the new ERSS website, though it won’t be updated as regularly as this blog as far as content goes.


Posted in Introduction, Korea | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When An Egg Was Turned Into A Monkey To Complete the Great Way – Journey to the West, Part 1

This year, my Literati Corner selection will be Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en.   I will be splitting it into six parts that will be reviewed in posts between each of my regularly scheduled series.  This novel is at 16th century Buddhist-Taoist satirical fantasy that is very, very long, having an even 100 chapters.  It is based on historical events, chronicling the trip of Buddhist monk Xuanzang to India to get better copies of the sutras in around 630 AD.  He went from Chang’an, China to Nalanda, India, and he traveled for something like 18 years.

I’ll be using the 1984 translation by W. J. F. Jenner, which in the bilingual Simplified Chinese-English edition I’m using runs about 3,375 pages in six volumes, but half of those pages are Chinese.  I really like Anthony Yu’s four volume translation, which is also widely available, but I already own Jenner’s, so I’m making that my official version just for my own convenience.  Pick whichever edition you would like to read along with me, but if discussing a textual variation bothers you, get the one I’m reading.  Since I’m doing the bilingual edition, I have the added bonus of being able to throw out an occasional quote from the original text for those interested.  The text is a mixture of poetry and prose, so there will be a lot of interesting passages to ponder.

Whether reading this over the course of the year is manageable remains to be seen, but we’ll try it.  Since my version is split into 6 volumes, it fits my schedule of one post roughly every two months, so I will give my chapter range for each based on that arrangement.  Here is the reading list so anyone who wants to can read along with tentative dates as to when I’ll post my commentary:

This post, post 1, will cover chapters 1 through 15.

Post 2 will cover chapters 16 through 33, and it will be posted in March, 2017.

Post 3 will cover chapters 34 through 50, and it will be posted in June, 2017.

Post 4 will cover chapters 51 through 67, and it will be posted in August, 2017.

Post 5 will cover chapters 68 through 83, and it will be posted in October, 2017.

Post 6 will cover chapters 84 through 100, and it will be posted in November, 2017.

You can get the Jenner translation here:

I have details on the other translation in my PDF guide with more details on the reading circle:


The PDF study guide has more resources and study questions.  I am not running a contest this year since I had such little response last year, but feel free to discuss in the post comments.

Some of the media adaptations I want to mention, which are elaborated upon in the PDF, include 2001 miniseries “The Lost Empire” with Thomas Gibson that is very hard to find anymore in any format.  I thought was a lot of fun but was probably highly underrated since I doubt the critics were that familiar with the goofiness of the original source material.  This was my first introduction to the story, in fact.  And Russell Wong was a totally awesome Monkey King, my favorite even of all of the Chinese series I’ve seen since.  So there.  I’m also not sure if most people are aware that this mini-series was written by David Henry Hwang, an award-winning Chinese-American playwright.


The 2001 “Lost Empire” DVD Cover

The other one I will mention here that is probably not widely known is the CCTV cartoon version from 1999 that is available on VCD or DVD – see my PDF for details.  This is mostly only in Chinese with Chinese subtitles, but I think there’s an excerpt available with English subtitles.  I will be using screenshots from my own copy of that series to highlight our reading of the text.

One thing about the history of this novel is the timing of its translations.  Of course, in East Asia, the elites of Japan and Korea could read Chinese, so they didn’t need vernacular versions, but for modern readers, there would be a gap in access since they didn’t learn to read Chinese fluently and were used to reading the modern scripts.  According to the introduction to the version I’m reading, the novel was translated into modern Japanese in 1831. The English-speaking world got its first translation in 1913.  It first appeared in Modern Vietnamese – Vietnam also was once in China’s cultural orbit like Korea and Japan, though I don’t cover that part of the region on my blogs – in 1961.  Korea got a complete modern translation in 1966.

The section that I’m covering today is rather special since it covers the origins and training of Sun Wu Kong.  He is born miraculously from a magic stone:

There was once a magic stone on the top of this mountain which was thirty-six feet five inches high and twenty-four feet round….There were no trees around it to give shade, but magic fungus and orchids clung to its sides.  Ever since Creation began it had been receiving the truth of Heaven, the beauty of Earth, the essence of the Sun and the splendor of the Moon; and as it has been influenced by them for so long it had miraculous powers.  It developed a magic womb, which burst open one day to produce a stone egg about the size of a ball.

When the wind blew on this egg it turned into a stone monkey, complete with the five senses and four limbs.  When the stone monkey had learnt to crawl and walk, he bowed to each of the four quarters.  As his eyes moved, two beams of golden light shot towards the Pole Star palace and startled the Supreme Heavenly Sage, the Greatly Compassionate Jade Emperor of the Azure Vault of Heaven, who was sitting surrounded by his immortal ministers on his throne in the Hall of Miraculous Mist in the Golden-gated Cloud Palace. (JTTW, pp.7-9)

Once the monkey is born, he finds some other monkeys in the forest and go to a waterfall where one monkey issues a challenge that whoever can find the source of the waterfall will become king of the monkeys.  Of course, the stone monkey figures it out, becomes king, and names his paradise “The Mountain of Flowers and Fruit.”  They all move into the Cave Heaven of the Water Curtain, a cave just beneath the water, and the author observes:

Monkeys are born naughty and they could not keep quiet for a single moment until they had worn themselves out moving things around. (JTTW, p.15)

The monkey king requests that his name be changed to Handsome Monkey King, and the monkeys have a good time in their new kingdom for awhile.  But one day, the Handsome Monkey King starts to worry about the future even though everything is peaceful.  He decides he needs to go find a human sage to explain to him his sudden enlightenment and train him.  Masquerading as a human, he is directed to a cave with doors and a stone announcing that this is Spirit-Tower Heart Mountain.  Here he meets Patriarch Subhuti, who gives him the name Sun Wukong, which means “Monkey Awakened to Emptiness.”


Patriarch Subhuti in CCTV’s Version

This part where Wukong is getting his Taoist training is a lot of fun, especially since he is a rather precocious student with a touch of silliness.  He pesters the Patriarch to tell him the secret to immortality.  After a bit, he promises to teach Wu Kong the seventy-two earthly transformations, which Wukong foolishly uses to turn himself into a pine tree to demonstrate his powers to his fellow disciples.  The Patriarch is furious at Wukong for doing it in front of the other disciples and is concerned they might kill him out of jealousy or press him to teach them.  Although Wukong has been training there for at least 3 years, the Patriarch tells him to leave and admonishes him not to tell anyone he was his master since he is sure Wukong will get into no end of trouble on his own.

When Wukong returns to the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, he must fight the Demon King of Confusion that has taken over the cave, the first of his many legendary fights with demons.  Wukong then decides they need weapons to defend themselves against intruders, and he goes around stealing them.  Finally looking for a suitable weapon for himself, he ends up at the palace of the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea.


The Dragon King in CCTV’s Version

After intimidating them all, Wukong finds an iron beam that anchors the Milky Way in the sea that cannot be moved by anyone but him.  It is inscribed with a reference to a cudgel, and it has the magical ability to grow or shrink to any size Wukong tells it to be.  Pleased, he takes off with it after extorting the Dragon King and his brothers out of a suit of armor and helmet.

Back at home, Wukong has a terrifying dream:

In his sleep the Handsome Monkey King saw two men approach him with a piece of paper in their hands on which was written ‘Sun Wukong’.  Without allowing any explanations they tied up his soul and dragged it staggering along till they reached a city wall.  The Monkey King, who was gradually recovering from his drunken stupor, looked up and saw an iron plate on the wall on which was inscribed WORLD OF DARKNESS in large letters.  In a flash of realization he said, ‘The World of Darkness is where King Yama lives.  Why have I come here?’ ‘Your life in the world above is due to end now,’ his escorts said, ‘and we were ordered to fetch you.’…

Sun Wukong went into the Senluo Palace with his club in his hand, and sat down in the middle of the hall facing south.  The Ten Kings then ordered the presiding judge to fetch the register, and the judge hastened to his office and brought out five or six documents and ten registers.  He looked through them all one by one, but could not find Sun Wukong’s name in the sections devoted to hairless creatures, hairy creatures, feathered creatures, insects, or scaly creatures.  Then he looked through the monkey section….There was another register, and Sun Wukong looked through this one himself.  Under ‘Soul No. 1350’ was the name of Sun Wukong, the Heaven-born stone monkey, who was destined to live to the age of 342 and die a good death.  ‘I won’t write down any number of years,’ said Sun Wukong.  ‘I’ll just erase my name and be done with it.  Bring me a brush.’  The judge hastily handed him a brush and thick, black in.  Sun Wukong took the register, corssed out all the names in the monkey section, and threw it on the floor with the words, ‘The account’s closed.  That’s an end of it.  We won’t come under your control any longer.’  (JTTW, pp.89-93)

Meanwhile, the Dragon King has sent a memorial complaining about Wukong to the Jade Emperor of Heaven, who realizes he must subdue and control the Monkey King.  He summons Wukong to heaven for a meeting and appoints Wukong to be protector of the horses in the heavenly stables, which Wukong is unhappy with when he finds out it is a low and unimportant office.  Instead, he returns home and declares himself “Great Sage Equalling Heaven.”  He even puts it on a big banner.  This starts a war with heaven.

Among Wukong’s other antics include tending the heavenly Peach Orchard guarding the peaches of immortality, but he eats them all when they are supposed to be taken to a party.  He also steals pills of immortality from another pavilion, which also gets him into trouble.  I think this passage contains one of the first where Wukong’s hair trick is mentioned:

The Great Sage could not stop himself from drooling, and he longed to drink some [liquor], but unfortunately all those people were there.  So he performed a spell by pulling several hairs from his body, chewing them up, spitting them up, saying the magic words, and shouting ‘Change’; whereupon the hairs turned into sleep insects, which flew into the faces of all the liquor-makers.  Watch them as their hands go limp, their heads droop, their eyes close, and they drop their symbols of office and all fall asleep. (JTTW, p.151)

No one is happy with him, and they want the Jade Emperor to punish him.  It just so happens, though, that the Bodhisattva of Compassion Guanyin was invited to the Peach Banquet that Wukong wrecked, and she hears about his activities.She decides to intervene.


Guanyin from the CCTV Version

She recommends they send the god Erlang to capture him, then Wukong is marched to the Demon-beheading Tower to execute him.  However, instead of executing him, he is confronted by the Buddha, whose hand he defaces with graffiti and urinates on.  As he tries to somersault to escape the Buddha, the Buddha grabs him with his hand, which turns into the Five Elements Mountain under which Wukong would be imprisoned for 500 years.

When the party ends, Guanyin and the Buddha discuss the mortal man who will come fetch the scriptures.  As Guanyin goes along her way, she encounters a few monster who promise to reform and become a disciple of the man going to fetch the scriptures.  The first one she finds she names Sha Wujing, or “Sand Awakened to Purity.”  The next one she names him Zhu Wuneng, or “Pig Awakened to Power.”  The third one is the son of the Dragon King who has committed a crime, and she tells him to wait in a certain place to meet the man coming to fetch the scriptures.  Finally she arrives at the mountain where Wukong is imprisoned and prepares him to meet the man fetching the scripture who will become his new master.

The story then switches to the great Chinese city of Chang’an where Emperor Taizong is presiding over the civil service examination and a marriage that results in the birth of a boy who ends up at Jinshan Temple and becomes the monk Xuanzang.  This part goes into his training in the temple and his miraculous reunion with his mother.  This story arc goes on for a few chapters, and you can read that one on your own.


Sanzang from the CCTV Animated Version

Finally in Chapter 12, Guanyin meets with Xuanzang in Chang’an after spending time there and looking for someone virtuous enough for the assignment to fetch the scriptures from the West.  They select his courtesy name as Sanzang, which is what he goes by after this.  He sets off and immediately meets some unsavory looking creatures.  Saved by a few minor characters, one of them guides him to the mountain where monkey is imprisoned, and Sanzang releases him.  Facing the monkey, Wukong introduces himself and helps him by carrying his luggage.  They immediately face a tiger, but Wukong kills it in a single blow and uses the skin for clothing.  Sanzang is amazed at Wukong’s martial prowess.

After spending the night with an old man at his house, Sanzang and Wukong are nearly robbed, but Wukong knocks the bandits back with his cudgel and slaughters them, which upsets Sanzang to no end.  He demands to know why it was necessary to kill them all and calls Wukong evil.  Wukong leaves him in a rage.  As Sanzang continues along the road, he encounters a woman who gives him a hat and tells him a band-tightening spell to use with it.  Sanzang recognizes the woman as Guanyin only too late.  But the Monkey King is returning home, and Guanyin meets him to send him back to Sanzang.

Returning to Sanzang, they make up.  Sanzang tricks him into wearing the hat and uses the spell to subdue him.  Wukong can’t get the hat off no matter what he tries, though it hurts his head.  Next they encounter a dragon who eats Sanzang’s horse.  But after some confusion, it comes out that this is the Dragon King’s son who is waiting for Sanzang to serve him, but he has eaten the monk’s horse instead.  Again, Guanyin intervenes, and from this point on, the dragon is forced to become Sanzang’s horse for the journey:

The Bodhisattva then went forward, broke off some of the pearls from the dragon’s head, soaked the end of her willow twig in the sweet dew in her bottle, sprinkled it on the dragon’s body, and breathed on it with magic breath, shouted, and the dragon turned into the exact likeness of the original horse. (JTTW, p.515)

Sanzang and monkey have to procure a saddle and bridle, which turns into another farce, before they can continue their journey, and this is where volume one ends.

Part one of a six part series.




Posted in China, Literati Corner | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment