Here in the east, some of the countries seem to have alternative names. Japan is called “the Land of the Rising Sun.” Korea is called “the Land of the Morning Calm.” At one time, in the time that Korea was three kingdoms, one of the kingdoms, the one around Seoul, was called Jeoson. The Japanese refer to “Jeoson” as “Choson,” which is a slightly different pronunciation of the same word, and today, that is the Japanese name for North Korea. “Jeoson” or “Choson” actually means, “the Land of the Morning Calm” or “the Land of Morning Brightness.” This name came from one of the kings of the past of Korea.
This king was originally Chinese. He and his father both came about in strange ways, according to the stories. It was from a time that China was full of several small kingdoms. It seems a Chinese king was praying to God because the story says he was praying to the “Jade emperor of Heaven,” one of the names the early Koreans called God. He had been very sad because he didn’t have a son. He was out in the woods on a hunt one day and stopped, got off his horse, and decided to pray to God for a son. When he got up off his knees and turned around, there were big tears rolling down the face of his horse. The horse was nudging at a big rock. Finally, the horse rolled the big rock and under the rock, there was a baby boy with gold gleaming skin (Yes, they noticed that their Chinese skin was yellow.) The king took the child as his own and called him Kim Nee Wa, translated as Golden Toad because he was found under a rock and had yellow skin. The king loved his son very much and thanked God for him!
Kim Nee Wa became king after the death of his father. In the courts of the king’s palace one day, one of Kim Nee Wa’s wives was sitting at a stream in the garden. A small white cloud came toward her and entered inside her dress and became an egg. When a baby boy was hatched from the egg, the baby boy was presented to the king. The king was upset by the child’s presence because he didn’t understand it. He decided the baby must be the son of a demon. He was so upset he yelled, “Throw it to the pigs!”
They took the child and threw it among fierce wild pigs. When they did, the wild pigs were no longer wild. The became tame and all walked up to look at the child seeming very happy. The child was left there overnight, and it got cold, but the pigs warmed the baby with their warm breath, and the child was not only not hurt by the wild pigs, but protected.
They brought the baby back to the king. The king was more upset than ever thinking this baby much have a demon. He screamed, “Throw the baby to the hunting dogs!” The people took the baby boy and put it with the fierce hunting dogs. The hunting dogs became docile. They were also delighted to have the baby there. They were snarling beasts when the people put the baby in there with them, but they became tame because of the presence of the baby. The dogs licked him and made sure he was warm through the night as the pigs had.
When the people told the king what had happened, he just couldn’t take it! He yelled, “Put him in the pen with the wild horses!” When they put the baby boy in the pen with the wild horses, the same thing happened. The mares even fed the baby with their milk.
When the people told the king what happened, the king gave in. He said it must be the will of the Jade emperor of Heaven, God, that the baby must live. He decided that the child’s mother would bring the child up as his son.
As the child grew, everyone loved him. The people called him things like “Child of the sun,” “Light of the east,” and “Brightness of the morning.” He was beautiful, smart, and clever. He was always kind to animals. He had a special gift with horses, and was made the master of the stables.
His most astounding skill was his skill with the bow and arrow. As a little boy, he could shoot a flying sparrow and bring it down. At fifteen, he could kill a deer with his arrow or shoot the eye of a wild goose flying high in the sky. They called him “Chu Mong,” meaning “skillful archer.” (Yes, I talked to my Korean son in law about him too, and he knew all about him. The Koreans teach their school children about him.)
Chu Mong was wonderful! He was skillful, smart, kind, and good. The people in that kingdom in China loved him! Everyone, that is, except his brothers. His brothers were jealous of him because he was so loved by the people. Chu Mong’s mother learned that his brothers were hatching a secret plot to kill Chu Mong out of their jealousy. She told Chu Mong he must flea right away! He escaped into the night.
A group of loyal friends went with him. They galloped south under the light of the moon. They could see the “ever white mountains,” the snowy mountains that separate North Korea and China in a distance. They were at the “duck green river” the Yellow River. They heard the trotting of horses in a distance and knew they were being followed, but they didn’t know how they were going to get across the river.
Chu Mong said to his companions, “Listen! We hear the hooves of the horses pursuing us! They are very near! We have to cross this river! I will call on the river dragon to help us.” He drew out his bow and shot three arrows into the river. All of a sudden, the green river became black. The fish had all gathered together, and it was the backs of the fish they could see. The fish made of themselves a bridge for Chu Mong and his friends to cross over the river in the bridge of fish. They crossed the river on a bridge made of the backs of the fish. Once they were on the other side, the fish dispersed, and the water was green again.
Chu Mong and his companions were safely out of harms way when Chu Mong’s brother came riding up to the river on their horses. They couldn’t follow.
Chu Mong and his companions continued traveling south. On their way, people began attaching themselves to him to help him and guide him. There were three people who mainly helped him. One was dressed as a farmer. One was dressed as a fisherman. One was dressed in beautiful embroidered robes because he was a government official. The people in he new land, Korea, loved Chu Mong just as the people back in China had.
They ended up making Chu Mong the king. Chu Mong trained them how to handle the horses, taught them to be skillful archers, taught them to use bowls, spoons, and chopsticks, and to eat politely. Some say he also invented the top knot, the special bun the Korean wore for centuries up under their hats. Everyone in the kingdom lived in peace and happiness. Their fame spread because they were so peaceful and civilized.
The people decided to name the country after Chu Mong. The people had called him ” Brightness of the morning,” and another way of saying it was “Calmness of the morning,” so they called the country Jeoson or Chosun, “the Land of the Morning Calm.” And, by the way, Chu Mong’s family name became the most common family name in Korea: Kim. His full name was Kim Chu Mong.