kim, yi, pak, choe, and chong -- 3/13/18
Today's selection -- from A Brief History of Korea by Mark Peterson with Phillip Margulies. In Korea [the country is known within Korea as "Hanguk"], five surnames account for 55 percent of the people:
"[The emergence in China of the] Tang [Dynasty] in 618 ... had a ripple effect on the Three Kingdoms of Korea -- Koguryo, Paekche, and Silla. Eventually, Silla, through its alliance with Tang China, conquered the other two and established the Unified Silla period, which lasted from 668 to 935. ...
"Unified Silla (668-935) was prosperous. Its capital, Kyongju, was a crossroads of trade between China and Japan (Farris 1996, 1). Silla was mentioned both in Arabic sources of the time and in the famous Japanese book Tale of Genji. There were reportedly 35 mansions in Kyongju, some with separate quarters for each of the four seasons. A late ninth-century census records more than 175,000 households. One report states that there were no thatched-roof houses in the city -- all were tile-roofed. That report may have been exaggerated, but Kyongju clearly was an opulent city. One Tang source tells of the wealth of the ruling class and says that the highest officials had as many as 3,000 personal slaves.
"Another measure of the glory of Silla is the art, architecture, stone carvings, and Buddhist temples that survive. Only a small fraction of the 203 temples that archaeologists say existed in the Kyongju area at the height of Silla rule remain, but they do suggest how wealthy the kingdom was. ...
"[In today's Korea] the largest surname groups in the country, Kim, Yi, Pak, Choe, and Chong -- names of Silla aristocracy -- compose 55 percent of the population. ...
There are only about 250 traditional Korean surnames. In recent years about 150 additional names have appeared, but these names are those of naturalized citizens originally from other countries. According to the 2000 census released by the government, 21.6 percent of South Koreans today are named Kim. The next four most common names are Yi (also spelled Lee and Rhee), 14.8 percent; Pak (or Park), 8.6 percent; Choe (or Choi), 4.7 percent; and Chong (or Chung, Jung, Jeong), 4.4 percent.
"These five surnames bear a close connection to the six villages that formed the earliest Silla state. The six names of the Silla villages were Yi, Choe, Chung, Pae, Son, and Sol. In addition, there were the three royal families of Silla: Kim, Pak, and Sok. All these surnames survive in modern Korea, and, as noted, five of them dominate the percentages. By contrast, virtually none of the names of eight aristocratic families of Paekche -- Sa, Yon, Hyop, Hae, Chin, Kuk, Mok, and Paek -- survives today. Five of the eight have a homophone that exists as a surname today (Sa, Yon, Kuk, Mok, and Paek), but each of the Paekche names was written with a Chinese character different from the one now used. One name, Chin, survives today with the same Chinese character (one of four characters used for the surname pronounced Chin in Korea), but it is also a common surname in China and is probably not connected genealogically to the Paekche surname.
"The survival of Silla surnames and the extinction of Paekche surnames illustrate the continuity of traditions from Silla, the winner of the Three Kingdoms warfare, and the eclipse of Paekche traditions. More important, the continuity of Silla culture for 1,300 years, through the intervening Koryo and Choson dynasties, speaks volumes about the resilience of Korean culture. In spite of two episodes of catastrophic warfare, Korea's subsequent history was relatively tranquil; dynasties were long-lived; and when a dynasty changed, the transition was not tumultuous but relatively peaceful. Thus, Silla surnames and many other remnants of Silla culture continue to the present."