Hecho, the first Korean Cosmopolitan

Do you know the first cosmopolitan of Korea?

Hecho, the author of The Book of Travels to Central Asia and India, Wang O Cheun Chuk Kuk Jeun(往五天竺國傳)

After unifying the three kingdoms in the Korean peninsula in AD 676, Shilla had been more close relation to T'ang. Not only the students and merchants but also the monks of Shilla went to China in order to study the Buddhist Canon(佛經). Hecho(慧招 (704∼780) who is famous for a book of travels, Wang O Cheun Chuk Kuk Jeun(往五天竺國傳) is one of them. He was considered as a first cosmopolitan in Korea and his Book of Travels is famous and meaningful as much as the Travels of Marco Polo (1254~1324). He started his journey from Gyeongju in Shilla in his age of 19 arrived in India by sea passing through Kwangchow of China. After finishing the pilgrimage in India Hecho went to westward Central Asia including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. From there changing the direction eastward, he went to Kucha in Tang following the Silk Rout and crossing the Pamirs. The journey took several years since he started the travels. It was a long journey as much as 20,000 kilometers. He recorded a description of his impressions of the 40 places of the Central Asia and the people living there in his book. The manuscript is a type of roll and composed of 230 lines. 30 letters are included in one line. 6000 Chinese characters in total. But it describes the religion, rites, scenery and customs of Central Asia. For example, ‘Those six countries in Central Asia including Arabia, Iraq worship Zoroaster and have no concept of moral. Their custom is weird enough to take his mother or sister as his wife. In Persia man also take his mother as a wife. Several brothers share one woman as their wife. They don’t allow the monogamy. Because they are worrying about the possibility of not having descendent of the family.’ This book of Travels of Hecho was hidden among the piles of manuscripts in the Mogao Cave 17, discovered by the Taoist monk Wang-Yuan-lu who appointed himself guardian of Mogao Cave. 

As the French archaeologist Paul Pelliot collected the roll type manuscript in 1908 it is resting in National Library of France now.