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Korean Literature


1.The Character of Korean Literature
3.The Modern Literature of Korea
2.Korea's Classical Literature

The Character of Korean Literature

Korean literature is usually divided chronologically into a classical and a modern period. But the basis for such a division is still being questioned. Great reforms swept Korea after the mid-19th century as its society actively absorbed Western things.

Korea's classical literature developed against the backdrop of traditional folk beliefs of the Korean people; it was also influenced by Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. Among these, Buddhist influence held the greatest sway, followed by enormous influences from Confucianism - especially Song Confucianism - during the Choson period.

Modern literature of Korea, on the other hand, developed out of its contact with Western culture, following the course of modernization. Not only Christian thought, but also various artistic trends and influences were imported from the West. As the "New Education" and the "National Language and Literature Movement" developed, the Chinese writing system, which had traditionally represented the culture of the dominant class, lost the socio-cultural function it had previously enjoyed. At the same time, the Korean script, Han-gul was being used more and more frequently, resulting in the growth and development of Korean language and literature studies. With the advent of the "new novel" (shinsosol) came a surge in novels written in the Korean script. Music and classical poetry, formerly fused together in a kind of a song called ch'anggok, were now viewed as separate endeavors. New paths opened up for the new literature. While Korea was importing Western culture via Japan or China, it was also carrying out literary reforms from within.

Linguistic expression and manner of transmission are issues of utmost importance in the overall understanding of Korean literature. Korean literature extends over a broad territory: literature recorded in Chinese; and literature written in Han-gul. These two aspects of Korean literature greatly differ from each other in terms of their literary forms and character.

Korean literature in Chinese was created when Chinese characters were brought to Korea. Because Chinese characters are a Chinese invention, there have been times in Korea's history when efforts were made to exclude literature written in Chinese from the parameters of what constitutes Korean literature. But in the Koryo and Choson cultures, Chinese letters were central to Koreans' daily lives. We also cannot overlook the fact that the literary activity of the dominant class was conducted in Chinese. While Chinese-centered ideas and values are contained in this literature - a feature shared by most of East Asia during this period - they also contain experiences and thought patterns that express the unique way of life of the Korean people.

The use of the Korean script began during the Choson period with the creation of the Korean alphabet (Hunmin Chong-um). The creation of the Korean alphabet in the 15th century was a crucial turning point in Korea's literary history. Compared with the literature written in Chinese which was dominated by the upper classes, Korean script made possible the broadening of the literary field to include women and commoners. This expanded the social base of Korean writers and readers alike. The Korean script (Han-gul) assumed its place of leading importance in Korean literature only during the latter half of the 19th century. After the Enlightenment period, the use of Chinese letters swiftly declined and the popularity of Korean letters greatly increased. As soon as the linguistic duality of "Chinese" and "Native" within Korean life was overcome, literature in the Korean script became the foundation upon which the national literature developed.

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Korea's Classical Literature

Hyangga from the Shilla period

The Hyangga poetry of the Shilla period signaled the beginning of a unique poetic form in Korean literature. The Hyangga were recorded in the hyangch'al script, in which the Korean language was written using "sound" (um) and "meaning" (hun) of Chinese characters. Fourteen poems in the Hyangga style from the Shilla period have been preserved in the Samguk yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms). This poetic form was passed down to the Koryo Dynasty, and 11 poems from that period are preserved in the Kyunyojon (Tales of Kyunyo). Observing the form of the extant poems, we see a variety of formal characteristics: 4-line, 8-line, and 10-line poems. The 4 line poems have the character of folk ballads or nursery songs. The 10-line poems, with the most developed poetic structure, are divided into three sections of 4-4-2.

It is difficult to make general determinations about the personalities of the Hyangga poets. But it is thought that the 4-line poems with their ballad-like attributes may indicate that the poets came from a broad range of backgrounds. Most of the 10-line poems were written by priests like Ch'ung Tamsa, Wol Myongsa, Yung Ch'sonsa, Yongjae and Kyunyo; they were also composed by the Hwarang ("flower warriors"), including Duk Ogok and Shin Chung. These warriors were the backbone of the Shilla aristocracy. The 10-line poems reflect the emotions of the aristocrats and their religious consciousness. From among the Hyangga, Sodong-yo (The Ballad of Sodong) is characterized by its simple naivet'e; the Chemangmaega (Song of Offerings to a Deceased Sister) and Ch'an-gip'arangga (Song in Praise of Kip'arang) boast a superb epic technique, and give fine expression to a sublime poetic spirit. These examples are accordingly recognized as the most representative of Hyangga poetry.

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The Koryo Kayo (Koryo Songs)

The literature of the Koryo period is marked by an increased use of Chinese letters, the disappearance of Hyangga, and the emergence of Koryo kayo (Koryo songs) which continued to be transmitted as oral literature until the Choson period. The transmission of the Hyangga literature of Shilla was continued until the early part of Koryo but, as in the eleven verses of Kyunyo's Pohyon shipchung wonwangga (Songs of the Ten Vows of Samantabhadra), these were mostly religious prayers with no secular or artistic flavor.

The new poetic form introduced by writers of the Koryo period was the Koryo kayo called pyolgok. The identities of most of the Koryo kayo authors are unknown. The songs were orally transmitted; only later in the Choson period were they recorded using the Korean script (Han-gul). This poetry has two forms: the "short-stanza form" (tallyonch'e) in which the entire work is structured into a single stanza; and the "extended form" (yonjangch'e) in which the work is separated into many stanzas. Chong Kwajonggok (The Song of Chong Kwajong) and Samogok (Song of Maternal Love) are examples of the short-stanza form, but the more representative Koryo kayo, including Ch'nongsan pyolgok (Song of Green Mountain), Sogyong pyolgok (Song of the Western Capital [P'yongyang]), Tongdong and Ssanghwajom (Twin Flower Shops), are all written in the extended form, and divided into anywhere from four to thirteen stanzas.

The Koryo Kayo are characterized by increased length and a free and undisciplined form. The bold, direct nature of the songs make them distinctive. They deal with the real world of humankind. But because the songs were transmitted orally over a long period and recorded only after the beginning of the Choson period, there is a strong possibility that they have been partially altered.

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Shijo and Kasa

The creation of the Korean alphabet in the early Choson period was one of the turning points in the history of Korean literature. In the process of creating the Korean alphabet (Han-gul) and investigating its practicality, akchang (musical scores) were written in the Korean script, such as Yongbioch'bon-ga (Songs of Flying Dragons Through the Heavens) which celebrates the foundation of the Choson Dynasty(1392-1910), and which is complete with musical notation and instrumentation. These were written by the Hall of Worthies (Chiphyonjon) scholars who served the court officials. King Sejong also wrote Worin Ch'on-gangjigok (Songs of the Moon Lighting the Rivers of the Earth), a compilation in song of the life history of the Sakyamuni (Gautama Buddha), extolling praise for the Buddha's grace. These series of poems were written in forms that had not existed in previous ages. They provided a great stimulus in the development of poetic literature.

The shijo ("current tune") is representative of Choson period poetry. Its poetic form was established in the late Koryo period, but it flourished to a greater extent under the Choson period's new leading ideology, Song Neo-Confucianism. The fact that a majority of the shijo poets were well versed in Confucianism, and that these poems of the late Koryo and early Choson periods for the most part dealt with the theme of loyalty, helps us to understand the historical function of the shijo.

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The shijo has a simple, three-stanza structure: first, middle and last. Its three-stanza form is related to the structure of its poetic meaning, a fundamental requisite which prescribes its formal aesthetic. It is constructed in four feet, with each line containing three-to-four syllables, to make a total of about 12 feet. It is characterized by moderation in form and a slow, leisurely elegance. Despite its formal simplicity, its expressions are poetic and the poems achieve an esthetic wholeness. To this end, we may suppose that the shijo was widely loved by both the commoners and the yangban(gentry) class.

Centered around such authors as Maeng Sa-song, Yi Hyon-bo, Yi Hwang and Yi I, the shijo of the early Choson period represented "natural literature," or kangho kayo, in which Confucian ideals were expressed using themes from nature. Following the style of Chong Ch'iol, Yun Son-do and others, the greatest shijo poets of their time, there emerged in the later Choson period poets like Kim Ch'mon-t'aek and Kim Su-jang who paved the way for the creation of new kind of poetry which incorporated elements of satire and humor. Collections of shijo were also compiled, such as Ch'eonggu yong-on (Enduring Poetry of Korea) by Kim Ch' on-t'aek and Haedong kayo (Songs of Korea) by Kim Su-jang.

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In the late Choson period, sasol shijo ("current tunes explained in words") were developed to give simple form to the unaffected emotions of the commoners. The sasol shijo departs from the form of the original three-stanza p'yong ("flat") shijo, in which the middle and final stanzas are arranged into four feet, and is characterized by increased length. Hence, the sasol shijo is also called the changhyong ("long form") shijo.

The sasol shijo is distinct from the moderate from of the p'yong shijo in that it pursues a free and undisciplined form, and expresses the joys and sorrows of the commoners, as well as satirizes reality, making it comical.

It is said that the kasa and the shijo make up the two greatest forms of the Choson period poetry. The kasa is properly placed in the category of verse, but its content is not limited to the expression of individual sentiment. It often includes moral admonitions, and the subjects regarding "the weariness of travel" and "grief." The kasa form is a simple verse form, with a "twin" set of feet of three to four syllables each, which are repeated four times. Because of the varying nature of its contents, there are some who view the kasa as a kind of essay, as in early Choson period kasa like Chong Kuk-in's Sangch'un-gok (Tune in Praise of Spring); Song Sun's Myonangjongga (Song of Myonangjong Pavilion); and Chong Ch'iol's Kwandong pyolgok (Song of Kwandong), Samiin-gok (Song in Recollections of a Beautiful Woman) and Songsan pyolgok (Song of Mt. Songsan), and so on. These kasa have, as their main subject matter, the following themes: contemplation of nature for spiritual enlightenment; the virtues of the great gentleman who espouses anbin nakto (being content in poverty and delighting in following the Way); and the metaphor of love between a man and a woman to express loyalty between sovereign and subject. Later, following Pak Il-lo's Sonsangt'an (Lament on Shipboard) and Nuhangsa (Words of the Streets), we find in the late Koryo period kasa themes like "travel abroad" as in Kim In-gyom's Iltong chang-yuga (Song of a Glorious Voyage to the East of the Sun) and Hong Sun-hak's Yonhaengga. Also, there were the naebang kasa (kasa of the women's quarters) written by women. These gained wide popularity. In particular, the kasa of the latter period underwent changes in form, becoming both longer and prosaic.

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The Classical Fiction

The first appearance of the classical fiction in Korea include Kim Shi-sup's Kumo shinhwa (Tales of Kumo) which was written in Chinese characters and Ho Kyun's Hong Kil-tong chon (Tale of Hong Kil-tong) written in Han-gul. After the turn of the 17th century, fictions like tale of Kumo shinhwa came to be even more actively produced, and a large-scale readership was formed at that time. Especially popular was the p'ansori (story-in-song), which appeared in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. A performance art, the p'ansori is rooted in heightened musical expressiveness. As its contents were "fictionalized" it also made great contributions to the development of the classical fiction. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the quality of these classical fictions increased in variety as well as in quantity. Also, book rental business thrived with the advent of commercial publishing .

The characters appearing in Kumo shinhwa embody the concept of chaejagain ("talented young man and beautiful woman"). It also employs to an extreme degree the style of aesthetic expression used in Chinese letters. Along with these characteristics, Kumo shinhwa also shows aspects of the mysterious fiction (chon-gisosol) in that its contents are of a mysterious nature and distant from reality. In the mid-Choson period, works with parable-like characteristics were published, such as Im Je's Susongji (Record of Grief) and Yun Kye-son's Talch'on mongnyurok (Record of a Dream Adventure to Talch'on). But with the coming of the late Choson period, authors like Pak Chi-won and Yi EOk wrote realistic fictions in Chinese. Pak Chi-won's Hosaengjon (The Tale of Scholar Ho), Yangbanjon (A Yangban Tale), Hojil (The Tiger's Roar) and Yi's Shimsaengjon (Tale of Scholar Shim), for example, all depart from the orthodox conventions of classical Chinese literary studies and introduce a variety of characters such as merchants, men of wealth, thieves and kisaeng (female entertainers). They are sharply critical of a manifold social problems and often ridicule various aspects of daily life. This kind of fiction, together with the fiction in Han-gul of the later Choson period, opened up new paths for fiction writing.

After the creation of the Korean alphabet, an abundance of fictions were written in Han-gul, beginning with Ho Kyun's Hong Kil-tong chon and including works like Kim Man-jung's Kuunmong (Dream of the Nine Clouds) and Sassi namjonggi (Record of Lady Sa's Southward Journey). Hong Kil-tong chon strongly opposes the ruling class' discrimination of children born of the union between a yangban and a concubine. It shows a high level of social concern and criticizes the absurd aspects of the everyday reality of the times.

In the late Choson period, the p'ansori fiction (p'ansori gye sosol) emerged, based on the orally transmitted art form. P'ansori fictions like Ch'unhyangjon (Tale of Ch'un-hyang), Shimch'oongjon (Tale of Shimch'yong), and Hungbujon (Tale of Hungbu) do not deal with superhuman characters, but make use of human stereotypes of the period. Most of these fictions center around casual relationships from real-life experience, rather than coincidence. In addition to being a mixture of verse and prose, the writing style also combines refined classical language and the vigorous slang and witticisms of the common people. Throughout these works, we are given a broad picture of the social life of the late Choson period. In addition to these works, other Choson period fictions record the private affairs of the court, such as Inhyon Wanghujon (Tale of Queen Inhyon) and Hanjungnok (Record of Leisurely Feelings).

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The Modern Literature of Korea

The Literature of the Enlightenment Period

Korean modern literature was formed against the background of the crumbling feudalistic society of the Choson Dynasty, the importation of new ideas from the West, and the new political reality of rising Japanese imperial power in East Asia. The first stage in the establishment of Korea's modern literature extends from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, and is designated as the literature of the Enlightenment (kaehwa kyemong) period.

The change from traditional to modern literature during the Enlightenment period was largely due to the effects of the New Education and the Korean Language and Literature movement. After the Kabo Reforms of 1894, a new brand of education was enforced, new Western-style schools were established, and new textbooks for teaching Western knowledge were published. The literature of the Enlightenment Period secured its social base through newly emerged media like newspapers. Most newspapers, including the Tongnip Shinmun (The Independent), Hwangsong Shinmun (The Imperial City Newspaper), Taehan maeil Shinbo (Korean Daily News), Cheguk Shinmun (Imperial Newspaper), Mansebo (The Forever Report), Taehan minbo (The Korean People's Report) all published serial novels, as well as shijo, and kasa. It was at this time that a class of professional writers also began to form. Commercial publishing of literary works became possible with the introduction of new printing techniques and the emergence of publishing companies.

In this period, the ch'angga (new type of song) and the shinch'eshi (new poetry) were hailed as the new poetic forms. They contributed greatly to the formation of the modern chayushi (free verse poem). Receiving their influence from free verse poetry, the shinch'eshi abandoned the fixed meter of traditional poetry, thus making new genres possible in poems like Ch'oe Nam-son's Hae egeso sonyon ege (From the Sea to the Youth) (1908), Kkot tugo (Laying Down the Flowers) and T'aebaeksan shi (Poems of Mt. T'aebaeksan). But despite the novelty of the new forms, there were also many instances where the poetic voice was politicized, a sharp contrast to the lyric poetry of old, which gave primary expression to individual sentiment and feeling.

This period also saw the emergence of many biographical works based on enlightenment tastes, designed to cultivate patriotism and awaken the national consciousness. Representative works include, Aeguk puinjon (Tale of the Patriotic Lady) (Chang Ji-yon, 1907) and Elchi Mundok (Shin Ch'ae-ho, 1908). The biographies presented images of the kind of hero called for by the realities of the period. An Kuk-son's Kumsu hoeuirok (Notes From the Meeting of the Birds and Beasts) (1908) is the representative of this kind of work: it centers around the orations of animals who criticize the human world's moral depravity.

While a professional class of writers began to be formed by men like Yi In-jik, Yi Hae-cho, Ch'oe Ch'an-shik and Kim Ko-je, a new literary form called the shinsosol (new novel) secured a popular readership base. Yi In-jik's Hyoluinu (Tears of Blood) (1906) and Ensegye (The Silver World) (1908), were followed by Yi Hae-cho's Kumagom (The Demon-Ousting Sword) and Chayujong (The Freedom Bell). Ch'oe Ch'an-shik's Ch'uwolsaek (The Color of the Autumn Moon) (1912) is also a well-known work. The shinsosol, all written in Han-gul, achieved mass popularity. These novels portrayed Enlightenment ideals against the background of the realities of contemporary life, and the unrealistic, transcendental worlds of old are not found in their plots. It was in the shinsosol that "time reversal" was first applied as a structural technique. The authors also adopted a vernacular prose style that brought them closer to the form of the modern novel. However, in the wake of the Japanese takeover of Korea in 1910, the character of the shinsosol began to change. The later works gave more weight to the fates of individual characters, and commonplace love-struggles became more prominent.

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Literature of the Japanese Colonial Period

Korea suffered a great deal under Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945). Coercing the Korean government to conclude the Korean-Japanese Annexation Treaty, Japan then installed a Governor-General in Korea and enforced military rule. Restrictions governing speech and publications were especially severe. As a result, Korea's spirit of self-reliance and independence, together with its will to proceed with the Enlightenment ideals, no longer could find expression in its literature.

The Korean literature of the Japanese colonial period began with the March First Independence Movement of 1919. It was during this period that the Korean people began to exhibit a more positive attitude in coping with their national situation. Strengthened by feelings of national self-awakening which had been stirred up by the March First Independence Movement of 1919, the literature of that period began to show an interest in themes of self-discovery and individual expression, as well as an increased interest in concrete reality. Literary coterie magazines emerged, like Ch'angjo (Creation) (1919), P'yeho (The Ruins) (1920), and Paekcho (White Tide) (1922), and literary circles formed. With the publication of magazines like Kaebyok (The Opening) (1920), creative literary efforts also began to become more actively developed. In particular, the publication of national newspapers, like the Dong-A Ilbo and the Chosun Ilbo, contributed toward establishing a broad base of support for artistic endeavors.

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In the early 1920s, the base support for Korea's modern literature began to expand as people experienced a renewed self-awakening and recognition of their national predicaments in the wake of the March 1919 uprising. The novels of this period describe the sufferings of the intellectual who drifts through reality, and expose the pathetic lives of the laborers and farmers. Yi Kwang-su's short story Sonyonui piae (The Sorrow of Youth) in which he writes of the inner pain of the individual, was followed by his full-length novel Mujong (Heartlessness) (1917), the success of which placed him at the center of Korean letters. Mujong was not thoroughgoing in its apprehension of colonial period reality, but as a novel combining the fatalistic life of the individual with the Zeitgeist of the period, it is recognized as being modern in character. With Paettaragi (Following the Boat) (1921) and Kamja (Potatoes) (1925), Kim Tong-in also contributed greatly to the short-story genre. In it, he minutely describes in realistic detail the shifting fates of man. Hyon Chin-gon's Unsu choun nal (The Lucky Day) (1924) is also a work which employs superb technique in describing people coping with the pain of their reality. Yom Sang-sop's P'yobonshilui ch'nonggaeguri (Green Frog in the Specimen Gallery) (1921) deals again with the wanderings and frustrations of the intellectual; and in Mansejon (The Tale of Forever) (1924), Yom gives expression to the colonial realities of a devastated Korea.

The poetry of this period also established a new and modern Korean poetry as it borrowed from the French techniques of vers libre. Both the free verse of Chu Yo-han's Pullori (Fireworks) (1919) and Kim So-wol's poetry collection Chindallae kkot (Azaleas) (1925) made enormous contributions toward establishing the foundations of modern Korean poetry. Kim reconstructed the meter of the traditional folk ballad, successfully giving poetic shape to a world of sentiment. Yi Sang-hwa, in his works entitled Madonna (Madonna) and Ppaeatkin Turedo pomun onun-ga (Does Spring Come to Those Who Have Been Plundered?), attempted to come to terms with the suffering of the age and the agony of the individual, through the poetic recognition of the realities of colonialism. Based on Buddhist thought, Han Yong-un, in his Nimui ch'immuk (Thy Silence) (1926) sang of "Thou" as an absolute existence, and tragically compared the reality of Koreans' loss of their nation to that of the loss suffered by a woman who must endure the separation of her loved one or husband.

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In the mid-1920s, Korean literature was divided into national and class literatures, in accordance with the democratic and socialist ideals that were popular that time. By 1925 the class literature movement began to solidify with the organization of the Korea Proletarian Artist's Federation (KAPF). The proletarian literature movement, by expanding its organization and targeting the elevation of class consciousness through literature, sought to strengthen class ideology in society. In order to achieve mass support from the farmers and laborers, it poured its energies into the creation of a "labor literature" and a "farmer literature." Most notable of this kind of novel include Ch'oe So-hae's T'alch'ulgi (Record of an Escape) (1925), Cho Myong-hui's Naktonggang (The Naktonggang river) (1927), Yi Ki-yong's Kohyang (Hometown) (1934), and Han Sol-ya's Hwanghon (Twilight). These works are for the most part based in class consciousness and emphasize the struggles against colonialism, with farmers and laborers playing the central protagonists in that struggle. In the case of poetry, Pak Se-yong, Im Hwa and Kim Ch'ang-sul all took aim at the class contradictions under colonialism and published many "tendency poems" (kyonghyangshi) emphasizing the consciousness of class struggle.

During the 1930s, Korean literature underwent important changes as Japanese militarism was strengthened and ideological coercion began to be applied to literature. Pursuit of the communal ideology, which until that point had formed the course of Korean literature, became a thing of the past. New and various literary trends began to emerge.

Many novels written during this period experimented with new styles and techniques. In Nalgae (Wings) and Chongsaenggi (Record of the End of a Life), for example, Yi Sang used the technique of dissociation of the self from the world around him. Yi Hyo-sok's Memilkkot p'il muryop (When the Buckwheat Flowers Bloom) and Kim Yu-jong's Tongbaek kkot (Camellia Blossoms) are counted as masterful works of this genre. Also, Pak T'ae-won's Sosolga Kubossiui Iril (Days of Kubo the Novelist) (1934) and Yi T'ae-jun's Kkamagwi (The Crow) (1936) opened up new vistas for the novel with their new stylistic sensibilities. In these novels, novelistic space grows from within the interior of the self. By contrast, the full length novels of Yom Sang-sop's Samdae (The Three Generations) (1931), Pak T'ae-won's Ch'eonbyon p'unggyong (Views by the Riverside) (1937), Ch'ae Man-shik's T'angnyu (The Muddy Stream) (1938), and Hong Myong-hui's Im Kkok-chong chon (Tale of Im Kkok-chong) (1939), all narrate the story of the lives of their characters against the backdrop of Korea's tumultuous history.

The modernism movement is the most impressive feature of the poetry of this period. It emerged as sunsushi (pure poetry). The pioneering poems of Chong Chi-yong and Kim Yong-nang embody poetic lyricism through intricate linguistic sensibility and refined technique. Yi Sang, in particular, played a central role in the development of this new kind of experimental poetry. Also, aligned with this movement was the so-called Saengmyongp'a (the life poets) movement which included writers like So Chong-ju and Yu Ch'i-hwan. Another significant trend during this period was the nature-poems of Pak Tu-jin and Pak Mok-wol, among others. The poetry of Yi Yuk-sa and Yun Dong-ju was also important in that it captured the emotion of the people in their resistance to Japanese imperialism.

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Literature of the Period of National Division

After the liberation from the Japanese in 1945, Korea became embroiled in the political maneuvers of the World Powers, and the division into South and North became unavoidable. This division in political thought also made a significant impact on the literary world, as the factionalism and struggles began to occur between Southern and Northern literatures. The Korean War(1950-1953) was a tragic interim which solidified Korea's division into South and North. Postwar Korean society's emergence from the wounds and chaos of that war had a considerable impact on the development of Korean literature.

For the most part, the postwar novel in South Korea deals with the struggles of the Korean people to achieve deliverance from their national pain and anguish. The writings of Kim Tong-ri and Hwang Sun-won are representatives of this new type of literature. Also included in this genre is An Su-kil, whose novel Pukkando (1959) portrays the pioneering fortitude and steadfast spiritual power of Koreans who migrate to Manchuria. In addition, many of the postwar generation writers took as their predominant theme the collapse of the traditional socio-moral value systems, as seen in Oh Sang-won's Moban (Revolt) (1957) and Son Ch'ang-sop's Injo in-gan (Artificial Man) (1958). Pak Kyong-ri's Pulshin shidae (The Age of Mistrust) (1957), Chong Kwang-yong's Kkoppittan Li (Captain Lee) (1962) and Yi Bom-son's Obalt'an (A Bullet Misfired), in particular, deal squarely with the chaos and moral collapse of postwar society. Yi Ho-ch'iol's Nasang (The Nude Portrait) (1957) and Ch'oe Sang-gyu's P'oint'du (Point) (1956) describe people living their lives in a veritable pit of bleak reality.

The search for a new poetic spirit and technique was also a significant feature of Korea's postwar poetry. Among the postwar trends was the Chont'ongp'a (traditionalists), movement, marked by a style rooted in traditional rhythms and folk sentiment. The centrality of individual sentiment and sensibility in the Chont'ongp'a, combined with the traditional rhythmic base, brought a broad, folkish sentiment into the realm of poetry. In addition to Pak Jae-sam, whose P'iri (Flute) and Ulum i t'anun kang (The Saddened River) was inspired by the world of traditional sentiment and folk feeling, Ku Ja-un, Yi Tong-ju and Chong Han-mo were also significant contributors to this movement. Another trend in postwar poetry was the Shilhomp'a (experientialists) who, while venturing to bring new experiences to poetic language and form, concentrated on changing the tradition. Kim Kyong-rin, Pak In-hwan, Kim Kyu-dong, Kim Ch'a-yong and Yi Pong-rae, as well as a coterie of writers called the Huban-gi (The Later Years), were central to this new postwar modernist movement. In particular, Pak Pong-u and Chon Pong-gon, brought critical recognition and a satirical approach to social conditions through poetry.

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At the close of the 1950s, writers like Kim Sung-ok, Pak T'ae-sun, So Jong-in, Yi Ch'song-jun, Hong Song-won and Ch'oe In-hun made their literary debut. Ch'oe In-hun's Kwangjang (The Square), for example, gave expression to the agony, wanderings and frustrations of the intellectual using a unique novelistic structure. Kim Sung-ok, in his Seoul 1964, Kyoul (Seoul, 1964, Winter), wrote about the life of the petit bourgeois.

Shortly after the April 19th Revolution of 1960, poetic trends also changed. Poets like Shin Tong-yop and Kim Su-yong emphatically rejected the sentimental escapism of the postwar period and began to advocate the necessity to engage its readership with the political reality of the times. Kim Su-yong's Tallara Cui changnan (The Prank of the Moonland) (1959) and Shin Tong-yop's long poem Kumgang (The Kumgang river) (1967) for example, both express this new realistic sensibility by advocating the view that poetry become a significant means for political expression.

During the 1970s, Korean society found itself in the throes of rapid industrialization in which the gap between the rich and the poor, as well as regional disparities in industrial development, became markedly visible. As the political angst among the people increased, a new anti-establishment literary movement exploded onto the scene. The most important characteristic of the Korean novel during this period was its positive concern for various social problems which began to appear during the industrialization process. Yi Mun-gu's Kwanch'on sup'il (Kwanch'on Essays) (1977), for example, portrays the actual conditions of farmers who were neglected and became impoverished in the midst of the industrial development of the nation. The lifestyles of Seoul's "border citizens" (those living in the outskirts of the city) and the labor scene were also vividly portrayed in Hwang Sok-yong's Kaekchi (The Strange Land) (1970) and Samp'o kanun kil (The Road to Samp'o) and Cho Se-hui's Nanjang-iga ssoa ollin chagun kong (Small Ball Thrown by a Dwarf) (1978). Clearly, these novels opened up new possibilities for the "labor" novel as they gave new expression to the depravities and sufferings borne by the lives of the laborers in Korea during this period in history. Yi Ch'Song-jun's Tangshindul Cui ch'ion-guk (Your Heaven) (1976), Chaninhan toshi (The Cruel City) (1978) and O jong-hui's Yunyon Cui ttul (The Garden of Childhood) (1981), all examine the theme of human isolation and alienation which marked these laborers' experiences of industrial development. The social satire apparent throughtout Pak Wan-so's Hwich'aonggorinun ohu (The Reeling Afternoon) (1977) and Ch'oe Il-lam's T'aryong (The Tune) (1977) are representative of important tendencies in the novel of this period.

There also emerged during this period what has been referred to as the "division novel" (pundansosol) which brought to the fore a critical examination of national division. Kim Won-il's Noul (Sunset)(1978), Chon Sang-guk's Abeui kajok (Abe's Family) (1980) and Cho Jong-rae's T'aebaeksanmaek (The T'aebaeksan Mountains) are representative of this new type of novel. Also noteworthy is the roman-fleuve, like Pak Kyong-ri's T'oji(The Land), judged to be one of the most important achievements of modern Korean literature.

In the realm of poetry, the works which centered around the experiences of the minjung (roughly translated "oppressed people" or "oppressed masses") most clearly defined the poetic trends of the times. Shin Kyong-rim's Nongmu (Farmer's Dance) (1973) and Ko EUn's Munui maule kaso (Going to Munui Village) (1974), for example, both clearly demonstrate this concern for the lives of the minjung (people). Kim Chi-ha's T'anun mongmarum uro (Towards a Thirst) (1982), in particular, gave expression to the fighting spirit of the minjung in its struggle against industrial exploitation.

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The Translation of Korean Literature in Foreign Languages

Korean literature was largely unknown to the world until the 1980s, when translations of Korean literary works began to appear in foreign countries. Since then, the types of works selected for translation have become increasingly diverse, and the quality of the translations themselves have improved steadily. Furthermore, as the translations principally are being published by overseas publishers, the translations have became available to a wider reading public.

Since the 1980s, Korean literature in English translation has spread widely in the English-speaking countries. Anthologies of Korean modern short stories such as Flowers of Fire (Peter H. Lee, University of Hawaii Press, 1974); and Land of Exile (Marshall R. Pihl and Bruce Fulton, New York: M.E.Sharpe, 1993) are widely used as textbooks in universities all across the English-speaking world.

The Korean novelists whose works have been most widely translated are Hwang Sun-won and Kim Tong-ri. Hwang's novel Umjiginun song (The Moving Castle) was translated in the United States by Bruce Fulton. Other works, including Collected Short Stories by Hwang Sun-won translated by Edward Poitras, and another similar collection by Professor Holman, have also been available in English. Important works by Kim Tong-ri such as Elhwa (Eulhwa, The Shaman Sorceress), Munyodo (The Portrait of the Shaman) have been translated and published. Poetry selections by Han Yong-un (Your Silence), So chong-ju(Winter Sky) and Hwang Dong-gyu (Wind Berial) can also be found in English translation.

In francophone countries, the scope of literary translation activities from Korean is limited compared to those in English-speaking countries; but in these countries too, projects are actively underway. Yi Mun-yol has had their greatest overseas exposure through French translations. Translated works by Yi Mun-yol include Uridurui ilgurojin yongung (Notre Heros Defigure) and Shiin (Le Poete) . Other Korean novels available in French are Cho Se-hui's Nanjang-iga ssoa ollin chagun kong (La petite Balle Lancee par un Nain). Translations of poetry by individual authors include those of Han Yong-un and Gu Sang. Such translation projects will continue in the future in an ongoing effort to introduce Korean literature to readers throughout the world

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