Literature of South Korea

Korean literature is the body of literature produced in Korea or by Korean writers. For much of history, it was written both in classical Chinese and in Korean, first using the transcription systems idu and gugyeol, and finally using the Korean script hangul. It is commonly divided into classical and modern periods, although this distinction is sometimes unclear.
In modern poetry, there were attempts at introducing imagist and modern poetry methods particularly in translations of early American moderns such as Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot in the early 20th century. In the early Republic period, patriotic works were very successful.
Lyric poetry dominated from the 1970s onwards. Poetry is quite popular in contemporary South Korea, both in terms of number of works published and lay writing.
Classical literature – Classical Korean literature has its roots in traditional folk beliefs and folk tales of the Korean peninsula. Other influences include Confucianism, Buddhism and to some extent Taoism.
Traditional Korean literature, written in Chinese characters (hanja), was established at the same time as the Chinese script arrived on the peninsula. Korean scholars were writing poetry in the classical Chinese style as early as the 4th century. Some historians exclude these forms of literature from Korean literature, arguing that they were merely forms of Chinese literature. Others argue, however, that the fact that Chinese characters were used is not reason enough to exclude the literature from the classical Korean canon, particularly since it reflects Korean thought and experience.
Under Unified Silla, a national academy was founded to promote Korean literature. For most of the era, Korean upper educated classes were bilingual, speaking Korean but writing in Classical Chinese like in Japan and Vietnam.
Fiction – The first known classical work of Korean fiction is Geumo Sinhwa (Geumo’s tales) by Kim Si-seup. It was written in Chinese characters. From the 17th century onwards, fiction became increasingly popular and more readily available through book rental schemes. Pansori was a particularly popular form of fiction, appearing in the late 17th and early 18th century. The contents of pansori are rooted in fiction. Pansori fiction is based on the orally transmitted pansori, and characterized by human stereotypes of ordinary people of the time.
In the mid-Joseon period, parable-like stories were published. By the end of the Joseon period, many writers had started to deviate from the orthodox conventions of classical Chinese literature, and literature about common people such as merchants, thieves, or gisaeng were commonplace.
Modern literature – Modern Korean literature gradually developed under the influence of Western cultural contacts based on trade and economic development. Christian thought found its way into Korea, but it was mostly artistic styles that influenced Korean literature. Music and classical poetry, formerly considered one as part of changgok, were increasingly perceived as separate realms. Modern literature is often linked with the development of hangul, which helped spread literacy from the dominant classes to the common people, including women. Hangul, however, only reached a dominant position in Korean literature in the second half of the 19th century, resulting in a major growth in Korean literature. Sinsoseol, for instance, are novels written in hangul.

Leave a Comment