Korean Folk Tales: Imps, Ghosts and Fairies | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in October 2018 with all known ATU Classifications. Many of the tales in this collection included introductory and/or end note text which has been moved to the Notes section for each tale.

Cheung Puk-Chang, the Seer

THE Master, Puk-chang, was a noted Korean. From the time of his birth he was a wonderful mystery. In reading a book, if he but glanced through it, he could recall it word for word. Without any special study he became a master of astronomy, geology, medicine, fortune-telling, music, mathematics and geomancy, and so truly a specialist was he that he knew them all.

               He was thoroughly versed also in the three great religions, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. He talked constantly of what other people could not possibly comprehend. He understood the sounds of the birds, the voices of Nature, and much else. He accompanied his father in his boyhood days when he went as envoy to Peking. At that time, strange barbarian peoples used also to come and pay their tribute. Puk-chang picked up acquaintance with them on the way. Hearing their language but once, he was readily able to communicate with them. His own countrymen who accompanied him were not the only ones astonished, nor the Chinamen themselves, but the barbarians as well. There are numerous interesting stories hinted at in the history of Puk-chang, but few suitable records were made of them, and so many are lost.

               There is one, however, that I recall that comes to me through trustworthy witnesses: Puk-chang, on a certain day, went to visit his paternal aunt. She asked him to be seated, and as they talked together, said to him, "I had some harvesting to do in Yong-nam County, and sent a servant to see to it. His return is overdue and yet he does not come. I am afraid he has fallen in with thieves, or chanced on a fire or some other misfortune."

               Puk-chang replied, "Shall I tell you how it goes with him, and how far he has come on the way?"

               She laughed, saying, "Do you mean to joke about it?"

               Puk-chang, from where he was sitting, looked off apparently to the far south, and at last said to his aunt, "He is just now crossing the hill called Bird Pass in Mun-kyong County, Kyong-sang Province. Hallo! he is getting a beating just now from a passing yangban (gentleman), but I see it is his own fault, so you need not trouble about him."

               The aunt laughed, and asked, "Why should he be beaten; what's the reason, pray?"

               Puk-chang replied, "It seems this official was eating his dinner at the top of the hill when your servant rode by him without dismounting. The gentleman was naturally very angry and had his servants arrest your man, pull him from his horse, and beat him over the face with their rough straw shoes."

               The aunt could not believe it true, but treated the matter as a joke; and yet Puk-chang did not seem to be joking.

               Interested and curious, she made a note of the day on the wall after Puk-chang had taken his departure, and when the servant returned, she asked him what day he had come over Bird Pass, and it proved to be the day recorded. She added also, "Did you get into trouble with a yangban there when you came by?"

               The servant gave a startled look, and asked, "How do you know?" He then told all that had happened to him, and it was just as Puk-chang had given it even to the smallest detail.

                Im Bang.


Cheung Puk-chang.--The Yol-ryok Keui-sul, one of Korea's noted histories, says of Cheung Puk-chang that he was pure in purpose and without selfish ambition. He was superior to all others in his marvellous gifts. For him to read a book once was to know it by heart. There was nothing that he could not understand--astronomy, geology, music, medicine, mathematics, fortune-telling and Chinese characters, which he knew by intuition and not from study.

               He followed his father in the train of the envoy to Peking, and there talked to all the strange peoples whom he met without any preparation. They all wondered at him and called him "The Mystery." He knew, too, the meaning of the calls of birds and beasts; and while he lived in the mountains he could see and tell what people were doing in the distant valley, indicating what was going on in each house, which, upon investigation, was found in each case to be true. He was a Taoist, and received strange revelations.

               While in Peking there met him envoys from the Court of Loochoo, who also were prophets. While in their own country they had studied the horoscope, and on going into China knew that they were to meet a Holy Man. As they went on their way they asked concerning this mysterious being, and at last reached Peking. Inquiring, they went from one envoy's station to another till they met Cheung Puk-chang, when a great fear came upon them, and they fell prostrate to the earth.

               They took from their baggage a little book inscribed, "In such a year, on such a day, at such an hour, in such a place, you shall meet a Holy Man." "If this does not mean your Excellency," said they, "whom can it mean?" They asked that he would teach them the sacred Book of Changes, and he responded by teaching it in their own language. At that time the various envoys, hearing of this, contended with each other as to who should first see the marvellous stranger, and he spoke to each in his own tongue. They all, greatly amazed, said, "He is indeed a man of God."

               Some one asked him, saying, "There are those who understand the sounds of birds and beasts, but foreign languages have to be learned to be known; how can you speak them without study?"

               Puk-chang replied, "I do not know them from having learned them, but know them unconsciously."

               Puk-chang was acquainted with the three religions, but he considered Confucianism as the first. "Its writings as handed down," said he, "teach us filial piety and reverence. The learning of the Sages deals with relationships among men and not with spiritual mysteries; but Taoism and Buddhism deal with the examination of the soul and the heart, and so with things above and not with things on the earth. This is the difference."

               At thirty-two years of age he matriculated, but had no interest in further literary study. He became, instead, an official teacher of medicine, astrology and mathematics.

               He was a fine whistler, we are told, and once when he had climbed to the highest peak of the Diamond Mountains and there whistled, the echoes resounded through the hills, and the priests were startled and wondered whose flute was playing.

               There is a term in Korea which reads he-an pang-kwang, "spiritual-eye distant-vision," the seeing of things in the distance. This pertains to both Taoists and Buddhists.

               It is said that when the student reaches a certain stage in his progress, the soft part of the head returns to the primal thinness that is seen in the child to rise and fall when it breathes. From this part of the head go forth five rays of light that shoot out and up more and more as the student advances in the spiritual way. As far as they extend so is the spiritual vision perfected, until at last a Korean sufficiently advanced could sit and say, "In London, to-day, such and such a great affair is taking place."

               For example, So Wha-tam, who was a Taoist Sage, once was seen to laugh to himself as he sat with closed eyes, and when asked why he laughed, said, "Just now in the monastery of Ha-in [300 miles distant] there is a great feast going on. The priest stirring the huge kettle of bean gruel has tumbled in, but the others do not know this, and are eating the soup." News came from the monastery later on that proved that what the sage had seen was actually true.

               The History of Confucius, too, deals with this when it tells of his going with his disciple An-ja and looking off from the Tai Mountains of Shan-tung toward the kingdom of On. Confucius asked An-ja if he could see anything, and An-ja replied, "I see white horses tied at the gates of On."

               Confucius said, "No, no, your vision is imperfect, desist from looking. They are not white horses, but are rolls of white silk hung out for bleaching."

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Cheung Puk-Chang, the Seer
Tale Author/Editor: Bang, Im
Book Title: Korean Folk Tales: Imps, Ghosts and Fairies
Book Author/Editor: Bang, Im & Ryuk, Yi
Publisher: E. P. Dutton & Co.
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1913
Country of Origin: Korea
Classification: unclassified

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