Kim ManChoong - The Cloud Dream of the Nine

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The Cloud Dream of the Nine

Kim Man-Choong

This page copyright © 2002 Blackmask Online.

· Introduction









· The Novel

· Chapter I

· The Transmigration of Song-jin

· Chapter II

· A Glimpse of Chin See

· Chapter III

· The Meeting with Kay See

· Chapter IV

· In the Guise of a Priestess

· Chapter V

· Among the Fairies

· Chapter VI

· It is Cloudlet

· Chapter VII

· The Imperial Son-in-Law

· Chapter VIII

· A Hopeless Dilemma

· Chapter IX

· Among Mermaids and Mermen

· Chapter X

· Humble Submission

· Chapter XI

· The Capture of Cheung See

· Chapter XII

· Yang's Supreme Regret

· Chapter XIII

· The Awakening

· Chapter XIV

· In the Fairy Lists

· Chapter XV

· The Wine Punishment

· Chapter XVI

· The Answer: Back to the Buddha

· Appendix

annotated and illustrated English translation of 1922

Etext by the Eldritch Press

The Cloud Dream of the Nine [Kuunmong]

A Korean Novel: A story of the times of the Tangs of China about 840 A.D.

By Kim Man-Choong

[Kim Man-jung]

[President of the Confucian College]

[Written in or after 1689]

Translated [from Korean (Hangul) to English]

by [Rev.] James S[carth] Gale

[Canadian, 1863-1937] thirty years resident in Korea (by 1922)

With an Introduction by Elspet Keith Robertson Scott

and Sixteen Illustrations

[title page recto image]


[title page verso image]



THE reader must lay aside all Western notions of morality if he would thoroughly enjoy this book. The scene of the amazing “Cloud Dream of the Nine,” the most moving romance of polygamy ever written, is laid about 849 A.D. in the period of the great Chinese dynasty of the Tangs. By its simple directness this hitherto unknown Korean classic makes an ineffaceable impression.

But the story of the devotion of Master Yang to eight women and of their devotion to him and to each other is more than a naive tale of the relations of men and women under a social code so far removed from our own as to be almost incredible. It is a record of emotions, aspirations and ideas which enables us to look into the innermost chambers of the Chinese soul. “The Cloud Dream of the Nine” is a revelation of what the Oriental thinks and feels not only about things of the earth but about the hidden things of the Universe. It helps us towards a comprehensible knowledge of the Far East.


But first a word on the medium through which this extraordinary book reaches us.

Travellers, artists, students, archæologists and history writers, journalists and literary folk, officials and diplomatic dignitaries who wend their way to China by way of Seoul, carry in their wallets letters of introduction to Dr. James Gale.*

For more than thirty years Dr. Gale has been clearing and hewing in a virgin forest, the literature of Korea. He is the foremost literary interpreter to the West of the Korean mind. This is how he regards that mind—the words are taken from an address to a group of Japanese officials who sought Gale's counsel on a memorable occasion:

“The Korean lives apart in a world of wonder, something quite unlike our modern civilisation, in a beautiful world of the mind. I have studied for thirty years to enter sympathetically into this world of the Korean mind and I am still an outsider. Yet the more I penetrate this ancient Korean civilisation the more I respect it.”

No man knows more of Korea or more deeply loves her people, and is loved by them, than Dr. Gale. Japanese officials have also a sincere regard for Dr. Gale. They have been accustomed to carry to him their perplexity over Korean problems, just as the Korean has come to Gale in his troubles with the Japanese. It is because of a combination of social qualities with scholarship that Dr. Gale has been able so convincingly to translate Far Eastern romance and character study.


The Rev. James Scarth Gale, son of John Gale, a native of Aberdeen, N.B., and Miami Bradt of Ontario. Born 1863. Published “Korean Grammatical Forms,” 1892; “The Vanguard: a Tale of Korea,” 1894; “Korean-English Dictionary,” 1897; “Korean Sketches,” 1898; ” Korean Folk Tales,” 1913. For ten years was one of the translators of the Bible into Korean. Married, first, the widow of Dr. Heron, Physician to the Emperor of Korea; second, Ada Sale of Yokohama. Presbyterian missionary since leaving the Toronto University.

All the literary interpretative work that Gale has done before the present book—from the fascinating diary of a Korean general of a thousand years ago, who wrote his impressions as he travelled through Manchuria to pay his devoirs at the great court of China, to that literary gem preserved in Gale's translation of the brief Petition of two aged Korean Viscounts, who pleaded in terms of archaic simplicity with the Japanese Governor-General Hasegawa to listen to the plaint of their people for freedom—is so sincere, lucid, and impersonal, that the reader knows that he is being given reality and not an adaptation.

Dr. Gale is the unhurried man who has time for every public behest. Much of the hard literary work of his full day is done in the hours of morning calm before the world has breakfasted. The chief native helper of this quiet-eyed missionary in the work of translation has been with him for thirty years. The unsought, almost unconscious influence of a man like Gale justifies the hopes of the most old-fashioned believers in Christian missions and lends romance to work that too often seems to lead nowhere. Here is the real ambassador in a foreign land: that rare thing the idealist and scholar who has an understanding of the small things of life; the judicially-minded man who makes such deep demands on principle that he draws all men to him.


Writing somewhere of the Korean love of literature, Dr. Gale says: “Literature has been everything in Korea. The literati were the only men privileged to ride the dragon up into the highest heaven. The scholar might not only look at the King, he could talk with him. Could you but read, intone or expound the classics, you might materially be dropping to tatters but still the world would wait on you and listen regardfully to show you honour. Many an unkempt son of the literati has the writer looked on with surprise to see him receive the respectful and profound salutations of the better laundered classes. Korea is not commercial, not military, not industrial, but she is a devotee of letters. She exalts books.”

I hear some traveller say: “What! Do you mean to suggest that those funny chaps I saw in the streets of Seoul wearing baggy white trousers and queer little Welsh hats, who sat around in lazy groups smoking long pipes and looking into nowhere, have a literature? I always understood that the Japanese had an awful time cleaning up their country and getting them to bury their dead. I've always heard that if it weren't for Japanese money and hustle the Koreans would be nothing but walking hosts of smallpox and plague germs.”

And the traveller would be wrong.

“The Cloud Dream of the Nine” lures the reader into mysterious vales and vistas of remotest Asia and opens to him some of the sealed gateways of the East.

The seventeenth-century author, Kim Man-Choong, mourned all his life that he should have been born after his father had died. So remarkable was his filial piety that his fame as a son spread far and wide.

In his devotion to his mother, Yoon See, he never left her side except on Court duty. He would entertain her as did those of ancient days who “played with birds before their parents, or dressed and acted like little children.” In his efforts to entertain his mother Kim Man-Choong would read to her interesting stories, novels and old histories. He would read far into the night to give her pleasure, and his reward was to hear her laugh of joyful appreciation.

But there came a day when Kim Man-Choong was sent into exile. His mother's words were: “All the great ones of the earth, sooner or later, have gone thus to distant outlying sea coasts or to the hills. Have a care for your health and do not grieve on my account.” But those who heard these brave words wept on the mother's behalf.

Kim Man-Choong wrote “The Cloud Dream of the Nine” while he was an exile, and his aim in writing it was to cheer and comfort his mother. The thought underlying the story is that earth's best attainments are fleeting vanity and that without religion nothing avails. The book became a favourite among the virtuous women of the day and for long afterwards.

Kim Man-Choong matriculated in 1665 and was made later a famous Doctor of Literature and President of the Confucian College. He was exiled in 1689. On his death the State erected a Gate of Honour calling attention to his filial piety and marking his title, Moon-hyo Kong, Prince Moon-hyo. So says “Korea's Famous Men,” Vol. III, page 205.


Far off in the glorious mountains of Eastern Asia, whose peaks “block the clouds in their course and startle the world with the wonder of their formation,” there is an innermost group that is “charged with divine influences.” Since the days of the Chinese Deluge (B.C. 2205-2197) holy men and women and genii have been wont to dwell in these mountain fastnesses, and no pen can ever record all the strange and wonderful things that have happened there.

Here in the days of the Tang dynasty a priest from India who was a “Master of the Six Temptations” was so moved by the marvellous beauty of the hills that he built a monastery on Lotus Peak and there preached the doctrines of the Buddha. Among his 600 disciples the youngest, Song-jin, barely twenty, who was without guile and most beautiful in face and form, had greater wisdom and goodness than all the other followers, so that the Master chose him to be his successor when he should “take his departure to the West.”

But temptation befel Song-jin.

He was sent by the Master with a greeting to the Dragon King, who feasted him and deceived him with wine. Although Song-jin refused many times, saying, “Wine is a drink that upsets and maddens the soul and is therefore strictly forbidden by the Buddha,” he finally drank three glasses and a “dizzy indistinctness possessed him.” On his way back to the monastery he sat by the bank of a stream to bathe his hot face in the limpid water and reprimand himself for his sinfulness. He thought also of the chiding he would receive from the Master.

But a strange and novel fragrance was wafted towards him. It was “neither the perfume of orchid nor of musk,” but of “something wholly new and not experienced before.” It seemed to “dissipate the soul of passion and uncleanliness.” Song-jin decided to follow the course of the stream until he should find the wonderful flowers.

He found, instead of flowers, eight fairy maidens seated on a stone bridge.

These maidens were messengers sent by a Queen of the genii who had become a Taoist by divine command and had settled on one of the mountain peaks with a company of angelic boys and fairy girls. While Song-jin was at the palace of the Dragon King, these eight fairy girls were calling on the Master of the monastery with greetings and offerings from their heavenly Queen. They had rested on the bridge to admire the scenery and had dallied there fascinated by their own reflections in the stream below.

Song-jin greeted them ceremoniously and told them that he was a humble priest returning to his home in the monastery. “This stone bridge is very narrow,” he said, “and you goddesses being seated upon it block the way. Will you not kindly take your lotus footsteps hence and let me pass?” The fairies bowed in return and teased the young man. They quoted the Book of Ceremony to the effect that “man goes to the left and woman to the right,” but they refused to budge and recommended that Song-jin cross by some other way. They laughingly challenged him: if he were a disciple of the Teacher Yook-kwan he could follow the example of the great Talma who “crossed the ocean on a leaf.” At this Song-jin also laughed, and answered their challenge by throwing before them a peach blossom that he carried in his hand. The blossom immediately became four couplets of red flowers and these again were transformed into eight jewels. The fairies each picked up a jewel, then they looked towards Song-jin, laughed delightedly and “mounted on the winds and sailed through the air.”

There followed a period of darkness and misery for Song-jin. He tried to justify himself to the Master for his long tarrying, but though he tried to rein in his thoughts when he retired to his cell the lure of earth was strong. “If one study diligently the Confucian classics,” said the tempter to him, “one may become a General or a Minister of State, one may dress in silk and bow before the King and dispense favours among the people. One can look on beautiful things with the eyes and hear delightful sounds with the ears, whereas we Buddhists have only our little dish of rice and spare flask of water, many dry books to learn and our beads to say over till we are old and grey. The vacant longings that are never satisfied are too deep to express. When once the spirit and soul dissipate into smoke and nothingness, who will ever know that a person called Song-jin lived upon this earth?”

The young priest was tormented by visions of the eight fairy maidens, his ears ringing with sweet voices until he became like one “half insane or intoxicated.” He burnt incense, knelt, called in all his thoughts, counted his beads, and recalled to his consciousness the thousand Buddhas who could help him. But in the middle of the night the Master called him and, refusing all excuse, condemned him to Hell.

The young Song-jin pleaded with tears and many eloquent words, saying: “I came to you when only twelve. Our love is as between an only son and a father. My hopes are all here. Where shall I go?”

To Song-jin's appeal for mercy the Master said: “While your mind remains unpurified, even though you are here in the mountains, you cannot attain to the Truth. But if you never forget it and hold fast, you may mix with the dust and impurities of the way and your return is sure. If you ever desire to come back here I will go to bring you. You desire to go; that is what makes me send you off. You ask, 'Where shall I go?' I answer, 'To the place where you desire to go.'”

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