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Jizi (箕子 ji1 zi3; Gija (기자) in Korean) or Viscount of Ji was a semi-legendary Chinese sage who is said to have ruled Korea in the 12th century BC. His family name was Zi (子) and given name was Xuyu (胥餘 xu1 yu2 or 須臾 xu1 yu2). Since the title of Viscount of Ji was bestowed on him, he is usually called Jizi.

Legend and analysis

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

Pre-Han-Dynasty documents simply say that he was a virtuous man of the Shang royal family who served as Grand Tutor (太師) of Zhou, last king of Shang. As Confucius said, he was highly admired as an ideal ruler in ancient China.

Chinese document during the Han Dynasty or later add another story. He is said to have fled to Chaoxian when Shang was overthrown by Zhou. He established the dukedom of Chaoxian (Joseon in Korean), granted by King Wu of Zhou. He taught advanced Chinese civilization to the natives. Strangely enough, Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian put this story at the section of the Song ruling family but does not mention it at section of Chaoxian. The dukedom is called Jizi Chaoxian (Gija Joseon) today.

Weilue, which was complied during the Kingdom of Wei (220-265) or later, inserts a story about Jizi's descendants. According to it, Jizi's descendants maintained the dukedom and referred themselves as king after the Zhou Dynasty declined. Last king Zhun (準) was expeled in 192 B.C. by Wei Man, who was a Yan Chinese and had fled to Chaoxian. Zhun fled to the south and proclaimed himself the King of Han (韓). This story seems to have spread to China because of Chinese direct rule of the Korean peninsula. Some trust it and others think it is a fiction.

Archaeological evidences suggest that a small city state in Liaoning was ruled by Jihou or Lord Ji under the Yan Kingdom. Jihou may be the model of Jizi.

Korea views of Jizi

These Chinese stories spread in Korea at the early stage of history. Commanderies and kingdoms controlling northern Korea were regarded as successors of Jizi by the Chinese and Koreans. The Han clan (韓) claimed themselves as descendants of Jizi. Weilue seems to have adopted their claim.

The Koreans, especially Confucians, considered the legend as a historical fact and felt proud of being successors of the sage. King Sukjong of Goryeo identified a mound near P'yongyang as Jizi's tomb. He built a mausoleum to enshrine him in 1102. The mausoleum was rebuilt in 1324 and repaired in 1355. The name "Joseon" (1392-1910), which was given by Ming, was derived from Jizi's dukedom. In 1429 King Sejong put up a monument to honor Jizi. Some clans made up stories that their ultimate ancestor was Jizi.

Since the 19th century, the upsurge of nationalism shifted the foreign sage to a nuisance. Some Korean historians have tried to deny Jizi's dukedom or simply ignored him. Some tried to prove that Jizi was a Korean. By selective interpretation of historical sources, they claimed that Gija Joseon (Jizi Chaoxian) was ruled by the Korean Han clan. The national-history textbook of high school education drove out Jizi's description from text body to note.