육예 – The Six Arts

I’ve learned a lot about Korean Confucianism reading <성균관 유생들의 나날>. The main point being, everything academicincluding the meritocratic Joseon governmentwas rooted in the teachings of Confucius (공자). Even “extracurriculars,” like archery had deep philosophical meaning.

대사례 [大射禮], for example, was a ceremonial archery demonstration that scholars partcipated in alongside the King. The act of doing archery alongside the King, after having passed the civil service examinations, was supposed to further cultivate and reaffirm one’s class and rank.

Sungkyunkwan Scandal‘s Yeorim (Song Joong-ki) during Dae Sa Rae.

In fact, there’s a part in <성균관 유생들의 나날> where the main character, our cross-dressing female scholar Yoonhee, gets huffy about practicing archery. Sunjoon replies:

“활쏘기는 선비라면 반드시 익혀야 하는 육예 중 하나요. 우선 바른 자세를 만들어 주고, 그와 함께 정신도 가다듬게 하오. 이것을 거치지 않는다면 활을 쏠 이유가 없소.” (p. 255)

Archery, he says, is part of 육예, and therefore something all scholars must be familiar with.

육예[六藝] literally translates to the Six Arts. (You can intuit the meaning easily given the Hanja. is 여섯 륙/육 and  is 예술 예.)

The Six Arts were the six main “subjects” that made up a proper Confucian education:예학 (ceremonial rites), 악학 (theory of music), 궁시(archery), 마술 (charioteering), 서예 (calligraphy), and 산학 (mathematics). Those who mastered all six arts were known as 군자[君子]a gentleman, or man of virtue.

The novel mentions calligraphy and archery, and eventually the four main characters also form a mathematics club (which becomes a big deal because it includes members across political factions.) But I haven’t read our main characters having to deal with any of the other 육예 yet.

Given that pretty much everything that the scholars did had something to do with Confucianism, I wonder if there’s some deep philosophical explanation of 장치기 (a street hockey-type sport from Joseon Korea which the main characters play in the novel) or was that something that people maybe actually played for fun?

I still can’t believe that <성균관 유생들의 나날> was one of the first Korean novels I ever bought back when I started learning the language seven (!!!) years ago. It’s taken me years to get to a point where I can not only comfortably read it, but also research the things I don’t know and learn from them. Ugh, now I just want to keep reading historical novels forever!

(Header: 송풍수월 )


I can’t adequately express how much I’m loving 해를 품은 달 (The Moon That Embraces the Sun) these days.  It’s been a really, really long time since I’ve been this emotionally invested in a story of any kind and it feels refreshingly good.  Although I’d say I’m enjoying the novel a tiny smidgen more than the drama at the moment, the first few episodes of the drama really swept me off my feet.  The child actors are so precious and talented; I just want to keep them in my pocket forever and ever!  This scene from episode four is one of my favorites:

: 가만. 설마 너 나와 그 아이를 질투하는 것이냐?
연우: 예? 아님니다.
: 이거 큰일이구나. 투기는 여인의 칠거지악 중 하나거늘…  나의 비가 될 아이가 이리 투기심이 많아서야…
연우: 아니라는데 왜 자꾸 그러십니- 예?
: 세자빈 간택이 시작된다는 말이다.  너도 처녀단제를 올릴테지? 기다리겠다.  너라면 분명 세자빈이 될 수 있을 것이다.

칠거지악 is a curious little word that I wasn’t familiar with.  I’ve seen it translated as “The Seven Deadly Sins” but that’s not what it literally means.

칠거지악 [명사]조선 시대, 아내를 내쫓을 수 있는 이유가 되는 일곱 가지의 허물. 곧 시부모에게 순종하지 아니하는 것(不順舅姑), 자식을 낳지 못하는 것(無子), 행실이 음탕한 것(淫), 질투하는 것(妬), 나쁜 병이 있는 것(惡症), 말이 많은 것(多言), 도둑질을 하는 것(盜) 등을 이른다. (source)

During the Joseon era, these were seven reasons for divorcing a wife:  Disobedience to her in-laws.  Inability to bear children.  Promiscuity.  Jealousy.  Having an incurable disease.  Talking too much.  Stealing.  

I did a bit more research into 칠거지악 and learned that it is a Confucius teaching found in 대학(大學) or The Great Learning, one of the 사서(四書) or Four Books which, along with the The Three Classics, make up the definitive texts of Confucianism.  Collectively, they are called 사서삼경(四書三經) or the Four Books and Three Classics.

Unsurprisingly, there is no equivalent for a woman wanting to divorce a man.  However, I did read that there are three exceptional situations in which a man cannot divorce his wife, even if she commits one of the seven faults under 칠거지악:

  1. If she has no other place to go.
  2. If she has mourned his parents for three years.  (i.e. She demonstrates filial piety.)
  3. If she was at first poor and then became rich after getting married.  (i.e. She raised her family’s social status through marriage.)

I remember learning a little bit about Confucianism forever ago in high school but not terribly in depth.  I wouldn’t say I’m… completely interested in learning about it but in the context of sageuk dramas, it definitely helps to understand Confucianism to understand certain plot points and bits of dialogue.  It’s also a novel experience (no pun intended)  trying to read up on Confucianism in Korean… yeah… I think I’ll stick to English for now.