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Engineers of the Human Soul : North Korean Literature Today Marshall R. Pihl HARVARD UNIVERSITY Introduction North Korean literature today is an extreme example of an inclination toward didacticism which has been expressed in differing forms under various social conditions throughout the history of Korean writing. In traditional Korea, writing was the unique function of an educated elite (who bore a responsibility for moral leadership of the society) and did not become the specialized vocation of a professional class until very recent years. But even then, works addressed to a popular audience beyond the writer's peers have tended to reflect a class attitude embodying many didactic elements. This tendency, adapted to the times, has continued into the modern era. There have been three major bursts of socially motivated, didactic writing during the twentieth century : turn-of-the-century works intended to introduce modern Western thought and thus enlighten the Korean people ; the nationalistic and socialistic literary responses to the 1910-1945 Japanese occupation; and the postliberation socialist realism of the communist north and, to some extent, the antigovernment writings of the intellectual opposition in the south. Since the north Korean didactic writing which this paper describes is a contemporary example of a tendency that has been clearly discernible throughout the growth of modern Korean literature, it is helpful to begin by considering the relevant historical background. Turn-of-the-century Beginnings Korea's modern transformation has been largely determined by the influence of outside powers. As a matter of course, this has been 63 64MARSHALL R. PIHL naturally reflected in the nature and development of her literature, since her writers have come from an activist, social elite who, in turn, have always been the first to feel the effects of foreign contact. An early demonstration of this role of the writer may be found in late nineteenth-century Christian leaders who spurred studies of the Korean language for its own sake in their efforts to translate scripture and tracts into Korean from Chinese, English, French, and Latin. But their specific influence upon the development ofmodern Korean literature was revealed only in a genre of early modern poetry, known as ch'angga, which reflected the structure of Christian hymns and sought to introduce Western progress and reform while enjoining Heaven's defense of an independent Korean state.1 Here is a typical example of such didactic poetry, contributed by one Ch'oe Ton-söng of Seoul to the April 11, 1896 edition of the Korean and English Tongnip sinmun [The independent ], Korea's first modern newspaper. In this könyang year of Choson, let us take joy in independence! Loyalty to the nation is first for every man. With fealty to the crown, let us protect the government! With love for the people, let us fly high the country's flag! With desire to help the country, let us always be of one mind ! Respecting women and teaching children are tasks for everyone. To make each family prosper, let us first protect the country ! Whether waking or sleeping, let us think of protecting the country ! Dying for the country is a glory without regret. For national peace and comfort let scholar, farmer, artisan and merchant work ! For our country's prosperity we pray to Heaven. In this enlightened world, let us be the same in word and deed ! Though one who has no knowledge, I dare to say these words.2 1.For further examples and discussion, see Cho Yön-hyön, Harígük hyöndae munhak sa [History of modern Korean literature], rev. ed. (Seoul: Hyöndae Munhak Sa, 1956), pp. 38-64. 2.Tongnip sinmun [The Independent], 11 April 1896, photo reprint (Seoul: Sege Ubo Sa, 1959), p. 2. ENGINEERS OF THE HUMAN SOUL65 Seventy-seven years later, we easily recognize similar themes of massed effort, loyalty to leader and state, commitment to social ideals, creation of a new society, and symbolic use of the flag in the words of a song, "Let us Fly Forth to the Farming Fields of Socialism," contributed by Kim Hyöng-jae to the May 1973 edition of the north Korean monthly magazine, Chosön munhak [Korean literature]. Here, again...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1529
Print ISSN
0145-840X
Pages
pp. 63-92
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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