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In Session: Excavating New Insights on Early Northeast Asia: How Archaeological Research is Revolutionizing the Study of Early Japan and Korea
2: Inscribing the Vernacular in Silla and Paekche: Evidence from Mokkan
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
University of Colorado Boulder, United States
This paper examines evidence from mokkan inscriptions to argue that vernacular writing was a prominent feature of written culture in the southern Korean kingdoms of Paekche (trad. 18BCE-660CE) and Silla (trad.57BCE-935CE). Writing in Three Kingdoms Korea (ca. late third century-668 CE) is usually characterized as adhering to and reproducing cosmopolitan norms, and major exceptions—such as the script used to inscribe the Silla songs known as hyangga—are usually cast as limited in scope and production. However, this characterization is based on manuscript texts dating to considerably later periods. In more recent years, inscriptions found on excavated wooden strips known as mokkan have allowed for the development of a more comprehensive understanding of the dynamics between “cosmopolitan” (Literary Sinitic) and “vernacular” writing in the southern kingdoms of Paekche and Silla. Evidence from mokkan suggests vernacular inscriptions were relatively abundant in both kingdoms, a finding that both confirms the biased nature of the manuscript tradition, and poses a challenge to the contemporary over-emphasis on the importance of han’gǔl for the development of a vernacular inscriptive tradition in the Korean context.