The purpose of this paper is to reconsider the problematic authorship of “Admonition for the Flower King” (“Hwawang kye” 花王戒) and to discuss its literary, political, and horticultural significance. The story of three flower characters is conventionally attributed to Sŏl Ch’ong 薛聰 (ca. 670–730), and subsequently, modern Korean scholarship has interpreted the story in association with the history of the Unified Silla Dynasty (676–935). My analysis, however, shows that it remains unknown when the story was first conjured up, nor do we know how it circulated up until the twelfth century. The story was likely to have first circulated as a folk legend, which was embellished and finally textualized by the historian Kim Pusik 金富賦 (1075–1151) in his Samguk sagi 三國史記. I emphasize the role of Kim who assured the subject of moral suasion, a core Confucian value, on his own taste; this might be one reason that the story is not included by the Buddhist monk Iryŏn 一然 (1206–89) in his Samguk yusa. I also would like to turn here to the Korean literary tradition of flower metaphors itself. It is easy to assume that these images and associations derive from Chinese literature, yet when one looks at the floral image, attributes, and uses of the three flowers in Sino-Korean literature in the context of ethnobotany, horticulture, and garden culture they turn out to be quite distinct from what is found in Chinese literature. The legend of Sŏl Ch’ong, thus, piques one’s interest as one of the earliest examples of this distinct Korean flower imagery.

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