The Sanchon Hunjang
(usually clicking on the photos yields an enlarged version)



On tombs and translations

At a largish park in Seoul not long ago, the Sanchon Hunjang came across a memorial tablet. These kinds of things aren't particularly rare, but for some reason they never fail to attract my interest.

The stone itself has a top, the main body and a base, like so many of its kin. And the body starts with a header in seal script (전서) over the top of a rather long main inscription in regular script (해서). For the seal-script impaired, the header says (right to left) "右議政諡忠憲 Discusser of Governance of the Right, Posthumously Named Ch'unghŏn."

In the background you can see a grave mound, so it is clear that the stone must have something to do with the indivual buried there.

There is also a descriptive sign that purports to explain everything in both Korean and English.

This is the memorial stone of Second State Councilor Kim Gu, and was erected in 1743.
Kim Gu's pen name was Ganbokjae and his posthumous title was Chungheongong. He received the highest score among all applicants on the civil service examination in 1682 and entered public service in the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of the Censor General. His advice on important matters there earned him the admiration of the people. He restored Prince Nosan's title of King Danjong and named his tomb Jangneung. He also contributed greatly to naming Queen Shin's tomb, Olleung.
This memorial consists of a square pedestal, a marble monument body, and a capstone. The capstone is embossed with various designs, such as dragons, phoenixes, roof tiles, the herb of eternal youth and bats. Such carvings are not found on other memorial stones. The inscription was composed by First State Councilor Yi Uihyeon and the calligraphy was done by Kim Gu's second son-in-law, First State Councillor Seo Myeonggyun. The block characters of the monument's title were written by Second State Councilor Yu Cheokgi.
To the north of this monument, in front of the tomb, stand a small tombstone, a pair of octagonal stone posts, and two stone sheep. These are also important for the study of tombs in the early 18th century.

이 비는 조선 숙정 때 우의정을 역임한 김구의 신도비로서, 영조 19년 (1743)에 걸립되었다.
김구의 자는 사궁, 호는 관복재이며, 시호는 충헌이다. 숙종8년(1682)에 춘당대 문과에 장원급제하였으며, 사헌부와 사간원에 출입하면서 사무에 대한 진언으로 일반의 찬탄을 받았다. 그리고 노산군의 단종복위와 장릉의 능호를 추복하였으며, 중종비 단경왕후 신씨의 묘를 온릉으로 추복하는데 크게 기여하였다.
이 비는 사각형 받침돌 위에 대리석으로 된 비몸이 있으며, 그 위에 지붕 돌이 얹혀져 있다. 지붕 돌인 옥개석에 용봉황,암막새, 수막새, 불로초, 박쥐, 그림무늬 등의 문양이 다채롭게 조각되어 있는 것은 여느 신도비에서는 잘 찾아볼 수 없는 특이한 것이다. 비문은 영의정을 지낸 이의헌이 지었고, 글씨는 김구의 둘째 사위인 좌의정 서명균이 썼다. 비의 제목글씨인 전액은 영의정을 지낸 유척기가 썼다.
이 비의 북쪽에 있는 그의 무덤 앞에는 돌비석과 돌기중, 석양 두마리가 배치되어 있다. 이것들도18세기 전반기의 무덤 석조물로서 묘재를 확인하는데 중요한 자료가 된다.

Maybe I'm just picky, but these explanations always seem lackluster. And I think the reason is that the translation into English is executed by someone whose purpose is to render a Korean text with precise accuracy rather than someone who is interested in communicating a message. (Whether the Korean original is useful information is another can of worms that I won't get into...) Maybe the English version turns out like this is because there was no audience defined. It is surely difficult to write before you know the level of specialized knowledge you can assume your audience has. To understand what the English on this sign is saying, one would seem to need a degree in Korean studies. But in that case, why bother with the English? The target audience could just read the Korean. Whether the Korean is well done or not, the English translation would seem misguided. It raises more questions than it answers:

Not that all of this information should have been included on the sign. It would have become a huge billboard. It just would have been nice if they had put some thought into the question of audience, taking note of the difference in needs between the Korean- and English-reading audience in the process. This would have dictated different content rather than a mindless translation of the Korean.

Moving on... Everything promised on the information sign can be seen at the tomb. The burial mound itself has been allowed to descend into a near criminal state of overgrowth. Not a good thing at a Korean grave.

The grave stone itself says: 右議政 Discusser of Governance of the Right1, 忠憲 Ch'unghŏn2 金公 Prince Kim3, 諱 tabooed word4, 構 Gu5 ['s6] 墓 grave / 貞敬婦人 Upright and Respected Lady7 全州李氏 of the Yi clan of Chŏnju8 祔 is interred 左 on the left9.

1 I.e. Third State Councillor
2 His after-death name
3 This is the common form of address: surname + prince
4 The given name of the deceased is not supposed to be used, so it is preceeded with this "tabooed word" marker.
5 His given name
6 Usually they have "之墓 the grave of..." This one omits the "之 of" for asthetic reasons, which means to keep the same number of words on the right and left sides of the inscription
7 정경부인 is the one of the Chosŏn period titles applied to the wives of men of high standing and was reserved for the wives of the higest officials in the government. Women of this level received treatment on a par with royal princesses (공주), princesses by concubine (옹주), the mother of the queen (부부인) and the wet-nurse of the king (봉보부인)
8 Family and clan affiliation were a big deal in Yi Dynasty Korea. Of all the people named Yi, there are many large groups, identified by the region where they settled: Kyŏngju, Chŏnju, Tŏksu, Yŏnan, Sŏngju, Sŏngsan, etc. Chŏnju Yi was the royal family of the Yi Dynasty
9 Wives are frequently interred with their husbands. Usually on the husband's left, but occasionally on the right. Additionally, sometimes there is a second mound for the wife and other times there is only a single mound, as here.

The grave site is laid out in traditional Korean fashion, with main grave mound with a stone offering table and some statues/pillars in front and a separate protective mound of earth winding its way in a c shape behind the main grave mound. I didn't check to see if it was truly facing south.

Hi, Taemin:

I agree that often the guide signs in English are patronizingly devoid of useful information. This is especially odd, considering that most English-speaking travellers who take the trouble to both (a) visit Korea and (b) actually go to historic sites, are probably especially interested in learning the background story.

On one occasion, however, I've visited a site (a historic park in Daegu) where, believe it or not, the English sign actually did give more information than the Korean sign. I was astounded and pleased!
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