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Yi Chehyon (1287–1367). Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature

Yi Chehyon was a Korean statesman and scholar
who became known, as well, as a painter and
writer.Yi Chehyon was an official in the late Koryo
dynasty (918–1392), which had instituted a State
Civil Service examination in emulation of the Chinese
system during the TANG DYNASTY. He won first
place in the examination in 1301, at the age of 14,
and began a government career that lasted some 60
years under five sovereigns and culminated in the
important post of chief minister of the Chancellery
for State Affairs.
As a government diplomat,Yi Chehyon made at
least six trips to China, accompanying Korean
kings who spent time in residence at the Yuan or
Mongol court in Dadu. In China in 1314, he became
acquainted with a number of important Chinese
intellectuals, including the influential painter
Zhao Mengfu, whose style of calligraphy Yi
Chehyon is credited with introducing into Korea.
Like most Korean writers of the Koryo period,
Yi Chehyon wrote poetry and prose in hanmun
(letters of Han), or classical Chinese characters,
since Korea did not have its own vernacular alphabet
until the following century. Among his works
are the Tales of Yogong (1342), a collection of notes
and anecdotes about the people and events in his
own life. This text is thought to have influenced the
development of the yadam, a Korean genre of simple
short story written in classical Chinese.
In his verse Yi Chehyon emulated the classical
poetry of China and had studied Chinese versification.
Perhaps his best-known poems, however, are
Korean folk songs that he translated into Chinese
and called A Small Collection of Folk Songs. These
brief lyrics are fresh and charming, and some have
female speakers, like the following:
A magpie chatters in a flowering bough by
the hedge,
A spider spins a web above the bed.
Knowing my heart, they announce his
return—
My beloved will be back soon.
(Lee 2002, 226)
Yi Chehyon’s collected works were first published
immediately after his death, in 1368. They
were popular enough to be reprinted in 1432, 1693,
and 1814.
Bibliography
Hungguyu, Kim. Understanding Korean Literature.
Translated by Robert J. Fouser. New Studies
in Asian Culture. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharp,
1997.
Lee, Peter H., ed. The Columbia Anthology of Traditional
Korean Poetry. New York: Columbia University
Press, 2002.

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