Tuesday, November 08, 2005

What does 난중일기(亂中日記) mean?

난중일기(亂中日記) is the diary that was kept by Admiral Yi Sun-shin(이순신 장군) from 1592 to 1598, during the Japanese invasion of Korea, which Koreans refer to as the 임진왜란(壬辰倭亂). The diary is a national treasure in Korea. In fact, it is National Treasure No. 76 (국보 76호).

The diary was mentioned in a story on the Korean Lab Web site entitled "현충사를 다녀와서." 현충사 is the shrine erected in honor of 이순신. The shrine is located in Asan County(아산군) in South Chungcheung province (충청남도). If you want to learn more about 이순신 and his shrine, you can go to this great site. If you want to read the diary, you can go here, where there is a version for children and for adults. To turn the page of the children's version of the diary, you have to click and hold on the corner of the page and pull it as if you were turning the page with your finger.

Since the diary is mentioned in a third grade textbook, we can assume it is something every Korean grade schooler is expected to know, which means that serious students of Korean should probably know about it, too.

난중일기(亂中日記) literally means "diary during the disturbance." Here are the Chinese characters:

  • 亂 어지러울 (난) disturbed; confused; disturbance
  • 中 가운데 middle; during
  • 日 날 day
  • 記 기록 record

Koreans usually attach the character 亂(란) to other characters to designate a specific war, rebellion, riot, or disturbance (i.e. 임진왜란, 병자호란). 亂(란) is the same 亂(란) found in the word 난리(亂離), which can mean "an uproar," "a disturbance," "a riot," "a revolt," and even "war." Koreans use "난리 났다" to describe a scramble for half-price items in a department store, a fight between a husband and wife, a labor riot, a natural disaster, and almost any situation where there is much confusion. A "flood" can be called a 물난리, and a "fire" can be called a 불난리.

I like reading the textbook stories and poems on the Korean Lab Web site because they do more than just teach me Korean; they give me a glimpse into how Koreans think, and why they view the world the way they do. If you start with the stories in the first grade textbook and work your way up, you have a chance to develop the same language and thought patterns that Koreans have. What Koreans learn in their grade school years most likely stays with them for the rest of their lives. That is why elementary education is so very important. Unfortunately, prejudice and hate can also be taught in these formative years.

One thing that I did not like about the story, "현충사를 다녀와서," was that the writer used to word 왜놈 to describe the Japanese. 왜놈 is a derogatory term equivalent to the English word "Jap." Here is the relevant piece of text from the story:

이순신 장군이 세계 최초의 철갑선을 만들어 왜놈들과 싸워 이겼다는 생각을 하니 가슴이 뿌듯했다.

Admiral Yi Sun Sin built the world's first iron-clad ship and beat "the Japs" in battle. When I thought about that my heart filled with pride.

I do not think it is right to be teaching children such derogatory terms. It would be like American textbooks teaching children to refer to Koreans, Vietnamese, and other Asians as "gooks." Children learn enough hate and prejudice from their parents and peers; they should not also be learning it from their teachers.


  1. I am the undisputed king of typos in Korean, and you'll have to do much better than one measly "가습" to catch up. ^^

  2. Nevermind the epithets; have you seen the racist characatures that permeate Korean children's history books? All Africans wear a bone, either in their hair or through their noses. All white people have huge, long noses. The more evil the white man, the bigger the nose. Russians have bigger noses than Americans. The Japanese all have slits for eyes and buck teeth.

  3. Sonagi,

    Yes, I have seen such caricatures in Korea. We used to have similar caricatures in the US decades ago, but have since pretty much realized that such things are wrong. Hopefully Koreans will soon realize it, too.

  4. Don't hold your breath. Racial characatures disappeared from American textbooks because students and teachers who shared the same racial features made the rest of us aware those images were racist. The Korean classroom is a pure Korean world, save for a 40-minute English lesson from Native Speaker who probably doesn't speak more than 50 words of Korean.

  5. I'm Korean. And when I found this blog through Google, I feel so interesting. Cause I read very familiar topics written by English. And your point of view is very fresh to me. I'm looking around your post with impressed feeling...But there was a little abuse of word, I think....
    Korean doesn't use the word "불난리"(of cours if you use that word people can understand it!), but contrastively "물난리" is used so much.(It used even newspaper..very officially. But "난리났다" isn't official expression. Even people used that expression so much in their talk or chat, it's close to argot or metaphor of that situation..) In that case, mostly used "화재(火災)(official word)" or "불나다(official and talk)"..^^


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