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Yi Kwangsu and Korean Literature The Novel Mujöng (1917) Ann Lee IVLy grandfather, early modern Korean writer Yi Kwangsu (b. 1892-d.?) was taken to northern Korea by Communist forces in 1950.1 I have never met him, and have undertaken this study in an effort to better understand him and the controversy surrounding his life and work. An individual whose life spanned the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-45), World Wars I and II, and the Research for this article was funded by dissertation fellowships from the Fulbright-Hays program and the Social Science Research Council. I am grateful to Professors Hong Ilsik, Kim Hosun, Namgil Kim, Kim Sönggon, Kim Yunsik, Ku Inhwan, Gari Ledyard, Lee Ki-moon, Marshall Pihl, Jeffrey Riegel, Michael Robinson, Ho-min Sohn, Kenneth Wells, Jack Wills, and Edward Wagner for their guidance, support and encouragement of this study, and would like to thank Professors Mack Horton, Peter Nosco, and Sharalyn Orbaugh for their advice in matters pertaining to Japanese literature. 1. Yi died in captivity in North Korea after being taken prisoner in 1950 by North Korean forces during the Korean War. The date and circumstances of his death, however, have been the subject of conflicting accounts. According to Chöng Sangjin and Pak Killyong, former North Korean officials currently residing in the Soviet Union, North Korean troops retreating from United Nations forces in October 1950 took Yi and other political prisoners on foot towards the mountainous Kanggye region in North P'yöngan Province (now Chagang Province). Yi died in a hospital in Manp'o, of severe frostbite and the chronic tuberculosis that had plagued him since youth. By this account, Yi died in December, 1950. Kim Kukhu, "Ch'unwön Yi Kwangsu osimnyön mal Manp'o pyöngwön so pyöngsa" [Ch'unwön 57 82Journal of Korean Studies outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Yi was involved in the tumultuous history of his generation as novelist, journalist, and political activist. He wrote twenty-seven novels, numerous short stories, poems, religious and philosophical commentary, and essays on reform and the Korean independence movement. As political activist, Yi participated in the overseas independence movement among Korean students in Tokyo,2 served in the exiled Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai, and was a central figure in the nationalist organizations the Hüngsadan (Corps for the advancement of scholars) and the Suyang tonguhoe (Society of friends for self-improvement).3 The Japanese colonial government often censored, confiscated, or banned Yi's works from publication or sale.4 Yi advocated gradual attainment of Korean national independence through cultural, social, and economic reform.5 His vision of gradual independence, however, seems to have entailed acquiescence with Japanese colonial rule during the process of reform. The implications of Yi's thought became perhaps most evident when Yi began actively collaborating with the Japanese government in 1939. Yi adopted the Yi Kwangsu died in late December, 1950 in a hospital in Manp'o]; Chungang ilbo [Central Daily News], July 26, 1991: 1. According to Professor Suh Dae-sook of the University of Hawaii, a former North Korean official named Valentin Pak has alleged that Yi Kwangsu wrote to then Minister of Education Paek Namun while being taken north, but died before help reached him. Personal interview, University of Hawaii, May 1988. Yi's son, Yung-keun Lee (my father) recently visited North Korea in search of his father's remains, and was shown a grave identified as that of Yi Kwangsu, in a public cemetery in Wönsin village, the district of Samsôk, in P'yöngyang. A stone marker on the grave dates Yi's death as being October 25, 1950. No documentation, however, was offered to substantiate the date on the grave. "Ch'unwön osimnyön mal pyöngsa hwagin" [Death of Ch'unwön Yi Kwangsu in late 1950 confirmed], Chungang ilbo August 2, 1991. 2.Yi wrote the "February 8" declaration of Korean independence proclaimed by the Korean Youth Independence Corps (Chosön ch'öngnyön tongnipdan) in Tokyo in 1919. 3.His involvement in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-1665
Print ISSN
0731-1613
Pages
pp. 81-137
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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