[KS] Re: Yuldo

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at fas.harvard.edu
Sun Feb 27 02:26:03 EST 2000

Dear John, and others:

Is this true? Can you deconstruct one of my literary heroes just like that?

(1) You wrote: "Ultra-trickster Hong murders the existing king of Yuldo ..."
Wrong. Kil-tong and his men fight one battle upon landing on Yul-do. 
After that the king of Yul-do surrenders. However, in the Hong 
Kil-tong piece that I know Hong offers the surrendered king the 
second highest government post -- the former king accepts and becomes 
hereby Prince Ûiryông; in other words, he is nominally adopted by 
Hong Kil-tong as his son -- that makes quite a difference. Kil-tong 
pacifies the members of the former government; he does not murder 
them. Also, there are a number of sentences that very clearly 
indicate social reform, one has of course to read such a text as a 
literary work from the 16th or early 17th century, and possibly 
compare this to similar works -- e.g., from Europe of the same time 
(Till Eulenspiegel, etc.). In an analyses, emphasizing the 
"shortcomings" of the text in offering a theoretical-analytical 
concept of a "political correct" Utopia almost 300 years before Marx 
and 350 years before Martin Luther King seems to me 
counter-productive in understanding this great piece of literature. 
In art history (East or West) we always look at models, at given 
constructs that change only over time. When we look at paintings by 
Chông Sôn, one of the great masters of the mid-Chosôn period, then we 
can certainly say -- well, in his paintings we see that almost all 
the elements (houses, rocks, bamboo depictions, etc.) are taken out 
of Chinese painting manuals such as the _Mustard Seed Garden..._. And 
that's true for all others painters of this period as well. So, 
Korean painting is a copy of Chinese painting. With such an 
interpretation we are back to the 1880s; I don't think that this is 
necessary were we want to go. What we see here are patterns that are 
widely used, and the "genius" (dislike that word, but let me use it 
here to make my point not too complicated) of each painter or writer 
is in how he used these pattern, how freely he plays with them, in 
how many nuances he knows to use them, and also, how well he ignores 
them if this can enhance his work.

(2) You continued: "... and takes both his daughters as prizes."
Again wrong. You must be referring to the two daughters of two of 
Hong Kil-tong's associates. They had been kidnapped by the ultong 
monsters. Kil-tong frees them and brings them back to their families. 
They then become his first and second wife (politically incorrect, of 
course, it has to be in consecutive order). All this does not happen 
on Yul-do but on another island, Che-do. Che-do is were Kil-tong and 
his men land before continuing their journey to Yul-do. What is more 
important: there are pretty clear indications that these monsters and 
their king whom Kil-tong kills are other-worldly beings, not humans. 
The freeing of the two girls, I think, is more described in the form 
of taking them back from the other-world to the human world. Now, you 
see this as an indication that the people from the South (southern 
provinces, southern islands) are seen as uncultivated & non-human, 
etc.  While this may also be quite right in general, I would argue 
that the island Yul-do is also in the South, and that the fact that 
the surrendered king of Yul-do becomes a high-ranking member of the 
new government is certainly not reinforcing your observation. Once 
more, I think what we see here is the use of established (at the 
time) literary patterns, and the melting of different literary forms 
(e.g., Buddhist tales) into a new form -- some have called it 
"Räuberroman" (in association with Schiller's _Räuber_). Summa 
summarum: we certainly see the continuous use of established literary 
patterns, parts of other stories and folk-tales show up. But things 
are as things are, says the cow in _Babe_ ..... focusing on these 
patterns (which, to be sure, often stay for Neo-Confucian political 
and sociopolitical concepts), in my humble opinion, completely misses 
what this wonderful piece is about.


>  > Dear list members,
>>  The name Yuldo, however, does bring up some interesting questions for the
>>  entire list. I believe we all tend to read Hong Kildong chon from Hong's
>>  perspective. He is a soja and we empathize with his plight and search for
>>  equality. What we often miss is the whole Yuldo trip. We see it, see
>>  above, as some type of utopia to counter the oppressive Choson. But we
>  > often miss how Hong establishes this "utopia." Ultra-trickster Hong
>  > murders the existing king of Yuldo, and takes both his daughters as
>  > prizes. He also sets up a mini-Choson on the island; there is no talk of
>>  social reform, liberation of slaves, monogamy, etc. Although there is word
>>  of his going back to Choson to peform chesa as a filial son. Finally, the
>>  island's aboriginal inhabitants are depicted as near beasts, a literary
>>  "technique" echoing all the way into modern lit.
>>  John Frankl

Frank Hoffmann * 4903 Manitoba Dr.#202 * Alexandria, VA 22312 * USA
E-MAIL: hoffmann at fas.harvard.edu  *  FAX: (520) 438-4890
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