London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

Dec 07 BAKS conference report #3: Peter Kornicki

Professor Peter Kornicki – Professor of East Asian Studies, University of Cambridge
Publishing and translation in the Chosŏn period

Abstract: Korea is famous in the global history of printing not only for the concrete evidence of printing in the eighth century found at the Bulguksa but also for the development and use of movable type several centuries before Gutenberg in Europe, but there is another reason for taking interest in the Korean book in the Chosŏn dynasty (1392-1910). The creation of the Hangul alphabet in the fifteenth century made it possible for the first time to print not only Chinese texts but also Korean texts, and in this paper I shall be focusing on a range of publications which combine original Chinese texts with Korean translations and interpretations presented in Hangul. These books, known as ŏnhaebon, are remarkable for their commitment to translation, that is, for the assumption that there was a class of readers for whom the Chinese texts are too difficult and for their provision of a mediated text that was accessible to a wider range of readers. It seems that nowhere else in the East Asian world engaged with Chinese texts, even canonical texts like the Four Books of the Confucian tradition, in this way. With slides from books preserved in libraries in Korea and Britain, I shall show what is unique about these books and consider the question of the widening range of readers in Chosŏn dynasty (1392-1910).


A fascinating talk with plenty of illustrations. The abstract summarises the talk well. In addition:

  • ÅŽnhaebon were not commercial publications: their publication was politically driven
  • Some ÅŽnhaebon were designed for academics, others to disseminate texts (and doctrines) more widely
  • The early ŏnhaebon were of Buddhist texts: the delay in publishing the classic Confucian texts was caused by the political difficulties in determining the correct interpretations (in a climate when holding the wrong view as to interpretation could be fatal).

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