Golden Ruler(金尺)

Golden Ruler

Headword

금척 ( 金尺 , Geumcheok )

Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Folk Literature > Folk tales > Folk tales

Writer KangJinok(姜秦玉)

The tale of geumcheok narrates the story of a man who acquires a golden ruler, which helps him save a man’s life, leading him to success in the world.

The golden ruler narrative was first transmitted as the origin tale of Geumcheok Tombs in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, believed to be from Silla. Following the founding of Joseon, the golden ruler was presented as a token of legitimacy for Yi Seong-gye’s enthronement, and the geumcheok narrative began to receive new light. Taejogangheonsillok (Annals of King Taejo’s Reign) includes an account of Yi Seong-gye receiving the golden ruler from a divine being, which alerted him of his heavenly duty to take the throne. In late Joseon, the golden ruler emerged as a divine symbol that reaffirmed national pride and the sanctity of the Yi dynasty in times of national crisis, featured in the epic poem “Mongsugeumcheoksongbyeongseo (Dream of Acquiring Golden Ruler), ” written following the Japanese and Chinese invasions in 16th and 17th centuries and “Haedongjukji (Bamboo Stalks East of the Sea)” from the Japanese colonial times.

The tale about the origin of Geumcheok Tombs and the surrounding grounds, as recorded in Donggyeongjapgi (Miscellaneous Records from the Eastern Capital), goes as follows:

The king of Silla acquired a golden ruler, which became a national treasure for its ability to cure the ill and bring the dead back to life. An envoy was sent from China to investigate the matter, but the Silla king, not wanting to show the ruler to the envoy, buried the ruler on these grounds, where he created over 30 hills and mounds, and built a shrine. Another version features the founding king of Silla in his days as an ordinary man, when in a dream a divine being descended from the sky and gave him the golden ruler, saying, “As you are a sacred man, talented in letters and the arms, the likes of which the people have not seen for a long time, take this golden ruler and set straight the golden bowl.” When he awoke from his dream, he was holding the golden ruler in his hand.

Oral versions of the tale of the golden ruler can be summarized as follows:

A long time ago, there lived a child who had been orphaned at a young age and made a living as an errand boy. One day he had an auspicious dream, which made him smile in his sleep, and the man sleeping next to him asked him what he was smiling about but when the boy did not answer, the man reported it to the magistrate, requesting punishment. When the child went on smiling without answering, the magistrate became furious as well and locked him up in jail. Then one day a huge weasel crawled into the jail cell with its offspring and the boy threw a rock at them, which killed one of the baby weasels. But soon the mother weasel carried in a glittering ruler in its mouth and measured the width and length of the dead weasel’s body, which made the weasel spring back to life. After witnessing this, the boy slapped the floor, which startled the mother weasel and it ran off with the babies, leaving the ruler behind, which the boy picked up and tied to his shirt ribbon. Just then the magistrate’s only daughter fell critically ill and the boy used the ruler to bring her back to life, and the magistrate made him his son- in-law. When the kingdom’s princess died, the court called the magistrate’s son-in-law to revive her, and when she came back to life, the king made him his son-in-law. The orphan now lived in a palatial house with two wives, who were washing each of his feet, with a golden basin to his right and a silver basin to his left, and he finally told them the auspicious dream he had, which had turned out to be true.

In the tale’s oral version, the boy’s dream serves as the engine that drives the story. After striving to observe the superstition about dreams, risking his life to make the dream come true, the happy ending that the protagonist arrives at is an affluent life, which every ordinary man dreams of. The method with which he achieves that dream turns out to be “bringing back life, ” using the golden ruler, which also reflects the values of those who listen to and transmit the tale. The plot twist, of an orphaned errand boy, the lowliest among Joseon’s social classes, entering the kingdom’s most powerful class of his own means and acquiring both wealth and glory, is a rare imaginative leap even in the genre of folk narrative, reflecting the worldview of the grassroots, subverting the conventional hierarchy of class and power.

Golden Ruler

Golden Ruler
Headword

금척 ( 金尺 , Geumcheok )

Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Folk Literature > Folk tales > Folk tales

Writer KangJinok(姜秦玉)

The tale of geumcheok narrates the story of a man who acquires a golden ruler, which helps him save a man’s life, leading him to success in the world.

The golden ruler narrative was first transmitted as the origin tale of Geumcheok Tombs in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, believed to be from Silla. Following the founding of Joseon, the golden ruler was presented as a token of legitimacy for Yi Seong-gye’s enthronement, and the geumcheok narrative began to receive new light. Taejogangheonsillok (Annals of King Taejo’s Reign) includes an account of Yi Seong-gye receiving the golden ruler from a divine being, which alerted him of his heavenly duty to take the throne. In late Joseon, the golden ruler emerged as a divine symbol that reaffirmed national pride and the sanctity of the Yi dynasty in times of national crisis, featured in the epic poem “Mongsugeumcheoksongbyeongseo (Dream of Acquiring Golden Ruler), ” written following the Japanese and Chinese invasions in 16th and 17th centuries and “Haedongjukji (Bamboo Stalks East of the Sea)” from the Japanese colonial times.

The tale about the origin of Geumcheok Tombs and the surrounding grounds, as recorded in Donggyeongjapgi (Miscellaneous Records from the Eastern Capital), goes as follows:

The king of Silla acquired a golden ruler, which became a national treasure for its ability to cure the ill and bring the dead back to life. An envoy was sent from China to investigate the matter, but the Silla king, not wanting to show the ruler to the envoy, buried the ruler on these grounds, where he created over 30 hills and mounds, and built a shrine. Another version features the founding king of Silla in his days as an ordinary man, when in a dream a divine being descended from the sky and gave him the golden ruler, saying, “As you are a sacred man, talented in letters and the arms, the likes of which the people have not seen for a long time, take this golden ruler and set straight the golden bowl.” When he awoke from his dream, he was holding the golden ruler in his hand.

Oral versions of the tale of the golden ruler can be summarized as follows:

A long time ago, there lived a child who had been orphaned at a young age and made a living as an errand boy. One day he had an auspicious dream, which made him smile in his sleep, and the man sleeping next to him asked him what he was smiling about but when the boy did not answer, the man reported it to the magistrate, requesting punishment. When the child went on smiling without answering, the magistrate became furious as well and locked him up in jail. Then one day a huge weasel crawled into the jail cell with its offspring and the boy threw a rock at them, which killed one of the baby weasels. But soon the mother weasel carried in a glittering ruler in its mouth and measured the width and length of the dead weasel’s body, which made the weasel spring back to life. After witnessing this, the boy slapped the floor, which startled the mother weasel and it ran off with the babies, leaving the ruler behind, which the boy picked up and tied to his shirt ribbon. Just then the magistrate’s only daughter fell critically ill and the boy used the ruler to bring her back to life, and the magistrate made him his son- in-law. When the kingdom’s princess died, the court called the magistrate’s son-in-law to revive her, and when she came back to life, the king made him his son-in-law. The orphan now lived in a palatial house with two wives, who were washing each of his feet, with a golden basin to his right and a silver basin to his left, and he finally told them the auspicious dream he had, which had turned out to be true.

In the tale’s oral version, the boy’s dream serves as the engine that drives the story. After striving to observe the superstition about dreams, risking his life to make the dream come true, the happy ending that the protagonist arrives at is an affluent life, which every ordinary man dreams of. The method with which he achieves that dream turns out to be “bringing back life, ” using the golden ruler, which also reflects the values of those who listen to and transmit the tale. The plot twist, of an orphaned errand boy, the lowliest among Joseon’s social classes, entering the kingdom’s most powerful class of his own means and acquiring both wealth and glory, is a rare imaginative leap even in the genre of folk narrative, reflecting the worldview of the grassroots, subverting the conventional hierarchy of class and power.