Sol Ch'ong

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Sol Ch'ong

Sol Ch'ong (ca. 680-750) was an eminent Korean Confucian scholar of the Silla dynasty. He made significant contributions to the field of education through the development of a system for writing Korean. He was known as one of the Ten Confucian Sages of Silla.

Sol Ch'ong, whose literary appellation was Pingwoldang (Ice Moon Hall), came from the Sol clan of Kyongju, the capital of ancient Silla. By the time Kim Pusik included Sol Ch'ong's biography in his History of the Three Kingdoms in the 13th century, much information concerning Sol Ch'ong's career had been lost.

Silla had a strong caste system called Bone Ranks, and Sol came from one of the eminent families. His grandfather had held high office in the government before Silla unified the Korean peninsula, and his father, Wonhyo, was an eminent monk in this predominantly Buddhist kingdom. Wonhyo married a royal princess who gave birth to Sol Ch'ong. Wonhyo is known to have written at least 12 volumes on Buddhism and was considered one of the Ten Buddhist Saints of Silla. Together with the monk Ú isang, he founded the Pomosa Temple, which stands near Pusan today.

Sol Ch'ong rose to high position in the National Academy, where his principal duties involved translating dispatches into Chinese for the King. As one of the three most famous Confucian scholars in Silla—Kang Su and Ch'oe Chiwon were the others—Sol lectured on the Confucian classics in the Korean vernacular.

Inasmuch as Korea had come under Chinese influence long before the Christian era and before the Koreans developed a means of writing their language, Chinese was utilized to record ideas and transact business. Sol Ch'ong was reputed to have invented idu, a system which enabled Koreans to write noun and verb inflections used in their language between Chinese characters to render Chinese into Korean grammar. In a similar manner, pure Korean words could be written by using Chinese characters for their phonetic values. However, the existence of the Royal Tour Monuments, erected on North Han Mountain in the reign of King Chinhúng (reigned 540-575) and inscribed in idu, indicates that the system originated much before Sol's birth. It is probable that Sol Ch'ong's fame stems from his collection and organization of idu symbols rather than from their invention.

One original work by Sol Ch'ong is mentioned in the History of the Three Kingdoms and is titled The Flower King's Warning (Hwa Wang Kye). It was said to have been an allegorical work which presented court personages as residents of the Flower Kingdom.

In 1022 a memorial ceremony was held for Sol in the National Shrine, and he was enshrined in the Soak Academy in Kyongju.

Further Reading

Because of the scarcity of factual data relating to his career, there are no comprehensive works on Sol Ch'ong in Western or Asian languages. For general background see Edwin O. Reischauer and John K. Fairbank, A History of East Asian Civilization, vol. 1: East Asia: The Great Tradition (1958), and Peter H. Lee, Korean Literature: Topics and Themes (1965). □