Ch'oe Ch'iwŏn, one of Korea's greatest scholars, wrote under the pseudonym Koun (Solitary cloud). (Signature under a pseudonym is still today a common practice among Korean men of letters.) The Samguk sagi, a historic work completed in 1145, provides some information about Ch'oe's life. Accordingly, we know that he probably came from Kyŏngju, the capital of the kingdom of Silla, and that he was undoubtedly a precocious child of exceptional versatility. At the young age of twelve he was sent by his parents to study in China, in accordance with the widespread custom among the Korean literati of the past. Apparently, before he left for China, his father, who had intuited his enormous talent, threatened to disown him as his son if he did not distinguish himself in his studies. After only eight years of instruction, he passed the Chinese state examinations and obtained an administrative post (even foreigners could do so at that time in China), but resigned after a year in order to devote himself to further study. After three years of hunger and hardship, he finally was helped by a government official named Gao Pian, who assigned him a job in his own office. At the age of twenty-eight, Ch'oe returned to his native land. Certainly those long years spent in China marked his entire life, implanting in him notions of multiculturalism that would render him one of the most productive and open-minded Korean writers.
Returning to his homeland, he immediately became immersed in the heavy political climate that would soon bring about the end of the dynasty and the dissolution of the kingdom of Silla. Nevertheless, he succeeded in holding several important public positions and in 893 was named ambassador to China, a post he was prevented from reaching by bands of brigands infesting the territory of Silla, which was now on the brink of collapse.
In 894 he sent a petition to the queen, Chinsŏng (887-897), in which he