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Korean Literature


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Korean literature is the body of literature produced by Koreans, mostly in the Korean language and sometimes in Classical Chinese. For much of Korea's 1,500 years of literary history, it was written in Hanja. It is commonly divided into classical and modern periods, although this distinction is sometimes unclear. Korea is home to the world's first metal and copper type, world's earliest known printed document and the world's first featural script.
General overview
In general, the written arts have a tradition in epigraphic inscriptions on stones, in early tombs, and on rarely found bamboo pieces that formed early books. Repeated invasions and sacking of the east and west capitals, as well as the difficulty in preserving written texts on bamboo, make works before 1000 rare. Those works were entirely written in Chinese characters, the language of scholars, but of course incorporated Korean words and mindset. Medieval scholars in Korea learned and employed written Chinese as western schoolmen learned Latin: as a lingua franca for the region. It helped cultural exchanges extensively.

Notable examples of historical records are very well documented from early times, and as well Korean books with movable type, often imperial encyclopedias or historical records, were circulated as early as the 7th century during the Three Kingdoms era from printing wood-blocks; and in the Goryeo era the world's first metal type, and books printed by metal type, most probably of copper, were produced, fully two hundred years before the work of Johann Gutenberg or William Caxton who, to most Westerners, "invented" the first printing presses.

Scriptoria have existed since the beginning of the culture, and rose to great importance inBuddhist and later Confucianist schools with circulation of texts, inter-lineal glosses, and commentaries from those religions. Most Buddhist literature was recited aloud, had limited repeated vocabulary, and was used for deeply impressing religious states, or for memory training or mnemonics.
Genres are similar to Chinese, and even western ones. There are epics, poetry, religious texts and exegetical commentaries on Buddhist and Confucianist learning; translations of foreign works; plays and court rituals; comedies, tragedies, mixed genres; and various kinds of novels.

Radioplays and screenplays are extensive, few have been translated, many are archived but not available to the public. And no research work has been done in this area. Translation work of the most famous Korean literature has been slow. During the colonial period, creative writing in Korean was forbidden, and there are few works of literature published at home from 1910 to 1945. Works by exiles in Shanghai, and other regions, are little known. The overseas Korean writers, expatriates, have had limited success other than in travel literature, which is widely read.

Korean epic is best represented by works such as Yi Gyu-bo's King Dongmyeong of Goguryeo (Dongmyeongwangpyeon), which derives much of its influence from narrative histories done by writers such as Lee Je-hyeon (hangul: 이제현, hanja: 李齊賢), and before that Lee In-ro (hangul: 이인로, hanja: 李仁老), Lee Gyu-bo (hangul: 이규보, hanja: 李奎報), and Choi Chu for battlefield histories and stories.

To some extent 20th century literature under Western influence has moved to separate integrated art forms such as calligraphy to the standardization of printed books. The 21st century though has revived integrated art forms of literature in Korean animated blogs, and over-designed, visually dense homepages and websites. Manhwa, or illustrated novels, are very popular.
Contemporary Korean literature is robust as Korea is a nation of readers. Book prices are low, and writers are respected, with many having academic positions as well as being well known on television.




Classical Poetry
Classical Korean literature has its roots in traditional folk beliefs and folk tales of the Korean peninsula. There are four major traditional poetic forms: hyangga ("native songs"); pyolgok ("special songs"), or changga ("long poems"); sijo ("current melodies"); and kasa ("verses"). Other poetic forms that flourished briefly include the kyonggi-style, in the 14th and 15th centuries, and the akchang ("words for songs") in the 15th century. The most representative akchang is Yongbi och'on ka (1445–47; Songs of Flying Dragons), a cycle compiled in praise of the founding of the Yi dynasty. Korean poetry originally was meant to be sung, and its forms and styles reflect its melodic origins. The basis of its prosody is a line of alternating groups of three or four syllables, which is probably the most natural rhythm to the language.
One famous earliest poetry or lyric song was the Gonghuin (Konghu-in) by Yeo-ok duringGojoseon.
Main article: Chinese-language literature in Korea
Korean prose literature can be divided into narratives, fiction, and literary miscellany. Narratives include myths, legends, and folktales found in the written records. The principal sources of these narratives are the two great historical records compiled in Classical Chinese during the Koryo era: Samguk sagi (1146; "Historical Record of the Three Kingdoms") andSamguk yusa (1285; "Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms").

The most important myths are those concerning the Sun and the Moon, the founding of Korea by Tangun, and the lives of the ancient kings. The legends touch on place and personal names and natural phenomena.

The folktales include stories about animals; ogres, goblins, and other supernatural beings; kindness rewarded and evil punished; and cleverness and stupidity. Because the compiler of the Samguk yusa was a Zen master, his collection includes the lives of Buddhist saints; the origin of monasteries, stupas, and bells; accounts of miracles performed by Buddhas and bodhisattvas; and other tales rich in shamanist and Buddhist elements. It also includes the 14 hyangga mentioned above. The compilations made in the Koryo period preserved the stories of prehistoric times, of the Three Kingdoms, and of the Silla dynasty and have remained the basic sources for such material. Later compilations made during the Yi dynasty served as a major source of materials for later Yi dynasty fiction.

Korean fiction can be classified in various ways. First, there is Korean fiction written in Chinese and that written in Korean. Second, there are the short works of one volume, "medium" works of about 10 volumes, and long works of more than 10 volumes. Third, there are works of yangban writers and those of common writers. In respect to the last classification, however, there is also a group of fictional works in which the viewpoints of the yangban and the commoner are combined. Most of this fiction was based on the narratives mentioned above, the author adding incidents and characters to the original story. It is not possible to assign definite dates or authors to most of these works. The stories are generally didactic, emphasizing correct moral conduct, and almost always have happy endings. Another general characteristic is that the narratives written by yangban authors are set in China, whereas those written by commoners are set in Korea.

The literary miscellany consists of random jottings by the yangban on four broad topics: history, biography, autobiography, and poetic criticism. Like fiction, these jottings were considered to be outside of the realm of officially sanctioned Chinese prose (e.g., memorials, eulogies, and records), but they provided the yangban with an outlet for personal expression. Thus, their portrayal of the customs, manners, and spirit of the times in which they were composed make these writings an essential part of Korean prose.

The first known classical work of Korean fiction is Geumo Sinhwa (金鰲新話 금오신화 New stories from Mount Geumo) by Kim Si-seup (김시습). It was written in Chinese characters. From the 17th century onwards, fiction became increasingly popular and more readily available through book rental schemes.

Pansori-based fiction was a particularly popular form of fiction, appearing in the late 17th and early 18th century, based on the five orally transmitted pansori (Chunhyangga, Simcheongga, Heungbuga, Jeokbyeokga and Sugungga). Although based on older traditional songs, it was composed in its present form in the 1870s by the pansori writer, and characterized by human stereotypes of ordinary people of the time.

In the mid-Joseon period, parable-like stories were published. By the end of the Joseon period, many writers had started to deviate from the orthodox conventions of classical Chinese literature, and literature about common people such as merchants, thieves, orgisaeng were commonplace.

Oral literature
Oral literature includes all texts that were orally transmitted from generation to generation until the invention of Hangul (han'gul)--ballads, legends, mask plays, puppet-show texts, and p'ansori ("story singing") texts.

In spite of the highly developed literary activity from early in Korean history, song lyrics were not recorded until the invention of Hangul (han'gul). These orally transmitted texts are categorized as ballads and are classified according to singer (male or female), subject matter (prayer, labour, leisure), and regional singing style (capital area, western, and southern).
The songs of many living performers, some of whom have been designated as "intangible national treasures" by the South Korean government, are still being recorded.

Legends include all those folk stories handed down orally and not recorded in any of the written records. These legends were for long the principal form of literary entertainment enjoyed by the common people. They deal with personified animals, elaborate tricks, the participation of the gods in human affairs, and the origin of the universe.

The mask plays are found in Hahoe, Chinju, T'ongyong, Kimhae, and Tongnae in North and South Kyongsang provinces; Yangju in Kyonggi Province; Pongsan in Hwanghae Province; and Pukch'ong in south Hamgyong Province. The most representative plays are the sandae kuk genre of Yangju, the pyolsin kut of Hahoe, and the okwangdae nori (five-actor play) of Chinju. Although the origin of these plays is uncertain, they are generally presumed to have developed from primitive communal ceremonies. Gradually, the ceremonial aspect of the plays disappeared, and their dramatic and comic possibilities were exploited. The dialogue was somewhat flexible, the actors being free to improvise and satirize as the occasion demanded. The plays were not performed on a stage, and there were no precise limits as to the space or time in which the performances took place. The audience also traditionally responded vocally to the play as well as passively watching it. The organization of the mask plays—through repetition and variety—achieves a remarkable effect of dramatic unity. (see also dramatic literature)

Only two puppet-show texts are extant, Kkoktukaksi nori (also called Pak Ch'omjikuk; "Old Pak's Play") and Mansok chung nori. Both titles are derived from names of characters in the plays. No theory has been formulated as to the origin and development of these plays. The plots of the puppet plays, like those of the mask plays, are full of satiric social criticism. The characters—Pak Ch'omji, governor of P'yongam, Kkoktukaksi,

Buddhist monk, and Hong Tongji—dance and sing, enacting familiar tales that expose the malfeasance of the ruling classes. (see also puppetry)
The final type of folk literature is found in the texts of p'ansori of the Yi dynasty. These texts were first recorded in the 19th century as verse, but the written forms were later expanded into p'ansori fiction, widely read among the common people. This transformation from poetry to narrative fiction was easily accomplished, since p'ansori were always narrative. Originally the entire p'ansori performance repertoire consisted of 12 madang ("titles"). Although all 12 remain as narrative fiction, only five of them are sung today. The texts evolved gradually from the legends, which provided their sources and were altered and expanded as they were passed from one performer to another.

The early Joseon period
See also: Yongbi eocheonga
Yongbi eocheonga (hangul: 용비어천가, hanja: 龍 飛 御 天 歌) literally means "Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven". It was compiled during the reign of Sejong the Great as an official recognition of the Joseon dynasty and its ancestral heritage as the forerunners of Joseon, theGolden Age of Korea. The Songs were composed through the efforts of a committee ofConfucian philologists and literati in the form of 125 cantos.
This compilation was the first piece of Korean text to depart from a long history reliant onChinese characters and be recorded in Hangul, the first and official alphabet of Korea. There are several underlying themes in addition to the establishment of the Joseon Dynasty which are of significant importance to understanding the events that provoked the creation of these poems: linear events that took place in China, the apotheosis of virtuous Kings proceeding the fall of the Goryeo Dynasty, and Confucian political and philosophical ideologies of the era in rejection to Buddhism. Each of the poems included in the work convey deep-seated feelings of nationalism and a proud proclamation of cultural independence from the Mongol empire.
Modern literature
Modern Korean literature gradually developed under the influence of Western cultural contacts based on trade and economic development.[1] The first printed work of fiction in Korean was John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (in Korean: 천로역정 Cheonno-yeokjeong), translated by James Scarth Gale (1893).

Christian religion found its way into Korea, culminating in the first complete edition of the Bible in Korean published in 1910. However, it was mostly Western aesthetic schools that influenced Korean literature. Music and classical poetry, formerly considered one as part ofchanggok, were increasingly perceived as old-fashioned and out of date.

Modern literature is often linked with the development of hangul, which helped increase working class literacy rates. Hangul reached its peak of popularity in the second half of the 19th century, resulting in a major renaissance. Sinsoseol, for instance, are novels written in hangul.

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