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Korean Culture & Arts

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Special Feature spri n g 2012

Korean Animation Manhwa : A Boundless Treasure Trove of Cultural Content; Creative Ventures and Innovations; My Son, Pororo and Me

ISSN 1016-0744

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A New Cultural Industry For Global Viewers

Korean Animation



n an autumn day, as a cold rain fell, silence filled the bedchambers of the queen dowager within the decorative palace walls. With the power of the royal family within her grasp, the queen dowager took to her bed and withdrew into sepulchral darkness. From this time, the ten doors of the bedchambers, with white paper panels, remained shut. As dark clouds gathered, and blizzards raged and howled like beasts, all was quiet inside. The years passed and the king grew old. The palace doors were raised, their chins rising above the tiles topping the wall and their foreheads basking in the long-awaited spring sunshine, but the inner chambers were filled with only darkness and silence. In the mistress’s sightless slumber, the roads that once stretched far and wide went nowhere. In a world at ebb tide, soundless solitude seeped slowly and deeply into the darkness. Foreign intruders entered. In the middle of the night, in another bedchamber within the innermost walls of the palace, the queen fell victim to assassins. In the world outside, the winds blew fiercely, far and wide. After a 500-year reign, the dynasty collapsed. The king was dead. Their nation wrested away, the people took flight, uprooted from their homeland. The queen dowager lay on the precipice of a deep sleep, and only the wind watched over the large, empty quarters. For one hundred and twenty years the ten papered doors remained shut. Then, on a spring day outside the inner palace wall, a lone apricot tree writhes in vivid counterpoint to the neat elegant lines of the doors and the wall. Having endured the long, snowy winter with bare branches, its gnarled trunk a mute testament to the journey across time, the tree leans, twisting and turning upward. It sweeps the wall and then brushes the heavens. Every now and then it lifts its head toward the sky. Before long, it stretches out its arms, and upon each branch bursts forth thousands upon thousands of blossoms. As the solitude long shuttered behind the doors explodes into the sunshine in a burst of flowers, a new world opens beyond the palace walls.

Beyond the Wall, A Burst of Spring Kim Hwa-young Literary Critic; Member of the Korean National Academy of Arts Suh Heun-gang Photographer

Flower Petals Each petal of / The spring flowers / Is someone’s face / Some white with fear / Others spattered with blood. -Yun Je-rim

Koreana Äą Spring 2012

2 The wall of Jagyeong Hall in Gyeongbok Palace


Kim Woo-sang Zeon Nam-jin Lee Kyong-hee Bae Bien-u Elisabeth Chabanol Han Kyung-koo Kim Hwa-young Kim Moon-hwan Kim Young-na Koh Mi-seok Song Hye-jin Song Young-man Werner Sasse Dean Jiro Aoki Lim Sun-kun Teresita M. Reed Cho Yoon-jung


Kim Sam Lee Duk-lim Kim Ji-hyun Kim’s Communication Associates 384-13 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul, 121-839, Korea Tel: 82-2-335-4741 Fax: 82-2-335-4743


Charles La Shure Chung Myung-je Hwang Sun-ae Min Eun-young

Subscription Price for annual subscription: Korea 18,000, Asia by air US$33, elsewhere by air US$37 Price per issue in Korea 4,500

Subscription/circulation correspondence: The U.S. and Canada Koryo Book Company 1368 Michelle Drive St. Paul, MN 55123-1459 Tel: 1-651-454-1358 Fax: 1-651-454-3519 Other areas including Korea The Korea Foundation 2558 Nambusunhwan-ro, Seocho-gu, Seoul 137-863, Korea Tel: 82-2-2151-6544 Fax: 82-2-2151-6592 Printed in spring 2012 Samsung Moonwha Printing Co. 274-34 Seongsu-dong 2-ga, Seongdong-gu, Seoul 133-831, Korea Tel: 82-2-468-0361/5

© The Korea Foundation 2012 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without the prior permission of the Korea Foundation. The opinions expressed by the authors do not necessarily represent those of the editors of Koreana or the Korea Foundation. Koreana, registered as a quarterly magazine with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (Registration No. Ba-1033, August 8, 1987), is also published in Chinese, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Japanese, and German. Koreana Internet Website

KOREAN CULTURE & ARTS Spring 2012 Published quarterly by The Korea Foundation 2558 Nambusunhwan-ro, Seocho-gu, Seoul 137-863, Korea

A scene from “Pororo the Little Penguin,” a popular TV animated series for young children, which since its debut in 2003 has become a frontrunner among Korean animation programs that now entertain global viewers. ©HANAROTELECOM / OCON / ICONIX / EBS

Another Wave in the Making About a decade ago, the TV series “Winter Sonata,” an innocent love story with memorable scenes of snowy landscapes, captured the hearts of countless viewers throughout Asia. Then another popular TV drama, “Dae Jang Geum,” followed, and more recently youthful musicians have been spreading “K-pop” fever beyond Asia and across the world, astounding us Koreans. The popularity of Korean pop culture abroad, dubbed the Korean Wave, or hallyu , is a whole new experience for its overseas fans as well as Koreans back home. Especially, the older generations find this phenomenon truly amazing. Our young people, however, obviously take the craze as a matter of course, along with the material affluence that they have grown up with.


Amid the burgeoning self-confidence of Koreans in their cultural resources and capabilities, another sector of young artists is making meaningful strides to gain global recognition. Korean animation obviously has miles to go before attracting a broader spectrum of viewers across the world. But it has definitely shown its strong potential. In this edition, we look at Korea’s evolving animation industry and introduce its leaders and up-and-coming talents as well as the latest trends and achievements. It seems to be only a matter of time before they can contribute to the dreams and fantasies of people around the world. Lee Kyong-hee Editor-in-Chief Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

Special Feature Korean Animation

04 10 20 26



Korean Animation: Evolution of a Cultural Industry

Park In-ha

Comics and Cartoons

Manhwa : A Boundless Treasure Trove of Cultural Content

Kim Se-joon

Industry Leaders

Creative Ventures and Innovations

Kim Ik-hwan

A Father's View

My Son, Pororo and Me

Park Seok-hwan

30 34 40


Focus ‘Arirang’: Korea’s Theme Song to Share with the World Park Hyun-sook Art Review A Peep into Joseon Court Painters’ World of Art Koh Mi-seok ON THE GLOBAL STAGE

Soprano Im Sun-hae: Rising Star of Europe’s Baroque Opera

Lee Yong-sook 58

46 52 58 64 68



Kim Pyo-yeong: Octogenarian Master of an Age-old Craft

Park Hyun-sook

Modern Landmarks

Seoul Station Building Reborn as a Cultural Complex

Kim Chung-dong


Choi Jong-tae: ‘I Suddenly Realized I Didn’t Know What Art Was’

Choi Tae-man 52


Karen Kim: “There Is a Spirituality to Korean Clan Culture.”

Charles La Shure


Choi Wan-soo: The Stalwart of Korean Art History



Kim Hak-soon

Books & More German Edition of a Commander’s Battlefield Narrative


Jongmyo Jeryeak: Ritual Music for Royal Ancestors

“Jongmyo Jeryeak”

English Blogs and Cyber Guide to Korean Cuisine;; 78

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Gourmet’s Delight

Ssambap : Healthy and Delicious ‘Good Luck’ Wrap

Ye Jong-suk


Gukgung : Shooting an Arrow at Your Own Heart

Park Ok-soon


Local Singing Contests Strike a Chord with TV Viewers

Lee Young-mee

journeys in Korean literature

Critique: Loneliness in Blue Crab’s Name Blue Crab Grave Kwon Ji-ye

Uh Soo-woong


Korean Animation

>> Overview

Korean Animation Evolution of a Cultural Industry Korea’s animation industry, which began with a TV commercial in 1956, has seen ups and downs in its struggle for survival before finally turning things around in the 1990s. This recent surge, born from a renewed passion for creative animation, has given a meaningful boost to today’s Korean animation industry. Park In-ha Professor, Chungkang College of Cultural Industries | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


rehistoric humans drew pictures of the animals around them and images of hunting scenes on the walls of caves and rock surfaces. The original settlers on the Korean Peninsula during the Bronze Age also left drawings of large whales being pursued by people at sea with spears. Ancient man recorded the capture of large animals because of their importance to his survival. It seems that animation has evolved from these primitive images.

Hit Animated Films of 2011 Korean animation achieved several unexpected successes in 2011. First there was “Leafie, A Hen into the Wild,” directed by Oh Sung-youn. Based on a popular children’s book, this artistically rendered film was a product of the know-how developed by the creative minds of Korean animators that came to the fore in the 1990s, combined with innovations of the nation’s film distribution and publicity infrastructure. The film drew a record 2.2 million viewers, making it the first Korean animated feature to achieve such a “stunning success.” After the remarkable domestic release, it became Korea’s first full-length animated film to be exported to China, where it was shown at some 2,000 theaters across the country. Production costs amounted to some 3 billion won, which is high for an animated feature but well below that for a blockbuster action film. “The King of Pigs,” directed by Yeun Sang-ho, was also worthy of note as the first animated film to win three awards at the 16th Busan International Film Festival, including the Directors’ Guild of Korea Award for best director. This independent feature-length animation, which cost 150 million won to produce, tells the story of two middle-school classmates who meet again after 15 years and recall, in graphic detail, the brutal violence of their regimented school environment, for which it 1


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1. A “Robot Taekwon V” action figure 2. “Leafie, A Hen into the Wild” (2011) 3. “Pororo the Little Penguin” (2003)



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1 © Studio MWP

4. A hall on the first floor of the Chuncheon Animation Museum, decorated to depict a theater from 1967, when “Hong Kil-dong” was released. 5. A poster for “Robot Taekwon V” 6. Action figure of Son Ogong, or Monkey King, on the Superboard, the star of “Fly! Superboard” (1988)


received an R rating. Despite its social criticism, violence, and adult theme, along with the fact that it was an independent feature-length film, all of which are stumbling blocks for an animated work, “The King of Pigs” drew nearly 20,000 movie-goers, doubling the previous record set by the independent film “Bleak Night.” An Jae-hoon’s lyrical “Green Days,” despite its weak reception at the box office, was another important work shown in 2011. These three animation works had two things in common: they are traditional 2D animated works without 3D imagery, and they were all directed by newcomers in the local animation industry, who first emerged around the 1990s.

The Era of Reckless Ventures The first Korean animation was created in 1956, while from the late 1950s through the 60s animation was primarily produced for TV commercials. In 1965, with only a few television commercials under his belt, director Shin Dong-hun launched production of an animated film based on the popular comic



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series “The Hero Hong Kil-dong.” In January 1967, “Hong Kil-dong,” Korea’s first feature-length animated film, was released. People lined up outside theaters to see the film on the opening day, and it managed to attract 100,000 movie-goers in only four days, emerging as the second-best box office success in 1967. Producing a feature-length animation in a little over a year, despite many difficult problems, was indeed a kind of miracle. With no access to celluloid film, Shin gathered film that had been discarded by the U.S. Air Force and soaked it in lye so that it could be reused. Buoyed by the success of “Hong Kildong,” additional animated features were produced, but inadequate production resources and a cold shoulder from the film industry sealed the fate of animation projects. About 10 years after “Hong Kil-dong,” director Kim Cheong-gi’s “Robot Taekwon V” (released in the United States as “Voltar the Invincible”) started another boom time by demonstrating the commercial potential of Korean animation. The popularity of “Robot Taekwon V” paved the way for a slew of feature-length animated films aimed at children. But box office receipts failed to cover production costs, forcing studios to reduce costs and lower the quality of films, which fell short of movie-goers’ expectations. As the quality of films declined and ticket sales dwindled, the vicious cycle led to a dramatic falloff in the production of animated films. After a lull of 10 years or so, new efforts were made to revive animated films in Korea. With the 1988 Seoul Olympics on the horizon, Korean TV networks, which had previously aired animated features from Japan and the United States, took a stab at their own production projects. They followed the Japanese practice of adapting popular comics for animated TV series, producing such enormously popular series as “Dooly the Little Dinosaur,” “Hany,” and “Fly! Superboard.” Despite a strong viewership, the TV broadcasters ended up showing foreign-made animations again because this proved to be less costly than local productions.

1. “Green Days,” praised for its faithful recreation of everyday life in the 1970s (2011) 2-3. “The King of Pigs” (2011), an independent, feature-length animation for adults


New Wave of Innovation Although the Korean animation industry did produce innovative works from time to time, enjoying brief flashes of viewer attention, it was never quite able to build a solid foundation for continued growth. During the 1980s, the creation of original works was secondary to subcontract production work. Known for their exceptional talent, Korean animators did the time-consuming drawings for many works produced in Japan, the United States, and Europe. But the basic planning and project design — the most critical process in the production of an animated film — was always done abroad. Because of this, the Korean animation industry came to be mocked as a “giant without a head.” At the onset of the 1990s, Korean animation received an unexpected boost. Even though there were no educational institutions that offered animation courses, no feasible projects to pursue, and no prosKoreana ı Spring 2012



In 1995, at the first Seoul International Cartoon & Animation Festival (SICAF), young directors showed their short films, a true labor of love, to curious audiences. This modest start then gained vital momentum from the application of digital technology.

pects for business opportunities, a number of animators decided they would blaze their own trail in the industry, without regard to any financial rewards. They studied on their own and honed their storytelling skills. Eventually, these creative and independent animators somehow managed to get the domestic industry back on the right track. Around this time, in contrast to its previous focus on school-age viewers, Korean animation adopted a new vision as a “cultural industry.” Newspapers, magazines, and even TV networks reported on the animation industry’s notable evolution. In 1995, the government, which sought to promote animation as a “cultural industry,” sponsored the first Seoul International Cartoon & Animation Festival (SICAF) so that young directors could show their short films, a true labor of love, to curious audiences. This modest start then gained vital momentum from the application of digital technology, while the Internet served as a platform to disseminate information about animation and attract new fans. Universities began to offer courses on animation and comic arts, resulting in a rapid proliferation of new departments and majors. This new crop of artists stepped up from animated shorts to feature-length films, often with impressive results. For example, after his “Ashes in the Thicket” was invited to the Annecy International Ani-


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1. The children’s animation “Robocar Poli” (2011) 2. “Jang Geum's Dream” (2004) has been exported to 27 countries. 3. Korean and European animation producers meet at the 2011 Cartoon Connection Korea-EU.

mated Film Festival in 1999, director Lee Seong-kang went on to earn the Annecy award for feature films in 2002 with “My Beautiful Girl, Mari.” Unfortunately, the praise on the international stage failed to translate into commercial success at home. In 2007, Lee released the exquisitely expressive “Yobi, the Five Tailed Fox,” but this film also failed to live up to expectations at the box office. In 2003, after a seven-year production process and a project cost of 12.6 billion won, the science fiction animated film “Wonderful Days” finally debuted. The epic scale of this project created great anticipation; but this effort ended in failure as well. Its director, Kim Moon-saeng, decided to give up on animated films, seeing no chance for their success. Unfortunately, the know-how accumulated through the production of “Wonderful Days” was not passed down in a systematic manner, but the project staff went on to play key roles in the Korean animation industry. In the 2000s, the Internet’s ubiquity boosted the popularity of short-flash animations. Works like “Mashimaro Forest,” “Zolaman,” “Raincoat Boy” and “Pucca” were spread around through e-mails and posted on message boards, striking a chord with viewers. “Mashimaro Forest” and “Pucca,” in particular, branched out into character-based marketing. Animated TV series also showed growing diversity. Not only did they upgrade production quality, various programs managed to achieve commercial success as well. The children’s animation “Pororo the Little Penguin” (2003) became the frontrunner of content for children. “Jang Geum’s Dream” (2004), which tells the story of a young palace cook, the lead character of the popular TV drama “Dae Jang Geum” (Jewel in the Palace), has been exported to 27 countries. “Robocar Poli” (2011), which followed up on the success of “Pororo,” has been a favorite among young viewers in and outside of Korea. These innovative animators entered the industry not for financial gain but to fulfill their dreams. And they are tirelessly contributing to the future of Korean animation, frame by frame. The dynamism of Korean animation today and its bright future is all thanks to their passionate efforts. Koreana ı Spring 2012


Korean Animation

>> Comics and Cartoons

Manhwa : A Boundless Treasure Trove of Cultural Content Manhwa is a vast source of inspiration for the creation of films and TV shows as well as plays and musicals. Moreover, the unique charm of manhwa-based cultural products is certain to appeal to both domestic and global audiences. Kim Se-joon Senior Manager, Seoul Animation Center | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer




o understand the role of comics in Korea, it might be instructive to take a brief glimpse into the life of a typical Seoul office worker who enjoys manhwa , or Korean comics and cartoons. As he rides a shuttle bus to a subway station near his home as part of his morning commute, he takes out his smart pad and reads a new web comic that went online at midnight last night. Since wifi is not available, he uses the 3G mobile network, which is somewhat slower but not a hindrance. After getting off the bus, at the entrance to the subway station he picks up a couple of the various free newspapers available on the several racks there. Each newspaper runs two to four cartoons daily, so by the time he reaches the boarding platform he might have read five or six cartoons. Once on the subway, he uses the wifi to visit a website that shows the popular web comics and works by amateur cartoonists, where he opens the most recommended or most viewed cartoons. A few days ago, he discovered the work of a new artist that he really likes and has added the artist’s blog to his favorites menu. When in front of a PC on his lunch break or back at home, he often visits cartoon sites that offer scans of popular manhwa from the 1980s and 90s. He pays a monthly subscription fee of 9,000 won (just over $8), so it’s like having stacks of comic books to read over. On the weekend he will often visit a manhwa rental store, where he can borrow comic books for around 30 cents a copy, or to a manhwa cafe, where for Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

1. Young people read manhwa on tablet PCs. 2. The Manhwa History Hall at the Korea Manhwa Museum in Bucheon.

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1. Eddy, a baby fox and friend of Pororo, greets visitors at the entrance to the Seoul Animation Center. 2. A booth at the Puchon International Student Animation Festival.




only $2 an hour he can access a collection of thousands of comic books. Here, he can read the recent comics that have not yet been posted online, and he can also enjoy the feel of having an actual book in his hands. In Korea, at these so-called “manhwa rooms,” which have been around since the 60s and 70s, you could select a variety of comic books and read them on the premises. In the 1990s, manhwa rental shops emerged, which used a more systematic way to loan out comic books. In this way, the domestic market for the print editions of comics was more focused on lending than purchasing. With the spread of the Internet, though, consumers migrated to online sources, leading to a decline in the number of rental shops. Meanwhile, efforts were undertaken to pioneer new markets both at home and abroad, which has contributed to today’s broadened availability of web comics, educational comics, and print comics.

Creative World of Web Comics “Web comics” (commonly called “webtoons” in Korea) is a general term for a variety of comics featured on the Internet. Many new artists start out their careers by publishing their works on personal blogs or community websites, either for free or a nominal fee. Early on, there were a number of web comics that humorously depicted everyday situations, to which people could easily relate, as well as sites for viewing print comics. Thereafter, attention shifted to vertical-format web comics that could be


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Korean web comics leave no area untouched, from amusing episodes about young men who scrub people’s backs in public bathhouses to epic sagas that forecast the tumultuous situation on the Korean Peninsula after the death of Kim Jong-il.

The “Ani-toon Zone” on the second floor of the Seoul Animation Center’s Cartoon Museum.

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read by simply scrolling down. As the Internet cemented its function as the medium for bringing together manhwa artists and readers, the major portal sites began to take notice of this new form of content being created by amateurs and up-and-coming artists. In response to this trend, separate sections were provided on their sites where manhwa could be viewed free of charge. Not only did the portal sites accept a wide variety of submissions, they also offered payment in order to attract the works of popular artists. Currently, the top two portal sites in Korea, Naver and Daum, provide access to some 190 comic series by 300 artists, for which readership has increased to about 30 million viewers per day (including repeat visitors), with up to five million viewers for a single episode. The web comics are a treasure trove of boundless imagination and creativity, which delve into the hidden recesses of the human psyche. From amusing episodes about young men who scrub people’s backs in public bathhouses and social satires about workers in large discount stores to epic sagas that forecast the tumultuous conditions on the Korean Peninsula after the death of Kim Jong-il, no area is left untouched. The comics are an endless font of inspiration for animation, film, and theater productions. Yoon Tae-hoo’s “Ikki” (Moss), wildly popular for its tension-packed storytelling as a serialized feature on Daum, was made into a film of the same name in 2010, which drew an audience of 3.4 million. Also, Ji Gang-min’s “Welcome to Wara Store,” which captivated a broad-based readership with its hilarious hijinks about the customers, oddball workers, and K-pop star-crazy manager of a convenience store — all based on the author’s personal experiences — was made into a TV animation in 2011 that has generated significant attention. (Details in box)

Recording voices for the animated TV series, “Welcome to Wara Store.”


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Hijinks in a Convenience Store Kim Ik-hwan Senior Editor, NEWTYPE KOREA


n a Bundang studio, during a voice-recording session for the TV animated series “Welcome to Wara Store,” I met with Ji Gang-min, the creator of the original web comic, and program producer Han Sung. This animation reveals the everyday sentiments of Koreans against the backdrop of an ordinary convenience store. It tells the story of three part-time workers and the store manager as they interact with a wide variety of customers. There is also a subplot about characters that are meant to personify the store’s staple product, milk, which seeks to satirize military life through sales performance, expiration dates, and other goings-on of the milk characters. Recently, this animation series has become a hot topic due to the appearance of L, a member of the pop group Infinite, as himself. Infinite sings the theme song, “Always Open.”

1. A scene from “Welcome to Wara Store” animated series. 2. Producer Han Sung (left) and Ji Gang-min, author of the original web comic.

Kim: Why did you set your story in a convenience store? Ji: I worked part-time at a convenience store for about two and a half years. In that everyday place I came across all kinds of people, young and old, men and women, and had many interesting experiences. Of course, while I was working there I only considered the perspective of the workers, like me. As I worked on the comic, though, I came to understand the customers’ point of view, something I had never given much thought to, and this understanding allowed me to create a more realistic and appealing comic. Han: Reading Gang-min’s “Welcome to Wara Store” gave me a new appreciation for the convenience store, which I had always seen as just an ordinary kind of place. I realized that this place, through the comings and goings of a variety of people, could yield interesting scenes. A convenience store contains all the elements of our modern society. Most of the customers are young people, and most of the products are modern items. When I first drew up plans for the animated series, I really wanted to provide a window into modern, everyday life, and to paint Koreana ı Spring 2012


a detailed picture of the everyday lives of Koreans. Ji: I think the decision to take it in the direction of a “neighborhood sitcom” naturally allowed it to reflect the true culture of modern Korea. Han: I modeled the setting after an actual neighborhood of Poi-dong, in Gangnam-gu, Seoul. If you visit that neighborhood you’ll see that it is very similar to what appears in this series, including Wara Elementary School, which is based on a real school there. Kim: “Welcome to Wara Store” is steeped with the creator’s fondness for girl groups like Girls’ Generation. Ji: I’m really a big fan of pop stars. The readers of my comics are of the age when they are fanatical about pop stars, so there’s a strong bond between my audience and me. I think it’s only natural that this should be reflected in the animated series as well. Kim: In this series, the boy group Infinite seems to get more attention than girl groups. Han: Of course L, from the pop group Infinite, plays a significant supporting role, but there is also the girl group Wara Girls, which offers a fascinating depiction of K-pop fandom. Kim: You portray L as a comical, bumbling character. Han: We originally wanted to make him even more of a bungling character, but we exercised restraint for the sake of his agent. He’ll be more of a fool in the future but in an endearing way. L seems to very much enjoy the voice dubbing, which is a new experience for him. The other members of the group have more limited roles but they do appear from time to time. Kim: What do your future goals include? Ji: I want to build the real-life Wara Store someday! Han: First, I want to finish Season 1, and while I’m preparing for Season 2, I’d like to work on a feature film version, not as an extension of the TV series but as something completely new. The convenience store might be transformed into a robot, or it might be an ultra-futuristic store of the distant future. I still need to think these things through.

If You Are True to Yourself, You Can Touch the World! Kim Ik-hwan Senior Editor, NEWTYPE KOREA


n 2011, the first Hollywood-made film based on a Korean manhwa , “Priest,” opened in theaters worldwide. It depicts the desperate struggles between vampires and humans, a popular theme that has become a genre of its own through such films as “Blade” of the United States and “Blood” of Japan. The creator of “Priest,” Hyung Min-woo, has been active for over two decades now, but last year he was busier than ever thanks to the widespread interest generated by his advance into Hollywood. Kim: Everyone was talking about “Priest” last year. What’s the story behind its creation? Hyung: It came together naturally as a combination of elements from films, novels, games, and other art forms that I enjoy working with. It really wasn’t something that I’d been thinking about for a long time; it just happened quite suddenly. But I had already made up my mind about what I liked and what sort of manhwa I wanted to create. “Priest” came about from a combination of all of these things at once. Kim: It was the first manhwa to be published overseas and then made into a film. Hyung: That came about after the publishing company, Daewon C.I., entered the U.S. 1 ©Whang seung-woon

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1. Hyung Min-woo, author of the original manhwa on which the film “Priest” was based. 2. A scene from the manhwa “Priest.”

market. “Priest” was published by the comics publisher and distributor TOKYOPOP, which had its headquarters in Los Angeles, where as soon as anything does well they say it should be made into a movie. It’s the typical way of doing business in America. And that’s how “Priest” ended up being made into a film. Kim: How did it feel to see your work published abroad in a foreign language? Hyung: I wasn’t quite as excited as I thought I would be. If I’d just made my debut, I probably would have been thrilled. Kim: You have said that the Korean sensibilities in your work are an important factor behind its adaptation into a Hollywood vampire film. Hyung: I think it’s the melodramatic aspects commonly seen in Korean TV dramas, the sentimentality or emotionalism; the fact that this was mixed into a genre that foreign audiences are familiar with was a big part of its acceptance. Most of the people I’ve met abroad said that “Priest” is faithful to the genre, but at the same time they seemed to think it was appealing because it was flavored with Korean sentiments. Kim: People are quick to point out the differences between the film version of “Priest” and the original manhwa. As the original creator, did the film differ from what you had imagined? Hyung: It was very different. But I’ve always had an interest in Hollywood films, so I was familiar with the process involved in adapting an original work to a film version. I didn’t have any great expectations — I just calmly accepted 2 it the way it was. Kim: Are there any strengths of the original work that were particularly well represented? Hyung: Hollywood films have a tendency to play up emotionalism. In the case of the film version of “Priest,” though, this element was already present in the original, so there was no need to add artificial emotion to the film. Kim: Did the Korean sensibilities have an influence on the artwork as well? Hyung: We live in an age when it means little to talk about differences in visual art. You could probably have compared Korean art and American art and said that this or that is different because of cultural or ethnic backgrounds in the 1990s. In the 2010s, however, not only in Japan, America, and Korea, but comics the world over organically influence each other and develop through mutual interactions. Thus the idea that a certain element will work better in America or Korea is gradually losing ground, I think. If the art has a unique character, it can work on some level anywhere. Of course there are exceptions, like indigenous details that only a local creator could capture, but otherwise the idea of differences has so little meaning. Kim: What considerations are most important in order for Korean manhwa to be further recognized abroad, beyond the success of “Priest”? Hyung: From the point of view of an original author, I think this is a nonsensical question. To me, it makes no sense to create manhwa with some kind of goal in mind. So, rather than drawing in such a way as to gain acceptance abroad, artists should draw in ways that are faithful to the story they want to tell, trusting in their own judgment and ignoring the opinions of others. There are enough cultural works that cater to the tastes of audiences abroad. What readers seek is something culturally unique. In order to create such uniqueness, I believe the most important point is to be true to yourself. Hyung Min-woo is currently creating a manhwa based on the Korean novelist Yi Mun-yeol’s version of the Chinese novel “The Epic of Chu and Han.” This project, though, is only creeping along slowly. Hyung says he has to fully empathize with the story’s characters in order to clearly distinguish his adaptation from any other versions.

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1. A “cartoon concert,” sponsored by the Seoul Animation Center; authors draw cartoons and tell stories during these live performances. 2. Many television drama and film producers borrow stories from manhwa.


Educational Comics Korean students must endure an extraordinary burden of competitive pressure in regard to their education. Even from elementary school the workload is significant, and students must wrestle with homework even after school lets out. But this makes for a thriving educational comics sector. There is a virtual flood of manhwa varieties that cover not only academic subjects such as literature, history, and science, but also everything from Korean and foreign legends and myths to daily-life skills. They are cleverly designed to influence parents, who may not like to see their children constantly poring over manhwa, but are willing to let them read “educational” editions. Indeed, parents will gladly pay three to four times as much for educational manhwa. As this market has grown, it has attracted experienced writers who combine their skillful storytelling with artistic imagery, thereby upgrading the quality of educational manhwa, as exemplified by Lee Doo-ho’s “Korean History Class.”

Source of Hit Cultural Products While I was walking the streets of Hong Kong in early 2010, I noticed countless comic books on display at a newsstand. Most of the selections were popular Japanese manga (Korean manhwa are often grouped together with Japanese manga abroad). Chinese and Taiwanese comics had their own section. One cover in particular caught my eye: “Love in Gyeongbokgung.” A serialized work featured in the girls’ comics magazine “Wink” from 2002 to 2011, “Love in Gyeongbokgung” was a huge hit with sales of two million copies in Korea and another one million copies in Japan, in addition to being published in 14 languages for readers in the United States, Europe, and A Taste of Korean Webtoons elsewhere. Set in an alternative history where the nowWebtoons are mainly free to view, but they are all written in Korean and thus not readily accessible to non-Korean readers. But everyday life is pretty much the same for people vanished royal family has survived to the modern day, everywhere, so the webtoons are somewhat understandable from the images alone, this comics series enjoyed tremendous popularity for despite the language barrier. The following sites are popular webtoon sources: its varied stories, unique characters, and imaginative Naver: views, as evidenced by its 10-year run. It is a represen“Pottery” ( tative manhwa success story, having since been adapt“Everyday Fluttering of Wings” ( ed to a TV drama and a musical production. “Priest,” Daum: released worldwide in 2011, is a Hollywood film based “Tammyoingan” ( on another Korean manhwa which depicts the desper“NonPeople” ( ate struggles between vampires and humans.


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An old-style “manhwa room,” recreated at the Chuncheon Animation Museum, in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province.

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Korean Animation

>> Industry Leaders

Director Ahn Jae-hoon and a scene from “Green Days�

Creative Ventures and Innovations Just as Korean films, TV dramas, and K-pop music have gained popularity worldwide amid the surging Korean Wave, Korean-made animations have been in the international spotlight as well. Kim Ik-hwan Senior Editor, NEWTYPE KOREA | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


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Director Portrays Modern-day Korean Society


Kim: It must have been painstakingly difficult to create such a detailed depiction of Korean society of more than a generation ago. Ahn: I don’t think many people realize just how quickly the scenes around us would disappear if we didn’t

© Studio MWP

tudio MWP director Ahn Jae-hoon is responsible for producing an animated version of “Winter Sonata,” the immensely popular TV drama that is credited with launching the Korean Wave. Ahn’s studio looks rather unusual. One corner is crammed with a variety of household items and products that would have been found anywhere in Korea some 40 years ago. He traveled around the country and collected the items himself in order to provide his young staff on the “Green Days” project with a better feel for this period. “Green Days” (2011) is an affectionately detailed reproduction of life in Korea during its era of rapid economic growth, when everything passed by in the blink of an eye. It was a tumultuous period that most certainly remains in people’s memories, but of which in fact so little has been left behind. The film now awaits its official opening amidst keen interest in Korea as well as China and Japan. These days, Ahn is working on “Animation from Korean Short Stories,” which seeks to convey the scenes and lyricism of Korea from some 70 years ago.

record them. So it turned out to be an advantage that images of our own society from a not too distant past have been able to fascinate audiences. I traveled to every corner of the country to interview people about what their villages used to look like, I collected rare black-and-white photos, and I visited the flea market in Hwanghak-dong nearly once a week. Kim: I heard that the film’s preview was well received in China. Ahn: China has a deep-rooted culture of respect for

artisans, so they were deeply impressed by the attention to detail that went into each and every drawing. One Chinese viewer saw the film and then came to Korea to visit our studio two days later. This film gives us a glimpse at a version of ourselves from a past time that has since been lost, but China is still at the height of its change, so I hope it can encourage the Chinese to reflect on their present. Kim: How did you start out on “Animation from Korean It turned out to Short Stories”? be an advantage Ahn: To make animations, you have to take hold of that images of

Korean society from a not too distant past have been able to fascinate audiences.

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She pushed ahead with this series despite vehement things that have been stored away in the memory, like you would grasp a guide rope. For me, that meant working with Korean short stories. Kim: What is particularly noteworthy about this project? Ahn: It’s not simply a matter of conveying the contents of the story through drawings. I want to delve into every single word, every single sentence, and recreate in drawings, as faithfully as possible, the sentiments found in our language.

‘Jang Geum’s Dream’: Korean Cuisine and More


ang Geum’s Dream” is an animated series that enjoyed notable success thanks to the popularity of “Dae Jang Geum” (“Jewel in the Palace”), the TV drama on which the series was based. The original drama, which recorded phenomenal viewer ratings of 45.8 percent in Korea, was later exported to some 60 countries including Japan, China, Taiwan, Australia, and Egypt. This created a ripple effect, helping Korea to be known not only as an emerging Asian nation but also recognized as a country with a lengthy history and rich cultural tradition. Likewise, “Jang Geum’s Dream” has helped to introduce Korea to children around the world. Kim Youngae, president of HeeWon Entertainment, Inc., pushed ahead with this series despite vehement opposition from those around her, who said that “no animation featuring a protagonist wearing traditional Korean clothing can ever succeed.” Kim IH: How did you come to believe that “Jang Geum’s Dream” would succeed? Kim YA: Once the broadcasts



opposition from those around her, who said that “no animation featuring a protagonist wearing traditional Korean clothing can ever succeed.”

actually began, my uncertainty vanished completely. While on a business trip abroad, I heard that there was a petition in Korea to have the series aired during a more convenient time slot for young children. Soon, Internet fan sites began to spring up, and Japanese fans started visiting our headquarters. That’s when I knew that we had really

achieved something. Kim IH: The TV drama “Dae Jang Geum” introduced the world to aspects of our traditional culture, like Korean dress, food, and spirit. It seems these elements are part of “Jang Geum’s Dream” as well. Kim YA: Firstly, we made a lot of effort to beautifully depict our traditional clothing. The second thing we worked hard on was the food. The original drama dealt primarily with palace cuisine, but in the animated series we introduced a variety of foods, including the dishes of common people and others made with medicinal ingredients. We also sought to properly depict a Korean girl who had the courage to overcome any difficulty she might encounter and to keep moving forward, while always challenging herself. Kim IH: What are the results of the huge success of this work? Kim YA: The Korean animation industry has become accustomed to outsourced production. So it can be difficult to find dedicated individuals. The staff of “Jang Geum’s Dream,” from the general manager to script writers and character design-

Kim Young-ae, producer of “Jang Geum’s Dream,” and a scene from the series.

ect. We also want to produce a full-length animation based on traditional Korean children’s stories, perhaps not right away but at some point in the future. We want to build on and adapt original stories to create a series of classic animations that are on par with the Japanese favorites like “Dog of Flanders” and “Heidi, Girl of the Alps.”

‘Robocar Poli’: Cute Round Friends of Young Kids


ers, was comprised of newcomers to animation. This led to many difficulties, of course, but I believe we did the right thing. We steadily built up confidence in ourselves as a production company. We will continue to seek out talented individuals, create an environment in which the staff can realize their full potential, and bring to the world works infused with Korean sentiment. Kim IH: What can we expect from you in the future? Kim YA: We’re currently working on a TV series that deals with a spinning top, but I can’t tell you any more until we make an official announcement on this proj-

obocar Poli,” which debuted in February 2011, is one of today’s most popular animated series among Korean children. ROI Visual, the studio behind the series, worked with Korea’s largest automobile manufacturer, Hyundai Motor Company, just as the U.S. automaker GM was involved with the production of the “Transformers” series. “Robocar Poli” centers on a group of cute little cars that transform themselves into robots to help their friends in need. Just as the lead character of “Pororo the Little Penguin” is known as “President Pororo,” Poli has become so popular that he is now called “Premier Poli.” This animated series is particularly well-suited for young children as it completely lacks violence, which invariably appears in most animated programs. It is therefore poised to be exported soon to global markets. This series is also highly praised for its educational elements, such as traffic safety lessons that are taught by its cast of cars. Lee Dong-woo, president of ROI Visual, has earned a reputation for shunning tried-and-true methods and experimenting with completely new approaches. Kim: What’s the story behind the creation of the Poli character? Lee: If you look at the world animation market, you’ll see that most children’s animations are targeted for toddlers aged under five or those over seven. There’s an incredible dearth of works for children between those age groups. So, we created a fun and educational series especially for children aged four to seven. When


The robots in

we researched children of this age group, we found this series are not that they liked robots, cars, superheroes who and the police, so we put all are out to save these elements together to create Poli. the world. Kim: How did you manage to eliminate scenes of violence? Lee: When you think of cars that transform into robots, the images of fearsome giants, like the Transformers, first come to mind. But “Robocar Poli” is about a rescue unit, so the robots are designed to be cute and round, based on ideas we got from visiting Hyundai Motor research institutes and assembly plants. The robots in this series are not superheroes who are out to save the world. They are members of a rescue unit that well understands and solves the problems that children have difficulty dealing with. To this, we added family values and the community spirit of helping out friends and neighbors. Kim: Poli toys are big sellers in stores, and the “Robocar Poli” booth is always flooded with visitors at animation conventions. Lee: It was somewhat difficult to grasp the scope of its popularity at first. Now, nearly a year after the broadcasts began, we have licensed products, and Poli is known and loved by so many people. I think I can grasp the popularity now. Kim: I understand that season two of the show is now being broadcast. Lee: We’ve improved the transformation sequences and rescue scenes. The stories have also become more varied, dealing with issues such as solving conflict between friends, embracing those who might be left out, protecting animals, safety measures in everyday life, and


traffic safety education. Kim: Is it true that “Robocar Poli” will be taken overseas this year? Lee: “Robocar Poli” has already been recognized abroad by winning the MIP Junior Licensing Challenge in 2010. This year marks its entry into overseas markets. The series will be shown in some 40 nations around the world from the first half of the year. Broadcasts are scheduled to begin in France in April, and contracts are being finalized 2 with 11 European nations,



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1. Lee Dong-woo, producer of “Robocar Poli” 2. A scene from “Robocar Poli” 3. Students at Korea Animation High School in a claymation lab, where they create animated films using clay figures.

including Belgium and Switzerland, Russia, and countries across Africa and the Middle East, as well as Hong Kong and the Asian nations of Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and China. In the second half of 2012, countries like Canada and Australia will be added to this list.

Other Notable Industry Leaders OCON, the producer of “Pororo the Little Penguin,” the most popular animation in Korea today, is credited with opening a new era for Korean animation by proving that a domestic production can attain commercial success overseas. In spite of this impressive success, competition in the domestic market is fiercer than ever. With the upcoming debut of “Pororo the Movie” in 2012, OCON intends to consolidate its leadership standing. Studio Animal, creators of “Ghost Messenger,” can boast the broadest following among teenage Korean animation fans. “Ghost Messenger,” only available on DVD and never broadcast on TV or shown in theaters, is a rare example of a Korean animation for teenage audiences and the closest thing to its Japanese counterpart in terms of overall quality. Because the teenage animation market is still miniscule in Korea, a profitable business model remains elusive. And yet this studio is producing works with a goal of reclaiming the teenage market, 99 percent of which is dominated by foreignmade animations. Studio KAAB, which created “Narong” and “Revbahaf — The Story of Rebuilding the Kingdom,” is taking aim at both the children’s and teenage markets. The “Narong” character, a flying squirrel, was so popular that it led to the making of three TV series, while “Revbahaf” is worthy of note as an animation for teenagers that deals with economic themes and is based on a comic series. The Korean animation industry continues to see the emergence of fresh talent with the potential to expand the sector’s depth and reach. It will be interesting to see what new figures and what new works can breathe new life into Korean animation.

Search for Diversity and Inspiration I

t is gratifying to see young animation directors who are willing to take on new challenges. Director Chang Hyung-yun, who won the 2006 Hiroshima Prize at the International Animation Festival Hiroshima with “Wolf Daddy” (2005), is currently working on his first feature-length animation, “The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow.” In this film, Korea’s first satellite, Uribyeol 1, collides with a meteor and falls to earth, but the wizard Merlin comes by to create a girl named Ilho (Korean for “No. 1”). Gyeongcheon, the protagonist of the film, is a young man in his twenties who has been unlucky in his career and in love. Weary of the world, he loses heart and becomes a milk cow. Changing back and forth between human and milk cow, he is besieged by a gang of predators who hunt down those who have lost heart, but he is rescued by Ilho. Ilho then helps Gyeong­ cheon to regain heart. Kim Woon-ki, who has earned praise for upgrading the level of Korean independent animation with “The Old Man With Knapsack” (2003), is working on the feature-length animation “Wolfie and Wollin” that tells the story of a wolf who invades the territory of herbivorous animals and then struggles to escape when they become stronger than him. These young directors are taking on the challenge of producing feature-length works to help take Korean animation to ever greater heights. At the center of these hopeful developments are the young animators who grew up watching a variety of animations and dreaming of ways to create their own world of animation. According to Na Gi-ong of the Korea Independent Animation Filmmakers Association, every year some 300 animations are produced in Korea, including student projects and works sponsored by the universities with leading animation departments. These works are helping to build a broad foundation to support the future of Korean animation. Chae Song-sill SICAF Animation Programmer

3 Koreana ı Spring 2012


Special Animation Korean Animation Feature >> A Father's View

My Son, Pororo and Me Just as my son grew up watching animations, so must the Korean animation industry grow up so that it can continue to entertain young viewers around the world. As such, “Pororo” must only be the beginning. Park Seok-hwan Content Business Team Head, Korea Manhwa Contents Agency Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


Children experience games from their parents’ generation in a recreation of an old alley decorated with manhwa characters at the Korea Manhwa Museum in Bucheon, Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts Gyeonggi Province.


hen I was young, it was television that taught me the importance of time and promises. There is no way to describe the disappointment I felt when I woke up in the morning and turned on the TV to find that “Famous Fairy Tales for Children” had already ended, or to come home from playing outside and turn on the television only to find that “Astro Boy” was just over. How could I know exactly when these programs would be on? I learned to read the hands of the clock, and I learned to read television schedules in the newspaper. Then, even if my mother didn’t wake me, I would be up early enough to watch “Famous Fairy Tales for Children,” and before my older brother came to the playground to call me, I would be on my way home so I could watch “Astro Boy” before dinner. My father wanted to watch a news program, which aired at the same time on a different channel. So we made a deal: I would complete all the chores that I was assigned to do, and in return he promised that I could watch my animation programs. On occasion, when there was a special sports broadcast, this promise would be promptly broken. I would stress the importance of keeping promises, but my father said that they could be broken “under special circumstances.” So, animations helped me to realize that promises could be bent depending on the situation, and that having fun came after hard work.


‘Animation Kid’ Turned Office Worker As an adult, I now work with manhwa artists and publishers, and animation studios. I rent work space, arrange funding for productions, and promote quality works abroad. My entire day is all about manhwa and animation, which is an indescribable luxury compared to my childhood. But I’m not as enthusiastic as I used to be. To tell the truth, I want to get away from it all on my days off, but it’s not so easy as that. Just like when I was a kid, my son is also really into animations. On the weekends, a father who wants to get away from animations and a son who wants to lose himself in them will sit side-byside in front of the TV. Most of the animations that I enjoyed when I was growing up were produced in Japan. They were family-theme programs that adults could enjoy as well, which were produced with viewers around the

1. An Astro Boy action figure 2. Father and son watch “Pororo the Little Penguin.”

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world in mind. To appeal to such a diverse audience, they inevitably focused on universal subjects such as dreams, adventure, and “Tayo,” before turning his attention to the Japanese challenges, friendship, and family relations. animation “Doraemon.” Now, as an elementary school student, Recently, though, animation audiences have become extremely segmented. As the viewhis favorites include “Beyblade” and “Bakuman,” also from Japan, ers are more clearly defined, the content has become more specific as well. The presentaand he’ll soon likely be watching “Yu-Gi-Oh!” tion of particular situations, instead of general concepts, helps viewers to get involved more quickly. My son really liked the Korean animated series “Pororo the Little Penguin.” Pororo is an inquisitive and adventurous little penguin who lives in a village in the woods. He can’t wait to satisfy his curiosity, and he learns things through firsthand experience, often without thinking about the consequences. In a word, he’s a troublemaker. Although he can’t fly, he dreams about taking flight and so he always wears a pilot’s cap and goggles. In his forest village, he lives with the little dinosaur Crong, who does whatever Pororo does, along with the clever little fox Eddy, the voice-of-reason beaver Loopy, and the huge but lovable bear Poby. When my son was in daycare, he was so fully immersed into Pororo’s world that he even thought of himself as Pororo. The day care center would be the forest village, he was Pororo, and his friends were Crong and Eddy. My son’s friend also thought of himself as Pororo and that my son was Eddy, but my son said: “He’s Crong, because he always does what I do.” In this way, “Pororo the Little Penguin” accurately depicted the world and thoughts of five-year-olds. Through this animation, my son learned about such things as relationships with friends, proper social behavior, and how to react to danger.

After leaving “Pororo” behind, my son watched “Robocar Poli”

Children-only Animations The Korean animation industry has recently achieved noteworthy results with works for young children. To build on the success of “Pororo,” more animations were produced for pre-school age and young elementary school children. This marked a golden age of animations for young children, with a variety of programs like “Chiro” and “Noonbory,” which are set in forests, and those which deal with cars, such as “Tayo” and “Poli,” or food, like “Cocomong.” The animation production quality improved noticeably such that these shows have been popular overseas as well. The number of viewers who are familiar with “Pororo” has reached a point in which it can be said that Korea produces animations that can appeal to audiences around the world. Of course, this is a good thing; however, it is also cause for concern. As my son gets older, he finds new animations to replace those he has outgrown. After leaving “Pororo” behind, he watched “Poli” and “Tayo,” before turning his attention to the Japanese animation “Doraemon.” Now, as an elementary school student, his favorites include “Beyblade” and “Bakuman,” also from Japan, and he’ll soon likely be watching “Yu-Gi-Oh!” Not far down the road he will be engrossed in computer games and sports, and even girls. Young viewers around the world are not likely to retain their affection for Korean children’s animations as they enter their adolescent years. Japanese animations for adolescents are already popular the world over, so even if Korean studios begin to produce works for teenage viewers, there is no assurance that they will attain similar success. They might believe it would be better to further specialize in animations for younger children, where they already have a proven track record. But the Korean animation industry needs to grow up, too. Just as they teach young children about social behavior, animations need to deal with the problems that adolescents and adults come to face, as well as the efforts to overcome these challenges. Then my own little Pororo would not need to abandon Korean animation. I might also find myself being lost in animations again. In animation’s world of dreams and fantasy, I could seek comfort for today and the motivation to build a bright tomorrow.


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A photo spot at the entrance to the Chuncheon Animation Museum decorated with characters and scenes from the animated television series “Cloud Bread.”

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Korea’s Theme Song to Share with the World

1. Kim Jung-hwa sprinkles persimmon juice on her canvas. To work on a large-scale project, she goes out to the fields outside her

“Arirang” is a popular Korean folk song with a colorful history that represents the sensibilities

2. "Sees: Sees 20" (2009). 74cm × 122cm. Polygonum indigo, sappen74cm × 122cm. shared by Koreans at home and the world over. Now a favorite among even international K-pop

fans, its popularity continues to grow. Park Hyun-sook Freelance Writer © Korean Traditional Performing Arts Foundation


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n November 6, 2011, a group of young people participated in a flash mob at Pompidou Plaza in the heart of Paris, in an effort to have more K-pop concerts held in France. (A flash mob refers to a gathering of a group of people who suddenly appear at a designated public place, usually mobilized via SNS media, such as Twitter or Facebook.) The young fans sang a song, but it was not one of the recent K-pop hits but the relatively less-known Korean folk song “Arirang.” Sylvia, a computer engineering student, captured the spotlight when she sang this song with perfect pitch and natural pronunciation. After hearing the song played as the finale at various K-pop concerts, she had looked it up on the Internet and learned how to sing it. She said her interest in K-pop music and dance attracted her to Korean culture in general.

History of ‘Arirang’ The figure skater Kim Yu-na (Yuna Kim) used “Arirang” as the main theme of the music for her free skating program, “Homage to Korea,” at the 2011 World Championships. During the 2002 FIFA Korea-Japan World Cup, the rock band YB gave a passionate performance of “Arirang” at Seoul Plaza for tens of thousands of “Red Devils,” supporters of the national football team. The worldrenowned soprano Jo Su-mi (Sumi Jo) also sang this song at a concert with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony for former President Kim Daejung. “Arirang” was also performed at the 2000 ASEM Summit held in Seoul and for the closing ceremony of the Special Olympics World Summer Games Athens 2011. Korea’s best-known folk song, “Arirang,” originated from

Koreana ı Spring 2012 © Korean Traditional Performing Arts Foundation

Jeongseon, a mountainous area in Gangwon Province, about 600 years ago. It would be sung by the common people as they went about their daily tasks, such as gathering firewood, transplanting rice, weeding the fields, and collecting wild herbs. It was also sung in groups in times of merrymaking, or alone to relieve a sense of solitude. The title of the song and the first word of the lyrics, “arirang,” is a simple refrain devoid of precise meaning. Consisting of simple syllables that are ideal for a relaxed, humming-like melody, this refrain is also found in other Korean folk songs, or in similar phrases like ari , arari , or araseong . The song can be improvised naturally, with a single section of the melody repeated but with different lyrics, allowing the singer to create lyrics based on the atmosphere or the occasion. As such, there is said to be some 50 versions and 6,000 variations found throughout North and South Korea. While the different versions are meant to reflect particular regional characteristics, the Jeongseon, Jindo and Miryang versions are acclaimed for their refinement. “Jeongseon Arirang” conveys a sense of loneliness with an air of melancholy, while “Jindo Arirang” offers humorous insights and life-affirming metaphors, and “Miryang Arirang” expresses the common people’s high-spirited and down-to-earth ways. The most famous version, however, is “Bonjo Arirang” (“bonjo ” meaning “original” or “standard key”), which was the theme song

Scenes from the 2011 Arirang Hanmadang, where various regional versions of Arirang were staged; “Mungyeong Arirang” (left) was traditionally sung by women as they pounded cloth with sticks to make it smooth, and “Gangneung Arirang” (right) by farmers transplanting rice in the fields.


“Arirang is a song both old and new. Under Japanese colonial rule, the song united Koreans in their resistance against the colonizer, and ever since it has been continuously reinterpreted and recreated.”

of Korea’s first feature film “Arirang,” directed by Na Un-gyu in 1926. Additional versions of “Arirang” are found outside of Korea, such as “The Independence Army’s Arirang” of China and “Sakhalin Arirang” of Russia, which show how the song has been so deeply entrenched in the hearts and minds of Koreans who have resettled in distant areas of the world. The lyrics of “Arirang” are as diverse as its melodies, but most versions are about the joys of life and power of love, which are meant to help people overcome their hardships and struggles. Basically, the song is rooted in the simple, warmhearted nature of the Korean people, as well as their positive outlook on life and affection for others. These very qualities left a lasting impression on Korean War veteran Thomas Nuzzo. Forty-one years after the armistice, he revisited the country in 1994 and sought out the two people whom he still remembered: Park In-ja of Chuncheon and another man his own age who had taught him how to sing “Arirang.” Nuzzo, singing the song with perfect articulation, expressed his ardent hope to meet the two persons “who gave me the most beautiful memory in my life although we knew each other for such a short time” (Gangwon Ilbo, July 2, 1994). After all these years, he said he still clearly remembered the genuine warmth of the Korean people and the song “Arirang,” which he had heard during wartime.

Enchanting the World In February 2008, the conductor Lorin Maazel visited the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, where they attracted global attention with their performance of “Arirang Fantasy,” composed by Choi Seong-hwan from North Korea. A number of non-Korean composers have created “Arirang” arrangements for Western musical instruments, like such notable examples as Gary Schocker’s “Arirang for Flute and Piano” (Theodore Presser, 2009), Grant Cochran’s “Arirang for Soprano Solo” (E.C. Schirmer Publishing, 2010), and Judith Herrington and Sara Glick’s “Arirang Flute Obbligato” (Pavane Publishing, 1995). Why have these foreign musicians taken such an interest in performing this song? For George Winston, “Arirang” is a song that expresses emotions which transcend cultures and national boundaries. Guitarist Lee Ritenour noted, “Arirang is one of the most


Kim Jung-hwa sprinkles persimmon juice on her canvas. To work on a largescale project, she goes out to the fields outside her workshop. Sees: Sees 20" (2009). 74cm × 122cm. Polygonum indigo, sappen74cm × 122cm. outside her workshop. Sees: Sees 20" (2009). 74cm × 122cm. Polygonum indigo, sappen74cm × 122cm.


beautiful, simple, and haunting melodies that I have performed. The beauty of this melody can be interpreted in so many nice ways. That is the true mark of a great melody, and Arirang is that!” An exceptional melody can transcend the barriers of language with an immense vitality. “Arirang,” a song on the pentatonic scale and triple time, is indeed so simple, as Ritenour describes it, that it is easy to learn and touches the listener with its elegant melodies.

Korea’s Theme Song Just as Jeju Island is the most beautiful island in Korea, and kimchi is the quintessential Korean food, “Arirang” is the Korean people’s most beloved song, which has accompanied them throughout the vicissitudes of history. “Arirang” is alive not only within Korea but anywhere in the world where you can find Koreans, who are known for never letting go of their native culture. Currently, some 7.5 million Koreans, or about 15 percent of the entire Korean population, reside abroad. Statistics indicate that, in terms the share of its total population, the Korean diaspora is the world’s second-largest, behind only that of the Jewish people. “Arirang” is sung by Koreans in Japan, China, Russia, and the United States, as well as Europe and the Middle East, who invariably associate the song with their homeland and hometowns. In recent decades, South Korea has achieved unprecedented economic development and now ranks among the world’s 20-largest economies. Today, Korea boasts advanced information technology and distinguishes itself in international sports. The people's resilience and quiet perseverance as well as their warmth, passion, and conviviality have been an unwavering constant throughout their cultural history spanning over five thousand years. Their collective Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


tenacity, which has enabled them to overcome even the most painful hardships, time and again, is expressed through “Arirang.” As a song that reveals the true Korean sentiment, its wide influence can be seen in various fields of arts, including literature, film, theater, pop music, and dance. The song’s cultural value and its presence across borders has given rise to a recent controversy between Korea and China. In May 2011, China listed “Arirang” and 12 other items of cultural heritage of ethnic Koreans living in its territory as state-designated intangible cultural properties. Koreans are concerned that this is a preliminary step to having these properties inscribed as part of Chinese heritage on the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Kim Yeon-gap, executive director of the Korean Arirang Association, called the Chinese measure absurd, while imploring, “What if we should claim ownership over Chinese cultural heritage in Korea?”

Enduring Symbol of Korea The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism selected “Arirang” as one of the “100 Cultural Symbols of Korea,” and formed a task force in 2008 to promote the “globalization” of Arirang. Minister Choe Kwang-shik declared in a recent press conference that his ministry would seek to have all versions of Arirang, from all parts of the Korean Peninsula, inscribed on the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In order for Arirang to be reviewed by UNESCO’s register subcommittee this year, the government, after changing its initial plans to nominate only “Jeongseon Arirang” so as to include all regional versions, will need to submit an updated proposal. Koreana ı Spring 2012

1. Figure skater Kim Yu-na, performing “Homage to Korea” at the 2011 World Championships, the music for which was based on “Arirang.” 2. During the 2002 FIFA Korea-Japan World Cup, tens of thousands of people gathered at Seoul Plaza and sang “Arirang” in support of the Korean football team.

Amid expectations of a positive outcome, the UNESCO subcommittee will be provided with all materials that reflect the value of “Arirang” as a global cultural heritage. In addition, a national project entitled “Arirang and the Cultural Territory of the Korean People” is being undertaken to raise awareness of the song’s cultural value and significance. This project, featuring an array of exhibitions, performances, educational programs, and academic seminars, is being sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the Cultural Heritage Administration, the National Folk Museum of Korea, the National Gugak Center, and the Korean Traditional Performing Arts Foundation. At the International Conference for “Arirang,” organized by the Academy of Korean Studies and the Korean Traditional Performing Arts Foundation in December 2011, Professor Jean Kidula of the University of Georgia in the United States stated in her presentation: “Arirang is a song both old and new. Under Japanese colonial rule, the song united Koreans in their resistance against the colonizer, and ever since it has been continuously reinterpreted and recreated.” Her comment well illustrated the enduring value of this special folk song. Professor Jang Ik-seon of Yanbian University in China, another presenter, proposed the establishment of an international “Arirang” network to preserve the true spirit of the Korean nation instilled in this folk song for the sake of posterity.


Art Review

A Peep into Joseon Court Painters’ World of Art The exhibition “Court Painters of the Joseon Dynasty” represented the first attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of the artists who worked for the Joseon royal court while playing a pivotal role in the period’s art history. With interactive displays that featured digital technology applications, the exhibition enabled viewers to take a fascinating journey back in time.


Koh Mi-seok Senior Reporter of Art & Design, The Dong-a Ilbo | Photographs Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art

hroughout the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), a group of artists were retained by the court to paint major events and ceremonies related to the royal household. The painters were responsible for creating visual records that would substantiate the authority of the royal family and the state’s legitimacy. In addition, they produced works in various fields of painting, such as the “idealized landscape,” which had been the exclusive domain of the literati, as well as genre paintings, including those with explicit sexual themes. Known as hwawon , these court painters produced all kinds of paint-


ings related to affairs in the royal palace. The court painters, coming from the social class of technical workers called jungin (middle people), held a position similar to that of a low-grade government official today. In the rigid class-oriented society of Joseon, there was a tendency to look down on technical occupations. So court painters, with a few exceptions, were never given due recognition. This obscurity was also ascribed to the fact that “paintings by the literati, or men of letters” (muninhwa ) wielded broad influence over contemporary art trends. Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


1. The eight-panel screen of “Royal Procession to the Ancestral Tomb in Hwaseong” (circa 1795) by Kim Deuk-sin and others, Treasure No. 1430, each panel 147×62.3cm. 2. Viewers look at “Royal Palanquin Procession” as they walk along the narrow passage on the first floor, which is dedicated to court paintings. Beneath the expansive painting are touch screens that allow visitors to zoom in on different parts of the painting.


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1. “Playing Cats” (late 19th century) by Jang Seung-eop, ink and light color on paper, 136×52.8cm,Tokyo National Museum. 2. At the center of the first-floor exhibition hall, masterpieces showing the grandeur of the Joseon court are presented in a circular arrangement with “Sun, Moon, and Five Peaks” in the middle. Projected on the floor is an image of “Eastern Palace,” a detailed depiction of both the inner and outer parts of the palace. 3. “Mountains and Rivers without End” (late 18th century) by Yi In-mun, ink and light color on silk, 43.5×856cm, National Museum of Korea.

To commemorate the court painters’ contributions to Korean art and provide an opportunity to rectify the longstanding stereotypes and prejudices concerning their works, Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, a prestigious private art gallery in Seoul, organized the exhibition “Court Painters of the Joseon Dynasty,” showcasing over 110 paintings, including one state-designated National Treasure and 12 Treasures. Presented from October 13, 2011 through January 29, 2012, the exhibition has been acclaimed for its ideal combination of entertainment and education. Including the first public viewing of “Royal Palanquin Procession,” a grand-scale work with a width of 996 centimeters, and “Playing Cats” on loan from the Tokyo National Museum, the exhibition presented an extensive collection of court paintings enhanced with advanced digital technology. Unlike most exhibitions of traditional art, this event was notable for its impressive array of interactive interfaces that gave visitors a closer look at the details. Consequently, the exhibition attracted not only art lovers but a broader range of visitors, including younger people, who have typically shown only tepid interest in traditional art, and middle-aged women. The exhibition catalog also recorded the highestever sales level since the museum’s opening.

Court Painters: Who Are They? Joseon’s court painters were assigned to the Royal Bureau of Painting (Dohwaseo). Unlike in the West, where the royal court would commission a distinguished artist to create a particu-


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lar painting, Joseon maintained a government agency that was responsible for retaining a staff of qualified artists and overseeing the production of paintings. “Painters as government employees were first mentioned in historical documents of 1417 and then discontinued in 1908 during the Korean Empire,” explained Hong Sun-pyo, professor of art history at Ewha Womans University. “All through Joseon, court painters played a critical role in the development of the fine arts during their respective times, along with carrying out their official duties as well as accepting requests for privately commissioned works.” In the early Joseon period, 20 painters were assigned to the Royal Bureau of Painting, but there were only five paid positions. Although they created all kinds of paintings for the court, from portraits of the king and meritorious retainers to detailed depictions of the palaces and maps of the entire country, as well as paintings

of historical events, court ceremonies, decorative works, illustrations for publications, and patterns for ceramic works, their status was low and working conditions were poor. When the situation was improved during the reign of King Sukjong (r. 1674-1720), this helped to attract a larger number of talented artists. Although being a court painter was a tough job, the position gave the artists an elite association and social status. A few of the more accomplished painters acquired considerable wealth by receiving private commissions from the nobility and other patrons, aside from their official duties. Undoubtedly, the foremost of these court painters is Kim Hong-do (1745-after 1816), the virtuosic artist of late Joseon. As a court painter and one of the most highly regarded artists of his time, Kim was constantly hard at work, handling his official duties and a flood of orders from private patrons. In China, the agency for court painters of the Song Dynasty had ceased to exist during the Yuan and Ming periods before being reinstated in 1736. On the contrary, Joseon continuously maintained the Dohwaseo throughout the five centuries of the monarchy, all the while training and administering the court artists. “Joseon was a nation of record keepers. Just as its annals exhaustively documented the king’s words and deeds, court paintings faithfully recorded the historical events surrounding the royal family,” noted Jo Jiyoon, the curator at Leeum who organized the exhibition.

More Than Royal Portraits and Landscapes The exhibition, which took up over two floors of the museum building, was arranged not by artist or chronological order but by function: court paintings for official purposes and general paintings created as private commissions. This arrangement sought to identify the court painters as an elite group of Joseon artists and to Koreana ı Spring 2012



shed new light on the dynasty’s art history through the expressiveness of their brushstrokes. The first-floor exhibition hall was configured into a long narrow passageway to give visitors a sense of being part of a royal procession as they walked along and viewed the expansive “Royal Palanquin Procession.” This 19th century painting depicts, with intricate brushwork and diverse colors, the king’s elaborate procession during a journey away from the palace. At the end of the passage there was a circular arrangement of masterpieces to symbolize the grandeur of the Joseon court. In the center was the “Sun, Moon, and Five Peaks” painting, a stylized landscape rendered with exquisitely detailed brushstrokes. To the side of this landscape was the painting of a banquet to celebrate the restoration of King Yeongjo’s health, and a ten-panel folding screen with a masterful portrayal of peony blossoms. The arrangement of the paintings, surrounding the viewers, enhanced the impression of traveling back in time. In addition, official court paintings, including the portraits of meritorious retainers and maps of various areas, offered a glimpse into the range of subjects assigned to court painters. The exhibition area on the basement level was modeled after a traditional home of the ruling class, the major private clients of the


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1. “Immortals” (1776) by Kim Hong-do, ink and light color on paper, 132.8×575.8cm, National Treasure No. 139. 2. “Portrait of O Jae-sun” (late 18th – early 19th century) by Yi Myeong-gi, ink and color on silk, 152×89.6cm, Treasure No. 1493.


“Joseon was a nation of record keepers. Just as its annals exhaustively documented the king’s words and deeds, court paintings faithfully recorded the historical events surrounding the royal family.”

court painters. Visitors found paintings exhibited here and there as they were drawn along a path that connected small, intimate spaces formed by traditional stone walls and wooden pavilions. While the Joseon court artists usually painted to satisfy the tastes of their clients, they also engaged in creative endeavors apart from prevailing trends, which contributed to the artistic development of their times. Their talent is particularly evident in genre paintings, which captured the everyday lives of the common people in the late 18th century and afterwards. The works of the most distinguished court painters, such as Kim Hong-do, Shin Yun-bok (circa 1758-after 1813) and Kim Deuk-sin (1754-1822), attest to the enduring appeal of this genre. Finally, a small room for adults only contained a unique display of genre paintings with explicit sexual themes, which were viewed through a latticework as if secretly peeking through a window.

Displays with Cutting-Edge Technology Exhibition visitors especially enjoyed the interactive features that allowed them to take a closer look at various parts of a painting with a tablet PC or video monitor. Deputy Director Hong Ra-young said these digital applications had been developed by the museum Koreana ı Spring 2012

to provide a fun and easy way to appreciate traditional paintings, especially for younger viewers familiar with digital enhancement. An image enlargement system was incorporated into “Royal Procession Back to Seoul,” a large-scale work that recorded an event that mobilized over 6,000 people and 1,400 horses. On a screen showing the entire painting, high-definition images could be made to pop up by touching the desired parts of the painting. Minute details, such as the facial expressions of onlookers, gestures of a rice taffy (yeot ) vendor, and the wind-blown mane of a horse, were clearly visible in the enlarged images. In this way, modern technology helped bring to life the artistic skills and efforts of the court painters, who often went beyond their assigned tasks of recording history by capturing the event’s atmosphere with realistic and vivid depictions. As a tribute to the court painters of the Joseon Dynasty, including those who gained high acclaim as well as the others whose names are now forgotten, the exhibition highlighted the artists’ valuable contributions to the realms of historical records and fine arts. By examining the artworks of court painters in a new light, viewers had a chance to appreciate the timeless charm of traditional art and to savor the splendor and richness of Joseon culture.



Soprano Im Sun-hae sings with the Vienna Strauss Festival Orchestra at the “2011 New Year’s Concert” in Seoul.


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Im Sun-hae

Rising Star of Europe’s Baroque Opera Im Sun-hae performs a key role in the recording of Bach’s “Matthaeus Passion,” conducted by maestro René Jacobs. During her 13-year professional career in Europe, the Korean soprano has performed a diverse repertoire, ranging from early European music to Viennese operettas. Lee Yong-sook Music critic


uring Europe’s Baroque era of the 17th and 18th centuries, opera house performers competed against each other to demonstrate their height of technical perfection. As seen in the movie “Farinelli,” vocalists won the hearts of audiences with their virtuosic agility with high notes, graceful phrasing, and exceptional breath control. Performers of early music, therefore, are required to master the techniques of light high tones and exquisite coloratura ability. Nowadays, classical music audiences in Korea are increasingly taking notice of European early music and opera. Globally renowned early music artists visit Korea to perform on the local stage, while Korean soloists, ensembles, and orchestras have taken steps to expand their concert repertoires with early music works such as Bach’s “Matthaeus Passion” and Handel’s oratorios. Baroque opera, however, is yet to be fully discovered by Korean music enthusiasts. With so few professional performers specializing in the genre, a baroque opera is very rarely staged in Korea. Soprano Im Sun-hae is therefore much better known in Europe than in her homeland.

‘Sun-hae, Our Savior!’ Born in Korea in 1976, Im Sun-hae studied music under the guidance of Professor Park Noh-kyoung at the College of Music, Seoul National University. She continued her musical education Koreana ı Spring 2012


with Roland Hermann at the University of Music Karlsruhe as a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) visiting scholar. As a student, whenever she was told to improve her diction, she would practice assiduously to correct her deficiencies. The young Korean vocalist exerted her utmost efforts to overcome any linguistic flaws by acquiring clear enunciation and semantic knowledge to fully comprehend and articulate the lyrics in her performances. To become familiar with European culture and to master foreign languages, she would watch news programs and read the captions right along with the announcers. She says that such efforts had been a joyful experience rather than a tedious exercise because it was her childhood dream to become a news anchorwoman. She has always been interested in literature as well, which helps her to render passionate interpretations of musical masterpieces. Thanks to these dedicated efforts, her Asian features have not been a detriment to her being cast in starring roles on the European stage, where she has steadily earned high praise from even the most discriminating early music audiences. Like any number of today’s world-class performers, after being assigned an understudy role, Im’s chance to debut in a major role came about unexpectedly in 1999. Just one day prior to the concert, she was asked to perform in Mozart’s “Mass in C Minor,” conducted by early music maestro Philippe Herreweghe. Even though she had never sung this part on stage, she did not hesitate to accept the offer. She practiced her new role overnight and then hopped on the early morning train to Brussels, where she made a praiseworthy international debut. Im has since appeared with a number of the world’s leading classical music conductors such as William Christie, René Jacobs, Fabio Biondi, Sigiswald Kuijken, and Ton Koopmann. In particular, her performances and recordings with René Jacobs, the famed Belgian countertenor turned conductor, have provided an excellent opportunity for Im to display the best of her musical gifts. In collaboration with Jacobs, she has performed the roles of Servilia in Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito,” Zerlina in “Don Giovanni,” Ilia in “Idomeneo,” Despina in “Così Fan Tutte,” Serpetta in “La Finta Giardiniera,” La Musica and Euridice in Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo” and “Marienvesper,” and Rodisette in the world premiere of Telemann’s “Der Geduldige Socrates.” Im Sun-hae quickly won over her colleagues as a consummate performer. When the singer who had been cast in the leading role of Sandrina in “La Finta Giardiniera” suddenly fell ill right before a tour premiere in Spain, René Jacobs asked Im to take on that role, in addition to her original role of the servant Serpetta. When Im asked the maestro conductor whether he believed it was possible for her to play the two roles of such opposite characters, he assured her that she was the only person who could actually pull it off. Encouraged by this confidence of her colleagues, she indeed delivered successful performances for the Spanish audiences.

An Elderly Fan’s Grateful Tears At the 2006 Innsbruck International Festival of Early Music, Im Sun-hae played Zerlina in a performance that was made into a DVD. Her exceptional singing and graceful acting again received high marks. Flawless control of high tones and coloratura techniques are her greatest strengths, while her beguiling innocence and charming coquetry in acting also appeal to opera fans. Music critics in Europe and the United States often describe her as a “coquette,” highly lauding the subtle sensuality of her stage performances. At the 2011 Edinburgh Festival, she performed the vivacious role of shepherdess Eurilla in Haydn’s opera “Orlando Paladino,” conducted by René Jacobs. Her theatrical performance was highly engaging and refined, for which she earned critical acclaim as a “marvelously versatile coloratura.”


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Beyond early music, her operatic roles have included Adele in Johann Strauss II’s “Die Fledermaus,” Yniold in Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande,” Sister Constance in Modern French composer Poulenc’s “Dialogues des Carmelites,” and Adina in Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore.” She says she would like to continue to be cast in new roles, such as Sophie in Richard Strauss’s “Der Rosencavalier,” and further expand her repertoire. Im Sun-hae has taken the stage at the Hamburg Staatsoper, the Deutsche Oper and the Staatsoper in Berlin, the Opéra National de Paris, Théâtre de Champs-Élysées, and Theater an der Wien in Vienna. As a concert performer she has also appeared with the world’s leading musicians. She performed in William Christie’s global tour of Handel’s “Messiah” and in December 2008 another “Messiah” with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, led by conductor Ton Koopmann, which received worldwide acclaim. Im recalls one special evening when she performed Bach’s “Matthaeus Passion.” After the concert, an elderly lady from the audience came backstage and, teary-eyed, embraced

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Im performs as the vivacious shepherdess Eurilla in Haydn’s opera “Orlando Paladino” conducted by René Jacobs at the Berlin Staatsoper in 2009.



the young Korean soprano with a tight hug to express her appreciation. Im was so touched that she says it encouraged her to further pursue religious music.

Bach’s ‘Matthaeus Passion’ In August this year, she will perform a key role in the recording of Bach’s “Matthaeus Passion” for Harmonia Mundi, under the direction of René Jacobs. “During the early years of my career in Europe, many people expressed doubt about how an Asian singer could properly interpret and deliver the meaning of religious music on stage,” recalls Im. “This chance to participate in Bach’s masterpiece as a soloist thus means a lot to me, especially because Asian performers are still hard to find on the early music stage,” she says. In 2012, she is also looking forward to performing Dorinda in Handel’s opera “Orlando,” conducted by René Jacobs and directed by Pierre Audi, the artistic director of The Netherlands Opera, and staged at La Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, in April and May. She is also coming to Korea to sing for local audiences this year. She is scheduled to sing Mozart’s concert arias at the Expo 2012 Yeosu Korea and to perform in Haydn’s “Die Schöpfung” at the Great Mountains Music Festival in Gangwon Province. At an international lieder festival in Switzerland last year, Im sang Korean art songs for which she received an enthusiastic standing ovation. “I would like to continue to introduce to international audiences Korea’s art songs that feature traditional Korean rhythms and melodies. My dream is to make a recording of Korean art songs so they can be enjoyed by the world’s classical Soprano Im Sun-hae has earned high acclaim for her impeccable music fans,” she said. high-octave performance and elaborate coloratura. Thanks to her Im also hopes to become a musical artist with greater flexibility and versatilbeguiling innocence, she possesses a natural coquettish appeal ity across a variety of genres and styles. “I would like to become an artist who is able that is ideal for a number of operatic roles. to give a unique aura to different genres of music,” she said. “The performance of opera roles and singing of religious works or art songs should each be undertaken with its own most suitable form of voice tone, style, emotion, and stage technique. This is not something to be achieved through technical practice alone; it requires cultural familiarity and broad knowledge, and ultimately, the nurturing of your inner self. These qualities should naturally permeate a performer’s singing as well as musical and theatrical interpretations.” To see her perform on stage you are likely to think that her hopes have already been realized. Her vocal delivery embodies the lyrics, while her facial expressions convey the gamut of emotions with a frown or smile. Every minor gesture, including the position of her fingertips, is done with a purpose. Above all, her positive energy on stage projects her boundless vibrancy to the audience. Indeed, she already has it all. A deeply religious and spiritual person, Im Sun-hae prizes the freedom of one’s soul as more important than achieving fame as a musician. Since 2009, she has regularly given music lessons in the town of Tonj, South Sudan, following in the footsteps of the late Father John Lee Tae-suk, the Korean Catholic missionary physician who spent his life serving needy residents of the African village. Im has also organized charity concerts in Korea to help the South Sudanese people. “I often reflect upon what kind of life I hope to lead as a Im Sun-hae performs at the Seoul Arts Cenhuman being and as a musician. If my thoughts are expressed and felt in my music, my ter’s festival to commemorate the opening of songs might give people comfort and pleasure,” she says. the IBK Chamber Hall in 2011. Koreana ı Spring 2012




his is like the color of mulberry paper!” murmurs the octogenarian artisan while quietly gazing at the warm afternoon sunlight filtering in through the glass windows of his spacious workshop. Soon, he picks up the brush that had been soaking in a bowl of natural glue and applies it to a sheet of mulberry paper. He then attaches the paper to the top of a sheet of silk brocade with his still-agile hands. What is particularly impressive is his keen vision that enables him, even at the age of 87, to pick out and tidy up every loose shred of paper fiber or silk thread. The master artisan seems to have somehow escaped the ravages of advanced age. “I don’t have any problem reading books and newspapers. This may be because for over 70 years I have been mounting and mending such beautiful artworks. Through all those years, I’ve come across almost all the old paintings and calligraphy works that are our national treasures. For virtually nothing, I’ve gained precious opportunities to appreciate firsthand such treasured works of art. As much as the work helped to relieve my stress, I guess it also enabled me to maintain my health and vision. I still work every day from nine in the morning until five or six in the afternoon,” says the artisan.

An Artwork’s Finishing Touch In 1996, Kim Pyo-yeong was designated Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 102 for artwork mounting (baecheop ), a traditional craft to preserve and accentuate a painting or calligraphy work by mounting it onto a scroll, frame, or folding screen. Currently, he is the only artisan with a national-level designation in this field of craftsmanship. Kim is especially renowned for his ability to restore ancient works of painting and calligraphy, which is said to be the pinnacle of artwork mounting. Although you can find a handful of qualified restorers of artworks in Korea, they lag far behind Kim in terms of skill and experience. His unmatched craftsmanship is evident in the immaculate finish of the frames, scrolls, and folding screens upon which he has mounted artworks — so pleasingly crisp and clean-cut like the perfectly formed collar (dongjeong ) of a traditional Korean upper garment. Korea’s traditional books, works of calligraphy, and paintings can only realize their true cultural significance with a proper mounting. As such, the mounting and the artwork are part and parcel of a complete whole. Moreover, improper mounting detracts from the proper understanding of a work of art by diminishing its potential beauty. Mounting was recognized as an official field of artisanship during the early Joseon Dynasty (13921910), explains Kim, but the origin of this lesser known tradition is much earlier. “The Grand Code for State Administration” (Gyeongguk daejeon ) states that the Royal Bureau of Painting maintained a staff of four artwork mounting artisans. Earlier on, court painters of Unified Silla (676-935) were also known to practice mounting. During the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), the development of woodblock printing

Kim Pyo-yeong

Octogenarian Master of an Age-old Craft

Baecheop is a traditional craft of mounting an artwork onto a scroll, frame, folding screen, or book. Kim Pyo-yeong, the lone state-designated master of artwork mounting, is a “human cultural treasure” with a 73-year career as a dedicated artisan. Park Hyun-sook Freelance Writer | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


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Scroll paintings mounted by Master Kim Pyo-yeong. A scroll is rolled up when stored, and is unrolled and hung on the wall for viewing.

“Just one wrong touch of the tweezers, or a single incorrect stroke of the brush, and a priceless artwork can be ruined. Once, it took me an entire day and a half to peel off a tiny scrap of paper as small as the nail on my little finger.”

and paper manufacturing greatly elevated the craft of mounting. The artwork mounting artisan must be a patient and meticulous technician with an aesthetic eye. Our long-ago ancestors would even say that the artist’s talent accounts for 30 percent of a great painting, while the remaining 70 percent is provided by the mounter, Kim notes. He adds: “When I look for a silk fabric onto which a painting will be mounted, I usually try out over 200 different colors before deciding on the one I like most. I place the painting on a large piece of silk and leave it there for several hours, occasionally taking a glance whenever I pass by. And then I try a different color to see which color combination is better. I repeat this process for a few days until I select the best color. I learned from my teachers



that artwork mounting should be practiced with much patience and dedication.” Therefore, it is said that a mounting artisan needs to be a calligrapher, a painter, and a carpenter, all in one. When Kim was 14 years old, he visited his cousin Yun Byeongse, who was a well-known artwork mounter in Cheongju, their ancestral hometown. He was instantly attracted to the craft and started to learn it. During this time of Japanese colonial rule, he came across a mounting shop nearby which was operated by a Japanese proprietor. However, Kim’s cousin possessed far superior skills, so there was a steady stream of customers who brought in their cherished works of art. After picking up the basic techniques from his cousin, Kim went to Insa-dong in Seoul to work



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with Kim Yong-bok, a famed master in mounting old paintings. Working under him was a truly valuable experience that helped Kim to refine his skills. Kim notes: “For mounting ancient paintings, the most important consideration should be how to preserve the original work as best you can. Even a painting so old that it is ready to crumble along the edges like a dead leaf can be preserved for another several hundred years, if it is restored with a proper mounting. Whenever I gaze at an ancient painting, I cannot help admiring the wisdom of our ancestors. Korean mulberry paper, which is said to last for a thousand years, is soft yet so durable. Ancient paintings are restored by washing them carefully with water so that the damaged areas can be separated. After such a treatment, the mulberry paper comes back to life. When washed, dingy paper is whitened and the ink becomes clearer. No other paper in the world can be revived like this!”

Harmony of Paper, Glue and Water The process of traditional artwork mounting involves a series of intricate steps. Silk brocade fabric, upon which the artwork will be Koreana ı Spring 2012

1. The silk cloth for mounting, chosen to match the painting, is cut precisely. 2. It is important for the glue to have the right consistency and be evenly applied. 3. After the painting is mounted on silk, the glued parts should be tamped with a small hammer to increase adhesion and remove any air bubbles. 4. Restoring an old calligraphy work.

mounted, is cut into a size slightly larger than the artwork; sheets of mulberry paper are glued, one layer at a time, onto the back of the artwork; with its backing of layered mulberry paper, the artwork is affixed to the silk fabric; and, when fully dry, the work is framed, made into a scroll, or mounted in a book, picture frame, or screen panel. During this process, the artisan must keep in mind the work’s aesthetic, practical, and durable qualities, which requires an extensive knowledge of the chemical properties of each material — especially the paper, glue, and water. “It is no exaggeration to say that the harmony of paper, glue, and water is all there is about artwork mounting,” Kim notes. “You should have a good eye for quality and persistence to find the best materials. Since today’s natural environment is no longer as good as it used to be, you should be even more careful in their selection.


1. The master’s natural glue is aged for over 10 years. 2. Kim Pyo-yeong and his pupil Hong Jong-jin endeavor to pass on their mounting skills and knowledge to younger generations.


The backing paper should be made from the bark of a healthy mulberry tree, and the paper should be neither too tough nor too fragile. Chemical residue in the paper can leave yellowish stains on the surface of the work, so when making the paper, you must use the cleanest water. The thickening agent is made by dissolving highly viscous hibiscus in lye. I grow the hibiscus for the thickening agent myself, planting it in spring and then harvesting, drying, and storing it in fall. It takes a lot of time and effort to make natural glue from wheat flour. While figuring out all these processes, I’ve acquired considerable knowledge about chemistry, based on which I’ve developed my own original methods.” The proper preservation of a mounted artwork depends so much on the mulberry paper’s quality, but Kim is not satisfied with most paper found at retail outlets, so he orders paper that is produced in strict compliance with traditional methods from Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, which is famed for its high-quality mulberry trees. The special paper for the artisan is made by hand with only the inner bark of the middle section of a healthy tree. The collected bark is left outdoors in the freezing cold all through winter, and then is thoroughly pounded to stretch and strengthen the fibers. Kim is himself the developer of nine types of custom-quality mulberry paper, which are made by adding 20 percent of white clay to the vat of pulp and water. The clay is collected in Goryeong and then purified by being dissolved in water. The white clay adds to the paper’s suppleness and provides natural mothproofing. According to Kim, the simple and natural composition of the paper, from the bark of the mulberry tree, hibiscus, white clay, and nothing else, provides the ideal material for artwork mounting that can withstand the ravages of centuries. Kim also makes his own glue, a process that involves over 10 years of preparation. First, two large sacks of wheat flour are poured into an onggi earthenware jar, which is then filled with water to distill the solution. Whenever the water gets foamy, it is poured out and replaced with fresh water to continue the distillation. This is a process for making the basic ingredient of an all natural glue that is bacteria- and mold-free and does not spoil.


The solution should be left to distill for about 10 years; throughout the process, the water is changed repeatedly to yield a white flour cleansed of all yellowish impurities. The flour is strained through a fine sieve and dried into a powder, ready to be made into glue as needed. In the courtyard of the artisan’s workshop, 80 or so earthenware jars are producing, year after year, the pure powder for making his precious glue, which repels insects and prevents mold.

Agony and Ecstasy of Restoration Since 1978, when Kim Pyo-yeong first began to renovate statedesignated cultural properties, he has restored over 200 highly prized works of Korean cultural heritage. The joy of being able to see up close and handle such priceless works of art is tempered by his heavy sense of responsibility. Restoring ancient works of art is an incomparable honor as well as an agonizing task to this artisan who remains at the forefront of his craft. He says: “I start the work by looking at the paper through a microscope. I look at the paper’s texture, quality, and thickness, to choose the most suitable paper for each mounting. And then, I prepare a glue with the right consistency. The glue should have a consistency that matches a particular paper. If it’s too thin the paper will sag, but if it’s too thick the paper will shrink. After the glue is prepared, the next step is to concentrate your mind on the piece of art in front of you. Just one wrong touch of the tweezers, or just a single incorrect stroke of the brush, and the priceless artwork can be ruined. Once, it took me an entire day and a half to peel off a tiny scrap of paper as small as the nail on my little finger.” Kim has given new life to not only national treasures but also many Buddhist paintings at temples all over the country, heirlooms that have been handed down through generations of the nobility, and ancient family documents. In particular, Ssanggye Temple’s huge Buddhist painting for outdoor ceremonies, 14 meters long and 6 meters wide, has left the clearest mark in the artisan’s memory because of the difficulties he had to overcome to remount the severely damaged scroll. The largest painting that he has ever mounted during his illustrious career would be Daeam Temple’s Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


outdoor ceremonial painting, which measures 14 meters long and 9.7 meters wide. After spending much of his adult life in Seoul and Ilsan, Kim returned to his hometown a few years ago at the urging of his pupil, Hong Jong-jin, 61, North Chungcheong Province’s Intangible Cultural Property No. 7. A proficient artisan like his teacher, Hong has himself restored six National Treasures and 15 Treasures. Last fall, the master and his pupil held a joint exhibition at the Cheong­ ju Early Printing Museum. Joie Springer, director of UNESCO’s Memory of the World program and Stephen Ellis, consultant at the National Archives of Australia, were among those who visited the exhibition, which showcased the extraordinary craftsmanship of Korean artwork mounting. Kim and Hong work together at the Artwork Mounting Training Koreana ı Spring 2012

Institute in Bongmyeong-dong, Cheongju, which offers a weekly class for young people. Kim is pleased to pass on his knowledge to these young students in the hope they might become artwork mounters who surpass their teachers. Kim asks, “Am I right to say today’s economy is diagnosed by stock market trends?” and then adds, “In Joseon, artwork mounting was a major economic indicator. In times of peace and prosperity, art mounting thrived because the king would order the production of many auspicious paintings with such motifs as the ten symbols of longevity, or the sun, moon, and five sacred peaks. That practice was also pursued by households of the nobility. I wish to see that kind of interest revived today. Families will thrive if they hang scrolls of calligraphy with edifying aphorisms in their homes and seek to live accordingly.”


Modern Landmarks

Seoul Station Building On August 9, 2011, the old Seoul Station building was reborn as a cultural complex. After having completed its mission of ushering passengers onto journeys all across the nation and beyond, it was reopened as a showcase of Korea’s railroad history and celebration of the modernity spurred on by rail transportation. Kim Chung-dong Professor, Department of Architecture, Mokwon University | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


he original Seoul Station building, which has long served as the entryway to Seoul, is one of the notable examples of early modern Korean architecture still in existence today. In addition, it is also a reminder for Koreans of the tumultuous period in their country’s history since it has borne witness to the hard times of Japanese colonial rule and the Korean War. Built in 1925, Seoul Station has undergone a series of transitions


before being reborn as a cultural complex on August 9, 2011, after a three-year renovation project. With the completion of the highspeed rail terminal in April 2004, the former station building has been vacated. Plans to renovate the building into a railway museum had been discussed but were eventually rejected. In October 2004, the Korean branch of Docomomo International, an organization dedicated to the documentation and preservation of local architecKo re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

Reborn as a Cultural Complex tural heritage of the Modern Movement (buildings, sites, and neighborhoods), held an open forum to discuss proposals for using the station building. As a result of the forum, the Korea Railroad Corporation and the Cultural Heritage Administration found that many Koreans wanted to see the historic building converted into a cultural space. Thereafter, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which assumed management of the old station building, decided to look into alternatives for its reuse. The project to restore the former Seoul Station and convert it into a cultural complex began on November 26, 2008, with a budget of some 20 billion won (about $17.5 million), to restore the neo-classical building to its original 1925 appearance in accordance with guidelines of the Cultural Heritage Committee. Koreana ı Spring 2012

The restoration project was known as “Culture Station Seoul 284,” reflecting the building’s designation as Historic Site No. 284 in September 1981.

Beginning of Korean Railroads Korea’s railroad history dates back to the final years of the Joseon period (1392-1910) when Japan positioned itself to gain control of the waning Korean dynasty. Train transport began when the Seoul-Incheon line opened in the late 1890s, as Europe’s advanced industrial technology flooded into Asia. The line was opened partially on September 18, 1899; the following year, the Hangang Bridge was completed on July 5, enabling the first train crossing of the Han River. The formal commencement ceremony



for the Seoul-Incheon line was held on November 12, 1899 at Seodaemun Station, which was constructed especially for foreigners living nearby the West Gate of the capital and the diplomatic community in Jeong-dong. On July 8, 1900, Namdaemun (South Gate) Station was constructed very close to Seodaemun Station. Built in the middle of a rice paddy under the Yeomcheon Bridge, it was a single-story, wooden barracks structure, with a floor area of a mere 33 square meters. The new station housed the office and train depot of the Seoul-Busan Line Railroad Corporation. Following the launch of the Seoul-Incheon line, there was a series of ceremonies held at Namdaemun Station to commemorate the completion of subsequent lines, including the Seoul-Sinuiju line (1906) and the Seoul-Busan line (1905). In the early 1910s, the railroad agency of the Japanese Government-General of Korea renovated the station into a two-story, Western-style brick structure, and changed its name to Gyeongseong Station. The plaza in front of this station would become ground zero of the historic March First Movement in 1919, which crystallized Korea’s struggle to gain independence from Japanese rule. On October 3, 1915, a celebration was held at Gyeongbok Palace to mark a milestone: Korean railroad lines covered a distance of 1,000 li (393 kilometers). The Korean railroad system was operated by Japan’s South Manchurian Railway Company for eight years from July 1917, but in April 1925, the management was reverted to the Japanese Government-General, which sought to expand Gyeongseong Station to accommodate the growth of international passengers and cargo. At that time, when Japan had taken complete control over Korea, it needed a station not just for military purposes 2 but also for private passengers. As part of the station’s expansion project, a new building was constructed in the vicinity of the existing station.

Works from “Countdown,” an art project celebrating the opening of “Culture Station Seoul 284.” They are “Strangers on a Train”(1) by Rho Jae-oon, “Transparent Coins” (2) by Che Swann & Rhee Sei, and “Time Capsule 2”(3) by Jung Yeon-doo. This special exhibition proclaimed the transformation of the historic space into a future-oriented cultural complex.

Gyeongseong Station The new station, however, was intended to serve not only practical functions but also to play a symbolic role as one of the key facilities for Japan to reinforce its colonial rule and promote social stability. To highlight the authority and prosperity of the Japanese Empire, the station’s rundown warehouse-like appearance was deemed unacceptable. The new Gyeongseong Station was designed by Tsukamoto


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Built in 1925 during the period of Japanese colonial rule, what was then named Gyeongseong Station became a gateway to the Korean Peninsula and a vehicle for colonial administration, a central transit link that connected Japan to the Asian continent — into China and further inland.


Yasushi (1869-1937), professor of architecture at Tokyo University. He learned architectural design from Tatsuno Kingo (1854-1919), the “Father of Meiji Architecture,” who had designed Busan Station (1910) and the headquarters of the Bank of Korea (1912). Tatsuno had emulated the so-called pre-classical style often associated with the Scottish architect Richard Norman Shaw (1831-1912), who was noted for his Victorian Gothic architecture. When Tsukamoto designed Gyeongseong Station, he made careful note of Tokyo Station (1914), which his teacher Tatsuno had modeled after Amsterdam Central Station (1884) in the Netherlands. He also referred to the architecture of the Central Public Hall (1918) in Osaka and the Rautatieasema (1914) railway station in Helsinki, designed by the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen. As a result, Gyeongseong Station featured the exterior appearance and layout similar to prominent European stations. Newspapers of the time described it as having a “Renaissance style” but in fact, its style was more eclectic with notable elements of Renaissance architecture. The construction of the new station was overseen by the architectural division of the railroad agency of the Japanese Government-General. The new station was designed to have a floor space of 6,783 square meters, with a ground level, second floor, and basement, on a site of 231,530 square meters. The station was meant to be a showcase project of a grand scale similar to Tokyo Station. According to the magazine Joseon and Architecture, plans called for Gyeongseong Station to be completed within a two-year period from June 1922, but the completion was delayed in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake in Japan. The actual construction required 38 months, ending in September 1925, with the final building being scaled down to Koreana ı Spring 2012


two-thirds of the original design due to budget cutbacks. Gyeongseong Station was poised to serve as a gateway to Korea and a vehicle for Japan’s colonial administration. Like an aorta of the human body, the new station, which opened on October 15, 1925, functioned as the key transportation center of the Korean Peninsula. To many Koreans, the new station was an awe-inspiring sight; to the Japanese it was something to brag about: “The best railway station in Asia is Tokyo Station and the second best is Gyeongseong Station.” Japanese nationals living in Korea beamed with pride at the sight of their national flag fluttering at the station entrance while a train at the platform blared out its whistle before departing for Busan.

The Continental Express Gyeongseong Station was a central station that connected Japan to the Asian continent — into China and further inland. In the early 1920s, Gyeongseong, at the heart of present-day Seoul, was home to some 300,000 residents. This marked an era of international railways that connected Japan to its new colonies, Korea and Manchuria. In Japan, a railroad line ran from Tokyo to Shimonoseki on its southwestern coast, from where a ferry line operated to and from Busan on Korea’s southeast coast. In Korea, a direct train service connected Busan and Gyeongseong to Fengtian (Shenyang) and Beijing in China. This system branched out to Harbin, Chita of the Russian Far East, across Siberia and further westward to Moscow, and on to Berlin and Paris. The key segment of this network included the express train service between Gyeongseong and the Chinese city of Changchun (December 1911), which was linked to the Trans-Siberian Railway and major European cities (June 1913) and to the South Manchurian Railway and Beijing and Tianjin (September 1913). Ten years after its opening, it became necessary to expand Gyeongseong Station to accommodate the increasing demand for passenger and cargo services. An expansion project was undertaken in 1935 that included the launch of cargo service to Germany and Poland via the Soviet Union in 1937. On November 1, 1939, the Continental Express commenced service between Gyeongseong and Beijing. The Modern Station The station’s colonnaded first floor served as a waiting area, while the second floor offered a VIP lounge and a restaurant named “The Grill.” The basement level that housed the railroad management staff was connected directly to the boarding platforms. Gyeongseong Station had this floor plan to facilitate its function as 1. The domed ceiling with Byzantine pendentive supports, a major transit point between destinations. Unlike under which are four arched windows. the old Busan Station or Stazione Termini (1950) in 2. Stained glass art work on the ceiling of the central hall. 3. Wall clock above the main entrance of the building. Rome, Gyeongseong Station was not a terminus 4. The central hall. Lee Bul’s “The Secret Sharer,” part of but a stop for the coming and going of passenthe “Countdown” project, is seen between the columns.



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gers and cargo. Its waiting area on the first floor was also a meeting place for city dwellers, much like a hotel lobby. The station’s exterior walls were built with red bricks with a touch of Gothic style, with its gates and windows decorated with classical details. The façade’s vertical and horizontal highlights of white granite tile added a nice rhythmic sense to the building, while the neoBaroque dome on the roof topped off the structure with a stately magnificence. The waiting area in the center of the station had a domed ceiling with Byzantine pendentive supports, under which four arched windows allowed sunlight to illuminate the granite floor. Outside, small round lantern towers at either side of the dome are each topped with a lightning rod. The large clock above the main entrance has been known as “the post horse,” perhaps in reference to the post horses which were used for mail delivery during the Joseon period. The vault above the clock is curved like a bow, contributing to the structure’s Oriental character. All in all, the building exhibits an elegant harmony, viewed from any angle. Gyeongseong Station was known as a swanky place to visit in its heyday, as reflected in the literature of those times, like the following excerpt: “…Nevertheless, I went to Gyeongseong Station…Coffee…I’d like some. However, as soon as I set my foot onto the station hall, it suddenly occurred to me that I had no money in my pockets, which I had forgotten.” (“The Wings” by Yi Sang.) The establishment that Yi Sang, who was an architect as well as a writer, had hesitated to enter because he had no money was The Grill on the second floor, which has been transformed into an exhibition hall as part of the recent renovation project.


Renamed Seoul Station After Korea’s liberation from Japan on August 15, 1945, the U.S. military government in Korea declared that all private railway lines and related businesses in South Korea would be nationalized. In line with this initiative, Gyeongseong Station was renamed Seoul Station on November 1, 1947. When the Republic of Korea was formally established in 1948, Seoul Station was placed under the administration of the South Korean Ministry of Transportation. During the Korean War, Seoul Station suffered substantial damage from the fierce combat. On June 26, 1950, the station and adjacent areas were bombarded by Soviet Yak fighters as part of North Korea’s assault on Seoul. Areas of the building and station platforms were damaged, including the stained-glass work with the Japanese imperial coat of arms that had been installed on the building rotunda. After the armistice, the stained glass was replaced, featuring the taegeuk (supreme ultimate) symbol of the Korean national flag, and the Rose of Sharon, the national flower of Korea. During the recent renovation, another work was installed. Train stations are always bustling with people, and especially on major holidays, like the Lunar New Year. Few other places are so alive with stories of travel, adventure, and discovery, or the sadness of parting. For this reason, the train station, whether located in a metropolitan city or a small provincial town, does more than just provide transportation service; it stands as an emotional landmark for many people. Someday, when North and South Korea are reunited, Seoul Station will serve as a key transit point of an expansive network rooted in the glorious line of old that extended north to Pyongyang Station and beyond. The fact that the North Korean capital’s central station is similar to Russia’s St. Petersburg Station serves as a reminder of the reach and ambition of Korean railways in the past and an indication of what might be possible in the future.


Koreana ı Spring 2012




Choi Jong-tae

‘I Suddenly Realized I Didn’t Know What Art Was’ Veteran sculptor Choi Jong-tae presented his recent works in a major exhibition held in late 2011. Prolific as ever, his irrepressible passion and creative energy have enabled the octogenarian artist to bring forth works as varied as they are numerous, from painted wooden works and bronze pieces to watercolor and pastel images, some 60 in all. Choi Tae-man Art Critic; Professor, Kookmin University | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


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hoi Jong-tae, a famous sculptor and painter, has held more than 20 exhibitions in Korea and abroad since his first solo exhibition in 1964. He is also a writer who has published 13 collections of essays, beginning with “Artist and Historical Awareness” in 1986. Since retiring from Seoul National University, he has continued working on his art as well as writing about art theory, society and religion. When I visited him in early January at his home with a studio addition, he was painting in the living room, which was well stocked with all manner of paper, ink sticks, and paint. He spends his entire day reading and meditating, or painting with ink or pastel and sculpting.

Painting with Primary Colors Choi Tae-man: You held an exhibition just a month ago but you’re already hard at work without any break? Choi Jong-tae: When I get up in the morning, I start to work. It’s a habit. For me, working on sculpture or painting is a time for meditation and self-reflection. So, I don’t have to distinguish between work and rest. Working is like resting for me. Choi TM: In your recent exhibitions at the Gana Art Center, the Suseong Artpia, and the DEBEC Plaza Gallery, the first in Seoul and the latter two in Daegu, I noticed that your wooden sculpture works had been painted. Usually, you allow the materials to reveal their unique character without paint, or if you do apply paint, it seems to be with a light finish. But this time, your wooden works were painted with vivid primary colors. Choi JT: When I paint, I use ink and also pastel or markers, so most of my paintings involve primary colors, which I believe are more suitable when applied on wood. I avoid mixing colors too much because the vividness of the original color tends to disappear. Earlier, in the case of sculpture, I thought that the unique characteristics of each material, whether wood, terracotta, or stone, should be kept natural. However, after working for so long on wood, I’ve learned that getting good wood is not easy today. Wood itself, a living organism before being processed, still reacts sensitively to the environment no matter how well it is dried out. Thus, instead of showing the dried wood surface, flaws and all, I thought I could bring back its liveliness, which might have gotten lost. That’s why I started to paint my works. Choi TM: At your exhibition at the Gana Art Center, where you and I had a conversation over tea, I later happened to notice a child’s image from the Joseon period in a showcase, and I thought that its color seemed similar to the color you used. Might you possibly have been influenced by dancheong [Korean

3 1. Sculptor Choi Jong-tae has created images of girls through much of his career. 2. “Prayer” (2009), 29 x 26 x 87 cm, color on wood. 3. “Angel” (2009), 27 x 18 x 73 cm, color on wood.




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“I know there are a great variety of opinions, depending on each person’s religious views, about why a Catholic such as myself would carve an image of the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. But I have been told that the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy resembles the Mother of God.”

3 1. “Stone Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva” (2009) at Gilsang Temple in Seongbuk-dong, Seoul. (Photo by Ahn Hong-beom) 2. “Madonna and Child” (2008), 22.5 x 30.3 x 118.8 cm, color on wood. 3. “A Thinking Woman” (2009), 30 x 43 x 68 cm, marble.

traditional multicolored paintwork on wooden buildings] and its five colors of yellow, blue, white, red, and black? Choi JT: It’s possible. When I entered the College of Fine Art at Seoul National University, the first teacher I met was Professor Chang Uc-chin, whose work is rooted in folk painting. Also of great influence on my career was Professor Kim Chong-yung, a sculptor who was very restrained and self-disciplined, and used minimal colors. But my colors are of quite a different origin. By chance, I discovered in a book the reason why I apply paint to sculptures. I realized that most of the colors that I like, such as purple, dark red, and blue, are similar to those colors with religious significance and symbolism. I had not consciously used the colors with a religious intent, but I think that I was somehow influenced by religious elements. Actually, the colors of my works are those found in Catholic liturgy.

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Buddhist Goddess of Mercy Choi TM: I noticed that you have a number of works with a girl propping up her chin with her hand in meditation. Those works remind me of Korean Buddhist statues, especially the image of the Buddha deep in thought, sitting cross-legged. Choi JT: When I was studying art at SNU, I once studied Buddhist texts. The time was after the Korean War, and I had many questions in my craving for knowledge. I thought that some religion might provide an answer. Around the end of summer vacation in my junior year, I went to visit Daegak Temple in front of the Secret Garden, where a lecture on Buddhism was being given. Thereafter, I pored over the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra for about four months. Choi TM: You made the stone Avalokitesvara image at Gilsang Temple in Seongbukdong, Seoul, didn’t you? Choi JT: I had long wanted to carve an image of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, an embodiment of infinite mercy and compassion, but hadn’t had the right opportunity to


do so. From around the time I turned 50, I started to get involved in works for the Catholic Church and got to know many priests through my making of statues of Jesus and the Mother of God. I then became chairperson of the Association of Seoul Catholic Artists and held that position for 10 years, so I naturally had an opportunity to meet Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan. One day, I told him: “I’m thinking of making a statue of the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. If I did, would you excommunicate me?” He smiled broadly after hearing my question and promised he would not. Then, an actual opportunity arose to make a Buddhist statue when the monk Beopjeong asked me to create a Goddess of Mercy statue for Gilsang Temple. I know there are a great variety of opinions, depending on each person’s religious views, about why a Catholic such as myself would carve an image of the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. But I have been told that the Goddess of Mercy at Gilsang Temple resembles the Mother of God. The late Reverend Beopjeong knew that very well, and he therefore provided an explanation about the statue’s creation with an inscription on its pedestal: 1

This statue of the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva was created in this place for practicing The

1. “Ink and Watercolor on Paper” (2009), 39 x 27.5 cm. 2. “Face of Honor” (2009), 28.5 x 31 x 63.5 cm, color on wood.



Way by an artist whose spirit has met this temple’s hope with a timely connection. Whoever gazes upon this statue shall be empowered to shed all the suffering and calamity in the world through the assistance of the boundless mercy and compassion of the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. In devotion to the Avalokitesva Bodhisattva. This inscription clearly reflects the Buddhist monk’s consideration for my Catholic faith. Also, at a ceremony for the final touch of drawing in the eyes, he especially emphasized to the audience how the Avalokitesva Bodhisattva and the Mother of God are meant to symbolize the same thing. Choi TM: Why have you made so many sculptures of women, or rather girls, all this time? Choi JT: I’ve been asked that question so often, but I still don’t have a good reason. I’ve just done it all my life. It was never particularly intended, so an explanation about why is hard to come by. One thing I can say is that I don’t use models. Also for painting, I don’t use models. I just express whatever is inside of me. You could probably say with some accuracy that the form of a girl in my works is an embodiment of a certain ideal or longing. A longing for a simple and pure world without violence can possibly be realized with the figure of a girl. What is its ultimate form? Love would be it. That’s also why I decided on “Eternal Maternal” for the exhibition’s title.

Search for the ‘Korean Form’ Choi TM: Kim Chong-yung, your esteemed teacher, was a sculptor and pioneer of abstract sculpture in Korea. Have you ever thought about going in that direction? Choi JT: There was a brief time when I had an interest in abstract sculpture. But I didn’t think it was my way, so I left it behind fairly quickly. Around 1965, I reached an important decision to make something Korean. That’s probably the time when I began creating my own world of art. About 10 years later, as I entered my 40s, I managed to emerge completely from my teacher’s influence. I was lucky enough to learn from a good teacher, so achieving independence from such an influence was not easy. Choi TM: Can you elaborate on that point? Choi JT: My interests included folk painting and folk art, craftwork like ceramics, as well as architecture, sculpture, painting, and writing. I also studied modern art along the way. I then discovered a unique beauty in Korean Buddhist statues, which could not be found in Western sculpture. I observed as many works as possible to search for my own way. I viewed so many kinds of sculpture, from those of the ancient Orient, such as Egypt and Assyria, to the works of ancient Greece and those of the Renaissance, and also the works of Constantin Brancusi and Alberto Giacometti from modern times, as well as Chinese ceramic objects and the statues of the Seokguram Grotto in Gyeongju, from Korea’s Silla period. After very carefully scrutinizing these works, I went through a period of deep contemplation and found what I would truly like to create. Upon my return in 1971 from a trip around the world, I visited the National Museum of Korea and the Seokguram Grotto. And from the experiences of my global tour, I was assured that I had found my direction. Thereafter, I have attempted to create my own style instead of simply accepting the influences of Western art. Then, one day, I suddenly realized I didn’t know what art was really about. This was a great shock. But, I felt a peace of mind. There’s nothing more important than to realize your own ignorance. I’m still working, but I don’t try to insist on something or feel that I need to persuade other people to accept my ideas. Now, working everyday has become my way of life and my means for finding the ultimate values and purpose of life. I remember this every moment. Koreana ı Spring 2012

“Two People” (2010), 37 x 15 x 56 cm, color on wood.


in love with Korea

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t is a cool, crisp morning under a clear blue sky when Karen Kim and her husband, Kim Il-ju, the 14th-generation direct descendant of Kim Je-nam, welcome us into their home. Stepping inside, we get our first pleasant surprise; from the outside, the house looks like any other traditional house in Korea, but inside it is quite distinctive. It has been renovated to resemble a comfortable modern home, but at the same time the original wooden frame and support beams have been lovingly preserved and restored. At one end of the house is a small living room, with two sofas and a lounging chair arranged around a coffee table. We sit down and Karen brings us green tea before beginning to tell us the fascinating story of how a small-town American girl became the mistress of a Korean jongga , or the head family of a respected clan.

A Small-town Girl from Ohio Karen grew up in the steel center of Canton, Ohio. She describes it as a very provincial place, not like the big cities of New York or Chicago. Her community was a close one — there were 211 students in her graduating class in high school — and predominantly white. In fact, the only Asian family she had ever known was a Chinese family that ran a laundry. Naturally, she thought all Asian men would be like this Chinese laundryman: slim, small, and pale. So, in 1964, at the age of 18, she was quite surprised when she met the man she immediately knew she would marry, the man she describes as “movie-star handsome.” She looks up from her tea to a framed magazine photo that hangs on the wall behind us. It shows a young Korean man in a taekwondo uniform, his face chiseled and strong, his gaze powerful. “For me, it really was love at first sight. I was a young girl, and he was really handsome and really charismatic, and I just fell head-over-heels in love with him,” Karen says. Her mother was skeptical at first, but her father was very taken with this impressive young man. In 1970, after dating for five years, the couple married, and for 25 years they lived together in the United States. Karen’s life took an even more dramatic turn in 1995, though, when they decided to move to Korea. For four years they lived in Seoul, where Karen taught English at Sogang University. It wasn’t until they moved out to Wonju, in Gangwon Province, in 1999 that Karen realized she had not married into just any family. “Until that time,” she says, “I honestly did not know what I was getting into. He never told me. I said to him, ‘Why didn't you really explain to me what all this was about?’ And he said, ‘Well, I didn't know what to say.’”

2 1. Karen Kim and her husband prepare for a jesa ; every year they perform two large rites and some 20 smaller ones. 2. Karen Kim displays the porcelain dishes used in the rites by the family in days gone by; she takes them out to admire them from time to time.

Karen Kim

“There Is a Spirituality to Korean Clan Culture.” At first glance the house nestled in the hills is like so many others you might find scattered around Korea, but the large ancestral shrine sitting off to the east shows that it is not, in fact, just another traditional house. It is the home of the family of Kim Je-nam (1562-1613), the father of Queen Dowager Inmok. And the mistress of the house sets it even further apart from those of other Korean families of noble origins. Charles La Shure Professor, Graduate School of Interpretation and Translation, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer Koreana ı Spring 2012


other hand, there is such a beauty to this culture. To Stepping into the Role of Jongbu think that my husband can trace his family back some It is hard to blame Kim Il-ju for remaining silent on the matter. After all, 800 years. They can trace their ancestry, and it’s a conwhat could he say? There is no simple way to explain jongga culture to sometinuous line, and the people have survived and kept that one who has not grown up with it. On the surface, a jongga is a family that can line intact all that time. They continue to do the same trace its line of descent back to a distinguished ancestor through an unbroken things in order to keep that family line intact. And there succession of first sons. The eldest living son of this main lineage is the jongis a beauty to that. There is a spirituality to that.” son , while his wife is the jongbu , and this couple is charged with performing the It can be hard to explain this to Westerners not jesa, or ancestral rites, many times during the year, and entertaining numerous familiar with this native Korean culture, though. She guests visiting to discuss various matters related to the clan. explains: “Some of my American friends have said, Every jongga performs rites for a revered ancestor (such as Kim Je-nam) ‘How can you do that? Why would you want to worship and the four latest generations of ancestors: the father, grandfather, greathis ancestors?’ And I have said, ‘I am not worshiping grandfather, and great-great-grandfather of the jongson. When wives are his ancestors. But what I have, what my husband is, added to the equation, the number of rites can more than double. Karen and is a composite of his ancestry. What he is as a person her husband perform two large rites and around 20 smaller ones each year, with the number of guests ranging from 30 to 60 for each event. When the couple moved to Wonju, For her, being jongbu is about looking beyond your own interests. As she the house had not been lived in for four years and was in a state of disputs it: “You're part of something bigger than yourself.” repair. Kim Il-ju brought along a taekwondo student, who was a carpenter, to look at the house, and renovais what’s been handed down to him. He is who he is tion soon began. The wattle-and-daub walls were deteriorating and had to be because of his father and his grandfather and his greatremoved, while the frame of the house itself was listing; a traditional rope-andgrandfather. So if I love him as a person, then I have to pulley system was used to align it upright again. That summer, while the reconat least respect those who came before him and the struction and restoration was still underway, the first jesa was held and Karen culture from which he comes.’” was introduced to jongga culture. Karen waves a hand at the house around her. “This house was basically bare bones, there was a hole in the wall with water coming through, and we had a Being Something Bigger Than Yourself single stovetop. And because it [jesa] was the first one that the foreign wife was To Karen, this is only natural. “I think it’s kind of going to be here, lots of people came,” she says. funny that so many Koreans are interested in me,” Fortunately, Karen had some experience cooking for large numbers of peoshe says, “because I’m doing what any other woman ple. As the wife of a taekwondo master in the United States, she had often prewould do.” In fact, it is something quite special these pared meals for large groups of students. There were also aunts and other reldays, when many young Korean women will not even atives to help with the jesa preparations. But being a jongbu is about more than go on dates with first sons, let alone first sons from just preparing meals, it is about devoting yourself to something — and somejongga families. Karen has a hard time understandone — else. Karen grew up as an only child in a close family and, like her mothing this mindset. For her, being jongbu is about looking er, was devoted to her father. “He was the center of our lives, so it was very beyond your own interests. As she puts it: “You’re part easy to make my husband the center of my life. I guess I’m the kind of person of something bigger than yourself.” who loves very, very deeply,” she says. She has also given thought to the future, to a day Koreans call this “jeong ,” roughly translated as “affection” but meaning when she might be left without her husband. She says that she will probably not continue to live in the house, much more than that (to be fair, Korean dictionaries don’t provide very satisfacand that the jesa would likely have to be mostly contory definitions of the word, either). It is clear from spending even a short time solidated and combined, but she would still come to with her that Karen is full of jeong, and this has no doubt played a large part in oversee the rites. “My husband’s ancestors, through her taking to the role of jongbu as she has. She admits to having mixed feeltheir efforts, have inadvertently given me a lot. They’ve ings about jongga culture, but her comments show her appreciation and keen given me a very good life. So, as long as I am physically insight. capable of it, I would absolutely come here and over“Americans are footloose and fancy-free, and we don’t have anything to see the jesa, and continue to make sure everything is tie us down. I never thought about that too much until I came here,” she says. done properly. I feel that's the least I can do for my hus“Being here, in one sense, makes me appreciate that more. And yet, on the


Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

Looking over the family genealogy, Karen Kim says, “There is such a beauty in the traditions of a family that can be traced back 800 years and will continue in the future.”

band's family, and for my husband himself.” Karen says that she often jokes about having been Korean in a former life. But here she stops, and there is a long pause before she speaks again. She hesitates, trying to find the right words. “I have always felt, for a long, long time, that if I didn’t feel some sense of Koreanness, I don’t think I could continue to do this. The problem is that other people don’t see me that way,” she says with a hint of sadness in her eyes, mixed with an acceptance of reality. “Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel that I’m always seen as an outsider by other people. No matter how much you feel like you’re doing your best and you feel like an insider, like you’re a part of it, they are never able to see that in you.” In spite of this, her voice is steady and assured when she says that she has no regrets. Well, maybe one: “One of my deepest regrets is that I didn’t make Koreana ı Spring 2012

my husband teach me Korean when I was young enough to learn it easily.” There were few chances to learn Korean in Canton, Ohio, and life proved to be quite busy once they moved to Korea, and now she doesn’t have the same linguistic ability she once had. “Not knowing Korean and speaking it very poorly,” she says, “puts a lot of obstacles in my way to fully enjoying Korean life.” This is even truer in Wonju, where her neighbors speak no English at all, but she says she gets by with her “pidgin Korean.” In addition to the language barrier, there are also times when life in a small country village can feel confining to this woman who loves to travel and see the world. “It’s nice living out here in the countryside, of course. It’s laid back and the air is nice, and so on, but it’s also really nice to be in the city, closer to things, able to go to the theater,” she says. Still, she is very clearly a woman who is happy with her lot in life. “In high school, I was just one of those kids who was not remarkable,” she explains. “I wasn't a cheerleader or president of student council or anything like that. Had I been voted for anything, it would have been ‘most likely to lead a boring life.’ But if my class were to have a 50-year reunion, I dare say that I would have had probably the most interesting life of anybody in my class. I’ve had a wonderful life. If I hadn’t met my husband, I would have been married to Joe Schmoe, and I’d still be living in Alliance or Canton, Ohio. I’ve been married to the man I still love, I have three wonderful daughters, three fabulous grandsons. What more can a woman ask for? If I die today, I die happy.” It’s hard to sit down with Karen Kim and not come away feeling very different about what it means to be a foreigner in Korea. After we finish our tea, she shows us the special dishes used in the ancestral rites, something that a tourist might see in a museum if he is lucky, but to her they are simply a treasured part of her life. To see her so at home in this traditional Korean house and the shrine across the yard is strange, precisely because of how normal it all feels. What at first might seem incongruous — to open the paper-covered door and find a gentle, smiling American grandmother waiting inside to greet you — soon becomes quite natural.


Along Their Own Path


verything in the research room on the second floor of the Center for Korean National Arts gives you an impression that time has stood still here for the past 80 years. Nearly everything remains intact since the museum’s construction in the 1930s, including the Italian marble staircase, tile flooring, and even curtain decorations. Moreover, the old tables and bookshelves, and a library filled with discolored books reveal that the vibrant spirit of long-ago scholars is still alive today. Indeed, Choi Wan-soo, chief curator of the museum, looked as dignified and refined as a Joseon scholar as he sat at his simple desk in the room he shares

with junior-level curators and served me green tea.

A True Successor of Joseon Scholarly Ideals Choi is like a graceful crane — all the more so when wearing a traditional overcoat, so dazzling white it emits a pale blue aura. The crane, known for its elegant grace, symbolizes the scholar who pursues lofty ideals. He resembles the crane not only in physical appearance, but also in the upright life he has led for more than 70 years. He has walked along a narrow path, seeking out the beauty of Korea.

Choi Wan-soo

The Stalwart of Korean Art History Some may say he is the “pride of Korean art history” or simply the “pride of Korea,” but the only title of significance to art historian Choi Wan-soo is chief curator of the Kansong Art Museum, a veritable “sacred site” of Korean art history. Kim Hak-soon Journalist | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer


Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

Never married, he has lived like a celibate monk while blazing his own trail in the field of Korean studies. He has an extraordinary attachment to “things Korean,” ranging from academia to matters of everyday life. Since he entered Seoul National University to study history, he has always worn a traditional hanbok . And he drinks only green tea; hence the aroma of tea leaves in his office instead of coffee. Moreover, he refrains from using Western words or terminology in his lectures. Everything Choi says and does attests to a faithful embodiment of Joseon’s scholarly ideals. He keeps an early, regular routine just as Joseon scholars did, going to bed at nine in the evening and awaking at four in the morning. Nothing could describe him better than the old saying: “a crane standing amidst a flock of chickens.”

Research of Traditional Art The Kansong Art Museum, Korea’s first private art gallery, located in Seongbuk-dong in northern Seoul, houses an impressive collection of traditional Korean art and artifacts. It was founded by Jeon Hyeong-pil (Chun Hyung-pil, 1906-1962), also known by his pen name Kansong, a legendary art collector whose prominence elicits such praise as a “great protector of the beauty of Korea” or “defender of Korean culture.” Jeon may be compared to Lorenzo de Medici who opened the golden age of the House of Medici, which laid the foundation for the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. Choi does not hesitate to call Jeon the “guardian of Korean cultural properties.” Yet, it can be said the Kansong Art Museum really came into being when Choi began working there in 1966, heeding the advice of Choi Soon-woo (1916-1984), an art historian and former director of the National Museum of Korea. In order to properly preserve and research the artworks that Jeon had collected, Choi established

Koreana ı Spring 2012

the Center for Korean National Arts, of which the art museum is an affiliate organization. Today, the art museum houses an extensive collection of ceramics, Buddhist statues, temple artifacts, books, and decorative roof-tiles and bricks, as well as numerous paintings and calligraphy works. They include 10 state-designated National Treasures. Unlike most other galleries and museums, which emphasize the staging of exhibitions, the Kansong Art Museum’s main focus is on art history research. The museum offers only two exhibitions per year — in May and October. It has never deviated from this practice since 1971, when it hosted the “Gyeomjae Jeong Seon Painting and Calligraphy Exhibition.” Over time, Kansong’s exhibitions have become so popular that guidelines have been posted on the Internet for anyone thinking of stopping by, with advice like: “Buying an exhibition catalog is mandatory” and “Be prepared to wait in line for more than two hours before being admitted.” Nobody knows the exact extent of the museum’s collection. This is still “a top secret,” despite the countless people who have been asking the question for decades. “Had it not been for Kansong, it would probably not have been possible to substantiate the eminence of Korean culture. Kansong wasn’t simply a rich man who indiscriminately collected precious paintings and calligraphy works,” Choi says. “He well understood how, in the latter years of



the Joseon Dynasty, Korean art began to develop in an independent direction, free from the influence of China. It seems that he acquired artworks in the hope that scholars would study that period carefully and help to restore our cultural pride. This is evident from the fact that he focused on collecting the works of that period’s premier artists, such as Jeong Seon (1676-1759), Kim Jeonghui (1786-1856), Kim Hong-do (1745-after 1816), and Shin Yun-bok (circa 1758-after 1813). Especially, it would have been impossible to conduct meaningful research on Jeong Seon and Kim Jeong-hui without Kansong’s collection.” At this museum, Choi has immersed himself in the art history of Korea for the past 46 years. This means he has practically worked here throughout his entire career, aside from one year at the National Museum of Korea right after university graduation. Asked why he has worked at Kansong all this time, he answered, “Because of my pride in Korean culture. Failure to preserve the Kansong collection is tantamount to abandoning our cultural pride.” Choi believes this pride can be perpetuated through the study of Korean art history.

Joseon Painting and Calligraphy Choi enjoys an unrivalled status among the art historians of Joseon painting and calligraphy. He is among the most authoritative scholars on Jeong Seon (style name Gyeomjae) and Kim Jeonghui (style name Chusa), in particular. He began his research on


Jeong Seon in 1971 while preparing for the museum’s first exhibition, which exclusively featured Jeong’s works. “Just as Kansong’s discovery of Gyeomjae’s art had been predestined, so was my own encounter with the artist,” he said. But why Gyeomjae, when there were other artistic geniuses of Joseon, such as Kim Hong-do, Shin Yun-bok, An Gyeon, and Jang Seung-eop (1843-1897)? “Due to the colonial view of history infused by the Japanese during the early 20th century, Korean historians came to have a negative perspective of the Joseon Dynasty as a period of cultural stagnation,” Choi notes. “I believed the only way to correct this wrong was to study Gyeomjae’s ‘true-view’ landscape paintings. During the first 250 years of the dynasty, Joseon scholars sought to imitate Chinese art and culture. But in the latter part of the dynasty, starting right after the reign of King Injo (r. 1623-1649), Joseon’s own Neo-Confucian thought flourished. This academic background contributed to the emergence of true-view landscape painting and poetry. Gyeomjae was not only Korea’s foremost painter at that time, who captured the country’s natural beauty in exquisite works of art, but also an intellectual who created new concepts by adapting the old.” True-view landscape painting refers to a free-style depiction of natural scenery from firsthand observation, unlike the then conventional approach of painting imaginary landscapes based on picture albums. Choi came to define the cultural period during the latter part of the Joseon Dynasty in an entirely new way – as the “trueview landscape period” inspired by the renowned landscape painter Jeong Son. In doing so, he helped to shed new light on the “Joseon Renaissance.” His research has been compiled into three volumes entitled “Gyeomjae Jeong Seon” (2009). Choi has since turned his attention to another Joseon master artist, Kim Jeong-hui. “If Gyeom­jae was the genius painter of Korea, Chusa was the genius calligrapher,” he said. Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

Choi came to define the cultural period during the latter part of the Joseon Dynasty in an entirely new way — as the “true-view landscape period” inspired by the renowned landscape painter Jeong Seon. In doing so, he helped to shed new light on the “Joseon Renaissance.”

1. Kansong Art Museum’s semiannual regular exhibition in spring 2011 features paintings of the “four noble plants” from the Joseon period. 2. Choi Wan-soo, chief curator at the Kansong Art Museum, has spent his whole life studying the history of Korean art. 2

New Crop of Scholars Choi is best known as an art historian, but in fact he freely crosses over a variety of disciplines. His knowledge of Buddhism and its history, art and architecture, poetry and prose, and painting and calligraphy is extraordinary. He is an acclaimed specialist on the history of Korean Buddhism, as can be seen in his books “In Search of the Origin of Buddhist Statues in Korea” (three volumes, 2007) and “A Pilgrimage to Famous Buddhist Temples” (three volumes, 1994). Korean Buddhists regard the latter as a near perfect reference resource on the conservation of ancient temples and monasteries. Less well known is the fact that he is also a sculptor of Buddhist images. Choi is referred to as tong-yu (“comprehensive scholar”), an honorific title bestowed upon those who are proficient in the classical humanities of literature, history and philosophy, as well as in painting and calligraphy. Such scholars are men of style who know how to genuinely appreciate the arts. Choi has not earned a master’s or doctoral degree, nor is he a tenured university professor. But he is known for having nurtured a group of young researchers called the “Kansong School.” Some 30 ardent art lovers are currently studying under his guidance; they sought him out of their own accord to learn from his vast knowledge. Choi’s academic expertise can be traced to his study of the Chinese classics. He grew up in Yesan, South Chungcheong Province but attended Kyungbok High School in Seoul, where he learned Koreana ı Spring 2012

Chinese classics and genealogy from Kim Chang-hyeon, a master of these fields. Choi had thus acquired an exceptional understanding of Chinese classics even before he entered college. The Joseon scholar and calligrapher Kim Jeong-hui’s birthplace is also located in his hometown. However, Choi thinks he still has a long way to go to fulfill his remaining goals. He has to complete his research of Kim Jeong-hui and Sim Sa-jeong (1707-1769), a student of Jeong Seon, and wrap up a research project on the royal tombs of the Joseon Dynasty, which he began many years ago. “The royal tombs of the Joseon Dynasty, now listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, are enduring expressions of the culture of their era. We can clearly see distinctive changes over time thanks to the realistic tomb sculptures by stonemasons of the true-view landscape period. I’ve made much progress in this research project. I’ve also dug deep into the uigwe royal protocols related to court ceremonies. Once this work is finished, it will be a new compilation of the history of the Joseon Dynasty,” he said. Another of Choi’s goals is to document the history of Neo-Confucianism and factional strife during the Joseon Dynasty, the publication of which would be his life’s masterpiece. Choi wrapped up the interview by quoting Confucius: “Why did you not say to him, ‘He is simply a man who in his eager pursuit of knowledge forgets his food, who in the joy of its attainment forgets his sorrows, and who does not perceive that old age is coming on?’”


German Edition of a Commander’s Battlefield Narrative

in itself. It is easier to detect errors and misunderstandings in the transla-


cannot ascertain whether a translation is inadequate or an original is sub-

Written by Kim Hoon, Translated by Heidi Kang and Ahn So-hyun, Stuttgart: Edition Delta, 196 pages, €17.50

tions of political or economic writings because of the context. In contrast, the mistranslation of a literary work can result in disaster. Most readers standard; such dissatisfaction is likely to be directed toward the original author. Therefore, such an excellent translation like this by Heidi Kang and Ahn So-hyun is a bonanza indeed!

Last year, the prestigious Daesan Literary Award for Translation was

“Kal-ui norae ,” published in 2001, immediately became a bestseller

presented to Heidi Kang for “Schwertgesang,” the German version of Kim

and received the Dong-in Literary Award. It has been translated into Span-

Hoon’s novel “The Song of the Sword” (Kal-ui norae ). Another talented

ish (2005) and French (2006), while an English version is in the works. The

translator, Ahn So-hyun, contributed to this project as well. Heidi Kang’s

German translation was published in 2008.

long list of translation works, including those which have earned various

Yi Sun-sin, the book’s lead character, is credited as the naval com-

awards, makes her one of the most important culture mediators for intro-

mander whose strategic tactics were pivotal in thwarting the Japanese

ducing Korean literature to its still-too-few connoisseurs in the world.

invaders during the seven-year war against Japan (1592-1598). While his

Technical translation is equally difficult, but literary translation is an art

Werner Sasse Painter/Koreanist Kim Hak-soon Journalist Lee Yong-shik Professor, Chonnam National University

role in the war has always been known, Yi was originally recognized as

Books &

Jongmyo Jeryeak: Ritual Music for Royal Ancestors

shrine of the Joseon Dynasty, which was inscribed on the UNESCO World

“Jongmyo Jeryeak”

No. 1 in 1964 upon the enactment of the law for the preservation of nation-

Ocora Radio France, 65:04, €16.99 ($18.96)

Heritage List in 1995. This solemn and majestic ritual music is one of Korea’s valuable cultural assets, designated Intangible Cultural Property al cultural heritages. In 2001, it was listed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

As the first outcome of its 10-year “Korean Music” project, Radio France

The CD includes the complete 27 pieces of music that accompany the

has released a CD recording of “Jongmyo Jeryeak,” the ritual music that

ceremonies: 11 from the “Botaepyeong” suite extolling the scholarly virtues

accompanies the elaborate ceremonies conducted at the royal ancestral

of the kings; another 11 from the “Jeongdae-eop” suite praising the mili-

shrine of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) in Seoul.

tary accomplishments of the kings; the three opening pieces to welcome

“It sounds like noble, refined music, hieratic at times yet always full of

the royal spirits, including “Yeongsin Huimun ”; and the two closing pieces

dignity. I am pleased to start our cooperation with such a

“Cheolbyeondu ” and “Songsin ” to see off the spirits. Radio

musical standard,” said a producer of Radio France.

France completed the mastering in November 2010 from

Since the 1960s, through its world music label Ocora,

the recording of a concert performed by veteran musi-

Radio France has sought to introduce the traditional

cians of the Court Music Orchestra at the National Gugak

music of countries all around the world, including that

Center in 2003.

of Africa and Asia. It is planning to release one or two

The traditional rites and music can be experienced in

recordings of traditional Korean music every year over a

person once a year when the rites are performed on the

10-year period. The Jongmyo Jeryeak CD has been dis-

first Sunday of May at Jongmyo by descendants of the Yi

tributed since October 2011 by Harmonia Mundi, a French

royal family of Joseon.

record label. Jongmyo Jeryeak is a combination of vocal and instrumental music and dance, traditionally performed during the ancestral rites conducted at Jongmyo, the royal


Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

one of several heroes due to the politi-

ity, hatred, and shrewdness. Modern Koreans, no longer willing to blindly

cal intrigue of that time. But he started to

accept heroic role models, can see in this book their own complex psyche

be acknowledged for his lead role during

manifested in an individual who is being torn apart by tumultuous conflict

the Japanese colonial period and then

— a man struggling to make the best of his fate. A depiction of modern

became Korea’s foremost national hero

man as reflected in a historical figure appeals not only to Korean readers

after liberation in 1945, especially dur-

but lovers of refined literature worldwide.

ing the dictatorial regime of Park Chunghee, a former army general.

Superb literature the novel is, with subject and style in exquisite harmony. A first-person narrative written in short sentences, it often explores

It is this background that makes the

opposing concepts and juxtaposes savage and lyrical expressions. Abrupt

content of this book so relevant in Korea

contextual change in the mood and emotion, vivid descriptions of land-

today. Social change has created an

scapes, and forthright portrayal of the atrocity and inhumanity of war and

atmosphere in which there is no place for flawless and sacrosanct heroes.

intrigue, make for truly captivating reading. Indeed, this is a great transla-

Yi Sun-sin is thus presented in the book as a normal human being who

tion of a great original!

lives a life of contradictions and inconsistent emotions, such that moments of poetic beauty, love, and contemplation overlap with a sense of brutal-

More English Blogs and Cyber Guide to Korean Cuisine

The photos and crisp writing style give her blog the flavor of a book on cul-;;

of Gwangjang Market and the unrefined rice wine, makgeolli , available at

Blogs by foreigners who have fallen in love with Korean cuisine are

tural criticism. Flinn’s blog includes features on the oversized bindaetteok Pungmul Market for only 1,000 won. You can also view photos of freshly steamed rice topped with overripe kimchi from an alleyway restaurant in

enjoying widespread popularity these days, with several “power blogs”

Samcheong-dong, and a recipe for yukhoe , a dish made with raw beef. Flinn

attracting an average of several thousand daily visits.

worked as an English teacher in Andong and Gyeongju before returning to

One of the best known foodie sites is Operated by Joe

UCLA to complete her master’s degree in Korean Studies. She now works

McPherson for the past eight years, it once recorded 18,000 visits in a sin-

for the overseas public relations section of the Ministry of Culture, Sports

gle day. The blog features recipes for poktanbap (“bomb meal”) offered in

and Tourism.

the hagwon (private cram school) district of Noryangjin, in the southwest- is the blog of Daniel Gray, an ethnic Korean who was

ern area of Seoul; nurungji snacks made of crusty rice from the bottom of

adopted by an American family at the age of five, but returned to Korea

the pot; and rabokki , a variation of tteokbokki (spicy rice cake) with ramy-

because he couldn’t forget the taste of cold cucumber soup from his Kore-

eon noodles added. McPherson, editor of “10 Magazine,” a publication for

an childhood. He now loves all Korean food. He serves as a food tour guide

foreigners in Korea, talks about life in Korea through the food and presents

for tourists and foreigners living in Korea, taking them to street carts for

the social meaning and historical background of particular dishes. He talks

snacks, then to eateries specializing in barbequed pork skirt-meat, and

about countryside life with boribap (boiled barley), the Korean War with

finally to restaurants for makgeolli and pajeon , or green-onion pancakes.

budae jjigae (literally “army stew”), a spicy sausage stew, and the night life

Duck baked in clay is served with dongchimi , a watery radish kimchi, along

and the democracy movement with haejangguk , a soup that is known as a

with pickled radish slices and chives salad. The crispy brown duck is opened

hangover remedy. He himself loves cheonggukjang , pungent bean paste

to reveal a stuffing of lustrous black rice and sticky rice as well as ginseng

stew, and also savors steamed barley and bindaeddeok (mung bean pan-

root, pumpkin seed, and various medicinal herbs. A serving of janchi guksu

cake) with dongdongju , a traditional rice wine.

(“banquet noodles”) follows. The reviews are detailed and informative, is a site run by Jennifer Flinn. An anthropology major, Flinn effectively brings to life Korean culture and tradition in her stories.

Koreana ı Spring 2012

embellished with mouth-watering photos. The photos alone could make for a satisfying meal.


Gourmet’s Delight


Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts


sambap is a uniquely Korean food (ssam means “wrap” and bap means “rice”), which traditionally was made by wrapping rice with leafy greens. Of course, other countries have their own forms of food wraps, like the Vietnamese and the Mexican fajita, while China and Southeast Asian countries are known for the chunjuan , or spring roll. In large part, these variations use a thin pastry sheet to wrap a variety of ingredients. But ssambap uses the leaves of green vegetables, like lettuce or perilla, as the outer wrapping.

Rooted in ‘Field Meal’ Ssambap originated from deulbap (“field rice” or “field meal”), a meal for field workers that often used fresh vegetables found in the wild. Farmers working in fields and paddies, who could easily gather leafy greens for wrapping, only needed to bring along rice and ssamjang sauce to prepare a refreshing and nutritious midday meal. Koreans have long foraged various vegetables from nature for the making of ssam or namul (vegetable side dishes). They have eaten rice wrapped in greens for at least two thousand years, according to references from the early Three Kingdoms period. Ancient Chinese are said to have highly prized sangchu , a type of Korean lettuce. A Chinese science book from the 17th century (Tian lu shi yu ) refers to Korean lettuce as a “thousand-gold-worth vegetable” for its rarity and exceptional quality. “Seasonal Customs of the Eastern Kingdom” (Dongguk sesigi ), a Korean manuscript of the 19th century during the latter part of the Joseon Dynasty, says: “On full-moon days, people wrapped rice in chwi-namul (wild aster), leaves of Chinese cabbage, or dried seaweed, in what is called bokssam (literally “luck wrapping”).” In the past, when rice was often not readily available, it was a precious commodity for commoners. Eating clumps of rice wrapped with fresh greens may have been regarded as “eating wrapped luck.” Therefore, this culinary custom on full-moon days was likely a kind of ritual appeal for good fortune. Even today, in terms of its nutritional value, having a meal of ssambap can be seen as an act of “eating luck.”

Any large leaf vegetable can be used for ssam . In modern times, leafy greens from overseas, such as chicory, romaine, or mustard greens are also added, enriching the dish. The photo shows a table setting at Gangchon Ssam­bap in Pyeongchang-dong in Seoul.

Leafy Wraps and Sauce A wide variety of leafy greens are used for wraps, such as the leaves of lettuce, crown daisy, perilla, Chinese cabbage, bean, wild aster, water parsley, butterbur, wild mountain lettuce (sseumbagwi ), chili, curled (narrow-leaf) dock, castor bean, spinach, and burdock. Even the leaves of young pumpkin



Healthy and Delicious ‘Good Luck’ Wrap

Ssambap is a uniquely Korean dish that uses the leaves of lettuce, or other leafy vegetables, to wrap rice and various ingredients together with a special sauce. From its humble origins as a midday treat for field workers, it has come a long way to gain recognition, at home and abroad, as a delightful and tasty health food in recent years. Ye Jong-suk Food Columnist; Professor of Marketing, Hanyang University | Ahn Hong-beom Photographer

Koreana ı Spring 2012


can be used. “Trivial Discourses of Seongho” (Seongho saseol ), an encyclopedic text from the 18th century, notes that “any vegetable with big leaves could be used for wrapping rice to eat.” In addition, aquatic vegetation, like miyeok (sea mustard), gim (seaweed), and dashima (kelp), are long-time favorites for making ssambap. Most often, seasonal vegetables are favored, but in the winter, when fresh vegetables are hard to come by, wraps can be made with dried vegetables after they are soaked. Ssamjang sauce is essential for the preparation of a proper ssam­bap. This sauce provides seasoning, similar to a salad dressing in the West, but with an added zing and pungency. In general, this special sauce is made by combining doenjang (soybean paste) with gochujang (chili pepper paste) and other ingredients, such as sesame seed, sesame oil, onion, garlic, and green onion. The sauce can also include slivers of sauteed beef. Gang doenjang , a ssamjang variation with an especially thick consistency, is well suited for pumpkin-leaf wraps. Grilled meat has become the primary ingredient of the modern wrap, which may not necessarily include rice. This contemporary version focuses on using a lettuce leaf to wrap meat and ssamjang, giving a new spin to the age-old culinary tradition. Vegetable leaf wraps can also be filled with morsels of braised mackerel or yellow corvina.

‘Ssambap Etiquette’ Ssambap was a commoner’s food, eaten in the fields, but later came to be enjoyed by the elite class and even the king. A ssambap menu from the late Joseon period lists several kinds of vegetables served with rice and jeolmi-doenjang-jochi (soybean-paste stew with beef), byeongeo-gamjeong (pomfret braised in soy sauce and hot pepper paste), fried small shrimp, jangddokddogi (beef simmered in soy sauce), and yakgochujang (chili pepper paste sautéed with minced beef). Ssambap had become a food fit for a king. Although it is known to have been served to the king, ssambap seems to never have been regarded as a refined food throughout the Joseon era. Yi Deok-mu, a scholar of the Practical Learning (silhak ) during late Joseon, advised elite scholars in his book, “The


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Scholar’s Seasonal Ways” (Sasojeol ), not to eat ssambap with their bare hands or to open their mouth too widely. In light of the propriety of Confucian principles, he apparently thought it was unseemly for high-class yangban nobles to be seen eating this commoner’s food with their bare hands and mouths wide open. In order to not be seen with your eyes enlarged as you open your mouth wide, Yi prescribed specific instructions for proper dining etiquette: “You should spoon rice onto a plate and use chopsticks to place a couple of green leaves over the rice. Use the chopsticks to put the wrap into your mouth and then quickly dip the chopsticks into the sauce to have seasoning before you finish chewing.” However, this impractical process was generally ignored by scholars. In contrast, Eou yadam (Master Eou’s Collection of Historical Romances) calls for the rice wrap to be eaten to enjoy its full flavor by “opening the mouth as wide as the South Gate and stuffing the whole wrap inside.”

Global Appeal In recent years, ssambap has received worldwide attention for its healthy ingredients and savory combination of flavors. Outside of Korea, it is best known as a vegetable leaf wrap with some kind of meat inside. A recent food article in the Chicago Tribune touted ssambap as a delicious health food that people can enjoy assembling at the dining table. Momofuku Ssäm Bar, a Manhattan restaurant that specializes in ssambap dishes, has been named one of the world’s 50 best restaurants by Britain’s Restaurant Magazine and received a three-star rating from a food critic of the New York Times. While maintaining the dish’s original roots, Gangchon Ssambap in Pyeongchang-dong in Seoul has created an upscale variety of ssambap, with assorted ingredients and a unique sauce made with nuts. Amid ongoing efforts for the globalization of Korean cuisine, we can look forward to seeing even more innovative versions of this attractive dish, which will help further enhance the healthfulness and tastiness of Korea’s food culture.

Wrapping meat and ssamjang sauce in colorful layers of greens. Famous ssam restaurants have their own unique sauce secrets. The chef of Gangchon Ssambap confidentially explained his method of “frying bean paste with onion and garlic in perilla oil and topping with coarsely chopped peanuts.” Wrapping suyuk , steamed pork (left), rather than barbequed pork, is a healthier alternative.

A recent food article in the Chicago Tribune introduced ssambap as a delicious health food that people can enjoy assembling at the dining table.

Koreana ı Spring 2012



Gukgung Shooting an Arrow at Your Own Heart At an archery range, in use for over the past 100 years, people shoot arrows at targets against a panorama of the city’s skyline of high-rises. Gukgung , Korea’s traditional martial arts form of archery, is enjoying a resurgence as a modern-day sport. Park Ok-soon Freelance Writer Ahn Hong-beom Photographer



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ripping a bow in his left hand and an arrow in the right, a silver-haired archer takes his position at the shooting stand. The target stands exactly 145 meters away. The archer takes a breath and raises his bow before drawing the bowstring to its proper tautness. His right hand holding the tautly drawn bowstring quivers ever so slightly. There is a hushed stillness for several seconds. And finally, the arrow takes flight. About two seconds later, a thwack is heard as the arrow strikes the target.

‘Movement of Tranquility’ “It looks easy enough, but the more you practice, the more difficult shooting an arrow becomes,” explains Professor Shin Kwakkyun moments after stepping down from the stand. “Most of all, you can’t do it right if your heart isn’t ready. You have to focus and put everything into it. You shouldn’t be too eager to hit the target. Your body, mind, and breathing have to come together as one. At the moment the arrow is released, you and the target must be one.” Turning 70 this year, Shin started to learn gukgung just 10 years ago. He had wondered what he would do during his retirement years and decided to take up Korea’s traditional archery. It has become so integral to his life that he now practices every day at Bundangjeong, an archery range in Seongnam, south of Seoul. Another septuagenarian professor, Kim Hyung-kook, who first took up the sport after age 60, has since become addicted to it. Every day, he practices at Hwanghakjeong, an archery field in Sajik Park in central Seoul, the capital area’s foremost site for traditional archery. Some years ago, he published a book, an introductory survey on the culture of Korean traditional archery. Professor Kim observes that “the moment of uniting movement and tranquility is the essence of this martial art.” Although beloved today as a sporting activity for physical exercise and good health, gukgung is fundamentally about handling a weapon comprised of bow and arrow — a type of martial art with a history of thousands of years. According to an ancient document, the distance from the

stand to the target should be just over 200 meters, at a maximum, requiring the arrow to travel at a rate of 50 to 60 kilometers per hour. But pyeonjeon , a shorter arrow about 24 to 36 centimeters in length, known as a “baby arrow,” can strike a target up to 420 meters away, for which it must reach a speed at 70 kilometers per hour.

Archery of the East and the West From ancient times, the Korean people were widely known to be excellent archers. While the Chinese favored the spear and the Japanese the sword, Koreans were highly skillful with the bow and arrow. From long ago, the Chinese called Koreans Dong-i-jok , literally meaning the “eastern tribe with large bows.” Like Jumong, the legendary founder of the Goguryeo Kingdom, the founders Wang Geon of the Goryeo Dynasty and Yi Seong-gye of the Joseon Dynasty were also known for their archery prowess. In modern times, the Korean women’s archery team has won six consecutive championships at the Olympic Games, while the Korean men’s archery team is not far behind with three consecutive victories, an unprecedented record of dominance, perhaps somehow related to the longstanding reputation of their forebears who also gained international recognition. Before the emergence of weapons with gunpowder, the bow was an effective and lethal weapon. Indeed, in the seventh century, an arrow shot by a commander of Goguryeo forced the retreat of a large-scale Tang army when it struck the eye of Emperor Taizong. As an accurate, powerful weapon, archery was long at the center of Korean history. Today, this traditional archery form is called gukgung, literally “national archery,” to distinguish it from the Western-style archery that is part of the Olympics. But what are the differences? A modified version of traditional Western-style archery, which had originated in England and Europe, was introduced to Korea in the early 1960s. The socalled “Robin Hood bow” was reborn in Korea as

2 1. Professor Shin Kwak-kyun practices archery every day at Bundangjeong, an archery field in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. 2. At a gukgung range, the distance from the archer to the target is 145 meters. Koreana ı Spring 2012


slightly longer than the native North American wooden bow (110 centimeters). Due to its compact length, the Korean bow can be easily carried and used, while its design allows maximum range without requiring great strength. The typical Korean bow is made with the horn of a water buffalo. It is thus also called gakgung , or “horn bow.” It is also known as mangokgung , meaning “gently curved bow.” The bow looks like a gentle wave at rest, but takes on an “M” shape when the bowstring is drawn taut. The arrow is usually made of bamboo with a length of 60 centimeters. Making a traditional horn bow requires two months at least, making it too expensive for regular archers. For recreation and sport, modified bows and arrows are made from materials used in Western archery, with the characteristics of Korean archery retained to the extent practical.

“Unlike the extreme sports that are popular these days,

gukgung requires discipline of the body and the mind. With a bow in my hand, I feel relaxed and focused.”

yanggung , meaning “Western archery.” With this form of archery, which uses a mechanical or fixed sight, you shoot an arrow to strike the center of a target at a maximum distance of 90 meters. In contrast, gukgung uses no mechanical sight affixed to the bow, involves a distance of 145 meters, and scores any hit on the target. One reason for yanggung’s shorter range is the relative straightness of its bow, which provides much less thrust than the gukgung bow’s pronounced curvature. Korea’s traditional archery incorporates the advantages of both the short bow and the long bow. In general, bows are classified as a short bow, about one meter in length, or a long bow, with a length of two meters. The bows used in today’s archery competitions typically range from 120 to 130 centimeters. This is shorter than the English longbow (192 centimeters), the Japanese bamboo bow (220 centimeters), and the Mongolian horn bow (160 centimeters), though


Discipline of the Body and Mind Nowadays, the people seen on the archery fields include those of the younger generation as well. The popular film “War of the Arrows” (Choejong byeonggi ), a huge box office success last year, has served to spark people’s interest in traditional archery. The movie tells the story of a “legendary archer” who played a key role during the Manchurian invasion of Korea in 1636. The number of those with an active interest in archery is estimated at some 35,000, while archery fields across the country have mushroomed as well, reaching 356. There are 20 institutes that teach traditional Korean archery, along with 10 professional teams. According to statistics compiled by the Korean Olympic Committee, the number of traditional-style archers in 2009 amounted to 11,560. As such, archery can be seen as the second-most popular sport in Korea, after soccer. In addition, an archery competition is held every week at most archery fields as part of a large-scale competition, beginning in March when the weather warms up. More than 40 major competitions are annually conducted these days. Bae Tae-rang, a 21-year-old male awaiting the start of his military service soon, has been learning traditional archery for a month after practicing Japanese fencing (kendo) last year. He is not yet allowed to shoot an arrow, but instead practices drawing back the bowstring. He is learning the ethos of Korean archery from a master. Under an eave of the pavilion overlooking the archery range there is a carved axiom that reads Seon­ ye Hugung , which means: “Learn the way first and then shoot.” Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

On the shooting platform, people stand in order from the eldest to youngest, and the oldest shoots first, a courtesy in Korean traditional archery.

Kim Su-hee, found at another archery field, is a 35-year-old housewife who was introduced to this sport in September last year. She began the phase of jipgung , or shooting, in December. It took her a bit longer than the usual two months for learning the basic skills before shooting, because she couldn’t practice enough due to her children and household responsibilities. “After I started archery, my poor posture improved, along with my psychological outlook. At the beginning, it might be a little boring, but if you can overcome that stage and taste the real flavor of archery, you can get really engrossed,” she said.

Bae says: “I got interested in archery because it is a traditional martial art. Unlike the extreme sports that are popular these days, gukgung requires discipline of the body and the mind. With a bow in my hand, I feel relaxed and focused. I think it is especially helpful to improve concentration.” Seo Sook-hee, another gukgung enthusiast encountered at the archery range, said that she took up the sport in April last year. She loves sports and has worked her way through various activities, such as riding horses, shooting guns, and learning Western archery, but she’s two thumbs up for gukgung, insisting that no sport can match it. Amazingly fit and spry at 78, she says, “While shooting, you automatically use abdominal breathing, so the activity is healthy, and I can feel my mind clear up. There are not so many sports you can start after turning 70, but I’ve enjoyed gukgung every day since starting it.” Koreana ı Spring 2012

The Real Target is Yourself At the Hwanghakjeong archery facility, there are 180 members who pay monthly fees of 40,000 won for men and 30,000 won for women. A notable member is a 68-year-old German engineer, Karl Zeilinger, who has been given the Korean name Chae Rim-geo. Since first learning about gukgung some 27 years ago, he has visited Korea every year to learn its finer points by traveling around the country and visiting various archery ranges. He spends much of his time with the craft masters of bow and arrow making to learn about their intricate processes. He is now writing a book on the history of Korean archery, and Korean archers will readily acknowledge that finding anyone who knows more about gukgung than Zeilinger would be “next to impossible.” If dizzying change and speed have come to characterize our modern society, then gukgung would be at the opposite end of this lifestyle. It emphasizes patience and contemplation, rather than the pleasure of immediate gratification. The goal of this sport is the training of oneself. When an archer draws back the bowstring, he seems to look at the target 145 meters in the distance. But the essence of gukgung is about shooting at your own heart. This is why ever more people have come to embrace this ancient form of martial art as a fundamental part of their everyday life.




he average viewership ratings for “Nationwide Singing Contest” surprisingly exceed 11 percent. Compared with pop music shows like “Music Bank,” which features K-pop singers performing their latest hits, which still struggle to attain 8 percent ratings, the song contest for amateurs remains a leader of the pack for Korean music programs. Its ratings are comparable to “I Am a Singer,” a primetime Sunday evening “survivor” show in which professional singers engage in such fierce competition that viewers are led to discuss their creative interpretation and nitpick even the most minor slipups. How, then, does this amateur contest program continue to enjoy such widespread popularity, even though it is rooted in a bygone era of Korean TV music programming?

Stairway to National Stardom Although the program’s appeal today is indebted to the countless performers who put all their heart and soul into their brief moment in the spotlight, the program began 40 years ago as a serious audition program to discover unknown singers. Launched in October 1971 as “Nationwide Singing Contest for the KBS Champion Cup,” the program’s publicity materials included the following information: “At each local KBS broadcasting station, a top singer is selected every week, and these singers will participate in a monthly contest, after which another round is held every four months to select the finalists. Those who reach the finals will compete in the year-end

nationwide contest for amateur singers. A new professional singer will be born this way, as the final winner receives the KBS championship cup and becomes a member of the Korean Singers’ Association. This program discovers the hidden talent of amateur singers, contributes to the development of the pop music and entertainment field, and serves as a gateway to a singing career.” The program was thus a “survivor” singing contest for amateurs in the 1970s, and kind of a precursor to today’s “Super Star K” and “A Great Star Is Born” (Widaehan Tansaeng ), in which young people compete for a chance to become a star singer. The program was aired at 7 p.m. every Saturday, an ideal time for family group viewing. At a time when TV viewership in Korea was still on the rise, unknown local singers from all over the country could appear on the program for a chance to receive the champion’s cup and even pursue a professional singing career. You can imagine its appeal to participants and popularity among viewers. Another TV broadcaster, MBC, launched a similar contest program that featured promising new singers. However, more often than not, the contest winners did not actually realize commercial success thereafter. Viewer interest in the program eventually waned, and it went off the air in 1977. A revival was attempted a couple of years later, but to no avail. Around that time, other pathways were being opened for singers to pursue commercial opportunities, making the program’s failure all but inevitable.

Local Songfests Strike a Chord with TV Viewers On a languid Sunday if you’re feeling out of sorts, turn on your TV to watch “Nationwide Singing Contest” (Jeonguk Norae Jarang ), an unassuming yet amusing local talent program spotlighting ordinary people. Some sing terribly, but for the local audience and TV viewers around the country, this only adds to the show’s entertainment value. The widely beloved, 85-year-old emcee has presided over these community songfests for the past 25 years. Lee Young-mee Pop Culture Critic; Adjunct Professor, Sungkonghoe University


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Soon after MBC’s “College Singing Contest” was first broadcast in 1977, other TV stations joined the competition with talent contest shows for college students and other young people. While competitors at “Nationwide Singing Contest for the KBS Champion Cup” would perform already well-known songs to demonstrate their singing ability, the new contest programs became platforms for young singers to introduce their original works, thereby contributing to the development of Korean popular music by homegrown talents. The decline of the song contest for amateurs was thus understandable.

A Veteran Comedian Emcee In November 1980, the song contest was successfully revived — but with a revised format. “KBS Champion Cup” was dropped from the program title. And while the final year-end competition was still held, there were no expectations that the winner would go on to musical stardom. It became a competition just for amateurs who loved to sing. It thus emerged as a distinctive form of program, unlike the “College Singing Contest” and other similar singing competitions. And when the veteran comedian Song Hae became its emcee in 1988, the program clearly carved out its own niche in the local entertainment scene. Song Hae, born in 1927, was already 60 years old at the time. The selection of a senior comedian for the show was indeed unexpected, particularly since his popularity had peaked sometime before. Yet, his gregarious personality was exactly what the revived program needed to connect with the local audiences and TV viewers countrywide. In short, the program gave up its quest to be young, refined, cool, or serious. Instead, it became a fest in which ordinary people, mostly middle-aged and older, with no pretense at sophistication, could take the stage to whole-heartedly give their all in song and dance. The contest was no longer about local singers who might become the envy of their neighbors by advancing to the finals. They would sing popular tunes and common drinking songs, which everyone was familiar with. The grandfatherly Song Hae,

Koreana ı Spring 2012

a familiar face to generations of TV viewers, has crisscrossed the country several times over to host the songfests in even the most remote villages in the countryside and along the sea coasts.

Secret of the Program’s Longevity This is not a show that seeks to entertain the audience with impressive singers. As soon as a participant introduces himself/ herself, with their name, place of residence, occupation, and age, the performer on stage is embraced by the audience as one of their own. After all, everyone is from the same village or a nearby area. They simply want to sing with gusto, with little concern about how they might sound, and dance freely with vigorous gyrations. Even though the chimes might go off, to cut short the performance midway through, the singer never shows any sign of disappointment or hint of embarrassment. From the very outset, they have no intention of “singing like a singer,” while the audience, consisting of fellow villagers and local residents, is indeed an extended family. The program is an opportunity for the audience to welcome the popular emcee to their hometown and to publicize their local specialties. During the program, Song is often presented with various gifts of local produce and treated to a sample of the local cuisine. Typically, an elderly woman will come on stage to give a taste of some local specialty to Song, who uses exaggerated facial expressions to make known his delight with its tastiness or excessive spiciness, invariably causing the audience to burst into hearty laughter. As the emcee, Song smoothly performs his role both as program host and guest of the hometown audience. His endless banter aside, he will even sneak onto the stage to mimic an elderly woman performer, who, engrossed in her own world of rapture, might hardly notice his presence. He might use the same old routines, but people seem to never tire of his act. Though a rather outdated format, this singing contest program has managed to endure all this while with a heavy dose of folksy charm. When everyone else aspires to exhibit excellence and professionalism, this program is a showcase of how ordinary folks of the countryside can give and take such delight in each other’s love for laughter and community togetherness.


Journeys in Korean Literature

Kwon Ji-ye In the stories written by Kwon Ji-ye (1960- ), you will likely find food and cooking used as a starting point, central issue, or background. She has said that during the eight years she spent in France, she bought up and studied every kind of cookery book. Actual experiences of cooking or the sentiments provoked by handling the raw ingredients seem to provide a literary insight of her own.


Loneliness in Blue Crab’s Name Uh Soo-woong Arts & Culture Reporter, The Chosun Ilbo


tewed eel, samgyetang (chicken ginseng soup), gujeolpan (platter of nine delicacies), vin chaud , beef-bone dishes, Vietnamese noodles, ice cream parfait, marinated crab: these dishes serve as the backbone of Kwon Ji-ye’s works. Her short story “Blue Crab Grave” is redolent with the aroma of simmering soy sauce. The central female character is addicted to crabs marinated in soy sauce, while the male narrator, with whom she lived for a while, says that a crab smell emanated from deep inside her; food permeates the story. The author has said, “You only attain artistry if you explore in depth whatever it is that you do best.” In the 1990s, Kwon spent eight years in France, during which time she earned a doctorate degree in literature at Paris VII University. Originally, the plan had simply been that she would accompany her husband, an art critic, during his study abroad. What was supposed to be a three-year stay turned into eight years, during which the roller coaster of Kwon’s life careened at a speed that she could never have imagined. Before leaving Korea, Kwon had been a run-of-the-mill middle-school English teacher, but in France she immersed herself in art and literature. This was not a pursuit of art as a fanciful luxury. She was the eldest of four children; their father was a career military man such that in the first five years of her schooling the family needed to move 19 times. While she was in middle school,


her father retired from the army and started up various business ventures, all of which failed. This included molding, tailoring, and fence-building enterprises, for which he was always the CEO. She recalls, “Mother was all the time struggling to pay back loans and every time my name was called out for not having paid the school fees on time I just wanted to die.” Life in France was not so different. With a monthly income of 1.5 million won (about $1,200), her family of four was forced to make do in a tiny apartment. Still, she refused to abandon her interest in art. She was encouraged by how artistic fulfillment helped to compensate for her lack of material affluence. Every weekend, she and her husband would tour the flea markets to look for paintings. If they managed to scrape together 500,000 won they would purchase a painting. Their once-a-month treat would be having hamburgers at McDonald’s. With this being the only time they could afford to eat out, you can imagine just how cash-strapped they were. While her husband’s discerning eye as an art critic had a certain influence on her tastes, she was driven by her personal passion for literature. To describe herself, Kwon says, “Tenaciously pursuing things is not my style.” She says she easily grows tired of something, while she is not inclined to depend on others. She confesses: “Only when I’m writing a story, only then do I feel really alive, as if I have sharpened my tools and gotten down to work.” Ko re a n Cu l tu re & A rts

After nearly 10 years of study, she managed to have her first story published in the Korean literary review La Plume while she was still in France. Since then her literary output has been prolific: collections of short stories such as “Dreaming Marionette,” “Burst of Laughter” and “Blue Crab Grave,” as well as the full-length novels “Beautiful Hell” and “Temptation.” For her short story “Eel Stew,” Kwon earned the 2002 Yi Sang Literary Award, while in 2005, her third collection of stories, “Blue Crab Grave,” received the Dong-in Literary Award. After this award was expanded in 2000, with a permanent jury to consider book-length collections, she became the first woman writer to gain such recognition. The inspiration for “Blue Crab Grave” came from the marinated crab dish. In 2003, after returning from a trip to Ganghwa Island where she had watched the sunset while dining on marinated crabs, the next day she sat down and wrote, “without eating, without sleeping, without bathing.” When asked about this extreme approach, she remarked, “People used to scorn me, saying I was showing off.” Then she added, “I tend not to tidy up loose ends; if an idea strikes me, I at once give it free rein, and only feel relieved when I’ve reached the end.” “Blue Crab Grave,” concisely described, is essentially a work about how the solitude of a person might be compared to that of a blue crab. Kwon Ji-ye’s stories invariably depict people who are victims of the torment of loneliness. Personalities and situations vary, but the characters end up being trapped between an impulse toward hateful expression and a willingness to suffer in silence. Koreana ı Spring 2012

If the will to exist ends up crumbling in this way, this can result in an explosion of unexpected hatred that sweeps away normal emotions and silence. The Dong-in Literary Award jury has noted: “The author’s style, in dealing with such raw emotions, is subtle, fresh, and elegant. That is quite amazing. Through a dramatic contrast between the sentiments and the style, she succeeds in a very ‘lonely task,’ transforming into intellectual questions all the savage compulsions lurking deep beneath our contemporaries’ solitude.” That is to say that the primary appeal of Kwon Ji-ye’s writing can be found in the contrast between the repugnance of human emotions and the sophistication of her style. For most women writers of Kwon’s generation, the collapse and restoration of the family is a common theme, which typically involves two approaches: the main character either rejects the family and leaves home to follow a chosen path, or upon succumbing to morality’s rules of cause and effect, returns home. The critic Kim Hyeong-jung finds in Kwon Ji-ye’s works a new aspect setting out in an entirely different direction. “Instead of familiar accounts of departure and return, Kwon Ji-ye engages in a search for a theory of the elements of morality. Her quest for an essential theory of the contradictory bipolarity of water and fire is of immense value in terms of literary enrichment and is breathing new life into Korean fiction.” To sum up, with her combination of femininity and narrative ability, Kwon Ji-ye stands at the forefront of contemporary Korean literature.


KOREANA - Spring 2012 (English)  
KOREANA - Spring 2012 (English)  

KOREANA - Spring 2012 (English)