Drifting Across the Sea: Jang Han-Cheol’s Diary

The seas surrounding Jeju held many dangers for sailors and fishermen in the past. Sharp volcanic rocks lie below the surface of the water, and frequent storms and strong winds made fishing and travel to and from the island very dangerous. Many shipwrecks occured over the centuries, and there many instances of sailors being blown off course. The lucky ones found themselves alive, although in distant lands. The luckier ones managed to return home. Some of them recorded their experiences, and a number of those accounts survive today.


Jang Han-cheol’s ‘Pyohaerok’ Photo: Jeju National Museum

In 1770, during the Joseon dynasty, a 26-year old native of Jeju Island named Jang Han-cheol wanted to take the state examination to procure a job as a government official. The examination had to be taken in the capital of the nation, which was called Hanyang in those days. Unfortunately his ship encountered a violent storm on the way north to the mainland, and he and his 28 shipmates ended up far south of Jeju, in the Ryuku islands – part of the Okinawa archipelago of Japan.


Jang Han-cheol was one of only eight people who survived the ordeal. He eventually took the examination and managed to return home, and he published the diary he wrote during his journey. “I led my shipmates to high ground to have a look at our surroundings. Nothing but waves in all directions, as far as the eye can see… We must be at the end of the Ryuku island chain… The rocky valleys are full of bamboo, the largest of which are as thick as roof rafters.” His account is known as the Pyohaerok, meaning Record of Drifting Across the Sea. The book contains detailed descriptions of sea routes, ocean currents and seasonal winds, and is a valuable source of myths and legends of Jeju Island.

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장한철의 표해록 : 張漢喆 漂海錄

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