Category Archives: Lexicons

Vocabularies from different languages


原: 唐書, 房玄齡傳; 觀政要, 君道; 資治通鑑, 等等

創業守成 (창업수성,chuàngyè shǒuchéng,そうぎょう-しゅせい) start [of] work, maintain or protect / act of
Short form of 易創業難守成, which means the start of a work is easy, but maintaining it is difficult.

During a chaotic time, near the end of Su (隋) dynasty, Yi Yeon (李淵) and Yi Se-min (李世民), who were father and son, raised an army to defeat Emperor Gong (恭帝) of Su and founded the Tang (唐) dynasty in 618 AD.

In 626, King Tae-jong (太宗), named Yi Se-min, succeeded his father, King Go-jo (高祖), named Yi Yeon, and ushered in an age of great prosperity (盛世) under the era name of Jeong-gwan (貞觀之治, 627-649). He unified the country, expanded the territory, guarded against extravagance, stabilized the economy, recruited talents from abroad, and helped to develop the academia and the culture of the country. He became the model king for subsequent kings to follow.

Such Jeong-gwan rule was possible not only because of King Tae-jong’s abilities, but around him were wise retainers such as Du Yeo-hui (杜如晦) who was known for his decisiveness; Bang Hyeon-ryeong (房玄齡), recognized for his planning skills; and Wi Jing (魏徵), known for his upright character.

One day, King Tae-jong asked his retainers, “Between starting a business, and maintaining that business, which is more difficult?”
Bang Hyeon-ryeong replied, “Starting a business can only be achieved by only successful person among many rival leaders that spring up everywhere, so I would say starting is more difficult.”
Wi Jing gave a different reply, “From the old days, the position of a monarch is finally obtained after going through much hardships, however it is easily lost in complacency. Therefore, I think protecting and maintaining is more difficult.”
King Tae-jong nodded, and said, “Duke Bang had to risk his own life with me to gain the whole world, and that’s why he said starting a work is more difficult. Duke Wi has always been cautious against pride and extravagance for the prosperity and the welfare of people (國泰民安), and also against complacency which causes calamity and chaos (禍亂). And that’s why he has said protecting and maintaining is more difficult. Since the difficulties of a start has come to an end, I shall now focus on maintaining with you.”


As recorded in the Royal Annals of Joseon dynasty, June 19, 1625:



Lamentation over the current state of affairs

We lament over thee, royal officials
Do not boast about yourselves
You live in their houses
You took over their lands
You ride on their horses
You do what they did
[Between] you and them
[Looking over] what difference are there?


原: 論語, 述而/11

暴虎馮河 (포호빙하,bào hǔ píng hé,ぼうこ-ひょうが) hit with bare hands / tiger / walk across water / river
Attack a tiger with bare hands and cross a river without anything.

One day, Gong-ja said to his disciple An-yeon (顏淵: 顏回), “Doing the right thing when appointed to an office, and living contently in seclusion when abandoned, are these things only you and I are capable of doing? Gong-ja said this because An-yeon was one of his favorites among over 3,000 disciples. An-yeon was both virtuous and studious, and Gong-ja even fell into a deep despair when he later died at the age of only 31. Gong-ja was praising him with such a comment.

Then, Jaro (仲由), hearing this, became little jealous and asked Gong-ja, “If you were to lead a great army (三軍), who would you have on your side?” Jaro asked this question because he felt himself to be more brave than many. He was sure that Gong-ja would pick him, but the reply was that Gong-ja would not be with someone would be so rash to attack a tiger with bare hands and cross a river without anything. He would rather have someone who thinks deeply about the action to take, and then succeeds in execution of the plan. Gong-ja replied this way to warn him against being rash.

Gong-ja taught it’s difficult to accomplish anything without a good plan, and it can also become prone to failure without being cautious. Jaro became silent at this point.

On the use of word 子 (Son) as an honorific

A passing thought around the use of 子 as a form of honorific: In the Bible, we have the Hebrew conception of the son of man (ben-adam), often applied to Jesus in the New Testament. From a Christian theological perspective, that is used to emphasize a part of his identity as a man, with a respect. In Literary Sinitic, the character for son (子) is used as a form of honorific as in 孔子, 莊子, 荀子, 孫子, etc. There’s also the superlative honorific form 夫子 as in 孔夫子. It is usually applied to an accomplished teacher who has created a new school of thought, or to someone who has simply left a legacy or scholarly works deserving respect. Anyway, I found it interesting that in both, this word, “son,” is used to denote respect. Of course, by its very nature of the meaning of the word, there’s the sense of continuity and connection to our own early forefathers, thereby also implying another form of horizontal connection between the teacher in question and the rest — that we are all related as a big family. The emphasis on personhood seems somewhat related to the concept behind the use of the word 仁, which is often taught as the very core of Confucianism. The etymology may be related to two characters representing person as in 人人, which says a person ought to be a person, in qualitative terms. Again, the main point here is not a mere person, but a virtuous person. Even the Latin root word, vir, from which we have virtue, means a man, or a person. It’s essentially saying the same thing as 人人 is. I don’t know if we have a continuity of such understanding in the use of these words in modernity, but it’d be interesting to find any culture that may have continued in this type of tradition.


原: 孔子家語, 三恕/4 中

有坐之器 (유좌지기,yǒuzuòzhīqì,ゆうざの-き), nearby [of] bowl
Moderation in all things. Heart should not be emptied nor be overflowing.

Gong-ja was visiting an ancestral shrine (祠堂) of Hwan-gong (桓公) of the country of Ju (周). Inside was a bowl (儀器) used in ritual ceremonies, and it was fixed in a way so that it could tilt freely. Gong-ja asked the keeper of the shrine, “What is this bowl for?”  And he replied, “It is a bowl you always look at nearby (有坐之器)”  At this, Gong-ja nodded and said, “I did hear about the bowl. It tilts to the side if it’s empty, and it stands upright only if it has just enough water, and if it’s completely filled, it would spill over.”


原: 武信君 蒯通傳, 史記, 後漢書 等等
金城湯池 (금성탕지,jīnchéng tāngchí,きんじょうとうち), metal fortress boiling pond
A word to refer to an impregnable place or thing

Emperor Si-hwang (始皇帝) of Jin (秦) had unified the kingdoms, but it started to decline soon after his death. The families (宗室) and those who had served (遺臣) in old kingdoms rose up to overthrow Jin. Many claimed to be a king in their own right, and the governing system of Jin (郡縣制) was being dismantled completely. It was during this time a man named Mu-sin (武信) had subdued the old territory of Jo (趙) and people called him Lord Mu-sin (武信君). Koi-tong (蒯通), an unappointed advisor (論客), saw all this take place, and told Seo-gong (徐公), a ruler (縣令) of Beom-yang (范陽), that the disgruntled people under his rule are about to rise up against him. Seo-gong asked what Koi-tong had in mind, and Koi-tong said that he will go to Lord Mu-sin and convince him that he should make a good example of how someone who surrenders to him would be treated by accepting your surrender, and treating you with extremely generosity. The logic was that if Seo-gong surrendered and he was treated poorly, other fortresses with become even more impregnable (金城湯池) in defending their places. So, that way, Lord Mu-sin will not suffer loss of war, and others will see how you were treated, and instead of suffering great losses themselves, they will find that it’s better to surrender. Seo-gong sent Koi-tong to Lord Mu-shin.  Lord-Mushin, amazed at the wisdom of Koi-tong, invited Seo-gong with the utmost respect and had him go abroad to tell people of this. People of Beom-yang was spared from a war, so they praised Seo-gong, and other regions hearing of this also surrendered to Lord Mu-sin.  It is said that over 30 fortresses had surrendered in the region of Hwa-buk (華北) alone.


原: 春秋左傳, 哀公, 哀公十一年/2 中

良禽擇木(양금택목,liáng qín zé mù,りょうきんたくぼく), good bird chooses tree

A wise person chooses a person or a place that recognizes and will help to cultivate his talents.

While Gong-ja (孔子) was staying in the country of Wi (衛) Gongmun-ja (孔文子, 孔圉) came to inquire him about his plans to attack Dae-suk-jil (大叔疾), but Gong-ja replied that he has learned about ancestral rites, but he know nothing about waging wars. Immediately, after, he told his disciples to get ready to leave Wi soon. Hearing about this, Gongmun-ja quickly came back to explain he didn’t have other ulterior motives and pleaded him to stay. At this, Gong-ja decided to stay longer, but a person from the country of Noh (魯) came to implore him to come back and he went back to his home country.

Before taking on a job to work for any company, or stay at any place, it’s a worthwhile effort to consider what type of place it is. If it’s a rotten tree that will fall by itself soon, or if it’s a small branch that won’t be able to withstand the weight of your nest, then it’s better not to settle down from the start.


原: 論語, 八佾/8

繪事後素(회사후소,huìshìhòusù,かいじこうそ), painting work after white
Horse before carriage. Essentials or canvas come first before formalities or decorations.

This is from a passage where Gong-ja reminds his disciples that a person ought to develop his character first before adding on other stylistic things (文飾).

Jaha (字: 子夏, 卜商) asked, “What does this text mean? ‘Dimples from a beautiful smile are pretty, pupils from beautiful eyes are clear. It is like painting with white silk (素以爲絢).'” Gong-ja (孔子) replied, “You paint after you prepare a white canvas (繪事後素).” To which, Jaha asked again, “So etiquettes/formalities (禮) come after?” And at this, Gong-ja expressed his great pleasure with Jaha’s reply and said that he is now ready to discuss poetry (詩).

Jaha realized that formalities (depicted as a painting (絢)) are expressions of the heart (depicted as a white canvas (素)), and the principle of poetry is the same. This is why Gong-ja praised his reply, and considered him ready to discuss poetry.

The mainstream interpretation of this was reinforced by Zhu-ja (朱子, 朱熹, 1130-1200) of Song (宋) dynasty, but a different interpretation was given earlier during later Han (漢) dynasty by Jung Hyeon (鄭玄, 127-200) who read this as painting white (素) after painting with colors (繪), so as to filling in the spaces between colors with white.


原: 列子, 湯問


愚公移山(우공이산,yúgōngyíshān,ぐこういざん), Wu-gong moves mountains
No matter how difficult, it can be done with persistence and diligence

There lived a 90-year old man named Wu-gong (愚公) whose residence was between two tall mountains, Mt. Tae-haeng (太行山) and Mt. Wang-ok (王玉山). He’s always found it difficult to travel to and fro other towns, so he gathered his family members to discuss creating a level road all the way to Ye-ju (豫州) and south of Han-su (漢水). However, his wife objected saying how an old man like him would be able to remove the dirt from the mountain and where to put the dirt, and to this, he replied nonchalantly, “I’ll just dump it in the Bohai Sea (渤海).”

Soon, Wu-gong with his three sons and grandsons started working. It was no easy task, since the travel to dump dirt at Bohai Sea would take a year. One day, an old friend Ji-su (智叟) tried to persuade Wu-gong to stop the work because of the age. To this, Wu-gong simply replied that his sons will carry out the work, and then his grandsons, and then later generations will continue the work until two mountains disappear. Ji-su went away shaking his head, however, the mountain spirit (蛇神) guarding those two mountains were shocked to hear this, and reported this to the Jade Emperor (玉皇上帝, aka God of Heaven). He was moved by Wu-gong’s persistence, and ordered to relocate Mt. Tae-haeng to Sak-dong (朔東) and Mt. Wang-ok to Ong-nam (雍南).

(蛇足: This is why they say there used to be two mountains in Gi-ju (冀州) but nowadays, there is not even a small hill there.)


原: 論語, 里仁/15

原: 論語, 衛靈公/3

一以貫之(일이관지), one [/with] through/[threaded] — understanding many through one or a grand principle

From Yi-in (里仁): Gong-ja (孔子) said, “Sam (參, 曾子), my way is through only one thing.” To which, Jeung-ja  (曾子) replied, “Yes, indeed.” After Gong-ja left the room, literati (門人) asked Sam what the master meant. Jeung-ja answered, “My master’s way is only of faithfulness (忠, as being wholehearted) and compassion (恕, as in compassionate understanding of others).”

From Wi-ryeong-gong (衛靈公): Gong-ja asked Sa (賜, 字: 子貢), “Do you see me as someone learned in many things, and be able to recall them well?” Ja-gong (子貢) replied, “Yes, are you not?” Gong-ja answered, “No, I merely see all things through one.”

It’s debatable as to what this penetrating through one thing (一以貫之) may truly mean, but one way to understand this is that, as already mentioned, faithfulness and compassion is a mere way to achieve this, and looking through the greater context it’s only natural to interpret humaneness (仁) as the way (道) through which all things can be reflected on.