Hacksun Cha read philosophy and international trade policy at Yonsei University (BA), translation and interpretation at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, law at the University of Pennsylvania, and philosophy at the Academy of Korean Studies. For the past seven years, Cha has translated the Veritable Records of King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty (1418–1450) from the original classical Chinese into English. Currently, Cha is translating and editing manuscripts of Tae-jin Yi, emeritus professor of history at Seoul National University, for publication in English.
Letters of Reference
From September 2010, I began serving as president of the National Institute of Korean History (NIKH), which I presided over the next three years. In October that year, I was present at the National Assembly for parliamentary inspection, where I expressed my view that now is the time to translate the Joseon wangjo Sillok (Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty) into English. Thankfully, my proposal was approved, and the budget secured. But how to find competent translators—that was the question.
The Sillok (veritable records) refers to officially compiled records of the monarchs’ daily administration of their country, Joseon. The records range from short notes on the king’s activities to eloquent memorials by court officials or rustic scholars. Many passages contain sentences impregnable to those inexperienced in translating such classical texts, however excellent their English may be. As the person in charge, I expended much effort to seek out capable translators. After a strenuous process, five people were selected. Hacksun Cha was one of them.
The translations of these five people were then evaluated by two professors teaching Korean history in Anglophone universities. They were unanimous in their assessments that Mr. Cha’s translation of the Sejong Sillok is the highest in quality. I took out his CV and perused it again. Not only did he earn the perfect score in the TOEFL test, he once studied East Asian philosophy at the Graduate School of Korean Studies in the Academy of Korean Studies while hoping to introduce Korean classics to the West by translating them into English sometime in the future.
The Sillok translation project was designated as the 82nd patronage project of the Union Académique Internationale (UAI) in 2012, and I was to make the first report on the Sillok project at the UAI general assembly to be held in Mainz, Germany in May 2013. I made Mr. Cha’s translations into a booklet and brought several copies of the booklet to Mainz. While awaiting my turn for presentation at the general assembly, I distributed those copies to five to six people who had showed special interest in our project in the general assembly held the previous year.
Within 10 minutes, Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams of SOAS University of London, a delegate from the British Academy, walked to me in quick steps and asked me, “Who did this translation?” He read the first part of the booklet and, to my delight, found the translation excellent. After my presentation was finished, Professor Sims-Williams stood up and commented that he read the annotations to the translation while listening to my presentation and found them very useful and written in excellent English. He then asked me the following question: “This translator is excellent, but perhaps not all participants in this project are as good. How are you going to deal with that issue?” I was very grateful that an Anglophone delegate from the British Academy repeatedly remarked on the high quality of the translation.
As I mentioned above, Mr. Cha’s English translation of the Sillok, the greatest cultural heritage of Korea, received a stamp of approval from a world-class scholar. I am confident that this new booklet featuring Mr. Cha’s Sillok translations will contribute to the development of interest in the Sillok it so richly deserves.
Professor Emeritus, Seoul National University
Board Member, Union Académique Internationale
The translator is often denigrated as at best a muddler and at worst a traitor (there is the old Italian adage, “traduttore, traditore”: to translate is to betray), but in actuality, when he or she does their job well they are valued transmitters of culture. The challenges of any translation are daunting. The thoughts of the original writer are so intricately linked to the language in which they were written that in this sense they can never be fully transferred into another language. But to get close, as close as possible, is the art of the translator, and to do so requires not only a fluency in the two languages, but in the two cultural traditions involved. The translation of the Joseon wangjo Sillok certainly poses its own challenges, some of them unique to the Sillok, others germane to all translations, others to the translation of ancient texts, but all of them daunting. The translator of the Sillok into English is thrice separated from his subject: by language, by time, by culture.
The first challenge is the most obvious: a fluency in the rhythms and nuances of Classical Chinese as it was written in Korea in the fifteenth century onward. This alone is a monumental task for obvious reasons. The terse nature of Classical Chinese means much is inferred and context is critical. Then there is the need not only for fluency in English, but a fluency in the formalized English befitting a formal source such as the Sillok. One must, for instance, eschew English vocabulary that is too contemporary in its origins or too colloquial in its use. This requires not just a fluency in English but an intuitive sense of its use in certain contexts.
The centuries that separate us from the Sillok means the translator is faced with a bewildering amount of specialized vocabulary, much of it not translated into modern Korean, much less English. The translator constantly wrestles with such vocabulary, and to properly translate such terms he or she should become familiar with the grander sweep and flow of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese history. But even this will not suffice, and the translator needs a familiarity with classical sources that were the fount of much of the intellectual and official writing of the period, and a familiarity and adeptness at using the more contemporary reference resources available to track down sources.
In all of this Cha Hacksun has been an invaluable asset to the ongoing project to translate the Sillok into English. His translations thus far of the Sejong Sillok read with a smooth fluency that truly belies the fact that English is not his mother tongue. He is able to render complex passages into easy to understand prose that still retains its formality. Certainly, this is borne out of his talent with languages, but it cannot be attributed solely to this. To translate the Sillok is never something that “comes naturally,” even with a talent for language. In this case, the quality of his translations is the product of his tireless dedication to his task and this project. It is a tirelessness that has the best possible source, a true belief in the value of the Sillok as a historical source, and the value of its translation into English. Buoyed and driven by this, Mr. Cha strives always to broaden his own knowledge base and to improve the quality of his translations. As he progresses through the Sejong Sillok I can read the quality improving, becoming more polished, the translator becoming more comfortable—though never complacent, the Sillok does not allow that—with his subject. However many volumes emerge from this translation project, they will owe much of their existence—and their appeal to the English reader—to Mr. Cha.
Pacific Affairs, University of British Columbia
–2019. Tae-Jin Yi. Interpreting the Creation of the UAI within the Context of the International Peace Movement in the Early Twentieth Century: From Wiesbaden 1899 to Paris 1919. Edited and co-translated from the original Korean. In J.-L. De Paepe, P. Jodogne, I. Algrain (eds.), From a Republic of Scholars to a Community of Researchers: Perspectives on the History of the International Union of Academies (UAI), 1919-2019. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols Publishers.
–2016. [co-translator]. The Veritable Records of King Sejong, vol. 1. Translated from the original Classical Chinese. Gwacheon, Korea: National Institute of Korean History.
–2013. Chung Woothak. Iconography, technique, and context in Koryŏ Buddhist paintings. Translated from the original Korean. In Kim Youn-mi (ed.), New Perspectives on Early Korean Art: From Silla to Koryŏ. Cambridge, MA: Korea Institute, Harvard University.
-2016. Yeopdeung ui o nyeon, yeokdong ui o baek nyeon [Five years of overreach and five hundred years of outreach]. In Yeoksa ui chang (A window on history: biannual newsletter of NIKH) vol. 43, Winter 2016 issue (p.50–55). Gwacheon, Korea: National Institute of Korean History.
Co-Translator, the English translation project of the Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty under the auspices of the National Institute of Korean History. 2012 – Present
Freelance Translator, 2011 – Present
Senior Instructor of TOEFL & English, AIS, Jeju, Korea. April – July 2010
Freelance English Teacher, Seongnam and Jeju, Korea. 2002 – 2010
Research Analyst, Koreadotcom, Seoul, Korea. April – July 2000
Intern, ROK Mission to the United Nations, NYC, USA. July – August 1999
Senior Instructor of TOEFL & TOEIC, YBM/ELS Chongno, Seoul, Korea. January – May 1999
Delegate, Korea-ASEAN Cooperation Project, Seoul and Gangwon, Korea. August 1998
Assistant to the Managing Partner, Lee & Ko, Seoul, Korea. December 1996 – February 1998
Attended one semester in the M.A. in Philosophy program, Graduate School of Korean Studies, Academy of Korean Studies, Seongnam, Korea. March – June 2003
Attended one semester in the J.D. program, University of Pennsylvania Law School, Philadelphia, USA. September – December 1999
Attended one semester in the M.A. in International Trade & Finance program, Graduate School of International Studies, Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea. March – June 1998
B.A. in Philosophy, Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea. March 1990 – February 1997
Completed the “English for Translation & Interpretation” summer program, Graduate School of Translation & Interpretation, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, USA. July – August 1996.
Completed the highest-level (Level 9-4) in the English Communication program, American Language Institute, New York University, NYC, USA. January – May 1995
Sehwa High School, Seoul, Korea. March 1987 – February 1990
GRANTS, AWARDS, & SCHOLARSHIPS:
At Yonsei University:
Merit-based Scholarship, September 1996
Best Grade Award, July 1996
Merit-based Scholarship, March 1996
From the Literature Translation Institute of Korea (KLTI): Translation Grant for Uri ga jeongmal araya hal yenniyagi baek gaji 2 [One hundred old tales we really need to know, vol. 2] by Seo Jeongo. August 2011