[KS] Early French publications of Korean texts

Brother Anthony ansonjae at sogang.ac.kr
Tue Dec 2 09:09:08 EST 2014

I cannot help being extremely intrigued by the adventure of Hong Jong-u (also spelled Hong-Tjyong-Ou) in making his way to France in 1890, spending 3 years there, then going back home to shoot Kim Ok-gyun on a slow boat to China. Above all, arriving without a word of French, he managed to produce (or help others produce) 3 significant French texts which were published in the 1890s and surely consitute by far the earliest translations of Korean literature /culture to be published in Europe? They are, of course, the 1892 "Printemps Parfume" (ie Chunhyang), the 1895 "Le Bois Sec Refleuri" and the 1897 "Guide pour rendre propice l'étoile qui garde chaque homme et pour connaitre les destinées de l'année."

I find the Preface to the second book especially interesting, providing as it does a very clear summary of the vision of Korean history held by a Joseon Yangban near the end of the 19th century. But the story told in the 2nd book also intrigues me immensely because although it is essentially the story of Sim Cheong, at the same time it isn't, because it includes a series of episodes tracing the adventures of the son of a close friend of Sim Cheong's father, and both those men were originally high state officials who are banished by a wicked prime-minister who gets his comeupance at the end, when Sim becomes prime-minister; also, there is no under-sea Dragon King, no lotus-bud, and no comic journey to the final banquet. What we have is rather a political romance full of unexpected turns, dreams in which the dead intervene energetically to help the good guys, and multiple dramatic recognition scenes. It even re-hashes the climax of the Chunhyang tale with a secret inspector and a wicked magistrate. I would like to know how much study has been done on it and especially what is its source. The Chun-Hyang story "Printemps Parfume" is, in contrast, all very familiar.

I regret that the Internet offers no easy and obvious access to these fundamental texts and have therefore spent a couple of hours putting together a page from which those of you (many I trust) who can read French (how can one not read French?) can easily read web pages with the complete text of "Printemps Parfume" and "Le Bois Sec Refleuri." I have also purchased a copy of "Guide pour rendre propice l'étoile qui garde chaque homme et pour connaitre les destinées de l'année" and will try to find time to scan it when it arrives. The page also contains the English translation of "Le Bois Sec Refleuri" which Charles M. Taylor published in 1919 as "Winning Buddha's Smile" (although the text is actually very clearly busy avoiding Buddhism), which is very readable. Before I discovered it, I had already made a chapter-by-chapter English summary, which I have left in the page since it provides a potted version for those in a hurry. I have also added the text of an amusing article written by a French artist Félix Regamey about Hong's time in France (the link is broken, I will mend it tomorrow). I would very much like to know what I have missed, in terms of research on Hong's life and death (in Incheon? Mokpo?) and the texts he was using.

The page is at  http://hompi.sogang.ac.kr/anthony/BoisSecRefleuri01.html   I hope it will be of interest to others.

Brother Anthony
President, RAS Korea, etc.

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