Ancient Korean mokkan (wooden slips): With a special focus on their features and uses

ArticleinActa Koreana 17(1):193-222 · June 2014with 266 Reads
Abstract
A mokkan is a wooden slip on which characters are inscribed after it has been trimmed In ancient times, Koreans communicated with others by leaving notes or their thoughts on such mokkan (wooden slips). Contrary to China where slips are divided into zhujian (bamboo slips) and mudu (wooden slips), bamboo slips were very rare in Korea. Unlike Chinese wooden slips (mudu), Korean mokkan are rectangular in shape. The shape of Korean wooden slips is in fact more in keeping with that of Japanese wooden slips. However, while multi-sided wooden slips (mokkan) have been discovered in Korea, none have been unearthed in Japan. This was designed to heighten convenience when studying scriptures or preparing documents. The characteristics of Korean wooden slips can be attributed to the traditional method of communication that existed even before the introduction of Chinese characters and revolved around inscribing etchings and signs on wood. The mokkan culture of ancient Korea was as such a combination of the conventional communication method using pieces of wood and the Chinese character system. Approximately 700 mokkan have been discovered to date. These were used as scriptures, documents, tags, rituals, memos, and for practice purposes. In keeping with this wide range of uses, various types of Korean mokkan were produced. Although the mokkan discovered to date were produced solely within the borders of Lelang Commandery of the Han dynasty, Paekche, and Silla, the possibility of mokkan produced in Koguryo, Kaya, and Parhae being discovered in the future cannot be ruled out altogether. Interest in ancient Korean mokkan has increased and a significant number of studies have also accumulated. There are differing opinions regarding the wooden slips (mokkan) found at Songsan Fortress in Haman, and more specifically in terms of the word noin recorded on the mokkan and the tax burden of nobi. Meanwhile, mokkan discovered in Pogam-ri, Naju, shed some light on the nature of the ruling system of Paekche in local areas during the early seventh century. The human-shaped slip found in the reservoir complex at Hwawang Fortress in Ch'angnyong, was used to conduct a ritual ceremony for the dragon king (yongwang). However, different opinions have emerged as to whether the purpose of the ritual ceremony was to pray for rain or to cure diseases. Rather than being compiled by later generations, Korean ancient mokkan are historical materials that were prepared by people who lived during the actual period being depicted. Furthermore, the contents of these mokkan help to shed some light on the state of affairs at the time and the intentions of the composer. A more profound understanding of ancient society in Korea can be secured when more materials are accumulated and classified by type and purposes of use, an endeavor that will be made possible by an increase in the discovery of mokkan, and interdisciplinary studies in related fields are developed and implemented.

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