P'yŏngyang, the most important city in northern Korea, lay en route to Seoul from the border crossing of Ŭiju. All Ming envoys passed through it twice during their sojourn, lingering for several days each way.1 They dedicated numerous pieces of writing to the places Chosŏn hosts showed them, selected for their association with hoary legends. They visited an underground cavern called Unicorn Grotto (Kiringul 麒麟窟), where the demigod founder of the Koguryŏ, King Tongmyŏng (東明王 r. 37 BCE--19 BCE), was said to have reared a kirin-unicorn. Tongmyŏng one day rode his kirin steed to the Heaven Gazing Rock (Choch'ŏnsŏk 朝天石) and launched himself to the heavens. Ming envoys unfamiliar with local lore would have learned of them after they ascended the Pavilion of Floating Emerald (Pubyŏngnu 浮碧樓). On its rafters hung the famous poem of the Koryŏ writer Yi Saek 李穡 ( 1328--1396) that recounted King Tongmyŏng's ascent.2 Ming visitors saw a P'yŏngyang deeply connected with the past, even if he might have found some of the stories fantastical.3
At these sites, the Chosŏn court encouraged practices of space that entangled landscape with historical representation. Its officials guided Ming envoys to visits of the temple and tomb of the sage Kija (箕子 Ch: Jizi, fl. 11th century BCE)4 and the shrine of the mythical progenitor of the Korean people, Tan'gun (檀君), in addition to sites associated with King Tongmyŏng.5 Since at latest the Koryŏ period, these figures had represented a native trajectory of dynastic and cultural succession. When Yi Sŭnghyu 李承休 (1214--1259) wrote the Chewang un'gi (帝王韻記), a rhyming chronology of Chinese and Korean rulers, he claimed for Korea a "separate heaven and earth" from the Central Court (chungcho 中朝). This statement sought Korean parity with China, not cleavage, for in Yi's eyes Korea was the "little Central Efflorescence" (sochunghwa 小中華) whose cultural accomplishments were recognized by the Chinese (hwain 華人). Tan'gun, celebrated as Korea's divine progenitor, rivaled the sage kings of Chinese antiquity in age. Korea was also the fiefdom of Kija, who transformed Korea with his civilizing influence.6 Through these figures, the Chosŏn leveraged narratives embedded in space to make Ming envoys aware of not only Korea's history of political autonomy, but also its connection to antiquity.
History had an important place in Chosŏn politics. The court dedicated enormous resources to its writing. From the scrupulous daily records it kept for royal audiences and the bureaucratic archives maintained by individual government institutions, generations of Chosŏn official historiographers compiled the dynasty's Veritable Records. The Records, containing judgments reserved for posterity, was kept under lock and key, and away from the curious eyes of kings and high officials alike in order to guarantee its integrity. Korean official involvement in historiography paralleled Ming practices, but far surpassed them in many areas.7 This dedication, however, did not discourage politically motivated manipulation. Far from it; it only raised its stakes. History became a site of impassioned disputes as political factions employed rival narratives of "correct" history to construct partisan identities.8 Driving these endeavors was something akin to what JaHyun Kim Haboush has called a desire to "possess history," in her discussion of popular historiography in contemporary Korea. Chosŏn historiographers, in searching for orthodox (chŏng 正) interpretations of the past to provide the moral basis for political legitimacy, share with their modern successors a view of history as a "confirmation of [one's] ethical superiority and moral worth."9 For the Chosŏn court, this desire extended to representations of Korea both to and by outsiders. For instance, the Chosŏn sought "corrections" both to genuinely erroneous information in Ming official publications---an inaccurate genealogy of the Yi rulers---and to "slanders" that in fact pointed to uncomfortable truths---the Yi usurpation and execution of Koryŏ's former Wang rulers.10
Historiographical concerns of early modern East Asian societies, although distinct from those of their modern and postmodern successors, were nevertheless instrumental in shaping twentieth and twenty-first century notions of nation and identity. For instance, history writing at the Qing court fundamentally shaped modern Chinese perceptions of Qing empire's territorial extent, but also of the "China" imaginary, in which past hegemony has come to sanctify current sovereignties.11 For those subject to such claims, such as the Vietnamese and Korean elites, Alexander Woodside has argued, "history writing became a major form of 'boundary maintenance' ....against Chinese hegemony."12 It was, however, not enough to demarcate a clear boundary between Korea and empire. Another parallel between the postcolonial context of history writing in contemporary Korea and the Chosŏn is the shared "[yearning] to be major players on the world scene....not at [its] periphery." Claiming this importance during the Chosŏn did not require tying Korea to the then anachronisms of modernity or the ethnic nation, but depended on links to Confucian civilization through a genealogy traceable to its vaunted antiquity.13 Since Korean elites in the Chosŏn period sought recognition from their Ming counterparts as cultural equals, they could not draw boundaries simply in antithesis to Chinese (imperial) hegemony. They instead carved out a space that was defined in the terminology of hegemonic discourse. Negotiated and nuanced, these boundaries emerged from practices of resistance enunciating political and cultural claims in a way legible and palpable to imperial desires.
This dynamic helps explain what scholars have long noted to be contradictory forces at work in Chosŏn elite perception of their relations with the Ming. Kija, whom Han Young-woo has described as a "cultural symbol," was deployed for diverse purposes by Koryŏ and Chosŏn statesmen in representing their relationship to the Ming and its predecessors. Among them, the Sarim scholar-officials (士林) of the sixteenth century asserted, through Kija, Korea's independent transmission of cultural and moral legitimacy from antiquity. Related ideas of the orthodox "transmission of the Way" (tot'ong 道統) inscribed a political and cultural space for a Korea autonomous from Chinese imperial authority.14 On the other hand, Sarim reverence of Kija has also been attributed to their being "mired in an ideology of 'admiring China.'"15 How could Kija simultaneously symbolize, for the same people, both Chosŏn's cultural dependence on "China" and its political independence from it? Reconciling these two notions requires distinguishing between "China," as a transtemporal political imaginary of successive imperial dynasties and as a symbol for the classical discourses and the civilizational values they described. In other words, Chosŏn, by using Kija, delineated its claims of cultural distinction and political autonomy within a discourse legible to the Ming and its agents. Employing Kija as a symbol ensured recognition of Chosŏn inheritance of the classical past, but it also implicitly made Chosŏn an object of the Ming's sovereign claims. The latter narrative was never rejected outright by Chosŏn in the diplomatic context. Instead, Chosŏn latched on to these ideas, infusing them with additional valences. Rather than reject empire, it chose to shape it. Imperial discourses were coopted rather than subverted, redirected rather than parried.
The envoy poetry of the Brilliant Flowers provides an ideal opportunity to observe these dynamics of negotiation, where assertions no longer had the luxury of solipsism. Both Korean officials and their Ming visitors had to account for each other's points of view. Even though Ming envoys were usually unacquainted with figures like Tan'gun and Tongmyŏng, they were already familiar with Kija, a figure prominent in their shared repertoire of classics and histories. In the course of their literary exchanges, Ming envoys and their Chosŏn hosts grappled with divergent interpretations of the past, which implicated how Korea's present with the Ming should be understood. Poetry exchange thus echoed a broader strategy of autoethnography in attempts to shape its image for imperial eyes. A quatrain differed only in scale, not in kind, from other, more extensive efforts the Chosŏn court made to represent its own past. History, both recent and ancient, became a site of strategic engagement, contestation, and reinvention.
The social practice of envoy writing also oriented these historical contentions to specific spaces. Envoy poems (詩), rhapsodies (辭賦), and prose accounts (記) were often written in situ, or post facto in commemoration of a visit. These spaces could be more general locales---the Yalu River, Ŭiju, Kwaksan, Anju, P'yŏngyang, Kaesŏng, and the capital Seoul---but they could also be specific edifices or vistas, like a pavilion or, in the case of Kija, a tomb and a shrine. Seen in this light, an envoy poem, thus intertwined with spatial practice, was not a discrete literary enunciation, but one node in a web of relationships formed with physical monuments, their inscriptions, historical writing, and other envoy poems. While Kija's significance for Chosŏn history has been discussed at length in scholarship, the social moment and physical site where divergent Chosŏn and Ming interpretations of the Kija mythos could interact has yet to be discussed.16
This chapter will address the interplay between spatial and textual practice with an emphasis on Kija's shrine and tomb in the city of P'yŏngyang. It adapts Lefebvre's tripartite model of spatial production as "spatial practice," "spatial representation" and "representational space," for its organizational framework. It treats envoy poetry writing as a kind of "spatial practice," where repeated performances and compositions at particular locations, such as Kija's tomb and shrine, "embrace[d] production and reproduction" of space, "ensur[ing] continuity... and cohesion." Spatial practices that elevated the Ming envoy to a civilizer of Korea's unadorned terrain coincided with traditional interpretations of Kija as a Chinese civilizer of Korea, but in fact they resulted from deliberate orchestrations by the Chosŏn court. Foregrounding these narratives were part of Chosŏn's strategy of self-presentation, producing a view of Korea tailored for imperial eyes.
The Chosŏn court and its officials devoted considerable energies to link itself to Kija the historical figure and the mythology around him. The Chosŏn made Ming envoys complicit in this process, in spite of lingering skepticism and apocryphal Korean claims. They encouraged Ming envoys to visit places of Kija worship, where their "representations of space," poetic and prose portrayals of their homage, reifed and reconfirmed not only Korea's connection with Kija, but what he represented. These portrayals of Kija transformed the sites he occupied in P'yŏngyang into a "representational space," where "complex symbolisms" at work represented something beyond the space itself. Kija stood for a transhistorical Korea, one that was not only coeval with the Ming, but also an essential component of the imperial tradition itself. This register of Kija's symbolic significance secured both Korea's moral and political autonomy in its relations with empire, working in conjunction with other tropes to shape and delineate the limits of legitimate imperial claims.17
The Chosŏn court used the city of P'yŏngyang to showcase Korea's ancient history. Though Ming envoys paid attention to all three major historical figures associated with it, Kija stood out. His sites enjoyed the most consistent veneration from Ming envoys. Whereas they sometimes ignored Tan'gun and Tongmyŏng completely, they always paid homage to Kija.18 Moreover, the degree of deference they showed him was on par with the ritual obeisances performed for Confucius himself.19 This deference was due not to his status as a historical Korean ruler, but to what he represented in the classics. For instance, in the poem dedicated to Kija by the 1488 envoy Dong Yue, he stood for dynastic legitimacy, the moral prerogative of the remonstrating minister, and the transmission of classical knowledge:
Chopsticks of ivory---so long ago, he left behind deep meaning; Pavilions and ponds---how could he have rescued [him] from depravity? Who could say that leaving one's hair loose and feigning lunacy Were not sacrifices of the body to present a stalwart heart? With the Plan of Yu, he showed the Great Way, And since antiquity, the Easterners look up to his legacy. I have by chance come here to rest my horse gaze up his shrine, To offer a pour of osmanthus wine and fragrant drink.20
Although the poem is opaque from its liberal use of allusion, any educated member of the elite in Korea and China, would probably have instantly recognized this recapitulation of Kija's story in classical texts.21 Kija, a clansman of the Shang dynasty (c.1600--c. 1046 BCE), lived during the reign of its last tyrant king, Chow (紂王 r. 1075--1046 BCE).22 Kija remonstrated with Chow, admonishing him against his luxurious lifestyle, as hinted by his use of ivory chopsticks. Chow ignored them and constructed pleasure pavilions and "ponds of wine" to indulge his desires. When Kija and other loyal clansmen, including Bigan (比干 fl. c. 1050? BCE), continued their remonstrances, they only roused King Chow's anger. Chow tortured Bigan to death in retaliation. He imprisoned Kija, who only escaped Bigan's fate by feigning insanity. Although Kija did not pay with his life, Dong Yue's poem lauded his actions, and saw his feigned insanity as equal to Bigan's mortal sacrifice as an expression of loyalty. When the Zhou king Wu (周武王 r. 1046--1043 BCE) overthrew the tyrant Chow, he released Kija from prison. Kija transmitted to him the teachings of the Sage King Yu through the Great Plan (Ch: hongfan 洪範), which served for the new ruler as a guide for virtuous rule.
All of Dong Yue's allusions draw from key canonical texts, namely the Book of Documents (尚書), its commentaries, and the Shiji (史記).23 Though relevant chapters in the Book of Documents may have dated to the Zhou period,24 their commentaries and the Shiji were certainly Han period (206 BCE--221 CE) texts. In these later portrayals, Kija was heartbroken by the destruction of his state and left his homeland for a place called Chaoxian (朝鮮), presumed to be Korea, where a dynasty by the same name (i.e. Chosŏn) ruled in Dong Yue's time.25 With the investiture (封) of the new Zhou ruler, Kija established a state there, and by promulgating his "eight teachings" (八條之教) to the locals, he brought civilization to Chaoxian as well. According to the Sanguo zhi (三國志), a 3rd century text, his descendants ruled until they were usurped by a Chinese exile named Wei Man (Kr: Wiman 衛滿).26 For Dong Yue, Kija's Chaoxian, the kingdom of Wiman, and the Korean state of Chosŏn existed along a temporal continuum; as he remarked, Koreans continued to venerate Kija even until his day.
The Kija narrative had immediate relevance for Chosŏn-Ming relations. Recent archaeological findings have found no evidentiary basis for Kija's journey to Chaoxian, as depicted in Han and post-Han texts.27 For those of the Chosŏn and the Ming, however, the significance of the Kija story rested on its perceived authenticity, if not in historical truth, then in the moral lessons it imparted. I thus treat the Kija lore as mythos, to emphasize how it captured significant truths and meanings for those of the Chosŏn and Ming who made use of it.28 Modern scholar Kim Han'gyu wrote that it was "because Korea received the ablutions of Chinese civilization through Kija," that Ming envoys like the 1537 emissary Gong Yongqing, "now recognized it to be a country that shared with China its culture [and institutions] (tongmun tonggwe / tongwen tonggui 同文同軌)." Kija's civilizing role was a necessary condition for a "tradition of shared culture (同文) to persist in the investiture-tributary system."29 In the Ming imperial imaginary, Kija's actions were antecedents to the Ming's own civilizing influence. Take for example the Xuande 宣德 (r. Xuanzong 明宣宗 1425--1435) emperor's poem, written on the subject of "Chosŏn Sending Envoys to Present Tribute:"
East of the sea---the vassal kingdom of ancient Koryŏ; Its writing, civilization, clothing and caps far surpass the barbarians of the four [directions]. Traveling far to join us here, the envoys are often sent, Filling the court with crates of tribute; they are also ceremonious. I hear that Kija's teachings yet remain, And I feel that Puyŏ's old customs have changed.30 To make sure they leave with much and arrive with little I will do, So that in P'yŏngyang too, the same spring light will shine.31
This piece of imperial doggerel employs commonplace tropes to describe Chosŏn-Ming relations. Here, Kija at once legitimized Chosŏn's vassal status, served as a symbol of the Ming's civilizing power, and authenticated the values of imperial universalism.32 Korean Kija worship and encouragement of Ming envoys to write about Kija in situ suggests complicity with this imperial view and its narratives. In short, embroiling the Ming envoy in these spatial practices, transformed him into a latter-day Kija, an agent of civilization's "eastward flow" (東漸), from China to Korea.
That Kija represented the presence of imperial influence and therefore Korea's political and cultural dependence on Ming China, an idea certainly present in both Ming imperial discourse and Chosŏn writing, motivated a wholesale rejection of the Kija mythos by the early twentieth century. In the wake of modernizing reforms and nascent ethno-nationalism, many Korean reformers rejected Qing China not only politically, but also intellectually. For them, what the Qing represented---the classical past and the imperial traditions---lost their relevance as a privileged discourse for staking meaningful political claims. Kija was no longer an ancient sage representing universal moral aspirations, but was, in the words of the Korean nationalist historian, Sin Ch'aeho, merely a prince of "China" (Kr: China; Jp: Shina 支那).33 The antiquity Kija represented was now narrowly "Chinese"; its norms were no longer adequate to a universal model of civilization. Ideological repudiation eventually escalated into dismissal of historicity. Korean nationalism could accommodate no longer the idea that Kija, a Shang (and therefore Chinese) prince could have established a dynasty in Korea, and began to repudiated the factuality of Kija narratives in the classical texts.34 Tan'gun took Kija's place as a premier symbol of a transhistorical Korea, a radical shift from the Chosŏn period, when Kija was usually accepted as historically grounded and Tan'gun treated as mythology.35 Whereas Tan'gun still enjoys an unquestioned status as the progenitor of the Korean people in both North and South Korea, Kija has completely disappeared from popular historical imagination.36
The rejection of the historicity of Kija's kingdom in Korea, generally current in Korean academic circles today, has converged with the findings of modern philological and archaeological work, which has found no basis for connecting the historical Kija with the Korean peninsula. Scholarly work nevertheless occasionally argues for the historicity of the Kija mythos. While only very few scholars insist that Kija in fact established a kingdom in Korea, many do assert that an eastward migration of either Kija or a people tied to his name did indeed take place. In this mainstream interpretation, Kija's Chaoxian would have existed not in modern-day Korea, but in Manchuria.37 This link then has occasionally been used to strengthen the modern Chinese state's claims of historical territorial sovereignty over Manchuria, which has proved a sensitive issue.38 These moves, to expurgate Kija from Korean national history (despite his importance in the history of Korean identity formation)39 and to assert Kija's historicity in service of Chinese territorial sovereignty, are both tied to contemporary irredentist nationalisms. The historicity of Kija has also become a battleground for establishing the extent and nature of early Chinese influence on Korea, though unlike the related issue of Koguryŏ's "national" identity, it is one largely relegated to the footnotes of scholars. The irony of these controversies, however, is that both sides share fundamental assumptions of what the Kija mythos meant.
Denying that Kija and his kingdom ever existed preempts Chinese claims on early Korean history, and allows a construction of "national" history without needing to account for outside influences. Accepting Kija's historicity, in turn, emphasizes the importance of Chinese cultural influence. The logic at work in both these positions is to equate Kija with China, and to take Kija as a figure for the "eastward transmission" of culture. What animates these debates over Kija was fundamentally an early twentieth century misreading of early modern uses of the Kija mythos. It was a reinterpretation of Kija in colonial, postcolonial, and ethno-nationalist contexts. Kija's significance was narrowly redefined in connection with a moribund "Chinese" imperial system---a reading only possible if the mythos was stripped of all its other symbolic resonances. As the spatial practices discussed in this chapter will reveal, Kija meant much more to his Chosŏn and Ming eulogizers than "China." These meanings motivated the Chosŏn court to manipulate space to strengthen Korea's associations with Kija and to win acknowledgment of these associations from Ming visitors. The greatest irony of this state-sponsored commemoration of Kija was that its function was what later detractors of the Kija cult criticized it for not doing: establishing a Korean identity that was independent and distinct from China.40 To understand how this was possible, we must return to the social context of diplomacy where Kija was deployed.
Spatial practices in diplomatic encounters, like the examples in Chapter 5, constructed an image of an autonomous Chosŏn, a master of its own cultural attainments, but one that was still pliable and receptive to the Ming's mission civilisatrice. The image of Kija as a civilizer of Chosŏn confirmed the latter vision, but attention to spatial practice reveal another set of resonances. This Korea was the only Korea that Ming literati envoys ever witnessed, and these experiences authenticated Ming pretensions of universal empire, with Korean complicity, but it was only as real as the Chosŏn court had fashioned it to be. It was a contrived production, a theater of symbols and images produced for a specific audience; it was this Chosŏn that entered the pages of the Ming's annals, and the imaginations of its envoys.
When he visited Korea in 1537, Gong Yongqing, one of the most prolific Ming envoys, requested "multicolored boards" to be prepared in advance of his arrival at the capital. Although the interpreter misunderstood and presented him with "blank scrolls" instead, Gong happily received them, for they too provided him an opportunity to leave traces of his ink in Korea.41 The Chosŏn provided a blank slate not only in the form of white paper and empty boards, but also the landscape itself. Ming envoys saw a land deliberately denuded of native literary signification. Buildings without names, pavilions without inscriptions (save for those by their predecessors---other Ming envoys) welcomed these envoys to leave their mark by naming and renaming the landscape they encountered. By the late 16th century, many of the famous locations along the road from Ŭiju to Seoul had been transformed by Ming sojourners. When the Chosŏn official Hŏ Pong 許篈 (1551--1588) traveled from Seoul to Beijing in 1574, he noticed famed vistas that were renamed by Ming envoys.42 Places like the Moon Admiring Veranda (弄月軒) had been renamed by the 1567 envoy Wei Shiliang 魏時亮 (?--1585), while a placed once called Gentleman's Hall (君子堂) became the Pavilion of Gathering Cool (納凉亭) when the 1573 envoy Han Shineng 韓世能 (1528--1598) wrote its new name on a title plaque in seal script letters.43 About a fortnight earlier, Hŏ had passed through Posan Station and arrived at Onion Bloom Hill (蔥秀山).44 This hill had been named by the 1488 envoy Dong Yue and a stele of his inscriptions still remained. It faced Emerald Screen Hill (翠屛山), where there was yet another stele with the writings of the 1537 envoy Gong Yongqing.45
Of all these sites, Onion Bloom Hill was the earliest, and the most celebrated. The hill was nameless before Dong Yue.46 Once the envoy dubbed it, the Chosŏn court erected a stele inscribed with his "Record of a Visit to Onion Mountain." The site gradually took on new relevance for both Ming envoys and Chosŏn literati.47 At the end of the 16th century, a cluster of Ming epigraphy had gathered around the site. One mid-Chosŏn official, Yu Hong 兪泓 (1524--1594), linked the natural splendors of the area to the generative power of Ming writing. In describing the scenery of Onion Bloom Hill, he asked rhetorically, "Among all the scholars of China / whose brush was like a rafter," powerful enough give life to this scene?48 As Gong Yongqing once wrote of his "discovery" of what was in fact a well-known site, the memorial stele for the filial daughter of Kwaksan, Ming envoys likely believed that sites like these "would have fallen into obscurity in this eastern land," if it were not for their writings, which could imbue Korea and its landscape with lasting significance.49 By leaving traces of his ink, he transformed an empty landscape, "civilizing" a "barbarian" realm through literary craft. Though the conceit of these Ming envoys, their Chosŏn hosts actively abetted this indulgence in self-importance. The Chosŏn court's interventions in this space, whether inadvertently or intentionally, actualized the ideological premise of universal empire invested in the envoy mission. The Chosŏn court presented both a figurative and literal carte-blanche to their Ming guests to satisfy their fantasies as the embodiment of the Ming's civilizing power.
Allowing Ming envoys the power to name and to "civilize," was tantamount to relinquishing sovereign claims over the landscape. The prominence of Kija worship in in P'yŏngyang and the sheer frequency of Kija's shrine and tomb dedications in the Brilliant Flowers, suggests a mutually reinforcing resonance. Kija, as a symbol of the civilizing influence of Chinese antiquity, seems a perfect figure for both the Ming envoy mission and its literary practices. The Chosŏn court too contributed to elevating Kija, erecting a shrine and tending to his tomb. Like other locations, these monuments came to be adorned with the accumulation of Ming writing from the repeated homage of envoys. Together, these spatial practices rendered Korea's landscape legible to the imperial envoy.
Adorned by the writing and calligraphy of Ming envoys, these sites figured into the literary and geographical imagination of Chosŏn literati and officials. One rare early Chosŏn collection of epigraphic writing, the Excellent Selection of Famous Epigraphs (Sŭngche yŏngsŏn 勝題英選) featured numerous examples of Ming writing.50 These sites not only offered visible evidence of Chosŏn's connection to the Ming, but also reinforced it through the force of an enduring tradition, embodying the collective legacies of generations of Ming envoy missions. But, how should their convergence on the figure of the Ming envoy as civilizer be understood?
The consonance between the Kija mythos and the figure of the Ming envoy as civilizer is uncanny. Attention to spatial practice, however, cautions against reading them as transparent indications of Chinese Ming influence. For these narratives to take shape, the initiative of Chosŏn court was essential at every juncture. Certainly these spatial practices built upon existing poetic practices, such as that of the ch'aun (Ch: ciyun 次韻), the matching of rhymes by one's peers and predecessors, which contributed to the repetition of similar themes in identical locales.51 As the 1476 Ming envoy Qi Shun wrote when he passed by Shanhai pass en route to Korea, "an envoy from the central academy comes here once again; and loves to put old subjects in new verses."52 Ming envoys like him continued to read, comment on and respond to the verses of their predecessors during the whole length of their journey. Seeking to claim membership in an exclusive coterie of imperial envoys, an envoy wrote in the footsteps of his predecessors; any site or theme that came to be a subject of one envoy's poem could inspire others. Poetic composition became a recurring event whenever a Ming literatus came to Korea, which cultivated an aura of temporal depth and natural regularity to diplomatic exchange. Ming envoys recognized that the visibility of their work in Korea could help secure for themselves lasting reputations, and they eagerly adorned Korean edifices and scenic vistas. The 1450 envoy Ni Qian may have inaugurated the practice, setting a precedent eagerly followed by his immediate successors,53 but by 1488, the envoy Wang Tang already noticed that the walls of one waystation were now covered with "ink, thick with poems left in leisure" by preceding Ming envoys.54
These effects of permanence and naturalness required the initiative of the Chosŏn court. Its representatives brought imperial envoys to the same sites as their predecessors, inviting them to perform in their shadow. The publication of the Brilliant Flowers gave these compositions a coherence as a genre and a text, constructing chains of precedents that linked Ming envoys across time. Most importantly for spatial practice, the court also gave physical form to these performances. In 1464, it ordered local officials along the road from frontier to the capital to hang up the plaques with Ming envoy writing, in anticipation of an embassy's return to the Ming. Envoys could thus see their own works adorning the waystations and pavilions written en route to Seoul, when on their way back to the Ming.55 The practice continued through the end of the Ming period, and expanded in scope. In 1522, the Chosŏn Royal Secretary56 Chŏng Saryŏng 鄭士龍 (1491--1570) requested the court enlist more scribes and good calligraphers to prepare the writings of two especially prolific envoys in preparation for their departure.57 With the help of the Chosŏn court, envoy compositions and calligraphy left the page of literary anthologies like the Brilliant Flowers and became part of the landscape itself, decorating the pavilions, waystations, and vistas in stone steles and wooden plaques.58 Ancient sites became newly relevant as they came to matter not as relics of the past per se, but as places with their own illocutionary power, informing and delimiting what its visitors should do. The fixtures created something more concrete and potentially more permanent than the ephemeral social moments that inspired their literary musings.
Calligraphy of the 1606 Ming envoy Zhu Zhifan 朱之蕃 adorning the main hall of the Chosŏn National Academy (Sŏnggyungwan 成均館). Photo by author.
The Chosŏn court manipulated these spaces for the gaze of the envoys. Seizing an opportunity for selective self-representation, the Chosŏn court altered the usual visual landscape for the diplomatic encounter. The Chosŏn court generally did not allow "any books written by the people of our state [i.e. Korea] or ancient texts that contained the preface and postfaces of Korean writers" to be shown to Ming envoys.59 Policies of this sort affected epigraphy as well. Since many of the sites were frequented by Korean officials and literati as well, their compositions too adorned the various pavilions, waystations, and vistas they visited. Though wall inscriptions and stone steles were relatively permanent fixtures, wooden plaques that hung on the roof beams and entrance ways could be moved at will. All the plaques of Korean writing were temporarily removed in anticipation of Ming embassies.60 According to Kwŏn Ŭng'in 權應仁 (1517--?) and Hŏ Kyun 許筠 (1569--1618) both officials who participated extensively in diplomacy, only the plaque of one particular parting poem by the Koryŏ official-poet, Chŏng Chisang 鄭知常 (?--1135), was allowed to remain at the famous Floating Emerald Pavilion when a Ming embassy passed through.61
The temporary removal of Korean writing conflicted with Chosŏn efforts to raise the esteem of Korean authors in the Ming. Chŏng Saryong once interceded to keep Yi Saek's poem on King Tongmyŏng in place. Arguing that the Ming envoy Ni Qian had once praised it, he asserted that it was "no inferior to the poem of Chŏng [Chisang]."62 Yi Saek's poem managed to do just that when it received the acclaim of the 1567 envoy Xu Guo 許國 (1527--1596).63 The court thus selected only what it considered the best pieces to both impress Ming visitors and play to their desire to adorn Korean space with their writings. All in all, whatever the Korea Ming envoys saw had been crafted for their gaze. The sparse literary adornment of these sites was a temporary fiction.
Spatial practice undercuts the stability of the seeming consonance of the Kija mythos and the Ming envoy as civilizer. Three caveats come to the fore. First, the Chosŏn court was never a passive accessory to the envoys' whims. The relinquishing of the power to name was only momentary. Ming plaques monopolized Korean spaces, but once the envoys departed, Korean writing returned to their former places. The Chosŏn court maintained the fiction of the Ming as sole civilizer for only as long as it needed to represent it to Ming envoys. Second, Kija's tomb and shrine, contrary to the renamed hills and vistas, was not a part of a denuded landscape, but in P'yŏngyang, a site invested with connections to a layered past that told a story of cultural and political continuity. These two aspects, Korean intention and spatial context, point to the third issue, that of inscriptional practice itself. Repeated in situ inscription imbued a site with a transtemporal significance. The significance of any single piece of verse was not localized in the discrete space of its composition and audience, but was self-consciously one element in the imagined continuity of a broader tradition. These point to a concerted attempt to utilize space as a site of representation. Further exploration of the interaction between these three aspects show the use of Kija in P'yŏngyang was not a recapitulation of an existing narrative, but an intervention into one.
Envoy poetry allowed multiple voices to exist in tandem across a discursive range, and the visibility offered by spatial practices made the loci of Kija worship, his shrine and tomb in P'yŏngyang, sites of contestation. Before the nineteenth century, it was common to refer to Korea as the "country of Kija" (箕子之國). The connection appears self-evident partly because the name of the Chosŏn dynasty matches the name of Kija's kingdom, Chaoxian. In turn, Chosŏn/Chaoxian (Jp: Chōsen 朝鮮) have become synonymous with an idea of a transhistorical Korea in modern East Asian languages. The fixity of these associations today, along with the importance of Kija for Chosŏn's political ideology, makes appreciating the once tenuous nature of this association difficult. The identification of Chosŏn Korea with Kija was not a foregone conclusion, but one that resulted from an express cultural and diplomatic strategy of representation that produced and reinforced these equivalences. To this effect, the sites of Kija's tomb, his shrine, and the spatial practice of Ming envoy writing, all worked together to secure the authenticity of Chosŏn claims to his legacy.
Chosŏn/Chaoxian had been used to refer to three ancient Northeast Asian states, which, save the last one, are shrouded in mystery, without basis in archaeological or reliable philological evidence.64 Until the 1392 establishment of the Chosŏn dynasty by Yi Sŏnggye, this appellation had not been the formal name for any state for about sixteen hundred years.65 The dynasty's founders likely desired a connection with Kija when they presented two options to the Ming Hongwu emperor as candidates to replace "Koryŏ" as the national title (kukho/guohao 國號) of the new Korean state. The two were "Chosŏn," a name laden with classical associations, and the unfamiliar "Hwanyŏng" (和寧), the location of Yi's hometown.66 The Ming emperor predictably selected "Chosŏn [Chaoxian]," calling it "the only beautiful name for the Eastern Barbarians," identifying Korea with Chaoxian of yore, implicitly linking it with Kija.67
Earlier states who ruled the Korean peninsula also claimed Kija's legacy, but other parties explicitly challenged them. Koguryŏ had a cult of Kija worship, likely as an ancestral deity, though Chinese observers considered it a form of "inordinate worship" (淫祀)."68 After Koguryŏ's demise, rival claimants contested the link to Kija. At stake was who was Koguryŏ's legitimate successor. In the eleventh century, the Koryŏ ruler Sukchong (高麗肅宗 r. 1095--1105) constructed a Tomb of Kija and other shrines dedicated to him in P'yŏngyang as a part of a broader political alignment to Koryŏ's northern frontier. Koryŏ, by worshiping Kija, strengthened its self-identification as Koguryŏ's successor, and also of Kija's Chaoxian, as it looked north to Koguryŏ's former territories in Manchuria.69 At that time, the Khitan Liao, Koryŏ's northern neighbor, also held rites for Kija to lay claim to Koguryŏ's legacy. The Liao identified their own Eastern Capital, Liaoyang, not P'yŏngyang, as the site of Kija Chaoxian's citadel. Like Chosŏn Korea would do later, the Liao credited Kija with bringing "civilization" to this region.70 Liao and Koryŏ disputes over Kija and the cultural and political legacy of Koguryŏ come as no surprise, given their competing sovereign claims over Manchuria.71
King Sukchong's efforts to buttress Koryŏ claims on Kija, and by extension, Koguryŏ and ancient Chaoxian, could not dispel dissent. The commentarial tradition of the Shiji, the locus classicus of Kija's travel east, had actually identified Meng county (蒙縣) in Shandong as the actual site of Kija's tomb.72 One Yuan envoy's poem dedicated to the Kija Temple in P'yŏngyang alludes to this fact in its closing lines:
On a hill in the lands of Lu, the pine and cypress stand; A loyal soul will be known by ghosts and spirits for eternity. At night I sit on my horse on the path to Chaoxian--- I can almost hear the song of the Ripening Wheat.73
Pine and cypresses were symbols of enduring virtue, but they were also metonyms for tombs and graveyards. That they stood in Lu (i.e. Shandong), and not in Chaoxian, meant the envoy could almost feel Kija's spiritual presence in his fief Chaoxian, but in his reckoning, the Shandong tomb interred his actual remains.74
If an alternate Kija tomb supported by a prominent classical text indeed made the authenticity of the Korean tomb suspect for imperial envoys, few in fact voiced their suspicions openly. One Ming envoy, whose identity is unrecorded, called Kija's a tomb a site of a "perfidious burial" and told his hosts that "there were certainly no descendants of Kija" in Korea, to the chagrin of the Chosŏn court.75 Though an exception, rather than the rule, the above example spoke to lingering uncertainty surrounding Korean claims, one echoed by others in Ming China. One sixteenth century Ming scholar found the story of King Wu's investiture of Kija in Chaoxian to be "utterly ridiculous" (謬甚謬甚).76 The notion of another tomb existing in China and these occasional voices of skepticism cast a long shadow over the issue.
The point here is not that the Koryŏ tomb was real or that the Shandong tomb was not (or vice-versa), since both sites were cenotaphs and not the final sepulcher of the historical Kija. What ultimately mattered was not the authenticity of the tomb per se, but the analogical authenticity of Korea's connection to Kija's Chaoxian. The late Chosŏn Practical Learning (sirhak 實學) scholar Chŏng Yagyong 丁若鏞 (1762--1836), for instance, sought to resolve the issue once and for all. He noted that "many are confused regarding [the location] of Kija's Chaoxian, [believing it to be] in Liaodong" but he was convinced from his perusal of historical works that it was in fact in Korea. He consulted the Comprehensive Gazetteer of the Great Ming (Da Ming Yitongzhi 大明一統志), and having found no mention of the Shandong tomb, was convinced the tomb in P'yŏngyang was genuine. He insisted "there was no reason for Kija to be reburied in China."77 If the Kija tomb in Korea was real, then its connection to the Chaoxian of Kija would be unassailable. On the other hand, if Kija's tomb was counterfeit, then, Korea's connection to Kija could also become insecure.
Tomb of Kija in P’yŏngyang, circa 1920. Corwin and Nellie Taylor Collection, Korean Digital Archive, University of California: San Diego. USC Digital Library, http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll48/id/702
The problem of the tomb's authenticity had to be resolved. State commemoration had begun with the dynasty's inception, but King Sejong, concerned that the inscriptions detailing their significance were inadequate, ordered his official Pyŏn Kyeryang 卞季良 (1369--1430) to compose an inscription to be carved on a stone stele by the tomb.78 Pyŏn's inscription recapped the narratives associated with the sage in the classics, emphasizing his role in transmitting the Great Plan and civilizing Korea. Pyŏn wrote proudly that Kija who "contributed to the Way," and the "teacher of King Wu," was not "enfeoffed anywhere else, but in [Our] Chosŏn."79 And so,
The people of Chosŏn directly received his teachings day and night. The gentlemen were bequeathed the key to the Great Way; lesser men enjoyed the benefit of perfect rule....,Is this not heaven's generosity towards the East?80
Pyŏn posited a seamless continuity between the Chaoxian of yore and the Chosŏn of now. Kija's teachings had managed to persevere through this vast temporal distance. Adorning the tomb site with a royally commissioned inscription would have elevated the tomb site to national significance and given royal sanction to its authenticity. Again, not all were convinced. Before the stele had been completed, court officials protested the stele's erection. They argued that the so-called Tomb of Kija was but a "legend passed on by the locals." Insisting on the authenticity of the tomb without "written records as a basis" and "several thousand years" separating Kija from the present, would "not be the way to show proper reverence."81 Pyŏn, however, disagreed with the skeptics. He urged that the stele be placed by the tomb, as originally intended. King Sejong ultimately overruled Pyŏn and maintained it would be "unconvincing" to have the stele by the tomb, and moved it beside the shrine instead.82 Moving the stele deferred the question of the tomb's authenticity. By demonstrating the continued worship and celebration of Kija's legacies in Chosŏn, a spiritual continuity could be asserted, even if the tomb's authenticity was dubious. The Chosŏn court stepped back from making a fundamental truth claim regarding the tomb, but in effect, the shrine and tomb each reinforced the authenticity of the other, manufacturing an aura of certainty.
Throughout the Chosŏn period, there were further efforts to authenticate the Kija connection. Many occurred on the initiative of the Chosŏn court and its officials, but the imperial gaze was always implicit. Convinced that Korea was the land of Kija, they also tried to demonstrate the link to Ming observers. In the process, the Chosŏn court appropriated the presence of Ming visitors to support this association. When Ming envoys visited P'yŏngyang, they saw an array of edifices and inscriptions that reinforced one another.83 Their homage to the shrine and tomb, along with the poems and elegies they left in his honor, augmented the legitimacy of Kija's link to Korea.84 As early as 1457, the Ming envoy, already felt compelled to deliver his own elegy, after having "read the masterpieces of those who have come before."85 Visiting "Korea and paying respects to [his] old shrine" 人到三韓謁舊祠, Ming envoys like Chen Jiayou (陳嘉猷 fl. 1459) equated the "Eastern fief" of their day, Korea, with the "ancient country where [Kija] was enfeoffed / whose people's customs were just as they were before.86 In turn, these compositions were collected in the various editions of the Brilliant Flowers and occassionally carved into stone steles and wooden plaques to adorn these sites. By the time the 1539 envoy Xue Tingchong visited P'yŏngyang, he not only saw Pyŏn Kyeryang's stele, protected by a small pavilion, but also the "writings of great men from the Central court in new plaques and old hangings" adorning the shrine.87 The Chosŏn court, by publishing these Ming writings that connected Korea to Kija in the Brilliant Flowers and endowing them with physical form, transformed discrete, momentary ritual gestures into artifacts of timeless continuity. A dubious ancient tomb alone may not have made a convincing case, but the continuous worship of Kija by the Koreans and the Ming envoys at the tomb site and the shrine reinforced the authenticity, if not of the tomb itself, then of at least, Chosŏn's claims to Kija's legacy. What was remarkable about this process was not simply how much of it operated in anticipation of the imperial gaze of Ming envoys, but how that gaze was in turn appropriated and reflected in the service of these efforts. If Ming envoys had their doubts, offering ritual and inscriptional recognition of Chosŏn's claims required only a momentary suspension of disbelief, but voicing those doubts required confronting an entire established tradition, one that their own predecessors and peers had helped construct.
Depiction of Kija "ruling Korea" in Yun Tusu's Kija chi (箕子志) Asami Collection (1570)
Early Chosŏn intellectuals based their confidence in Korean links to Kija on the authority of Confucian classics and the Shiji, but they still sought additional evidence from local, Korean sources to support the legitimacy of the connection. King Sŏngjong once asked the governor of P'yŏngan province to investigate the provenance of Kija's tomb, including when it first was asserted to be his tomb and what documentary basis existed for this assertion.88 The Veritable Records does not record whether this study was ever completed, so it is not known what, if anything was discovered. There was likely little to be found. Lack of intervening textual evidence elicited some discomfort, evinced in repeated attempts to further corroborate Korea's Kija connection. The one-time governor of P'yŏngyang and compiler of its earliest extant gazetteer, Yun Tusu 尹斗壽 (1533--1601), once wrote of the city: "The people who remain [here now]---though we do not know from whom they descended, they should all be the progeny of those received this teachings."89 Since the evidence was circumstantial, the reasoning was necessarily extrapolative. In his Records of Kija (Kija chi 箕子誌), the assessments of past authorities worked as definitive textual evidence. In additional to well-known classical texts, Yun went as far as to draw on the testimony of relatively recent scholars, such as the Ming prince Zhu Quan (朱權 1391--1448, better known as Hanxuzi 涵虛子) to support his claims.90
The Neo-Confucian scholar-official, Yi I 李珥 (1536--1584) drew on Yun Tusu's work to compile the True Annals of Kija (Kija silgi 箕子實紀). The conspicuous attention to veracity may very well hint at a deeper discomfort with the evidential basis of their accounts. Both Yi and Yun explained that they were often asked to elaborate on what Kija had done in Korea, but could offer nothing beyond what was already known by everyone with a basic Confucian education. The True Annals was meant to redress this issue. When the 1582 vice-emissary Wang Jingmin (王敬民 fl. 1584) stayed in P'yŏngyang, he was excited that he could "lodge so close to Kija's ancient ruins," but regretted that he knew little about Kija's activities after he went east. He asked Yi I, who was his welcoming emissary, about extant Korean records. Yi I produced a copy of his own True Annals as his answer.91 Whether Wang's request stemmed from earnest curiosity or polite skepticism is difficult to know, but Yi I's posthumous biographers took great pride at his response. Wang was said to have "sighed in admiration without end," and exclaimed in "surprised joy that 'there was no document like this in China.'"92
In the True Annals, Yi relied on a methodology similar to Yun's, "broadly investigating books of classics, histories, and philosophers and assembling the facts and the discourses of sages and wise men."93 This scholastic approach involved collecting existing materials, but its truth claims primarily relied on what Yi took to be the authoritative appraisals of past "sages."94 Chosŏn scholars employed a method of textual authentication that hinged on the trustworthiness of their informants rather than the independent evidentiary merits of their statements. In doing so, they also made use of what we might now call apocryphal works, which contained a plethora of later embellishments and interpolations. These hagiographical accounts generously praised Kija, but offer little in the way of new information. As a result, works such as these have done little to resolve many fundamental lacunae in the Kija mythos. For example, these works spoke of Kija's "eight teachings," the regulations proclaimed in Chaoxian that became the basis of Korea's civilization, but no scholar, Korean or Chinese, could ever actually enumerate them. Yi I could only list them "in brief" (略), giving only three examples.95 Most startling, especially given the fairly solid archaeological evidence against Kija's actual, historical connection to Korea, is the ability of both sources to list precise dates for Kija's life; Yun's work even includes a table of Kija's forty-one descendants, their royal titles and their reign dates for the period they purportedly ruled Korea until the last Kija descendant was overthrown by Wei Man in 195 BCE.96 The two Chosŏn scholars may not have necessarily forged this sort of information intentionally. Motivated by a desire to authenticate the link to Kija, they simply availed themselves of the limited resources they had on hand.97
Evaluated under the standards of twenty-first century historiographical practices, these works did no more than gather a slew of questionable classical references into stereotyped hagiography. Their evidentiary foundations appear fragile, easily demolished by new philological and archaeological methods in the twentieth century, when the raison d'etre for sustaining the Kija mythos disappeared in the wake of new political ideologies. Nevertheless, these works convinced generations of Chosŏn elite and imperial visitors alike, turning once tenuous claims into historical reality. In forging antiquity, Chosŏn Koreans may be compared to medieval and early modern European communities on the fringes of the Roman world who likewise claimed dubious connections to a classical past. For instance, the medieval Welsh cleric Geoffery of Monmouth (c. 1100--1155) famously traced the origin of Britain to an ancient founder Brutus, an adventuring son of the Trojan hero Aeneas (and progenitor of the Romans), in order to claim an antique origin for Britain that could rival the antiquity of Rome itself. Long after the Italian humanist Polydore Vergil (1470--1555) had demolished these legends (much to the chagrin of his British colleagues), Welsh scholars still clove to Galfridian myths of Trojan origins to maintain a parallel claim of Welsh antiquity.98 Cultural prestige was not the only reason to forge a link to antiquity. In a time when ancient documents could provide bases for political claims, Austrian rulers used a forged document, the Privilegium Maius, which claimed Julius Caesar himself had granted Austrians autonomy from Rome, as bulwark against imperial claims over them by Rome's latter-day successors, the Holy Roman Emperors.99 The extensive efforts made by successive Korean rulers, officials, and literati to secure Korea's association with Kija likewise testify how much was invested in this link to antiquity and how high the stakes were. As will soon be shown, like the Austrian example, this link expressed tangible political claims as well, though articulated in a much more subtle manner
The elegies and paeans Ming envoys wrote in Kija's honor resorted to stock images from canonical texts and their interpretive traditions to exemplify Kija as a remonstrating official, a transmitter of the Way, a figure of loyalism, and a civilizer of Korea. Their writings, and the ablutions they performed, brought imperial sanction to Chosŏn claims over Kija. The resonances of the Kija mythos, however, were neither stable nor monolithic. Interpreters of the classical tradition did not always agree with how it should be understood. In particular, the tradition diverged regarding the significance of Kija's investiture in Chaoxian. When Chosŏn courtiers and Ming envoys affirmed, both tacitly and explicitly, Kija's Chaoxian as a precursor to a transhistorical Korea, they also raised questions about how Kija's virtue was to be reconciled with imperial authority, which by extension, framed Korea's relationship to empire. The Chosŏn court calibrated the Kija mythos to fit with the imperial tradition in ways conducive to Korean claims of political sovereignty. This selective adaptation of a narrow register within a range of possible interpretations, however, often conflicted with the expectations of the Ming envoys they hosted.
The Kija mythos relatedly ambiguously to imperial authority, because it championed a moral good that trumped obedience to the monarch. The envoy Dong Yue hinted at these issues in the opening lines in the second poem he dedicated to Kija. In lingering loyalty to the Shang, he "the Jade Horse100 refused to serve in the court of the Western Zhou," so "with cap and gowns," the trappings of civilized life, he "raised pure standards in the Eastern Kingdom," changing its mores.101 Dong Yue based these lines on the accounts of Kija's life in the Shiji. After Kija transmitted the Great Plan to him, the Zhou king Wu "invested Kija in Chaoxian, but did not make [him his] subject (Ch: buchen 不臣)," which implied that Kija's new state was beyond the pale of Zhou authority.102 The ambiguous syntax of the last clause, "buchen," however, also permits reading "Kija," not the "Zhou king" as its implied grammatical subject. In that case, it would not be King Wu who "did not make [him his] subject" in show of magnanimity, but Kija who "did not serve [him]," continuing to defy the authority of the Zhou.103
The act of buchen, however, was also synonymous with rebellion, and thus had strong negative connotations, incongruous with the impeccable virtue of the sage. Likely for this reason, the Han commentaries to the Great Plan in the Shangshu dazhuan (尚書大傳) tried to reconcile Kija's departure to Chaoxian with imperial authority, diverging from the accounts of the Shiji. According to this version, "Kija had received the investiture of the Zhou and could not avoid observing the rites of a subject," and thus came to pay tribute to the Zhou thrice every ten years.104 In contrast to the Shiji version, where receiving investiture did not lead to submission, the two are firmly linked in the Shangshu dazhuan. Kija's observance of a subject's rites emerged out of moral obligation towards the Zhou, the logical result of accepting its investiture.
The Sui and Tang dynasties used Kija's investiture in Chaoxian to sanction their invasions of Koguryŏ. Their instigators portrayed these campaigns as wars of irredentism, the reclamation of old imperial territories, rather than the conquest of new ones. The Sui statesman Pei Ju 裴矩 (547--627) convinced the Sui emperor Yangdi 隋煬帝 (r. 604--618) to invade Koguryŏ by linking Kija's investiture to the question of buchen in yet another way. He argued that even though Koguryŏ was where the Zhou enfeoffed Kija and a former domain of the Han, it "now refused to serve (i.e. buchen)." For these reasons "the former emperor [Yangdi's father Emperor Wen 隋文帝 (r. 581--604)] resented [Koguryŏ] and had long wanted to chastise it.105 Identifying Koguryŏ with the domain of Kija rationalized Yangdi's wars of expansion. Kija's investiture, a symbol of submission to imperial authority, set a precedent that the Koguryŏ violated by choosing to "buchen," an act of defiance that deserved imperial retribution.
The connections between Kija, buchen, and the empire outlined above presented a difficult quandary for Koguryŏ's political successors. Desiring both imperial recognition as cultural equals and assurance of political autonomy, the Chosŏn had to ground both claims in discourses legible to the imperial state. Association with Kija granted a direct channel to antiquity, but also raised the specter of irredentism and might justify Korea's territorial integration into the empire. The interpretation in the Shiji offered the most room to maneuver out of the quandary. In that version, Kija ruled his domain without recognizing Zhou authority, but only at the generosity of the Zhou ruler. Even though it could provide a model of political autonomy, it offered no room for Korean political agency. How Kija was treated in Chosŏn official discourse had to navigate this dilemma. Pyŏn Kyeryang managed to do exactly that in his rendition of the Kija's story in the stele in P'yŏngyang:
When King Wu of the Zhou defeated the Yin [Shang], he invested the Grand Preceptor [i.e. Kija] in our state, in order to allow him to follow his will of not being subject to the [the new dynasty.]. That the writing, civilization, ritual and music are comparable to that of the Central States for over two thousand years owes entirely to the teachings of Kija.106
Pyŏn's rendition seemed to echo the classical texts and their interpretations, but actually made several radical claims. Kija not only brought civilization to Korea, his transmission ensured a separate strand of succession from China. By equating the Chaoxian of yore and the Chosŏn today, Pyŏn posited the existence of a transhistorical Korea that was ontologically distinct from China, the "Central States."107 Furthermore, Pyŏn not only claimed cultural parity with China, but ascribed it "entirely" to Kija's teachings, implicitly to the exclusion of the civilizing influence of later imperial dynasties.
In Pyŏn's version, investiture no longer meant political subservience. A subtle syntactical change in Pyŏn's account made all the difference. Pyŏn did not use the verb pulsin (i.e. Ch: buchen 不臣) in its causative sense, where the Zhou king "did not make [Kija his] subject" out of magnanimity, but instead used it describe Kija's own moral resolution of refusing to serve, which the Zhou ruler "followed" (su ki pulsin chi chi/ sui qi buchen zhi zhi 遂其不臣之志). The Zhou king had merely recognized Kija's original will. This shift did not change the overall narrative, but expressed implicit approval of the Shang prince's defiant "will." Pyŏn's turn of phrase was unique, a rhetorical sleight of hand that transfigured Kija's investiture from a symbol of subjection and vassalage to one of autonomy.108 The trick then, was to erase the negative tinges of "not serving," buchen. By hinging the idea of buchen to the moral will of a virtuous sage, Pyŏn and those who followed him, transformed it into something inherently worthy of commendation.
Kija's transformation from a symbol of subjection to China and its imperial dynasties to one of cultural parity and political autonomy vis-a-vis the empire had lasting significance in Chosŏn Korea. Like the poems the Chosŏn official Hŏ Chong 許琮 (1434--1494) wrote in response to the 1488 Ming envoys, Kija's "receipt of investiture was not to become a servant of the Zhou" 受封非是作周臣, and in "single-minded loyalty, he never paid obeisance west [to the Zhou]" 孤忠終不向西朝.109 This interpretation remained dominant through the end of the Chosŏn period. At a time when Chosŏn intellectuals had rejected the moral legitimacy of the Qing and saw themselves as the rightful heirs of the classical tradition, the Chosŏn literati Hong Chikp'il 洪直弼 (1776--1582) took this logic one step further, and rejected even the Shiji account that had originally inspired it. In the essay, "Disputing the tribute to Zhou" (Choju pyŏn 朝周辯) written in 1834, he argued that King Wu and Kija were both "sages" and treated each other as equals, which implied that Wu would never have invested Kija in the first place. The Shiji must have erred, confusing Kija with a different Shang prince. Hong maintained that Kija never paid tribute to the Zhou and ruled his kingdom, Korea, as a sovereign.110 Korea's sovereignty was all its own, and Kija's story granted it classical sanction. This position, implicit in Pyŏn's stele inscription and elaborated by later Chosŏn scholar-officials, did not always earn the approval of their Ming guests.
The 1460 envoy Zhang Ning wrote one of the most extensive meditations about Kija and his lore during his visit. He framed his essay as a rebuttal to the famous Tang scholar-official Liu Zongyuan's 柳宗元 (773--819) well-known inscription celebrating Kija's life, but it was equally in conversation with Pyŏn's stele and the dominant Korean interpretation.111 In his original tract, Liu closed off the prose portion of his hagiography with a hypothetical counterfactual.112 He posited, if the tyrant Chow had died sooner and if the Shang prince Wugeng (武庚 fl. 11th century BCE)113 had succeeded in restoring the Shang, Kija would have been the one to aid him in governing the restored dynasty. Liu thus lamented Kija's misfortune, having been unable to bring his political goals to fruition because of external circumstances. Implicit in Liu Zongyuan's assessment was that lingering loyalty to his destroyed dynasty was the prime motivation behind Kija's actions.
The problem with Liu's interpretation, according to Zhang, was that the moral virtue of Kija should not be sought in loyalty to the Shang, but rather in his commitment to a sense of moral and political order that transcended dynastic interests. Kija's great wisdom was in his understanding of the will of "heaven," which, for Zhang, was equivalent to "rational principle" (Ch: li/ Kr: i 理). This understanding allowed Kija to recognize the Shang's demise as the inevitable outcome of "heaven's" will. For these reasons, he transmitted the Great Plan to King Wu, even though he had conquered the state ruled by his family. For Zhang, who argued that it was possible to understand a man's "original heart" by following his later accomplishments, Kija's activities in Chaoxian were the best demonstrations of what Kija's true ambitions were. When Wugeng and the Shang loyalists rebelled against Zhou authority, Kija did not come to their aid, despite possessing the necessary abilities and moral virtue. Instead, he remained in Chaoxian and
...taught the people with regulations and laws, inspired rituals and decorum, and nurtured those in the Eastern land where he lived, as if he had [arrived] already possessing [this intention]. Moreover, only when he was invested there did the Way become known in Chaoxian. [He had been so successful that] by the time of King Cheng, it was said that the west was pacified and the east had submitted. Even the Sage of Eastern Lu (i.e. Confucius) said that there was no shame for a gentleman to dwell there. If it were not for the Master (i.e. Kija's) efforts in pacifying the land and guiding its people, how could it have been transformed as thoroughly as this?114
By bringing "regulations and laws" and "rituals and decorum," Kija initiated the civilizing process in Chaoxian. Kija's moral motivation lay in a commitment to the project of civilization, already revealed when he first elaborated the kingly way to King Wu through the Great Plan. Zhang Ning's recapitulation of the Kija story so far coincided with the Korean interpretations outlined above, but they diverged on one key issue. Kija's activities in Chaoxian, which Zhang equated with Korea, showed that he had not simply "forgotten about the [Shang] and happily followed the Zhou," for he had never really submitted to the Zhou in the first place. In Chaoxian, he was able to "...follow his ambition of not submitting [buchen] from beginning to end" (終始遂其不臣之志). Zhang even borrowed the unique turn of phrase in Pyŏn's stele inscription, but he also dramatically shifted the emphasis:
[Kija] brought great benefit to one region. He turned the barbarians to civilization. The boons of ethics, mores, ritual and music have continued until today without decline. For generations [his country] has received investiture and patents, a state that has lasted for a long time. And the Master (i.e. Kija) has enjoyed sacrifices at his temple in perpetuity. All of these things were the gift of the Central State, the Zhou. Ah! How benevolent indeed was the Zhou!115
Zhang Ning equated Kija's state with Chosŏn and recognized the existence of a transhistorical Korean state, but also saw Korea's civilization and independence, and Kija's continued worship all as the result of the Zhou rulers's benevolence. Identifying the Zhou, as the Central State, a title now inherited by the Ming, Zhang drew an implicit parallel line of descent and equivalence between the Zhou and the Ming, i.e. China, represented by successive imperial dynasties. In one fell swoop, Zhang robbed Chosŏn of any agency in its own political determination, historical existence, and civilization. Korea's very existence became a gift of China.
Each exchange of envoy writing could gravitate towards a different interpretation of the Kija legend. The 1521 envoy Tang Gao, whose behavior and bearing during his trip to Chosŏn was impeccable, and rare among Ming envoys to receive unanimous praise, also implicitly disputed the dominant Korean narrative, but did so indirectly. Rather than turn all of Kija's accomplishments into a gift of the Zhou, he wrote that "Kija was a guest [of the Zhou], and thus did not submit [or: was made not to submit]," and emphasized the mutual, reciprocal relations that resulted. Kija's "country [was now] to begin and end with the Imperial Ming / with baskets of gifts and tribute of treasures" going between them.116 For Tang, "not submitting [buchen]" too was the gift of the Zhou, but it was never Kija's original intention. Writing that Kija had "acquired in vain a reputation of defiance," Tang Gao suggested that to see Kija as a symbol of resistance was to woefully misunderstand what the sage really represented.117 Tang's interlocutor, the Chosŏn official Yi Haeng, closed one of his responses with a retort: "The East was originally the land that does not submit; / Influences from a legacy of loyalty and righteousness remain to this day."118 The two evidently had different ideas of what "not serving" meant. Whereas Tang excused Kija for "not serving," Yi integrated it as a quality essential to Korean identity, consonant with Kija's legacies of virtue. This exchange encapsulated the range of possibilities the Kija mythos enabled in the diplomatic context. Korean writers did not necessarily see Korea's identity as a "land that does not submit" to contradict its status as a tributary state. Instead, as Yi Haeng wrote, being a vassal to the Zhou in Korea, was in itself an expression of "not submitting."119 This insinuation makes no sense in the context of Early Zhou politics, since feudal lords were by definition "subjects" (chen/sin) of the Zhou rulers, but it worked in the Chosŏn-Ming context. By claiming long-standing historical autonomy, it constructed implicit limits to imperial sovereignty.
The Kija mythos was not monolithic, but accommodated subtly divergent political claims that embodied rather different historical narratives and understandings of Korea's place vis-à-vis the empire. Even as it came to be seen as a model for the institutions of tribute and investiture in Chosŏn-Ming relations, defiance of the Zhou nevertheless remained a central component. Two variables were relatively constant all the above variations. The first was Kija's unassailable virtue, though how it was to be understood could change. The second was how Kija's activities in Chaoxian, identified with Korea, was used to reconcile aporia inherent in the mythos.
The Kija in historical texts and his status as a moral exemplar did not cohere perfectly. Confucius had assured Kija's place as a moral exemplar, ranking him on par with Weizi and Bigan, as the Three Benevolents (Ch: sanren / Kr: samin 三仁) to protest the tyranny of King Chow. Among them, however, only Bigan remonstrated until death.120 This stubborn remonstration led to Bigan's death. King Chow "said angrily, 'I have heard that a sage's heart has seven chambers' and "dismembered Bigan to view his heart." Witnessing his mutilation, Kija "grew fearful and feigned insanity" in order preserve his life. Were Kija's feigned insanity and Weizi's departure from court a gesture of moral defiance equivalent to that of Bigan?
According to the Shiji, Bigan seemed to have found both Weizi and Kija's expressions inadequate, declaring that "as a subject to a ruler, one has no choice but to remonstrate [against his misdeeds] until the end."121 Ming envoys often disagreed with this assessment. Dong Yue, for instance, asked, "who says that leaving one's hair loose and pretending to be crazy / was not a way to to give one's body and to present one's stalwart heart?"122 Most importantly, Kija's subsequent actions, presenting the Great Plan and civilizing Korea, implicitly compensated for where he had fallen short of Bigan, making his moral heart equivalent to the one Bigan had sacrificed.123
Kija's connection with Korea helped resolve other points of tension in the Kija mythos.124 The histories and classics may have used the story of Kija to demonstrate the triumph of the kingly way over despotism, but the figure of a remonstrating official ignored to the end by his sovereign might have resonated with both Chosŏn and Ming officials in a different way. For those confronting monarchs who turned a deaf ear to their counsel, Kija was a sympathetic figure who not only promised the eventual triumph of moral counsel but also embodied the personal tragedy that often befell those who remonstrated. The 1476 envoy Zhang Jin viewed him as a tragic figure. Visiting the "desolate tomb" in P'yŏngyang that "faced the setting sun" was an opportunity to lament Kija's fate. Kija's "loyalty and righteousness" only earned his ruler's "recalcitrance," leaving him to "suffer as a slave." All his suffering was in vain, for in the end he had to witness the destruction of the state he desperately tried to save. Although "with a hoary head he received investiture from the sagely [king] Wu," his submission left him "with no face" to see the Shang founder Cheng Tang "in the yellow springs" of the underworld. Though Kija's name has persisted, those who bring him sacrifices cannot help but feel pain for his fate.125 Sŏ Kŏjŏng, his Korean welcoming emissary, dismissed these ruminations. He reminded his counterpart of the Shang's inevitable demise; what was important was Kija's contributions to the Way, validated by the "millennia of sacrifice" he enjoyed thereafter. The Ming envoy, like many a "passerby" had been "moved to sadness in vain.126
Unlike many other envoy writings, such as those of Zhang Ning, which treated Kija primarily as a moral exemplar, these poems invested a sense of pathos in this historical figure. When envoys came to "pay their respects" to Kija, they "gradually felt their emotions swell," but were relieved when they recognized that "his lingering civilization has flowed here, permeating all over the sea's reaches."127 Kija's act of civilizing Korea resolved the aporia in Kija's mythos, validating the sage's life and authenticating his moral intents. Korean worship of Kija stabilized his significance. Kija explained Korea, but Korea also explained Kija. Each piece of the discourse was interlocked with another, and together they constituted each other through a recursion of references. The linchpin that held it all together, however, was that Chosŏn Korea really was the land of Kija. Chosŏn, by forging this link had now interpolated itself into the classical past, and made itself an integral component in its interpretation.
Kija's significance as a representation of moral power that existed outside and beyond that of monarchical authority also provided an avenue of appropriation. Kija was, as one envoy put it, "once, in the time of the Western Zhou, the teacher of Emperors and Kings."128 As a voice against tyranny, his example was like a "clear wind that through the ages admonishes the edacious and wanton."129 This combination, moral rectitude and making the Zhou ruler his "student" by providing "lessons for emperors," meant that Kija became the agent of the moral and political legitimacy of dynastic rule, transferring it from the decrepit Shang to the nascent Zhou.130 These resonances inspired Kija's symbolic significance in Korean Neo-Confucian intellectual genealogies as a transmitter of the Way, a vital link to the classical past.131 For the Kiho sarim (士林) of the early sixteenth century, who regarded "political realization of the Kingly Way (wangdo) as the primary task of Confucians," Kija became first and foremost a example of benevolent rule. But, this articulation of the Kingly Way conspicuously omitted the monarch, and made the agents of civilization the local elite themselves.132
The Kija mythos was an explanation as much for Korea's connection to China as it was for its existence as a separate political and cultural space. The logic of imperial transmission (chŏngt'ong/zhengtong 正統) had been appropriated to assert Chosŏn's independence in moral-cultural transmission (tot'ong/daotong 道統). The establishment of this moral-cultural transmission was in turn used to assert and legitimize Korea's political independence vis-à-vis the authority of the Ming. That the Chosŏn court used such a figure to forge its links with antiquity is understandable, but that Kija also served as a symbol for Chosŏn-Ming relations is remarkable. It seemed to contradict the very premise of tributary relations as one of reified hierarchy and of relations between rulers.
The significance of Kija went complemented the significance of P'yŏngyang as a historical site. In addition to being the putative capital of ancient Korean kingdoms, the city was also a site of numerous battles between them and imperial aggressors. P'yŏngyang, then, was also a "representational space" that both symbolized Korea's transtemporal independence and the military struggles that made it possible. The Kija mythos, as a figure for Chosŏn Korea's own independent political transmission (chŏngt'ong/zhengtong), worked to give meaning to these conflicts in P'yŏngyang. It turned the city into both a physical bastion---a monument to how territorial ambitions of empire were thwarted, and an ideological bulwark---a delineation of how imperial authority could be legitimately expressed. Read in these registers, Kija's symbolic significance was not an abstract claim about Korea's relation to empire, but a powerful talisman to ward off the specter of imperial irredentism that threatened Korea's legitimate independent existence.
The 1476 Ming envoy Qi Shun, known for his erudition and frankness, impressed his Korean hosts with his knowledge of Korean history and geography.133 Qi composed several meditations on Korean locales, including a twenty-couplet long "Reflecting on the past in P'yŏngyang" (平壤懷古).134 In this poem, Qi Shun placed P'yŏngyang at the center of a grand historical unfolding. As the place where "Kija was enfeoffed thousands of years ago"135, the city represented a Korea, whose history of war and peace was intertwined with past imperial dynasties.
In the course of narrating this history, Qi Shun (perhaps unwittingly) raised the specter of imperial irredentism. Qi lauded the astounding victories of the Tang generals who invaded and destroyed Koguryŏ, Xue Rengui 薛仁貴 (614--683) and Su Dingfang 蘇定方 (592--667).136 The celebratory tone contrasted with his treatment of the Sui and Mongol-Yuan invasions. The Sui "raised troops three times and harried in vain," whereas the Yuan wars of expansion were the "immoral" (budao 不道) indulgence of voracity, "swallowing" Korea's lands" (胡元不道圖吞併). The Yuan's subsequent annexation of P'yŏngyang left the "borderlands with the stench of their barbarity" (腥風汙邊境). Denouncing the Yuan set up his denouement, a paean to the Ming's all-encompassing virtue. By "succoring the small" (字小) and "delighting in heaven" (樂天), it alone achieved the Mencian ideal of how a large state was to treat the smaller state. It returned the area of P'yŏngyang to Korea an act of munificence that distinguished the civilized and virtuous Ming from the barbarous and immoral Mongol dynasty. The Ming not only guaranteed a lasting peace, but also diffused its cultural attainments, enabling Korea to achieve the heights of civilization he observed. The logic at work was that Ming supremacy must be understood in terms of other imperial possibilities. Qi's critiques of the Sui and Yuan were not of military action sui generis, but its failures and excesses. Wars of conquest, like those of the Tang celebrated in this poem, remained legitimate expressions of imperial authority.137
Sŏ Kŏjŏng, Qi Shun's welcoming emissary, responded to this verse history with a pithy rebuttal. Sŏ too celebrated the Ming's civil virtue, but he inverted Qi's original rhetorical structure, and only returned to the subject of history towards the end of the piece on line 29. With the line, "the Sui and Tang abused the martial--[stuff] of laughing trifles" (隋唐黷武笑區區), Sŏ dismissed both the Sui and Tang in one swoop.138 The former's defeats and the latter's victories were equally meaningless. The term "abusing the martial" (tongmu/duwu 黷武) was loaded with negative connotations and was usually reserved to condemn military adventurism and vainglory. Applying them to the Tang wars was a poignant retort, rejecting the one instance where Qi had celebrated the military achievements of empire. Sŏ thus posited civil and literary virtue (mundŏk/wende 文德) not as the complement to the martial expression of imperial authority, but its antithesis. He contested the imperial prerogative to carry out wars of conquest in the first place.
The center of gravity shifted as their verse exchange unfolded. Eventually Qi and Sŏ gradually converged on a repudiation of these imperial wars of conquest. While Qi too came to denounce the Tang's military adventures, Sŏ reminded the envoy of the disastrous defeats suffered by both Sui and Tang armies in their attempts to conquer Koguryŏ.139 The celebration of what the empire could do was replaced with injunctions against what it should not. Within this shift was an implicit challenge to a notion of empire based in logics of territorial acquisition and military power. The specters of military conflict, disputed borders, and a contested historical memory lurked behind the Ming's explicit commitment to perpetual peace. Even if Qi Shun had not intended for his poem to raise these specters, Sŏ Kŏjŏng's pithy, but wholesale dismissal of the military expression of imperial authority could still be read as a response, not so much to Qi Shun per se, but the narratives and logics of empire-making that his poems suggested.
The repudiation of the martial aspect of imperial power went hand in hand with seeing Korea as the country of Kija. Another poem, the "Ode to the Zhenguan period" (貞觀 627--649), which too deals with the Koguryŏ-Tang wars, illustrates these connections.140 Though not an envoy poem, its author Yi Saek (李穡 1328--1396) was the teacher of nearly all the important early Chosŏn court officials, including for instance Kwŏn Kŭn. Not only was his work widely read during the early Chosŏn, the claims it made anticipated those of the various Korean writers discussed in this chapter.141
As a biographical sketch of the Tang ruler Taizong, it narrated his rise from a gallant prince to emperor and concluded with his death after his failed campaigns against Koguryŏ. An injunction against hubris, the poem lamented that Taizong "had already achieved martial success" and should have "followed" the example of sage rulers and "extended civil virtue."142 Instead he squandered these earlier accomplishments by trying to conquer, in Yi Saek's words, "The Three Han [i.e. Korea], the land of Kija that does not submit." Since both the civil and the martial were treated as legitimate tools of imperial authority, his failure owed not to a preference for the martial per se, but rather the intemperance of the wielder. In this case, the invasion of Koguryŏ violated an ancient precedent, set by King Wu, when he invested Kija as an independent ruler. This act, rather than legitimizing imperial irredentism, became a delimiter of the proper bounds of imperial ambition. In Yi's account, Taizong became cautionary example. Taking an arrow to the eye in the course of battle, Taizong died from his wounds, paying the ultimate price for hubris and vainglory.143
Kija's brief appearance in Yi Saek's verse narrative of Tang Taizong career demarcated the limitations of legitimate imperial power. In this sense, within the poem, Tang Taizong's military adventure becomes fundamentally illegitimate. As such, the poem is also a celebration of civil (and literary) virtue at the expense of the martial. Indeed, this trope of privileging the civil runs consistently through not just Yi Saek's poem, but also in the hundreds of diplomatic memorials written during this period. Both Koryŏ and later the Chosŏn had celebrated imperial authority and were complicit in the construction of its grandeur, at least in writing. But, such panegyrics were attenuated by a careful delineation of what that majesty entailed. For Korea, empire was only legitimate when it was "civil."
The literary exchange of the Brilliant Flowers offered a definitive alternative to martial prowess. It was also a resolution to the contentions of the past. As the Chosŏn poet-official, Yi Haeng once wrote, "One line of the Brilliant Flowers is enough/ there is no need for ten-thousand troops to pass."144 The envoy poetry anthology and the Ming envoy himself, the double entendre of "Brilliant Flowers," made the force of arms obsolete. The Ming could count on Chosŏn's declarations of allegiance and paeans to its virtue, only if empire was expressed in terms of its civilizing power and cultural prestige, not military prowess or territorial dominion. Perhaps, as Sŏ Kŏjŏng suggested, "literature," really could "wash away at once the disgraces of the Sui and Tang."145
When the issues of warfare and imperial conquests emerged in the Brilliant Flowers, they were usually resolved by sublimating them into an adulation of the Ming for ruling through civil-literary virtue, mundŏk (wende). What then did sublimating contentious poetry within a high imperial rhetoric, asserting Korea's own independent transmission of classical tradition via Kija, and the elevation of civil virtues over the martial have to do with one another?
The crux of the issue is again the challenge of fashioning a sovereign space through a civilizing project that could withstand imperial counterclaims. A realm whose civilization resembled China meant that it was also "governable." For states like Chosŏn Korea and Vietnam, both ruling lands once claimed as imperial territory, such a scenario risked inviting wars of irredentism. On the other hand, remaining "barbarian" (in the eyes of the Ming), put one beyond the pale of imperial control, and therefore only subject to a "loose rein." The dichotomy of this imperial logic presented the following choice: one could either be a barbarian and autonomous, or civilized and subject to imperial authority. The Chosŏn, however, wanted to be both autonomous and civilized.
It is to resolve this quandary that both the Kija mythos and the cultivation of civil/literary virtue over the martial were deployed. Kjia was not just a symbol of Korea's cultural connection to China; his mythos was pliable enough to construct a way for Chosŏn to claim a line of the transmission of civilization that was alternative, and independent of imperial claims. Kija was "enfeoffed in Chosŏn," but "he was not a subject" of King Wu. By accepting the historicity of this narrative, Chosŏn and Ming officials reinvented a classical model that legitimized their peculiar arrangement. It allowed the Ming to retain its moral authority as universal rulers of the civilized world, while allowing for Chosŏn's own space within it.
The repudiation of imperial militarism and the elevation of civil/literary rule worked hand in hand with the Kija mythos. Not only was Korea guaranteed its own, separate claims to political and cultural autonomy that was unquestionably civilized, but the empire was implicitly barred from extending its own claims over this particular piece of land. By assuring, in poetry and in discourse, that Ming sovereignty and its civilizing influence had already spread to Korea, the Chosŏn court anticipated any arguments the Ming could have had for justifying territorial expansion or direct political intervention. Chosŏn succeeded in manufacturing a seemingly impossible arrangement in classical imperial ideology: a civilized state that was beyond the pale of empire.
Of course, the history of Chosŏn-Ming relations demonstrate that any such arrangement was never ironclad, and the Chosŏn court continually struggled with the diversity of Ming attitudes towards Chosŏn. While some Ming officials were keen to see Chosŏn literati as cultural equals, others remained assured of Korea's unchangeable barbarity. But, it is precisely because of this uncertainty that these counterclaims are significant. Without the regular assertion of Chosŏn's own counterclaims, Korea's fate in empire would depend only on the whimsies of imperial desire.