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Printing the Samgang haengsil-to (Illustrated Guide to the Three Relationships), a Premodern Korean Moral Primer*

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The Samgang haengsil-to is a collection of Chinese and Korean stories of exemplary conduct performed by filial sons, loyal subjects and devoted women, which epitomize Confucian virtue entailed in the three fundamental human relations. These stories were first written in classical Chinese, accompanied by illustrations, and later appeared with vernacular Korean texts added. Ever since it was published by the court in 1434, the Samgang haengsil-to underwent numerous editorial changes during the first half of Chosn dynasty (1392-1910) with respect to the selection of stories, the content, the language, and even the appearance of the book. These changes were not made at random, nor are they addressing mere practical reasons such as facilitating reading or enhancing the book’s aesthetic appeal. Rather, there was a certain political and cultural context at work behind these changes, which reflected the shifting value system and the process of Confucianization of Chosn Korea. By tracing the major changes made to different editions of the Samgang haengsil-to, this paper discusses the influences that social and political environments exert on a text.

Affiliations: 1: School of International Letters and Cultures, Arizona State University Tempe, Arizona USA, Email:


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