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Early edition of the 1588 Korean translation of a classic Confucian schoolbook

[In Korean:] Sohak eonhae [In Chinese:] Xiaoxue jizhu [= Elementary learning].
[Korea], [1744?]. Folio (32.5 x 21.5 cm). With the pages printed in pairs (each page 17 x 10 characters) from 2-page woodblocks, each in a frame of thick rules, with thin rules between the columns, the title and leaf number between the pages on the fore-edge fold, with 2 decorations (4 leaves in white on black above the title and below the leaf number). Printed on Asian (probably paper mulberry bark) paper, with clear chainlines (about 20 mm apart) and laidlines (about 2.1 mm apart), with the text in a mixture of hanja (Chinese characters) and hangul (the Korean alphabet). Contemporary Korean spineless wrappers with an embossed diaper pattern (made from interwoven diagonal triple lines) on the inside (mostly covered by the paste-down), side-stitched and oversewn through 5 holes, with manuscript title on the front wrapper and the spine edge. 66 double ll.
€ 25,000
A very rare early edition of the second Korean translation of volume 5 of a classic Chinese Confucian schoolbook that proved extremely popular and influential in China, Japan and Korea. It was written by Zhu Xi (1130-1200) in the Song dynasty (southern Song period) and finished in 1187. He was assisted by his disciple Liu Tzu-cheng. It was translated into Korean twice, first as Beonyeok sohak (published 1518), then as Sohak eonhae (published 1588). The present edition contains this second translation, by Yi San-hae and about thirty other scholars who chose a different redaction of the Chinese text (known as the Xiaoxue Jishuo) and followed the Chinese more literally than the earlier translators.
The present volume 5 covers (to give it its Chinese name) "Jia yan" (fair words), meaning writing, rhetoric and other matters concerning the expression of thought. Zhu Xi was an uncompromising figure with strong views on proper education, so the book demands much from the reader. Nevertheless Korean children as young as eight years old (and women, who often could read Korean but not Chinese) were expected to read it. "There are very good reasons why the Xiaoxue has been so highly esteemed. ... The statesmen strongly believed that the translation ... and the dissemination ... were crucial for the restoration of lost Confucian ethics" (Kim, p. 5). The postscript to the 1588 translation notes that the book is as essential to life as grain, water and fire.
Since a woodblock could be used for decades or even centuries, it is not easy to date the present book, but Kim illustrates the opening page of vol. 2 and the Staatsbibliothek Berlin has put scans of vol. 6 on the Internet, both described as the 1744 edition. They closely resemble the present vol. 5, including the decorations on the fore-edge fold (4 leaves in white on black). WorldCat records only 4 volumes from 18th-century editions (at the Library of Congress, the Staatsbibliothek Berlin and the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, possibly all from the 1744 edition) and none from earlier editions: only the Library of Congress has the present volume 5.
Korean books are all rare in commerce in the West, and their number is continually dwindling. Korean law strictly forbids the export of antiquarian books across the board, so the Korean books in the West generally all came out of Korea by the 1950s at the latest, and over time, the vast majority of these have been purchased by institutional buyers.
With a round Asian owners stamp in black ink on the last page and 2 round sun-burst stamps on the facing paste-down, and manuscript notes on both those pages.
The wrappers are worn and darkened with a few small chips and a network of superficial cracks. These cosmetic blemishes nowhere obscure the text and (unusually in this genre) the book shows no worm damage: given the books rarity it remains highly desirable. Rare early Korean edition of a classic Confucian schoolbook. WorldCat (1 copy of the present vol. 5, 1 copy of vol. 3, 2 copies of vol. 6, at least some from the 1744 ed.); cf. Wook-Doug Kim, "Two Korean translations of the Xiaoxue", in: Translations in Korea: theory and practice, pp. 1-38 (with an ill. of the opening of vol. 2 from the 1744 edition).
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Asia  >  China | Japan & Far East
Book history, education, learning & printing  >  Childrens books & Education