BOOKS FOR THE ILLITERATE: Te Haengsil-to (Illustrated Guide for Moral Deeds)of Chosŏn Korea

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The Chosŏn court continued to compile, print, and circulate books titled haengsil-to (Illustrated Guide for Moral Deeds) throughout its regime, starting with the Samgang haengsil-to (Illustrated Guide to the Three Relations) in 1434 up to the last of its genre, Oryun haengsil-to (Illustrated Guide to the Five Relations) in 1797. These books were conceived with a clear mission to morally transform the illiterate masses through having them read stories of heroic conduct representing the canonical Confucian values, which were performed by paragons in Chinese and Korean histories. Aware of the paradox of expecting the illiterate to read books, the literati officials at the court employed two devices to help with reading: ŏnhae (demotic elucidation) to produce a vernacular rendition of the original classical Chinese text and to (illustration) as a visual aid. Focusing on the illustration of the haengsil-to and how images helped the illiterate read, this study shows that the haengsil-to illustrations were intended or designed not to tell the stories but to provide a site of memory, a functionality that was envisioned of images by the textual ideals of Confucian literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Korean Literature
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781000539578
ISBN (Print)9780367348496
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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