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Meeting the Panchen Lama in Yŏrha ilgi - A Critical Reading of Pak Chiwŏn’s Account of the 1780 Chosŏn Embassy to Chengde -

Koo, Bumjin 1

1서울대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

In 1780 a Chosŏn embassy led by Pak Myŏngwon was invited to visit Chengde, or Yŏrha, and honor Qianlong’s seventy-sui birthday. A detailed record of this embassy is provided in Pak Chiwŏn’s Yŏrha ilgi, where Pak describes the encounter between the Chosŏn emissaries and the Panchen Lama in great detail. To date, Pak’s Yŏrha ilgi has been read as a faithful historical record and a disinterested account of the Chosŏn emissaries’ experiences in Chengde. However, when we compare Pak’s account with various other historical records of his time, it becomes clear that Yŏrha ilgi is far from an objective account. The famous account of the statues of Buddha is a case in point. Pak Myŏngwon and his fellow emissaries received the statues from the Panchen Lama as gifts. They interpreted the statues as gifts given upon Qianlong’s orders. Consequently, they decided to carry them all the way back to Chosŏn where they were severely criticized for violating the strict Neo-Confucian injunctions against Buddhism. Pak’s Yŏrha ilgi was written in defense of Pak Myŏngwŏn’s actions in the face of this political criticism. In Yŏrha ilgi, Pak argues that the encounter with the Panchen Lama took place under circumstances far beyond Pak Myŏngwŏn’s control. A close reading of Yŏrha ilgi alongside other historical documents reveals that Pak Chiwŏn deliberately blurs the line between eyewitness account and second-hand report by leading his readers to confuse the date of a significant event in which Qianlong met the Panchen Lama in public. As a minor figure who was not endowed with diplomatic powers, Pak Chiwŏn was absent from many of the events he reported on. Yŏrha ilgi should not be read at face value, as if it were an objective historical record, but in historical context alongside other historical documents.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.