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Jizi (Chinese:, Gija in Korean) was a semi-legendary Chinesemarker sage who is said to have ruled Gojoseon by theory in the 12th century BCE. His family name was Zi/Ja (子) and given name was Xuyu/Suyu (胥餘/서여 xūyú/seoyeo, or 須臾/수유 xūyú/suyu).


The typical narrative of the legend of Jizi is as follows:

Jizi was a relative of Zhou, last king of the Shang Dynasty and known as one of the three wise men of Shang, along with Weizi and Bigan. Some identify him as Grand Tutor of the king. He was imprisoned by the corrupt king because he remonstrated against the misrule (One variant states that he pretended to be a madman after Bigan was killed by King Zhou. In any case, he was imprisoned). After Shang was overthrown by the Zhou Dynasty, he was released by King Wu. He gave King Wu advice on politics when the king visited him. King Wu enfeoffed Jizi on Joseon, which is identified as northwestern Korea today. There he taught the people rites, agriculture, sericulture and weaving.

Evolution of the legend of Jizi

As time has passed, legends about Jizi have become more and more numerous, leading many to argue that much of his story is fictional.

It is not easy to date classical Chinese texts, but pre-Qin Dynasty documents including the Analects of Confucius, the Shangshu and the Bamboo Annals simply say that he was a virtuous man from the Shang royal family. He was never associated with Joseon. In addition, these texts make no mention of Jizi's descendants.

The earliest known source that states Jizi went to Joseon is the Shangshu dazhuan (2nd century BC?). The Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji) by Sima Qian records a similar but more detailed story, but unlike the Shangshu dazhuan, it says that Jizi did not became a subject of King Wu although he was enfeoffed by the king. In the Shiji, this story is placed at the section of the Song ruling family (宋微子世家), whose founder was Weizi from the former Shang, but is not mentioned at the section of contemporary Joseon (i.e. northwestern Korea), where Wei Man's kingdom had flourished until being conquered by the Han Dynasty. Thus the location of Joseon as in these earlier sources is not clear. Among Han-Dynasty sources, the Hanshi waizhuan mentions to Jizi but not to Jizi's migration to Joseon.

The Hanshu (1st century AD) makes no mention to Jizi in the section of Joseon but adds Jizi's education in the section of Dilizhi (地理志): He taught the people of Joseon rites, agriculture, sericulture and weaving. In addition, a sentence in the Hanshu has been interpreted as Jizi's introduction of the law of "Eight Prohibitions"(八條之教) in Joseon.

The Weilüe, which was complied during the Kingdom of Wei (220-265) or later, inserts a record about Jizi's descendants and connects Jizi to Wei Man's kingdom in northwestern Korea: Jizi's descendants remained in Joseon and claimed themselves as king after the Zhou Dynasty declined. Last king Jun (準) was expelled in 192 B.C. by Wei Man, who was a Yan Chinese and had fled to Joseon. Jun fled to the south and proclaimed himself the King of Han (韓).

According to a commentary to the Shiji, Du Yu (first half of the 3rd century) stated that the tomb of Jizi was located in Meng Prefecture of the State of Liang (modern-day Henan). This suggests that the story of Jizi's association with Joseon was not necessarily prevailing although the narrative seen in the Hanshu later became common.

Relationship with historical facts

Because it is confirmed that early Chinese history books reflect historical facts at least from the late Shang Dynasty onwards, the Jizi described in pre-Qin sources is generally considered a real character. Cultural material evidences suggest that a small city state in Liaoningmarker was ruled by Jihou (㠱侯) or Lord Ji under the Yan Kingdom. Jihou may be the model of Jizi.

As for post-Qin sources, the story in the Weilüe is controversial because it contains information that cannot be found in preceding materials. Japanese scholar Imanishi Ryū presumed that this story had spread to China because of Chinese direct rule of the northwestern part of the Korean peninsula during the Han dynasty and that the source of information would have been the influential Chinese Han clan of the Lelang Commandery, who might have claimed themselves as descendants of Jizi.

Acceptance of the legend of Jizi in Korea

During the Goryeo Dynastymarker, Emperor Sukjong identified a mound near Pyongyangmarker as Jizi's tomb. He built a mausoleum to enshrine him in 1102. The mausoleum was rebuilt in 1324 and repaired in 1355. In the Samguk Yusa (1281?) and the Jewang Ungi (1287), the story of Jizi follows that of the Weilüe, but unlike Chinese sources, they add that Jizi succeeded Dangun, who had ruled Gojoseon (old Joseon). Most subsequent Korean history books follow this narrative.

Around this time, agricultural fields allegedly developed by Jizi became known in P'yŏngyang. These fields came to prominence among Ming Chinese too. In 1570, King Seonjo erected a monument there that instructed people to alight from horses (out of respect for Jizi).

A number of books on Jizi were published including the Gijaji (箕子志) of 1580, a collection of available materials on him, and the Gija Silgi (箕子實記) by Yi I. Around the same time, many Korean clans started to associate their origins with Jizi. Gyeong(景)、Jin(秦)、Gang(康)、Namgung(南宮)、Ro(鲁)、Han(韓)、Seonu(鮮于)、Je(齊) are made by Giga and 25% of the Korean are their patrilineal descendents.. Among them, the Cheongju Han clan (淸州韓氏), the Deokyang Gi clan (德陽奇氏) and the Taewon Seonu clan (太原鮮于氏) claimed that they originated in Jizi although their assertion is based on fictional figures created after typographical errors. They eventually cooked up a complete genealogy of Jizi and his descendants.

Jizi and Korean nationalism

From the 19th century, the upsurge of nationalism shifted the foreign sage to a nuisance. At first, the Korean Empiremarker placed equal importance on Dangun and Jizi to portray Korea as an independent kingdom. In this context, it was stressed that King Wu of Zhou had not treated Jizi as a subject. The Korean Empire also considered that the Mandate of Heaven was transferred from Jizi to Samhan, Silla and Goryeo, and ultimately to the empire itself. In the process of forming Korean nationalism, however, the symbol of national unification came to be limited to Dangun, and the Chinese legend completely got eliminated.

One solution is to identify Jizi as Korean. For example, according to Choe Namseon, the word "Jizi" was a distortion of Korean "gaeaji", which allegedly meant "son of the sun" and was used as the title for a monarch who succeeded Dangun, although the lack of linguistic knowledge made his theory nothing more than a word play. Similarly, Yi Byeongdo claimed that the ruling family of Gija Joseon was actually the Korean Han clan who later falsely claimed descent from Jizi.

Other scholars place Jizi outside of Korea: Jizi did not come to Korea but was enfeoffed somewhere in China. Candidates for the place of his enfeoffment include Meng Prefecture (modern-day Henan, China), based on Du Yu's above-mentioned statement, and Taigu, Shanxi, China, based on the Spring and Autumn Annals. Cheon Gwanu states that the Korean Gi tribe, led by Jizi, established Gija Joseon in Hebei and later migrated to P'yŏngyang.

In South Koreamarker, the national-history textbook of high school education drove Jizi's description out of the main text and he was marginally mentioned in a note. The textbook of the latest 7th Curriculum completely eliminates Jizi.



  • Imanishi Ryū 今西龍: Kishi Chōsen densetsu kō 箕子朝鮮伝説考, Chōsen koshi no kenkyū 朝鮮古史の研究, pp. 131-173, 1970.
  • Kuwano Eiji 桑野栄治: Richō shoki no shiten wo tōshite mita Dankun saishi 李朝初期の祀典を通してみた檀君祭祀, Chōsen Gakuhō 朝鮮学報 (Journal of the Academic Association of Koreanology in Japan), Vol. 14, pp. 57-101, 1959.
  • Sassa Mitsuaki 佐々充昭: Dankun nashonarizumu no keisei 檀君ナショナリズムの形成, Chōsen Gakuhō 朝鮮学報 (Journal of the Academic Association of Koreanology in Japan), Vol. 174, pp. 61-107, 2000.
  • Jae-hoon Shim: A New Understanding of Kija Chosŏn as a Historical Anachronism, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Volume 62 Number 2, pp. 271-305, 2002.

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