- Hwang Chin-i:Introduction
It is commonly agreed that there are virtually no historical records confirming the existence of a sixteenth-century kisaeng named Hwang Chin-i. And yet from the slenderest historical fabric a myth has been woven that has engaged several of modern Korea's most accomplished fiction writers. Modern fictional representations of Hwang Chin-i range from Yi T'ae-jun's novel written during the colonial period (1936), to postwar works by Pak Chong-hwa (1955) and Chŏng Han-suk (1955), to Ch'oe In-ho's two eponymous stories (1972), to novels by contemporary writers Kim T'ak-hwan (2002) and Chŏn Kyŏng-nin (2004)-not to mention half a dozen film treatments.
Hong Sŏk-chung's three part novel Hwang Chin-i, Part I, Section 25 of which is translated here, is notable for several reasons. First, the author is a North Korean writer (and the grandson of Hong Myŏng-hŭi, author of the ten-volume historical novel Im Kkŏkchŏng , one of the finest examples of storytelling in modern Korean literature). Second, in 2004, two years after it was first published in North Korea, the novel was honored with the Manhae Literature Prize, named after the great colonial period poet and activist Han Yong-un; this marked the first time that a North Korean literary work had been recognized with a major South Korean literary award. Third, and not surprisingly, Hong's novel [End Page 153] focuses not on Chin-i's celebrated liaisons with yangban worthies but rather on her relationship with Nomi, a commoner.
Part I, Section 25 of Hong's novel depicts the well-known scene of the funeral procession of Chin-i's heartbroken young admirer passing by her home. It comes at a crucial point in the novel, with Chin-i's engagement to a young man of Hanyang (Seoul) having recently been broken off and Chin-i herself having been reduced in status. At the same time, Chin-i must contend with Nomi's developing interest in her. The writing indicates that Hong Sŏk-chung has inherited his illustrious grandfather's storytelling skill. The narrative is colloquial, at times colorful, the author has an eye for detail and an ear for dialogue, and Chin-i appears before us not as stereotype or icon but as a complex young woman faced with the challenges posed by her beauty and her anomalous status as the offspring of a low-level official and a servant woman who becomes a kisaeng. [End Page 154]
Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton are the translators of several volumes of modern Korean fiction, including the award-winning women's anthologies Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers (Seal Press, 1989) and Wayfarer: New Writing by Korean Women (Women in Translation, 1997), and with Marshall R. Pihl, Land of Exile: Contemporary Korean Fiction, rev. and exp. ed. (M.E. Sharpe, 2007). Their most recent translations are The Dwarf by Cho Se-hŭi (University of Hawai'i Press, 2006) and There a Petal Silently Falls: Three Stories by Ch'oe Yun (Columbia University Press, 2008). Bruce Fulton is co-translator (with Kim Chong-un) of A Ready-Made Life: Early Masters of Modern Korean Fiction (University of Hawai'i Press, 1998) and co-editor (with Youngmin Kwon) of Modern Korean Fiction: An Anthology (Columbia University Press, 2005). The Fultons have received several awards and fellowships for their translations, including a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship, the first ever given for a translation from the Korean, and a residency at the Banff International Literary Translation Centre, the first ever awarded for translators from any Asian language. Bruce Fulton is the inaugural holder of the Young-Bin Min Chair in Korean Literature and Literary Translation, Department of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia.