Keimyung University, Academia Koreana
  • An Investigation into a Nineteenth-Century Primer From Chosŏn

During the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, many literacy primers known as panjŏl (反 切) were printed in Chosŏn to teach illiterate Koreans the basics of Korean writing. One particular type among them, titled Sin'gan panjŏl (新刊反切, Newly printed primer), is interesting for two reasons. First, although it identifies itself as a primer, most of its contents are in fact horoscope charts which tell fortunes about marriage (kunghap 宮 合) as well as inauspicious times in a person's life (samjae 三 災 and chiksŏng 直 星). I analyze the principles behind these horoscope charts and show that, while these horoscopes have their origins in Chinese and Indian culture, they have distinctly Korean characteristics. Second, Sin'gan panjŏl may be seen as evidence for a diffusion of han'gŭl literacy driven by economic motivations during the late Chosŏn period. I suggest that Sin'gan panjŏl were probably printed by commercial printers of the time whose primary products were novels. By selling these primers, they could expand their market by bringing literacy to the illiterate, and the horoscope charts would have appealed to even those who were not interested in novels.


primer, panjŏl, horoscope, woodblock, print culture

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a great number of primers known as panjŏl (反切) were printed in Chosŏn. These primers, which explain the basics of the Korean han'gŭl alphabet in a tabular format, seem to have been created in the sixteenth century and were widely used until the mid-twentieth century.1 In this article, I analyze one particular version of these primers, entitled Sin'gan panjŏl (新刊反切, Newly printed primer), and discuss its cultural significance. [End Page 231]

Evidence shows that Sin'gan panjŏl were quite common during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Chosŏn. Maurice Courant, who reproduced an image of the 1889 edition in his book, Bibliographie Coréenne, noted that when he visited Korea, these primers containing exactly the same contents were widespread.2 Currently, there are at least five different surviving editions of Sin'gan panŏl, which all differ enough in detail to make it clear that a different set of woodblocks had to be carved for each edition.3

There has been no significant discussion of these printed primers in English, and even scholars in Korea have discussed them only in the context of han'gŭl education during the late-Chosŏn period.4 I believe the full significance of Sin'gan panjŏl, distinguished from other panjŏl tables, has not been properly addressed yet.

On the one hand, Sin'gan panjŏl are noteworthy for contents that are not relevant to teaching han'gŭl. Even while identifying themselves as primers, most of the contents are in fact horoscope charts.5 Moreover, these horoscope charts are all uniquely Korean in that they are either not found anywhere else or have not been popular in other countries. My analysis of these horoscope charts shows that they reflect a strong belief in the cycle of auspicious and inauspicious times.

The fact that Sin'gan panjŏl contain these horoscopes charts may reflect the goals of the publishers. Although Sin'gan panjŏl show no indication of who their publishers were, they were probably printed by private publishers of the time, whose primary product was novels.6 They printed these primers both to expand their market to the illiterate and to enlarge the existing market for novels. The horoscopes were most likely incorporated as an extra feature that would appeal to [End Page 232] the customers. Overall, Sin'gan panjŏl can be seen as evidence of the diffusion of han'gŭl literacy driven by economic motivations during the late-Chosŏn period.


Before I discuss the significance of Sin'gan panjŏl, a brief presentation of the basic structure of the prints and a general overview of their contents are required. Sin'gan panjŏl can be divided into six parts. (Fig. 1) The most conspicuous part, situated in the middle to the upper right, is the panjŏl table. It takes roughly twothirds of the entire available space and is written in large letters. The area to the left of the panjŏl table is divided into four rows; the top three rows and the space underneath the panjŏl table contain three different horoscope charts. At the end of the third row, there is usually the title of the print, which specifies the year of publication according to the traditional sexagenary cycle. For example, in the print from 1887, it is written as Chŏnghae sin'gan panjŏl (丁亥新刊反切 Newly printed panjŏl from the year 1887).7 In the bottommost row is a single-digit multiplication table.

Figure 1. Layout of Sin'gan panjŏl 新刊反切
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Figure 1.

Layout of Sin'gan panjŏl 新刊反切

[End Page 233]

The Panjŏl Table

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1887 Sin'gan panjŏl 新刊反切

The word panjŏl is the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese word fanqie 反切 which refers to the method of presenting the sound value of a given character by using one character to represent the initial consonant and another character to represent the final sound.8 While the panjŏl table itself can only be traced back to the sixteenth century in Chosŏn, the tradition of using a tabular format to present phonological values in a language can be traced back to around the twelfth century in China.9

In Sin'gan panjŏl, the first column on the right, printed in white on a black background, shows the first eight initial consonants of han'gŭl, corresponding to the sounds k-, n-, t-, l-, m-, b-, s-, and iŭng (the zero consonant). Each of the fourteen vertical columns to its left shows combinations of a single initial [End Page 234] consonant with eleven possible vowels.10 Another white-on-black column at the end divides the entire sheet into left and right and shows the combinations of two diphthongs (wa, wŏ) with some of the consonants.

The picture on top of each consonant column represents an object, the Korean word for which has the corresponding initial consonant. For example, the drawing on the top of the first column is a dog, which has the Korean pronunciation "kae," representing the initial consonant k-. On the second column is a butterfly, which has the Korean pronunciation "nabi," for n-.11 These drawings suggest that these tables were printed for illiterate Koreans as these are all everyday items. A Korean who already knew these words would have been able to guess their sounds.

However, some other features of the print suggest that this table alone was not entirely sufficient for completely illiterate people to master han'gŭl by themselves. The table lacks similar pictographic mnemonics for vowels, and the combinations of consonants and vowels presented do not cover all the possible combinations in han'gŭl. Notably, the table shows no instance of final consonants, which appear even within the accompanying fortunetelling manuals, as in mok meaning wood, or kŭm meaning metal. Moreover, in the multiplication table given at the bottom left corner of the print, the numbers are written in Chinese characters. Although this missing information is not too difficult to supply, a completely illiterate person would have needed some initial instruction in order to learn han'gŭl.

Despite the lack of some information necessary for reading han'gŭl, the table follows the standard form of a panjŏl table that was produced in Korea from as early as the eighteenth century and continued to be used until the early twentieth century. A similar table, which shows the same combinations with a paradigm of diphthongs, is included in Chosŏn ŏnmun (朝鮮諺文 Vulgar writings of Chosŏn) written in 1719.12 [End Page 235]

The Multiplication Table

As mentioned above, the multiplication table is written in Chinese characters and comprises eleven columns. Unusually, the table is read from right to left then top to bottom, rather than from top to bottom then right to left. Multiplication starts with 9x9=81, then 8x9=72, 7x9=63, and so on, until it reaches 1x9=9. Then it starts again with 8x8=64, and 7x8=56, and so on until it finally reaches 1x2=2. In general, this section may indeed be seen as "information needed for daily lives," as An Pyŏnghŭi has suggested.13

Horoscope Tables

Overall, there are three different kinds of horoscopes included in the print: kunghap (宮合, the union of residences), a type of horoscope about marriage; samjae (三災, three years of misfortunes), a chart indicating the period of inauspicious times that repeats every twelve years; and chiksŏng (直星, presiding stars), a type of astral divination. The table for chiksŏng is given on the left side of the space underneath the panjŏl table, and that for samjae is on the third row in the left side of the print, right next to the space where the title is given. Kunghap is a little peculiar. The main part of kunghap starts from the first line of the top row and ends before the start of the samjae chart in the third row, but this section has to be read after consulting the table given at the space to the right of the chart for chiksŏng. This table is not given any name in the print, but it shows the nayin wuxing (K. nabŭm ohaeng, 納音五行, five phases corresponding to induced tones) system, of which the existence can be traced back to as early as the third century BCE in China.14

There is a possibility that some prints had a second page which is now lost. Courant lists the names of twelve different fortunetelling methods (counting nayin wuxing as a separate method) that are supposed to be included in the print, but [End Page 236] eight of these methods are not seen in any of the surviving prints, including the image that Courant himself provides in his book.15

If there never was a second page, it may be the case that Courant made this list of methods not from Sin'gan panjŏl themselves, but from another source that was written in Chinese. A hand-copied manuscript kept at Nogudang (綠雨堂 Green Rain Hall), which belongs to the Yun family of Haenam (海南尹氏), has several methods mentioned by Courant along with kunghap and samjae, but it is written in Chinese rather than in han'gŭl.16 A manuscript like this was probably the original source of the contents printed with the panjŏl table, but Courant (or the person who informed Courant about the contents of Sin'gan panjŏl) may have thought that they were entirely identical. Therefore, he may have included some items that were not actually present in Sin'gan panjŏl.

Another reason to suspect that Courant was looking at a manuscript written in Chinese rather than in han'gŭl is the fact that he was able to provide French translations of the horoscope tables. Although it is not too difficult to guess the underlying Chinese characters for given han'gŭl compounds in many cases, a number of cases are not so easily identifiable. Someone may have explained the meanings to him orally, but there is also a chance that he read a manual written in Chinese.


We are now ready to discuss the details of the horoscope charts. For all three cases, I will first begin by describing how one should read these charts. Then, I will further explain the underlying principles employed in these charts and compare them with the original Chinese theory to elucidate their unique characteristics. [End Page 237]

Kunghap, a Form of Marriage Divination

Kunghap, which starts in the top-left section of the print, is essentially a list of twenty-five possible combinations between a man and a woman according to the five phases of traditional Chinese cosmology, presented in the order of Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth. The horoscope table begins as follows:

male Metal, female Metal: they will have offspring and things to rely on.

male Metal, female Wood: mutually dominating, greatly inauspicious.

male Metal, female Water: poverty, inauspicious.

male Metal, female Fire: offspring will not be filial.

male Metal, female Earth: harmony and joy between husband and wife.17

I will explain how to read this table taking as an example the case of Emperor Kojong (高宗 r. 1863–1907) and Empress Myŏngsŏng (明成皇后 1851–1895) of the Korean Empire. In order to figure out to which phases the emperor and the empress belong, one has to first consult the nayin wuxing table given in the bottom right side of the print. This table shows to which phase a person belongs on the basis of the traditional sexagenary cycle of the birth year.18 The successive two members of the cycle are paired, resulting in a total of thirty entries. The first few lines are given as follows:

Kapcha (1st) and ŭlch'uk (2nd) years are metals in a sea.

Pyŏngin (3rd) and chŏngmyo (4th) years are a fire in a brazier.

Mujin (5th) and kisa (6th) years are trees in a great forest.

Kyŏngo (7th) and sinmi (8th) years are earth on the side of roads.

Imsin (9th) and Kyeyu (10th) years are metals on the tip of a sword.19

[End Page 238]

Theoretically, this chart makes a finer distinction even among the same phases. For example, a metal can be "in a sea" or "on the tip of a sword." But since the kunghap chart makes no reference to the given modifiers, they are ignored here.20 Therefore, the only information one reads from this chart is the phase corresponding to the sexagenary cycle. In the simplest form, the numbered years of the sexagenary cycle correspond to the five phases as follows:

1, 2, 9, 10, 17, 18, 31, 32, 39, 40, 57, 58 belong to Metal.

3, 4, 11, 12, 25, 26, 33, 34, 41, 42, 55, 56 belong to Fire.

5, 6, 19, 20, 27, 28, 35, 36, 49, 50, 57, 58 belong to Wood.

13, 14, 21, 22, 29, 30, 44, 45, 51, 52, 59, 60 belong to Water.

7, 8, 15, 16, 23, 24, 37, 38, 45, 46, 53, 54 belong to Earth.21

On the basis of this chart, the emperor, who was born in 1852, the forty-ninth year of the sexagenary cycle (imja) can be identified as belonging to Wood, because it shows that the forty-ninth and the fiftieth years are years of syangjyamok (桑柘木 a mulberry wood). On the other hand, the Empress Myŏngsŏng was born a year earlier, in 1851, which is the year sinhae (48). The nayin wuxing table shows that the forty-seventh and the forty-eighth years are the years of ch'ach'yŏn'gŭm (釵釧金 a metal in hairpins and bracelets). If we apply this result, i.e. male Wood, female Metal, to the kunghap table, we see the prognostication, pin'gon taehyung (貧困大凶 poverty, greatly ominous).

As a matter of fact, someone who is familiar with the basic principles of the five-phase system may have guessed that the marriage between the emperor and the empress was inauspicious even without having to look at the kunghap table. That is because Wood and Metal is a part of the "mutual conquest cycle." This theory, which originated in the Chinese Warring States period, explains that Fire conquers Metal, Metal conquers Wood, Wood conquers Earth, Earth conquers Water, and Water conquers Fire.22 Theoretically, in ten cases out of twenty-five, a couple would belong to this mutual conquest relationship, and prognostications in these cases are all inauspicious regardless of the gender distribution.23 [End Page 239]

Then there is also the mutual generation cycle, according to which Fire generates Earth, Earth generates Metal, Metal generates Water, Water generates Wood, and Wood generates Fire. If a couple belongs to one of these cases, of which the probability is also ten out of twenty-five, their marriage is likely to be auspicious.24

That leaves us with a remainder of five cases, i.e. the cases in which the bride and the groom belong to the same phase. Sin'gan panjŏl tell us that, except for one case, where the bride and the groom both belong to Wood, the marriage is also auspicious. Even for the Wood case, though, it says that it is pan'gil panhyung (半吉半凶 half auspicious and half ominous). So, the overall likelihood of a couple having a bad future is only ten out of twenty-five or forty percent, and for the remaining sixty percent, the future is most likely to be good.

The interesting point about kunghap is that, although both the nayin wuxing chart, which connects the birth year with the five phases, and the theories of mutual conquest and mutual generation originated from China, the chart predicting the future between men and women on the basis of their phases is only found in Korea. In fact, even the word compound kunghap is only used in Korea. In Chinese, it is simply called hehun (合婚 the union of marriage).25

There is much evidence proving its popularity and influence in Korean society during the late Chosŏn and the Japanese colonial period.26 And the popularity of [End Page 240] this method shows that the Korean people share, in large part with China, a belief that the time of one's birth plays a crucial role in one's fate. In China, this type of belief can be found as early as in the third century BCE. Fortunetelling manuals called rishu (日書 daybooks), which were widely circulated during the Qin and Han periods, contain sections in which the fates of newborn babies are described according to the sexagenary cycle.27

However, in both China and Korea, the fate of individuals influenced by the time of their birth is by no means completely fixed. As Mu-Chou Poo has stated, even in rishu, where "every phenomenon in the world has a one-to-one correlation with a certain day or hour, and the auspiciousness of the day or hour is a known fact … [a person] can still move freely within the fixed structure, as in playing a game of chess according to the rules."28 This explanation applies perfectly to the kunghap. One is born within a certain structure in which one's relationship with one's future partner is already decided, but one is still free to decide whom to marry in order to make the best of one's life. [End Page 241]

Samjae, The Three Years of Misfortunes

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Samjae Amulet 三災符籍. An amulet with a drawing of a three-headed eagle for defending against the misfortunes of samjae (included in Courant's Bibliographie Coréenne). Under the eagle is written, "wear one and take one home to prevent harm."

The remaining two charts have very different origins, but the underlying philosophy is similar. Samjae tells which years one should be cautious of on account of misfortunes on the basis of one's birth-year within the twelve-branch (chiji 地支) cycle. It is heavily abbreviated, but the meaning is as follows:

[For the people who were] born in years sin (辛 9), cha (子 1), and chin (辰 5), [the three years of misfortune] starts on the year in (寅 3).

For those born in years in (寅 3), o (午 7), and sul (戌 11), it starts on the year sin (辛 9).

For those born in years hae (亥 12), myo (卯 4), and mi (未 8), it starts on the year sa (巳 6). [End Page 242]

For those born in years sa (巳 6), yu (酉 10), and ch'uk (丑 2), it starts on the year hae (亥 12).29

The underlying principle behind this method is called sanhe (三合 K. samhap, the union of three), and it is also related to the theory of five phases. According to the principle of sanhe, the twelve branches can be divided into four groups of three, and the three in each group symbolize the birth, maturity, and old age of a phase. This principle is already clearly explained in a second-century BCE manuscript discovered in Kongjiapo (孔家坡), Suizhou (隨州), Hubei (湖北) province in China.30

Water: birth at sin, maturity at cha, old age at chin.

Wood: birth at hae, maturity at myo, old age at mi. (103)

Fire: birth at in, maturity at o, old age at sul.

Metal: birth at sa, maturity at yu, old age at ch'uk. (104).31

This passage tells that the first, fifth, and ninth years of the twelve-year cycle belong to the phase of Water, and the second, sixth, and tenth years belong to Metal, and so on. It will be noticed that both the samjae chart and the Kongjiapo manuscript list cycles of only four of the five phases, lacking Earth.32 This is due to the peculiar position of Earth in the five-phase theory.

There are four seasons in a year and four cardinal directions in space. Thus, each of the four phases except Earth can represent a direction in space as well as a season of the year. Earth, on the other hand, corresponds to the center and is thus without a strong connection with any season or direction. There were various attempts to fix all of the five phases in the twelve-branch system, but the [End Page 243] connection between the given branches and Earth was never as intuitive and convincing as those of other phases.33 The cycle of Earth (o – sul – in) given in other places overlaps in most parts with the cycle of Fire (in – o – sul).34 This is probably why samjae ignores the Earth cycle.

The years that are supposed to be unfortunate are the three years that precede the final "old-age" year of that phase. So, for example, for those who were born in the years belonging to the Wood phase, their samjae starts on the year sa (6), and ends on the year mi (8), the "old-age" year of the Wood phase. The principle is the same for the other three phases: for those who belong to Water, samjae are the three years prior to chin (5), for those of Fire, it is three years before sul (11), and for those of Metal, it is three years before ch'uk (2).

What is notable about this system is that although it may not be of Korean origin, it is far better known in Korea than in China.35 The book that explains this method is Tianji dayao (The outline of heavenly mechanism), a Ming-dynasty work written by a figure named Lin Shaozhou, but it appears that the work survives today only in the form of editions printed in Chosŏn. In Chosŏn, the work was printed at least three times after it was first imported in 1636.36 In contrast, this book is not included in any of the catalogs printed in China since the Ming. [End Page 244]

In contemporary Taiwan, a book titled Zengbu tianji dayao (增補天機大要 The outline of heavenly mechanism with additions) has been published twice, first in 1989 and then in 2011, with the name of the author given as Shen Taisan (申泰三).37 There happens to be a Korean publisher named Sin T'aesam (same Chinese characters) who published a book with the same title in 1956. I have been unable to check Sin T'aesam's book, but it seems highly likely that the Taiwanese books are in fact reprints of Sin's book.38

If these Taiwanese editions are indeed another version of the book written by Lin Shaozhou, it may be considered proof that the original Tianji dayao written by Lin Shaozhou did not contain the section on samjae. The 2011 edition, at least, has no information on samjae, and the publisher could not have just taken out that information as the book is just a facsimile of the woodblock editions. And after all, this custom is virtually unknown in China, and no other work that was famous in China explains this method.39 In addition, the names of these Chosŏn reprinted editions, such as Chŭngbo ch'amch'an pijŏn ch'ŏn'gi taeyo (增補參贊秘傳 天機大要 The secretly transmitted outline of heavenly mechanism with helpful additions, first printed in 1737), indicate that some sections were added to the original Tianji dayao.40

In any case, samjae was a unique part of Korean culture at the time. A custom related to this samjae is that, if one enters the three years of samjae one uses an amulet with the drawings of a three-headed eagle to prevent possible misfortunes. One should paste such an amulet at home and carry one with oneself all the time during the three years.41

Samjae postulates a preordained cycle of auspicious and inauspicious times in a person's life. People who are born in a year of a certain phase will suffer [End Page 245] misfortunes in the years when its natural cycle comes to an end. The popularity of samjae in nineteenth-century Korea, especially compared to its absence in China, shows how Korean people believed in the existence of a natural cycle that brings misfortunes to everyone at a regular interval. However, as was the case with marriage divination, despite the belief in such a fixed cycle, they believed that if one understood the pattern and took necessary steps, one could still change one's fate for the better.

Chiksŏng, the "Presiding Star"

The last chart is purportedly a type of astrology, but in fact it retains little connection with astrology except in terminology. This chart also identifies the years in which one should be cautious. The chart in Sin'gan panjŏl lists names of celestial bodies that are responsible for the year's luck with reference to a person's gender and age. The ages are written horizontally from right to left, then top to bottom (as in the case of the multiplication illustration) in nine lines in Chinese numerals. Starting from age ten, the row extends to the age eighteen, then moves down a row. The next row again starts from the right and continues from nineteen, and so on. When read vertically, one can tell that ages of every nine years all belong to a star for men and another star for women. For example, at the ages of 10, 19, 28, 37, 46, and 55, men are under the influence of a star named Cheyong, and women are under Jupiter.

Nine celestial bodies rotate in sequence: Cheyong, Saturn, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Kyedo, Moon, and Jupiter until death. Even though the table stops at sixtythree, it does not imply that the cycle ends at that age. Another Korean divination manual included in Courant's Bibliographie, Chiksŏng haengnyŏn pyŏllam (直星行年便覽 A handbook of presiding stars by age), explains this method in detail and tells that the age sixty-five is the same as the age eleven, and so on.42

Now, if one is not familiar with the custom, this chart alone will not provide any information on how to remove harm. Once one identifies the responsible star with the given chart, one must perform certain rituals in order to prevent possible [End Page 246] harm. In Tongguk sesigi (東國歲時記 The records of seasonal customs of the eastern state), the custom is explained as follows:

If the age of boys and girls have reached that of Rahu, they make Ch'uryŏng (芻靈 straw spirit). In dialects, this is called Ch'ŏyong (處容). They put coins inside the head, and during the twilight of the day before the [first] full moon [of the year], they throw it away on the streets and thus remove harms. … [If the age corresponds] to Mercury, one wraps some rice with paper and throws it into a well during the night to avert harm. According to the custom, [people] fear the Ch'ŏyong star the most.43

The origin of this method is in an Indian system called navagraha (nine houses), which was first brought to China along with Buddhism.44 Cheyong and Kyedo, which correspond to the Hindu names Rahu and Ketu, were two imaginary stars in the sky located at the points where the orbit of the moon crosses the ecliptic. In this system, the nine stars, including Rahu and Ketu, were thought to have great power on people.45 The Korean chiksŏng method, however, seems to be far removed from the original navagraha, as the cycles of these so-called "stars" are completely irrelevant to the actual cycles of the nine astronomical bodies. In chiksŏng, they all share the cycle of nine years.46 [End Page 247]

It is important to note that these stars do not exert influence on human beings whimsically. Cheyong, the star that is said to be the most feared by the Chosŏn people, is ominous to everyone at a certain age. This means that, just like the samjae, chiksŏng presupposes a preordained cycle of auspicious and inauspicious times in one's life. The two methods are alike also in that they allow people to make efforts to prevent possible misfortunes during the ominous periods. A recognition of natural cycles in people's lives with a belief in the possibility of evading harm during the inauspicious times seems to have been particularly prevalent in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Korea.


The fact that there are several different editions of Sin'gan panjŏl indicates that there was a constant demand for reprints at the time. But who printed them and why were they so popular?

As the printers left no indication of their identity, we can only guess who they were. The fact that Sin'gan panjŏl were woodblock prints may give us a hint.47 If Sin'gan panjŏl were not printed by government order, for there is no record of such an order, we must conclude that they were printed by private publishers, presumably for profit. Woodblock printing implies mass production as they were cheaper than movable type only when printing at least several hundred copies, and there was one type of commercial product that was primarily printed using woodblocks during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Chosŏn, and that was novels.48

Early eighteenth-century Chosŏn saw a rapid growth in the demand for novels written in Korean, which led to the emergence of a new business model of book rental businesses known as sech'aek (貰冊).49 These book-rental shops, however, [End Page 248] could only exist in Seoul where there was a dense population of readers; the needs of readers in other regions had to be met by other means. To serve these needs, private publishers started printing novels.50 Private publishers were not unknown in Korea even before late Chosŏn, but it was at this time that there was a marked increase in their activities.51

The scholars Si Chŏnggon has already mentioned the role of commercial printing culture in the spread of han'gŭl in late Chosŏn, but he has not mentioned how this worked exactly.52 Sin'gan panjŏl could, in fact, be seen to substantiate his claim. If Sin'gan panjŏl were not indeed first designed by one of these private publishers, they must have soon started printing them for themselves, as publishing Sin'gan panjŏl could serve dual purposes. They increased the population of potential customers for their novels while creating a revenue of their own. The horoscope charts they included could have been the extra touch added by the publishers to make Sin'gan panjŏl a useful product even to people who were not interested in reading novels for themselves.


Sin'gan panjŏl are interesting objects in their own right, as the included horoscope charts reflect everyday beliefs about life among the common people during the time. These horoscopes are all uniquely Korean in the sense that they are not found in any other neighboring countries, and they were read and shared by many people during the time as components of a widely circulated primer. In summary, the horoscopes in Sin'gan panjŏl could be seen as a reflection of a distinctive characteristic of Korean popular culture at this time, namely, a strong belief in natural cycles to which everyone is subjected.

The other significance of Sin'gan panjŏl is that they present evidence for a rather different model of diffusion of han'gŭl at that time. For the most part, previous research in the history of the spread of han'gŭl has focused on the active efforts of learned people in educating the illiterate since the modernization period—for [End Page 249] example those of the Christian missionaries or through the patriotic movements of the early twentieth century.53 Sin'gan panjŏl, however, suggest that the spread of han'gŭl in Chosŏn society may have been, at least partially, driven by economic motivations. [End Page 250]

Song Yunwoo

Song Yunwoo ( is an assistant professor in Yuelu Academy, Hunan University, China.

Submitted: April 1, 2018
Sent for revision: May 8, 2018
Accepted: May 31, 2018


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An Pyŏnghŭi. Hunmin chŏngŭm yŏn'gu [Studies on Hunmin chŏngŭm]. Seoul National University, 2007.
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. I would like to thank Adam D. Smith for his invaluable comments on my paper.

3. In chronological order, they are: 1877 Song Ch'ŏrŭi, "Panjŏlp'yo ŭi pyŏnch'ŏn," 189; 1879 (this is a woodblock held at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History); 1887 (held at University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology); 1889 Courant, Bibliographie Coréenne; 1894; and a copy (date unknown) held at the Tōyō Bunko in Japan. There is also another imprint from 1918 which has basically the same contents but is titled Namnyŏ p'iltok ŏnmun t'onghoe [A must read for men and women, a thorough explanation of the vulgar writings]. Song Ch'ŏrŭi, "Panjŏlp'yo ŭi pyŏnch'ŏn," 192. I thank Stephen Lang for helping me locate some of these editions.

5. An Pyŏnghŭi has merely remarked that these contents comprise "[information] that is needed in everyday lives," without further explaining their significance or implications. An Pyŏnghŭi, Hunmin chŏngŭm yŏn'gu, 203.

7. In the copy held at Tōyō Bunko, however, this space is left empty.

8. Fanqie is used to notate pronunciation in Chinese rhyme dictionaries (yun shu 韻書) such as the Qieyun (切韻) dictionary of 601 CE. This system of fanqie was later reconceived as a tabular arrangement, with columns representing initial consonants and rows representing finals.

10. The last vowel of the paradigm that resembles a dot underneath is a vowel called arae'a that is no longer used. It was formally removed from the han'gŭl system in the early twentieth century. Yi Ŭido, "Han'gugŏ han'gŭl p'yogipŏp ŭi pyŏnch'ŏn" [Changes of Korean language notation], Han'gul 301 (September 2013): 143–218.

11. From right to left, the drawings are: kae (dog), nabi (butterfly), tak (chicken), lapal (trumpet), mal (horse), pae (boat), sasŭm (deer), agi (baby), cha (ruler), ch'ae (whip), k'al (knife), t'ap (pagoda), p'a (scallion), hae (sun).

14. Rao Zongyi, "Qinjian zhong de wuxingshuo yu nayinshuo" [The five-phase theory and the induced tones theory in Qin bamboo slips], in Guwenzi yanjiu [A research in paleography], ed. Shanxi sheng kaogu yanjiusuo, Zhonghua shuju bianjibu, and Zhonguo guwenzi yanjiuhui, vol. 14 (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1986), 261–80. The earliest evidence of the nayin system found in the Shuhuidi manuscript (identified by Rao Zongyi), only matches in its arrangements of ganzhi with the nayin system and makes no reference to either the five tones or the five phases. Thus, to be precise, it is the basic framework of the nayin system that can be traced back to the third century BCE, not this nayin wuxing table given in Sin'gan panjŏl.

16. "Honin kunghap pŏp" [The method of the union of residences for marriage] (Nogudang of the Yun Family of Haenam, n.d.), The image of the manuscript can be accessed at the website of the Center for Korean Studies Materials ( It is noted that the manuscript was once published by the Academy of Korean Studies in Komunsŏ chipsŏng [Collection of old manuscripts], 1983. Vol. 3.

17. These are all written in archaic Korean, but their Chinese can be easily identified as: 男金女金有 子有依, 男金女木相克大凶, 男金女水貧困不吉, 南金女火子孫不孝, 男金女土夫妻和樂…

18. The way nayin assigns a five-phase value to each member of the sexagenary cycle is quite complicated. For a detailed explanation of its mechanism, see Rao Zongyi, "Qinjian zhong de wuxingshuo yu nayinshuo," 264–75.

19. Again, these are all written in old han'gŭl, but the Chinese is: 甲子乙丑海中金, 丙寅丁卯爐中, 戊辰 己巳大林木, 庚午辛未路旁土, 壬申癸酉劍鋒金… This list is included in various Chinese books on fortunetelling, including the famous Sanming tonghui (三命通會 A comprehensive interpretation of three fates). A complete translation of this nayin wuxing table and the kunghap table into a Western language is given in Courant, Bibliographie Coréenne, 1896, 3:55–58. Courant's translation of the nayin wuxing chart is particularly noteworthy because it reflects various scribal errors resulting from homonyms in Sino-Korean.

20. Furthermore, since they are all written in han'gŭl, their meaning is unclear in many cases.

21. This list that disregards the finer distinctions within each phase is, in fact, closer to the nayin system from the third century BCE because the modifiers were not incorporated into the system until much later. See n. 14 above.

22. This principle was a philosophical innovation for justifying the rise of a new dynasty after Zhou (周). J.13.2 "Yingtong" (應同 Resonance among the same) in Lüshi chunqiu [Spring and autumn of Mr. Lü].

23. Probably due to errors in copying, however, there is a case where a mutual conquest relationship is said to be auspicious. In most of the surviving copies I looked at, the relationship in which the male belongs to Water and the female belongs to Earth (a case of a female conquering male) is given as changmyŏng ŭisik (長命衣食 long life with clothes and food). In the 1889 edition, however, it is given as changbyŏng ŭisik. The meaning is a little ambiguous, but it seems to mean "long-suffering in sickness, but with clothes and food" (長病衣食). In the 1887 edition, it is chanbyŏng ŭisik, probably meaning "–病衣食 minor sickness, but with clothes and food." Only in the undated edition held at Tōyō Bunko is it clearly ominous. It says tanmyŏng ŭisik (短命衣食 short life but with clothes and food).

24. Likewise, there is a case where a mutual generation relationship is said to be inauspicious. The case in which the male belongs to metal and the female belongs to Water (a case of male generating female), all of the surviving editions except the one held at Tōyō Bunko say "pin'gon pulgil" (貧窮不吉 poverty and inauspicious). The Tōyō Bunko edition, however, says "puja pugwi" (富子富貴 rich and noble). It is interesting that for both the mutual generation and the mutual conquest cases, only the Tōyō Bunko edition tells what is appropriate to the theory.

25. The compound kunghap comes from nannü hunyin jiugong gonghe fa (男女婚姻九宮宮合法 The method of the union of nine residences for marriage between men and women), which is a method listed in Lin Shaozhou's (林紹周) Tianji Dayao (天機大要 The outline of heavenly mechanism). Pak Sŏnghŭi, "Saju myŏngni rŭl iyonghan kunghap yŏn'gu" [A study on kunghap with saju myŏngni], in Proceedings of Korean Jungshin Science Symposium, 2013, 193. For Tianji Dayao, see n.36 bel

29. The Romanization follows modern Korean pronunciation because the twelve branches are differently transcribed (due to the lack of a standard in orthography at the time) among various editions. For example, sul (11) is written as syul (슐) in the 1889 edition but as sul (술) in the 1887 edition.

30. Several other works that are contemporary to the Kongjiapo manuscript also contain similar explanations. e.g. J.3 "Tianwenxun" (A lecture on patterns of Heaven), Huainanzi; slips B63, B229–31 of the Fangmatan manuscript. Liu Lexian. "Wuxing sanheju yu nayinshuo" [Five phases and the union of three system, and the induced tones theory]. Jianghan kaogu 1 (1992): 89–90.

31. Ethan Richard Harkness, "Cosmology and the Quotidian: Day Books in Early China" (The University of Chicago, 2011), 132. The translation is by Ethan Harkness, but I changed the Romanization of the twelve branches to follow Korean to make it consistent with the translation of Sin'gan panjŏl. The numbers in parenthesis refer to slip numbers assigned by the original editors of the Kongjiapo manuscript.

32. The cycle of Earth is given in Huainanzi as well as in the Fangmatan manuscript. See n. 30 above.

33. For a detailed explanation of the early Chinese scholarly attempts to match the five phases with the four seasons, see Angus Charles Graham, Disputers of the Tao: Philosophical Argument in Ancient China (Open Court, 1989), 340–56.

34. The reason for the overlap between the cycles of Earth and Fire is another theory that attempts to place Earth within the process of the four seasons. In this passage, the branch that corresponds to the old-age phase of Fire is simultaneously the maturity phase of Earth. This is in line with the principle described in Lüshi chunqiu, where Earth is given place at the end of the summer. Chen Qiyou, ed., Lüshi chunqiu xin jiaoshi [New comparisons and interpretations of the Spring and autumn of Mr. Lü] (Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2002), 314 j. 6.1.

35. Moreover, despite the identical name, this method is unrelated to the better-known Buddhist term sanzai (three calamities). In most cases, the encyclopedia entries available in Korean give accurate and detailed descriptions about the custom, but they also make unsupported connections with this Buddhist term even though the meaning is clearly different. e.g. Kim Sŭngch'an, "Samjae" [Three calamities], Han'guk minjok munhwa tae paekkwa sajŏn [Encyclopedia of Korean culture] (Han'gukhak chungang yŏn'guwŏn), accessed April 26, 2017,; Kim Ch'angil, "Samjae" [Three calamities], Han'guk minsok sinang sajŏn [Encyclopedia of Korean folk culture] (Kungnip minsok pangmulgwan), accessed April 26, 2017,

36. For the history of reprints of Tianji dayao during the Chosŏn period, see Yu Kyŏngno, "Ch'ŏn'gi taeyo" [The outline of heavenly mechanism], Han'guk minjok munhwa tae paekkwa sajŏn [Encyclopedia of Korean culture] (Han'gukhak chungang yŏn'guwŏn),; Kim Mant'ae, "Han'guk t'aegil p'ungsok ŭi chŏnsŭng yangsang kwa t'ŭkching" [Features of Korean hemerology and patterns of its transmission], Chŏngsin munhwa yŏn'gu 32, no. 1 (March 2009): 381.

37. The 1989 edition was published by Huangji 皇極, whereas the 2011 edition was published by Dayuan 大元.

38. Also, the very first line of the 2011 edition is written with the full Korean title Chŭngbo ch'amch'an pijŏn ch'ŏn'gi taeyo.

39. These works include: Yuanhai ziping (渊海子平 Ziping's deep sea), Sanming tonghui, Ditiansui (滴天 髓 Trickles of heaven's essence), Qiongtong baojian (窮通寶鑑 Precious mirror of poverty and success), Mingli zhengzong (命理正宗 The orthodox of teachings of fates and patterns). None of these works mention samjae.

41. A typical example of this amulet is given in Courant, Bibliographie Coréenne, 1896, 3:59. #2427. Kim Ch'angil argues that a copy of such an amulet was found in a thirteenth-century pagoda from the Koryŏ period. If Kim's argument is true, the custom of samjae predates the import of Tianji dayao by at least four centuries. However, I was unable to check the validity of this claim, and it does not seem likely. The amulet with a three-headed eagle may have existed before it became associated with the samjae method in Korea.

42. Chiksŏng haengnyŏn pyŏllam [A handbook of presiding stars by age], 1903, 1b, This book consists of twenty-seven pages and is currently held at Kyujanggak. This book corresponds to entry #2425 in Courant, Bibliographie Coréenne, 1896, 3:50–54. This book seems to have been also quite popular at the time and also includes other methods like samjae. A different edition of this book was translated into French in 1897 by Hong Chongu. Tjyong-ou Hong and Henri Chevalier, trans., Guide pour rendre propice l'étoile qui garde chaque homme et pour connaitre les destinées de l'année (Paris : E. Leroux, 1897),

45. J. Burgess, "The Navagraha or Nine Planets, and Their Names," Indian Antiquary; Bombay 33 (January 1, 1904): 61–66. Since the name Cheyong is used in almost all surviving Sin'gan panjŏl (except in 1889 edition, where it is written as Chyenyom) and Chikŏng haengnyŏn pyŏllam, it seems to have been the standard name used for Rahu during the late Chosŏn period. But it may be called variously as Cheung (which also refers to a straw doll made for shamanistic rituals) or Ch'ŏyong. Chŏng Sŭngmo, Chosŏndae sesigi, 3:195. Of these variant names Ch'ŏyong is particularly noteworthy because, according to a legend, it is the name of a son of the dragon king in the East Sea, and there has been claims that Ch'ŏyong in the legend may have been a foreigner to Silla who came via a sea route. Yi Yongbŏm, "Ch'ŏyong sŏrhwa ŭi ilgoch'al" [An investigation into the myth of Ch'ŏyong], Chindan hakpo 32 (1969): 1–34.

46. In fact, most people probably did not even know what these star names meant. In Hong's translation, not only are the planet names translated as "Star of Wood" or "Star of Metal" instead of their names in the Western astronomy such as "Jupiter" and "Venus," but Cheyong and Kyedo are completely mistranslated. For Cheyong, Hong writes "Star of a Dragon," which means that he thought yong stands for the Chinese word long (龍 dragon). For Kyedo, he translates it as the "Star of Moral Instructions," a translation that can be explained if Hong thought the underlying Chinese was qidao (啟導) which has the same pronunciation in Sino-Korean with jidu (計都). Hong and Chevalier, Guide pour rendre propice l'étoile qui garde chaque homme et pour connaitre les destinées de l'année, 99.

47. An exemplar of these woodblocks is kept at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.