Korean literature

Korean literature


      the body of works written by Koreans, at first in classical Chinese, later in various transcription systems using Chinese characters, and finally in Hangul (Korean: han'gŭl; or Hankul in the Yale romanization), the national alphabet.

      Although Korea has had its own language (Korean language) for several thousand years, it has had a writing system only since the mid-15th century, when Hangul was invented. As a result, early literary activity was in Chinese (Chinese languages) characters. Korean scholars were writing poetry in the traditional manner of classical Chinese at least by the 4th century AD. A national academy was established shortly after the founding of the Unified Silla dynasty (668–935); and, from the institution of civil-service examinations in the mid-10th century until their abolition in 1894, every educated Korean had read the Confucian Classics and Chinese histories and literature. The Korean upper classes were therefore bilingual in a special sense: they spoke Korean but wrote in Chinese.

      By the 7th century a system, called idu, had been devised that allowed Koreans to make rough transliterations of Chinese texts. Eventually, certain Chinese characters were used for their phonetic value to represent Korean particles of speech and inflectional endings. A more extended system of transcription, called hyangch'al, followed shortly thereafter, in which entire sentences in Korean could be written in Chinese. In another system, kugyŏl, abridged versions of Chinese characters were used to denote grammatical elements and were inserted into texts during transcription. Extant literary works indicate, however, that before the 20th century much of Korean literature was written in Chinese rather than in Korean, even after the invention of Hangul.

      In general, then, literature written in Korea falls into three categories: works written in the early transcription systems, those written in Hangul, and those written in classical Chinese.

Traditional forms and genres

      There are four major traditional poetic forms: hyangga (“native songs”); pyŏlgok (“special songs”), or changga (“long poems”); sijo (“current melodies”); and kasa (“verses”). Other poetic forms that flourished briefly include the kyŏnggi-style, in the 14th and 15th centuries, and the akchang (“words for songs”) in the 15th century. The most representative akchang is Yongbi ŏch'ŏn ka (1445–47; Songs of Flying Dragons), a cycle compiled in praise of the founding of the Yi dynasty. Korean poetry originally was meant to be sung, and its forms and styles reflect its melodic origins. The basis of its prosody is a line of alternating groups of three or four syllables, which is probably the most natural rhythm to the language.

      The oldest poetic form is the hyangga, poems transcribed in the hyangch'al system, dating from the middle period of the Unified Silla dynasty to the early period of the Koryŏ dynasty (935–1392). The poems were written in four, eight, or 10 lines; the 10-line form—comprising two four-line stanzas and a concluding two-line stanza—was the most popular. The poets were either Buddhist monks or members of the Hwarangdo, a school in which chivalrous youth were trained in civil and military virtues in preparation for state service. Seventeen of the 25 extant hyangga are Buddhist in inspiration and content.

      The pyŏlgok, or changga, flourished during the middle and late Koryŏ dynasty. It is characterized by a refrain either in the middle or at the end of each stanza. The refrain establishes a mood or tone that carries the melody and spirit of the poem or links a poem composed of discrete parts with differing contents. The theme of most of these anonymous poems is love, the joys and torments of which are expressed in frank and powerful language. The poems were sung to musical accompaniments chiefly by women entertainers, known as kisaeng.

      The sijo is the longest enduring and most popular form of Korean poetry. Although some poems are attributed to writers of the late Koryŏ dynasty, the sijo is primarily a poetic form of the Yi dynasty (1392–1910). Sijo were still being written in the second half of the 20th century. They are three-line poems in which each line has 14 to 16 syllables, and the total number of syllables seldom exceeds 45. Each line consists of groups of four syllables. Sijo may deal with Confucian (Confucianism) ethical values, but there are also many poems about nature and love. The principal writers of sijo in the first half of the Yi dynasty were members of the Confucian upper class ( yangban) and kisaeng. In the latter part of the Yi dynasty, a longer form, called sasŏl sijo (“narrative sijo”), evolved. The writers of this form were mainly common people; hence, the subject matter included more down-to-earth topics, such as trade and corruption, as well as the traditional topic of love. In addition, sasŏl sijo frequently employed slang, vulgar language, and onomatopoeia.

      The kasa developed at about the same time as the sijo. In its formative stage, kasa borrowed the form of the Chinese tz'u (lyric poetry) or fu (rhymed prose). The kasa tends to be much longer than other forms of Korean poetry and is usually written in balanced couplets. Either line of a couplet is divided into two groups, the first having three or four syllables and the second having four syllables. The history of the kasa is divided into two periods, the division being marked by the Japanese invasion of 1592–97. During the earlier period the poem was generally about 100 lines long and dealt with such subjects as female beauty, war, and seclusion. The writers were usually yangban. During the later period the poem tended to be longer and to concern itself with moral instruction, travel accounts, banishment, and the writer's personal misfortunes. The later writers were usually commoners.

      Immediately after the founding of the Yi dynasty at the end of the 14th century and the establishment of the new capital in Seoul, a small group of poetic songs called akchang was written to celebrate the beginning of the new dynasty. In its earliest examples the form of akchang was comparatively free, borrowing its style from early Chinese classical poetry. Whereas the early akchang are generally short, the later Yongbi ŏch'ŏn ka consists of 125 cantos.

      Korean prose literature can be divided into narratives, fiction, and literary miscellany. Narratives include myths (myth), legends (legend), and folktales found in the written records. The principal sources of these narratives are the two great historical records compiled during the Koryŏ dynasty: Samguk sagi (1146; “Historical Record of the Three Kingdoms”) and Samguk yusa (1285; “Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms”). The most important myths are those concerning the Sun and the Moon, the founding of Korea by Tangun, and the lives of the ancient kings. The legends touch on place and personal names and natural phenomena. The folktales include stories about animals; ogres, goblins, and other supernatural beings; kindness rewarded and evil punished; and cleverness and stupidity. Because the compiler of the Samguk yusa was a Zen master, his collection includes the lives of Buddhist saints; the origin of monasteries, stupas, and bells; accounts of miracles performed by Buddhas and bodhisattvas; and other tales rich in shamanist and Buddhist elements. The compilations made in the Koryŏ period preserved the stories of prehistoric times, of the Three Kingdoms, and of the Silla dynasty and have remained the basic sources for such material. Later compilations made during the Yi dynasty served as a major source of materials for later Yi dynasty fiction.

      Korean fiction can be classified in various ways. First, there is fiction written in Chinese and that written in Korean. Second, there are the short works of one volume, “medium” works of about 10 volumes, and long works of more than 10 volumes. Third, there are works of yangban writers and those of common writers. In respect to the last classification, however, there is also a group of fictional works in which the viewpoints of the yangban and the commoner are combined. Most of this fiction was based on the narratives mentioned above, the author adding incidents and characters to the original story. It is not possible to assign definite dates or authors to most of these works. The stories are generally didactic, emphasizing correct moral conduct, and almost always have happy endings. Another general characteristic is that the narratives written by yangban authors are set in China, whereas those written by commoners are set in Korea.

      The literary miscellany consists of random jottings by the yangban on four broad topics: history, biography, autobiography, and poetic criticism. Like fiction, these jottings were considered to be outside of the realm of officially sanctioned Chinese prose (e.g., memorials, eulogies, and records), but they provided the yangban with an outlet for personal expression. Thus, their portrayal of the customs, manners, and spirit of the times in which they were composed make these writings an essential part of Korean prose.

Oral literature
      Oral literature includes all texts that were orally transmitted from generation to generation until the invention of Hangul—ballads, legends, mask plays, puppet-show texts, and p'ansori (“story singing”) texts.

      In spite of the highly developed literary activity from early in Korean history, song lyrics were not recorded until the invention of Hangul. These orally transmitted texts are categorized as ballads and are classified according to singer (male or female), subject matter (prayer, labour, leisure), and regional singing style (capital area, western, and southern). The songs of many living performers, some of whom have been designated as “intangible national treasures” by the South Korean government, are still being recorded.

      Legends include all those folk stories handed down orally and not recorded in any of the written records. These legends were for long the principal form of literary entertainment enjoyed by the common people. They deal with personified animals, elaborate tricks, the participation of the gods in human affairs, and the origin of the universe.

      The mask plays (dramatic literature) are found in Hahoe, Chinju, T'ongyŏng, Kimhae, and Tongnae in North and South Kyŏngsang provinces; Yangju in Kyŏnggi Province; Pongsan in Hwanghae Province; and Pukch'ŏng in south Hamgyŏng Province. The most representative plays are the sandae kŭk genre of Yangju, the pyŏlsin kut of Hahoe, and the okwangdae nori (five-actor play) of Chinju. Although the origin of these plays is uncertain, they are generally presumed to have developed from primitive communal ceremonies. Gradually, the ceremonial aspect of the plays disappeared, and their dramatic and comic possibilities were exploited. The dialogue was somewhat flexible, the actors being free to improvise and satirize as the occasion demanded. The plays were not performed on a stage, and there were no precise limits as to the space or time in which the performances took place. The audience also traditionally responded vocally to the play as well as passively watching it. The organization of the mask plays—through repetition and variety—achieves a remarkable effect of dramatic unity.

      Only two puppet-show (puppetry) texts are extant, Kkoktukaksi nori (also called Pak Ch'ŏmjikuk; “Old Pak's Play”) and Mansŏk chung nori. Both titles are derived from names of characters in the plays. No theory has been formulated as to the origin and development of these plays. The plots of the puppet plays, like those of the mask plays, are full of satiric social criticism. The characters—Pak Ch'ŏmji, governor of P'yŏngam, Kkoktukaksi, Buddhist monk, and Hong Tongji—dance and sing, enacting familiar tales that expose the malfeasance of the ruling classes.

      The final type of folk literature is found in the texts of p'ansori of the Yi dynasty. These texts were first recorded in the 19th century as verse, but the written forms were later expanded into p'ansori fiction, widely read among the common people. This transformation from poetry to narrative fiction was easily accomplished, since p'ansori were always narrative. Originally the entire p'ansori performance repertoire consisted of 12 madang (“titles”). Although all 12 remain as narrative fiction, only five of them are sung today. The texts evolved gradually from the legends, which provided their sources and were altered and expanded as they were passed from one performer to another.


The earliest literature: before 57 BC
      From the earliest times, poetry and music have played an important part in the daily life of the Korean people. This love for song and dance impressed the ancient Chinese, whose observations are found in their early records. Ancient Korean songs, closely allied to the religious life of the people, were performed at such rites as the worship of heaven in the north and the sowing and harvest festivals in the south. These songs were transmitted orally and were thought to have magical properties.

      Three songs are handed down in Chinese translation: “Kuji ka” (or “Yŏng singun ka”; “Song for Welcoming the Gods,” in the Samguk yusa), “Hwangjo ka” (17 BC; “Song of Orioles,” in the Samguk sagi), and “Kong mudoha ka” (or “Konghuin”; “A Medley for the Harp,” in the Haedong yŏksa). The “Kuji ka” is related to the myth of the founding of the Karak state, but it appears to have been a prayer sung at shamanist rituals. Some have interpreted it as being a song of seduction sung by women. The “Hwangjo ka,” attributed to King Yuri, seems to be a fragment of a love song. The hero of “Kong mudoha ka” is thought to have been a shaman who drowned himself while in a trance. Perhaps the poem indicates the loss of the shaman's efficacy and authority when ancient Korea was transformed into a structured state. The story also includes other characters such as the sailor, his wife, and her friend. Another song, the “Tosol ka” (AD 28), is mentioned in the Samguk sagi as the beginning of secular poetry, but the poem itself has not survived.

Literature of the Three Kingdoms (Three Kingdoms period): 57 BC–AD 668
      In contrast to the literature of the earliest ages, which is characterized by collective artistic activity, that of later ages shows the effects of political, economic, and cultural changes as the peninsula increased in wealth and widened its contacts with other areas. The introduction of Buddhism and Chinese characters to the Three Kingdoms enriched their literature and changed their worldview greatly. In consequence, their artistic activity advanced far beyond collective singing and dancing to the direct expression of individual feelings. The heroes of this literature were human beings with individual personalities in contrast to the more idealized tribal heroes of earlier times.

      The three kingdoms of this period were Koguryŏ (Koguryŏ style), in the north; Paekche, in the southwest; and Silla, in the southeast. The writers of Koguryŏ, the geographical location of which provided close contact with the Chinese mainland, seem to have retained something of the original pioneer spirit from the times when Koreans came from the northern regions and settled on the peninsula; their poems tended to be heroic tales in epic form. The foundation myth of Koguryŏ concerns the migration of King Tongmyŏng and his people into the region. The stories of Ondal, King Mich'ŏn, Prince Hodong, the heir apparent Yuri, and others that had their origin in Koguryŏ are still used today as the bases for dramas and motion pictures.

      In contrast to that of Koguryŏ, the literature of Paekche and Silla tended to be lyrical, perhaps because of the milder climate and easier life in the south. Although little literature from Paekche has survived, the legends and songs contained in the Samguk sagi give a hint of its original extent and richness. For example, “Chŏngŭpsa” (“Song of Chŏngŭp”)—in which the wife of an itinerant merchant asks the Moon to protect her husband—was passed down from Paekche through the Koryŏ and Yi dynasties and is still appreciated in the 20th century.

      Silla led the other two kingdoms both politically (as proved by its subsequent unification of Korea) and artistically, in spite of the fact that it was farthest removed from contact with Chinese culture. The geographical and cultural distance from China, however, seems to have been an advantage, since the culture of Silla was able to create a true synthesis of native and foreign elements.

Literature of Unified Silla: 668–935
      After the mid-7th century Silla absorbed Koguryŏ and Paekche and created a stable political system covering most of the Korean peninsula. During the Unified Silla dynasty many students were sent at government expense to study in T'ang China. The consequent absorption of Chinese culture and the flourishing of Korean Buddhism both contributed to the remarkable artistic flowering of Silla. In particular, the spiritual life of the Silla nobility—the monks and the chivalrous Hwarangdo—was dominated by Buddhism, and Buddhism thus became the driving force behind virtually all artistic activity.

      The hyangga was the crown of Silla's literary achievement. Although the term hyangga is used generally to distinguish Korean songs from Chinese poetry, it more specifically denotes the 25 extant poems transcribed in the newly devised hyangch'al system in the Unified Silla and early Koryŏ periods. The texts of 14 hyangga are preserved in the Samguk yusa and those of 11 devotional poems by the Buddhist monk Kyunyŏ in Kyunyŏ chŏn (1075; “Life of Kyunyŏ”). A large collection, Samdaemok, compiled by the monks Taegu and Wi Hong in 888, has not survived. The poems that remain reveal a delicate and elegant style. Two examples written in the 8th century include “Ch'an Kip'arang ka” (“Ode to the Knight Kip'a”), which praises a member of the Hwarangdo, and “Che mangmae ka” (“Song of Offerings to a Deceased Sister”), a funeral hymn.

      At the same time, a great body of prose narratives was also being written in classical Chinese. These include hundreds of volumes of commentaries on Buddhist scriptures by such monks as Wŏnhyo, Ŭisang, Wŏnch'ŭk, Taehyŏn, and Kyŏnghŭng; stories of miracles performed by eminent monks, tales of the efficacy of Buddhist statues, and the origins of Buddhist monasteries; stories of valour by members of the Hwarangdo; and stories inspired by the Chinese narrative form ch'uan-ch'i (“tales of marvels”). The last three types of narratives in particular became the basis of classical fiction in later dynasties.

Literature of Koryŏ: 935–1392
      The last master of the hyangga was the monk Kyunyŏ, who wrote voluminous commentaries on, and was a great popularizer of, Buddhism. He composed his poems in Korean, transmitted them orally, and encouraged his followers to chant and memorize them. The poems in his Kyunyŏ chŏn, based on the 10 vows of the bodhisattva Samantabhadra, were transcribed from this oral transmission. The new poetic form that flourished during the Koryŏ period (935–1392) was the pyŏlgok, which was of folk origin. The pyŏlgok was intended for large-scale performances on festive occasions, especially the Harvest Festival and the Lantern Festival. Many pyŏlgok were written and performed by women, and such poems as “Tongdong” (“Ode on the Seasons”) and “Isanggok” (“Winter Night”) are among the most moving love lyrics in the Korean language.

      The Koryŏ Dynasty was a time of social instability. Internal and external crises abounded, the result of a factious and oppressive nobility and army, constant border harassment by the Khitan and Juchen peoples, and the invasions of the Mongols. Under such conditions established scholarly writers tended to be introspective or hedonistic. Consequently, the new intellectuals who arose toward the end of the dynasty began to adopt Confucian and Taoist dualistic thought as their philosophy. They were dissatisfied with pyŏlgok and sought a different form of poetic expression. This was the genesis of the sijo, which became a popular poetic form in the Yi dynasty.

      Prose narratives underwent much development during the Koryŏ period. These included myths, legends (legend), folklore, Buddhist stories and lives of saints, and literary miscellany. One notable class of tales is that in which the hero is represented by a personified inanimate object, such as wine, paper, a cane, ice, or a coin, or by an animate object, such as bamboo or a turtle. Representative of this form is Kongbang chŏn (“Tale of the Square-Holed Coin”), by Im Ch'un. Another major style is heroic narrative poetry, of which the masterpiece is the “Tongmyŏng wang p'yŏn” (1193; “Lay of King Tongmyŏng”), by Yi Kyubo, written in an old, pentasyllabic style. A work in a similar vein is the Chewang ungi (1287; “Rhymed History of Emperors and Kings”), by Yi Sŭnghyu, written in lines of five and seven syllables. A notable example of hagiography is the Haedong kosŭng chŏn (1215; “Lives of Eminent Korean Monks”), by Kakhun. The first collection of essays on poetry and other current subjects written in Korea is the P'ahan chip (1260; “Jottings to Break Up Idleness”), by Yi Inno (or Yi Illo). In addition to poetic criticism, the random jottings of Yi Inno contain autobiographical information in diary form; biographical notes on his friends and associates, including their life-styles and literary tastes; and remarks on contemporary manners and mores. The P'ahan chip inaugurated a long tradition of similar works written in the late Koryŏ and Yi dynasties.

Literature of the early Chosŏn period: 1392–1598
      The literature of the Yi dynasty (Chosŏn dynasty) falls naturally into two periods, with the end of the Japanese invasion (1597) serving as a dividing line. The early period is notable for its poetry; the later, for its prose. Inheriting the tradition of Silla and Koryŏ, the writers of the early Yi dynasty raised Korean literature to new heights.

      The early Yi dynasty also marks the initiation of a new era in Korean literary history with the invention of Hangul (han'gŭl) in 1443–44, during the reign of King Sejong. This important event finally enabled Korean writers to record works in their native language.

      The extraordinary king Sejong was not only the motivating force behind the invention of Hangul but also had his scholars compile Yongbi ŏch'ŏn ka to praise the founding of the Yi dynasty, especially the valour and virtue of his father and grandfather. He himself compiled Wŏrin ch'ŏngang chigok (1447; “Songs of the Moon's Reflection on a Thousand Rivers”) in praise of the life of the Buddha. Both works helped test and demonstrate the practicality of Hangul as a means of literary expression and were the prototype of the new akchang form. Scholar-officials used the form to justify the founding of the new dynasty and to praise the virtues of its founder and the beauty of the new capital. As a literature of the privileged class, the popularity of the akchang was always limited, and it was soon eclipsed by the most important forms of the Yi dynasty—sijo and kasa.

      These forms owe their popularity to two factors. First, their style of expression was rich and natural and was widely appreciated by readers. Second, they were popular with writers because together the forms provided ideal outlets for the two sides of the Confucian temper: the brief and simple sijo were perfect vehicles for intense lyrical expression, whereas the longer kasa gave writers an opportunity to expound at greater length on the more practical aspects of Confucian thought.

      The expressive content of the sijo ranges from the idealistic union of man and nature (often coupled with the poet's pride in his poverty) to the longing for sovereigns by subjects in exile (allegorical pieces in which an analogy is drawn between fidelity and romantic love) to the deeper exploration of human problems. Writers of sijo include Maeng Sasŏng, Yi Hyŏnbo, Yi Hwang, and Yi I. Representative poets of kasa include Chŏng Ch'ŏl and Hŏ Nansŏrhŏn.

      Even after the invention of Hangul, prose continued to be written in Chinese. The five stories contained in the Kŭmo sinwha (“New Stories from Golden Turtle Mountain”) by Kim Sisŭp, for example, are in the tradition of the ch'uan-ch'i. Subject material includes love affairs between mortals and ghosts and dream journeys to the underworld or to the Dragon Palace. Two collections of literary miscellany, the P'aegwan chapki (“The Storyteller's Miscellany”) by Ŏ Sukkwŏn and the Yongjae ch'onghwa (“Miscellany of Yongjae”) by Sŏng Hyŏn, were written in Chinese and influenced the growth and development of vernacular prose in the later Yi dynasty.

Literature of the later Chosŏn period: 1598–1894
      The shift in emphasis from poetry to prose after the Japanese invasion represents a significant step in the evolution toward modern literature. It also reflects a basic change in the philosophical outlook of Korean society. The Yi dynasty had suffered from the rigid formalism of Confucian (Confucianism) officials, whose doctrine was based on the principles of the 12th-century Chinese philosopher Chu Hsi. This Neo-Confucian philosophy was gradually replaced by the Sirhak, or Silhak (“Practical Learning”), school, which was based on reason and the scientific spirit of criticism. The introduction of Roman Catholicism from the West and of new scientific ideas from China also stimulated the reform measures advocated by the champions of the new school.

      Practical Learning gave impetus to literary activity and awakened the self-consciousness of the common people. Poetry, which had been the monopoly of the lettered class, came to be written by the common people. Women also were admitted into the literary world as the principal audience for traditional fiction. The later active compilation of sijo and prose narratives reveals the awakening interest in rediscovering and reappraising the past.

      The traditional vernacular fiction—commonly called sosŏl (“small talk”)—that emerged during this period consisted of stories, romances, and fables. The 15th-century Kŭmo sinwha, written in Chinese, was an important precursor, but the first work of the genre was Hong Kiltong chŏn (“Tale of Hong Kiltong”), written in the early 17th century by the scholar Hŏ Kyun. Kim Manjung, building on this style, wrote two major works: Kuun mong (1687–88; “Dream of Nine Clouds”), the story of a Buddhist monk's search for Enlightenment, and Sassi namjŏng ki (c. 1689–92; “Story of Lady Sa's Journey to the South”), a satire against the institution of concubinage. The most popular stories of the 18th century were all anonymous: Ch'unhyang chŏn (“Story of Spring Fragrance”), Shim Ch'ŏng chŏn (“Story of Shim Ch'ŏng”), Changhwa hongnyŏn chŏn (“Tale of Rose Flower and Pink Lotus”), and Hŭngbu chŏn (“Story of Hŭngbu”). These stories were written in a simple and natural style, their characters being modeled on common people, and they have become deeply rooted in Korean consciousness.

      Stories set at court and written by women also flourished during this period. Memorable works of court literature include the Hanjung nok (1795–1805; “Record of Sorrowful Days”), the tragic story of a succession dispute written by Lady Hong, princess of Hyegyŏng Palace; Kyech'uk ilgi (“The Diary of Kyech'uk”), the anonymous record of Queen Inmok's confinement after the assassination of her son; and Inhyŏn wanghu chŏn (“Tale of Queen Inhyŏn”), an anonymous account of the rivalry between the Queen and the King's concubine. All three of these works described events that had actually taken place. Other prose works written by women in Hangul include diaries, travel records, letters, and portraits. These works, written in prose that verged on lyricism, could easily be chanted and memorized by a growing female readership.

      During the later Yi dynasty there was also a great flowering of poetry by scholar-officials and commoners. The most gifted poet of the period was Yun Sŏndo. His 77 sijo poems, including Ŏbu sasi sa (1651; The Angler's Calendar), a cycle of 40 poems on the theme of the fisherman as sage, show his mastery of topics and techniques of the sijo. Gradually, the sijo was superseded in popularity by the sasŏl sijo. The growth of this new form, together with the rise of fiction, drama, genre painting, and p'ansori, reflects the rise of the middle class and changes in the approach to life.

      Pak Inno, the master of kasa in the 17th century, wrote in a style that combined erudition and lyricism. He produced seven pieces between 1598 and 1636; the theme of his first two kasa was the Japanese invasion, during which he served in the navy. The desire to reevaluate the past and to re-create the world of literature led to changes in the kasa, as exemplified in the anonymous kasa by women and commoners. Women writers of kasa were mainly from the southern regions of Korea. They expressed their joys, angers, griefs, and pleasures, and discoursed on the etiquette for entertaining guests, religious rites, and the principles of being a wise mother and a good wife. Kasa written by the commoners were marked by the same style as those written by women and played a similar role in the literary activity of the general masses. There are two other forms of kasa written by the literati: travel records and accounts of life in exile. To the first belong Iltong changyu ka (1764; “Song of a Grand Trip to Japan”), written by Kim In'gyŏm upon his return from an official trip to Japan; and the Yŏnhaeng ka (1866; “Song of a Journey to Peking”), written by Hong Sunhak upon his return from an official trip to Peking. The second includes Pukkwan kok (“Song of the Northern Pass”), written by Song Chusŏk, who in 1675 accompanied his grandfather, Song Siyŏl, to his place of exile in the northeast; the Manŏnsa (“Song of Ten Thousand Words”), written by An Towŏn (or An Chohwan)during his banishment on the lonely island of Ch'uja, off the southeast coast of Korea; and the Pukch'ŏn ka (1853; “Song of a Northern Exile”), written by Kim Chinhyŏng, depicting the life of exile in the northeast.

Oral literature
      Another feature of the later Yi dynasty was the formation, by the common people, of p'ansori texts. P'ansori seem to have originated during the reign of Sukchong (1675–1720), when old folktales were first sung. Their style and form were fixed by the kwangdae, or professional singers, and a group of amateurs in Chŏlla and Ch'ungch'ŏng provinces. Six of the original 12 titles were revised by the master p'ansori writer Sin Chaehyo, of which five are still performed.

      The representative mask play is Sandae kŭk. Of unknown origin, it was usually performed on a makeshift, open-air stage in 12 scenes, or acts. The masked actors followed a script that presented a story in dialogue interspersed with dances and songs. As the puppets (puppetry) of the Kkoktukaksi nori show were made of pak (a gourd, rhyming with the Korean name Pak), it was also called Pak Ch'omji kŭk (“Old Pak's Play”). Through keen satire presented in a unique and distinguished style, the contents of the masked drama and the puppet show strongly reflect the environment and the feelings of the common people of the later Yi dynasty.

Transitional literature: 1894–1910
      By the time of the 1894 reforms, enough social and intellectual change had occurred to suggest the beginnings of a division between traditional and modern literature. But, just as conservatism did not favour sudden changes in the political and social structure, literature, too, faced a period of transition toward its modern transformation. Schools were established by the educational ordinance of 1895, and the organization of learned societies and “enlightenment” movements followed soon after. Vernacular publications, the Tongnip sinmun (“Independent”) and the Cheguk sinmun (“Imperial Post”), along with the establishment of the Korean Language Institute and the scientific study, consolidation, and systematization of Korean grammar, also helped open the way for the modern literary movement.

      The first literary forms to appear after the 1894 reforms were the sinsosŏl (“new novel”) and the ch'angga (“song”). These transitional literary forms were stimulated by the adaptation of foreign literary works and the rewriting of traditional stories in the vernacular. The ch'angga, which evolved from hymns sung at churches and schools in the 1890s, became popular upon the publication of the “Aeguk ka” (“National Anthem”), by Yi Yongu, and “Tongsim ka” (“A Boy's Mind”), by Yi Chungwŏn, in an issue (1896) of the Tongnip sinmun. Songwriters still used such traditional verse forms as the sijo and kasa or a song form, the predominant pattern of which (seven and five syllables) showed the influence of popular Japanese songs (shōka). Most songs (song) denounced corruption in the government and stressed independence, patriotic fervour, and modernization.

      Three distinctly traditional elements were inherited by the sinsosŏl. First was the basic moral stance of reproving vice and rewarding virtue. Owing to the prevailing atmosphere of the “enlightenment” period, advocates of modernization were cast as virtuous, while the wicked were conservative. Second, the development of the plot was governed by coincidence, and events that lacked causality were nevertheless arbitrarily connected. Finally, the dialogue and the accompanying narrative were fused into one expository structure. The pioneering aspects of the sinsosŏl, however, were that it was written wholly in prose, whereas a considerable part of traditional fiction had been in verse; and it tried to depict a plausible human existence with backgrounds and events that more closely resembled reality than was the case in traditional fiction, which tended to follow certain model stories with their established plot lines and stereotyped characterizations. Writers of sinsosŏl also tried to unify the spoken and written language. Typical writers and their works are Yi Injik, Kwi ŭi sŏng (1907; “A Demon's Voice”); Yi Haejo, Chayujong (1910; “Liberty Bell”); and Ch'oe Ch'ansik, Ch'uwŏlsaek (1912; “Colour of the Autumn Moon”). In their works these writers advocated modernization, a spirit of independence, contact with advanced countries, study abroad, the diffusion of science and technology, and the abolition of conventions and superstition.

Modern literature: 1910 to the present
      The modern literary movement was launched by Ch'oe Namsŏn and Yi Kwangsu. In 1908 Ch'oe published the poem “Hae egeso pada ege” (“From the Sea to Children”) in Sonyŏn (“Children”), the first literary journal aimed at producing cultural reform. Inspired by Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Ch'oe celebrates, in clean masculine diction, the strength of the young people who will carry out the necessary social and literary revolution. The poem's inventions include the use of punctuation marks, stanzas of unequal length, and reference to the sea and children, hitherto little mentioned in classical poetry. Neither Ch'oe nor his contemporaries, however, could escape the bounds of traditional prosody or succeed in modernizing traditional forms of speech and allusion. In his stories, which dealt with the enlightened pioneers who championed Western science and civilization, Yi Kwangsu adopted a prose style that approximated the everyday speech of common people. Yi's reputation was established by Mujŏng (1917; “The Heartless”), the first modern Korean novel.

      In 1919, shortly before the unsuccessful movement for independence from Japan, translations of such Western poets as Paul Verlaine, Rémy de Gourmont, and Stéphane Mallarmé began to exert a powerful influence on Korean poetry. The indirection and suggestiveness of French Symbolist literature were introduced by Kim Ŏk, the principal translator. Against the didacticism of the age Kim set Mallarmé, and against its rhetoric and sentimentality he set Verlaine, concluding in the process that free verse was the supreme creation of the Symbolists. Kim's fascination with the Symbolist movement culminated in the publication of Onoe ŭi mudo (1921; “Dance of Anguish”), the first Korean collection of translations from Western poetry. The exotic and melancholy beauty of autumn and expressions of ennui and anguish appealed to poets who sought to vent their frustration and despair at the collapse of the independence movement.

      The movement for literary naturalism was launched in the 1920s by a group of young writers who rallied around a new definition of universal reality. Yŏm Sangsŏp, the first to introduce psychological analysis and scientific documentation into his stories, defined naturalism as an expression of awakened individuality. Naturalism's purpose, Yŏm asserted, was to expose the sordid aspects of reality, especially the sorrow and disillusionment occurring as authority figures are debased and one's idols are shattered. Many works of naturalist fiction were first-person narratives in which writers presented themselves as the subjects of case studies. The disharmony between the writer and his society often induced the writer to turn to nature; the land and simple folk furnished themes and motifs for some of the better stories in the Zolaesque tradition, among them “Pul” (1925; “Fire”) by Hyŏn Chingŏn and “Kamja” (1925; “Potato”) by Kim Tongin.

      The 1920s produced several major poets, Han Yongun published Nim ŭi ch'immuk (1926; “The Silence of Love”), comprising 88 meditative poems. Han sought insight into the reasons why he and his country had to endure Japanese occupation, and he found Buddhist contemplative poetry the lyric genre most congenial to this pursuit. The nature and folk poet Kim Sowŏl used simplicity, directness, and terse phrasing to good effect. Many of his poems in Chindallaekkot (1925; “Azaleas”) were set to music.

      The Mukden, or Manchurian, Incident (1931) and the Japanese invasion of China in 1937 induced the Japanese military authorities to impose wartime restrictions. The grinding poverty of the lower classes at home and abroad, especially in the Korean settlements in southern Manchuria, was the chief concern of the writers of the “new tendency” movement, which opposed the romantic and “decadent” writers of the day and later became proletarian in spirit. Writers of the class-conscious Korean Artist Proletariat Federation (KAPF), organized in 1925, asserted the importance of propaganda and regarded literature as a means to establish socialism.

      Modern Korean literature attained its maturity in the 1930s through the efforts of a group of talented writers. They drew freely upon European examples to enrich their art. Translation of Western literature continued, and works by I.A. Richards, T.S. Eliot, and T.E. Hulme were introduced. This artistic and critical activity was a protest against the reduction of literature to journalism and its use as propaganda by leftist writers.

      The first truly successful poet of modern Korea was Chŏng Chiyong, who was influenced by William Blake and Walt Whitman. Paengnoktam (1941; “White Deer Lake”), his second book of poetry, symbolically represents the progress of the spirit to lucidity and the fusion of man and nature. A poetry of resistance, voicing sorrow for the ruined nation with defiance but without violence or hatred, was produced by Yi Yuksa and Yun Tongju. In Yi's poem “Chŏlchŏng” (1939; “The Summit”), he re-creates the conditions of an existence in extremity and forces the reader to contemplate his ultimate destiny. The poetry of Yun Tongju, a dispassionate witness to Korea's national humiliation, expresses sorrow in response to relentless tyranny.

      Korean fiction of the 1930s took shape in the void created by the compulsory dissolution of KAPF in 1935. Barred from all involvement with social or political issues, some writers returned to nature and sex; others retreated to the labyrinth of primitive mysticism, superstition, and shamanism; still others sympathetically portrayed characters born out of their time, defeated and lonely. In the early 1940s, the Japanese suppressed all writings in Korean. Censorship, which had begun with the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910, was intensified. Korea was liberated in August 1945, and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) was established three years later. The literary scene experienced the revival of the controversy between left and right that had raged in the late 1920s and early 1930s. There were frantic groupings and regroupings, and most of the hardcore leftist writers, such as Yi Kiyŏng and Han Sŏrya, were in North Korea by 1948.

      The liberation of 1945 produced a flowering of poetry of all kinds. Some poets were determined to bear witness to the events of their age; some sought to further assimilate traditional Korean values, while others drew variously on Western traditions to enrich their work. Sŏ Chŏngju and Pak Tujin are known for their lifelong dedication and contributions to modern Korean poetry. Considered to be the most “Korean” of contemporary poets, Sŏ is credited with exploring the hidden resources of the language, from sensual ecstasy to spiritual quest, from haunting lyricism to colloquial earthiness. Pak is capable of a wide range of moods, and his language and style impart a distinctive tone to his Christian and nationalistic sentiments. Marked by sonorific intricacies and incantatory rhythms, Pak's poems are imbued with a strong historical and cultural consciousness that bears testimony to contemporary reality.

      The single overwhelming reality in Korean fiction since the Korean War has been the division of the country. The 38th parallel torments the conscience of every fictional protagonist, for it is a symbol not only of Korea's trials but also of the division of mankind and of the protagonist's alienation from himself and his world. Some have attempted to capture the images of the people in lyrical prose; others have delved into the conscience of the war's lost generation or into the inaction, self-deception, and boredom of the alienated generation of the 1960s. Some have studied the defeat and disintegration of good people; others have investigated the ways in which modern society negates freedom and individuality. Outstanding among writers of the roman-fleuve is Pak Kyŏngni, the mother-in-law of the poet Kim Chiha. Pak's multivolume T'oji (1969; “Land”) has been acclaimed for its commanding style and narrative techniques.

      In the last quarter of the 20th century a host of talented writers have been perfecting the art of being themselves. The poet Hwang Tonggyu, for example, has drawn material not only from his own experiences but also from the common predicament of the Korean people, expressing what others know but do not think of saying or cannot say. The novelist Yun Hŭnggil is another example of a writer who has cultivated fiction as an instrument of understanding himself and others. In his Changma (1973; “The Rainy Spell”), for example, Yun says that ideological differences imposed upon the Korean people by history can be overcome if they delve into the native traditions that have given them cohesion.

      The “new” drama (dramatic literature) movement, which began in 1908, saw the rise and fall of small theatre groups, such as the T'owŏrhoe, organized in 1923, and finally the Kŭk Yesul Yŏnguhoe (“Theatrical Arts Research Society”), organized in 1931. Through their experimental theatre, the members of the society staged contemporary Western plays and encouraged the writing of original plays, such as Yu Ch'ijin's T'omak (1933; “Clay Hut”). The paucity of first-rate playwrights and actors, the dearth of plays that satisfy dramatic possibilities, and the general living standards of the audience, as well as the lack of government support, have limited the scope of dramatic activity. Domestic plays and historical pieces, however, have continued to be written and staged.

Additional Reading

Peter H. Lee (comp. and ed.), Anthology of Korean Literature from Early Times to the Nineteenth Century (1981), collects representative poetic and prose works written in Chinese and Korean and supplies commentary and criticism; his Lives of Eminent Korean Monks (1969) is an annotated translation of Kakhun, Haedong kosŭng chŏn (1215), with an introduction. Richard Rutt (ed. and trans.), The Bamboo Grove (1971), introduces sijo arranged by themes. Won Ko (trans. and comp.), Contemporary Korean Poetry (1970), is another collection. Peter H. Lee (ed.), The Silence of Love: Twentieth-Century Korean Poetry (1980), contains translations of 16 major modern poets. David R. McCann (trans.), The Middle Hour: Selected Poems of Kim Chi Ha (1980), contains 40 poems. Another selection of poems, prose pieces, and a play by the same author is presented in Chong Sun Kim and Shelly Killen (eds.), The Gold Crowned Jesus and Other Writings (1978).

Richard Rutt and Chong-Un Kim (trans.), Virtuous Women (1974, reprinted 1979), contains translations of “Dream of Nine Clouds,” “Tale of Queen Inhyŏn,” and “The Song of a Faithful Wife, Ch'un Hyang.” In-Sŏp Chŏng (ed. and trans.), Folk Tales from Korea (1952, reprinted 1969), is a representative selection. Duk-Soon Chang et al. (eds.), The Folk Treasury of Korea: Sources in Myth, Legends, and Folktale, trans. by Tae-Sung Kim (1970), is a collection of oral literature. Soun Kim, The Story Bag (1955), collects 30 folktales. For modern prose see Kevin O'Rourke (comp.), Ten Korean Short Stories (1973, reissued 1981); Peter H. Lee (ed.), Flowers of Fire: Twentieth-Century Korean Stories (1974, rev. ed. 1986); Chong-Wha Chung (ed.), Modern Korean Short Stories (1980); Chong-Un Kim (ed.), Postwar Korean Short Stories, 2nd ed. (1983); and Ji-Moon Suh (trans.), The Rainy Spell and Other Korean Stories (1983).

Literary criticism
Peter H. Lee, Korean Literature: Topics and Themes (1965), is an introduction to Korean literature, and his Songs of Flying Dragons: A Critical Reading (1974) is an annotated translation of Yongbi ŏch'ŏn ka (1445–47). W.E. Skillend, Kodae Sosŏl: A Survey of Korean Traditional Style Popular Novels (1969), is a catalog of Korean fiction.Byong-Wuk Chong Peter H. Lee

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