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Two Enigmas in Choi Bu's Pyohaerok

  • The Studies in Korean Poetry and Culture
  • Abbr : Korean Poetry and Culture
  • 2008, (22), pp.231-257
  • Publisher : The Society of Korean Poetry and Culture
  • Research Area : Humanities > Korean Language and Literature

Bokkyu Lee 1

1서경대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This paper addresses two problems concerning Pyohaerok by Choi Bu that have been unnoticed or neglected so far in the academic circle. One is on the existence of dual title: Jungjo Mungyeon Ilgi and Pyohaerok. It is doubtful whether the two titles were intended to mean the same or only one title was meant to be appropriate. The other concern is how Choi Bu, a member of Confucian magnates who followed Jeompiljae Kim Jongjik, actually responded to the life-threatening experience of going adrift at sea and what it truly meant to him on the spot. The existing studies seem to overlook a possible significance of these questions, often bypassing the truth. 1. Why did he originally entitled the book Jungjo Mungyeon Ilgi, but why was it posthumously retitled to Pyohaerok? According to Joseon Wangjo Sillok, King Seonjong recommended him to write a journal. Choi Bu, under obligation, narrated his experience in a form of journal to dedicate it to the king, so that the title included 'journal.' But a question arises: why did he restrict himself then by entitling his journal Jungjo Mungyeon Ilgi instead of directly mentioning the days or experiences lost at sea? Did he think little of his wreckage experience? Very unlikely. Literature has it that Choi Bu told those who came to comfort him all the stories of his boat's going adrift at sea after wreckage, even to the extent that he came to be slandered afterwards. All these facts considered, it is more likely that he had to use two tactics for narration: candidness before his friends and a lesson-gathering, royalty-proving attitude before the king's court. The reason why the book came to adopt the title Pyohaerok after his death is deemed to hint at the awareness that the inappropriateness or the limitation of the first title should be anyhow overcome. 2. How did the author respond to this crisis of life and death? In the existing studies, Choi Bu's scholarly nonchalant attitude unlike that of the crew members was underscored. It is beyond our imagination, however, that he only sticked to a rational attitude as a Confucian magnate rather than rely upon a religious supplication. Facing an extreme danger, in fact, the Confucian magnates in Joseon tended to respond religiously contrary to our common belief, which makes us in limbo so far as Choi Bu's reluctance to pray for heavenly salvation. A scrutiny into Pyohaerok indicates, however, that Choi Bu was not an exception since there was a scene where the author's religious appeal was present without doubt. In front of death, Choi Bu prayed to Heaven, not merely trying to rationally cope with the crisis. It is noteworthy that the academic circle has not properly addressed the problem yet. The reason might be a prejudice regarding the relationship between Confucianism and Confucian magnates and their religion. The prejudice could extend to the biased belief that there is no idea of God in Confucianism, all the magnates thus being naturally atheists. The religious attitude of Choi Bu is different from that of shamanism since it is differentiated in terms of perceived cause of suffering, the nature of prayer and so on. First, he ascribed the cause of suffering to his own sins. Second, his prayer is not just for personal benefit, unlike the shamanistic tradition. More precisely, it is a petition for the lives of 40 other crew members since he prays for mercy making it clear that the lives of innocent people should not be claimed. This prayer of Choi Bu's as a Confucian magnate runs up to a redemptive prayer, which is believed to set an example for today's elite.

Citation status

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