Peace under Heaven

Peace under Heaven

Peace under Heaven

Peace under Heaven

Synopsis

Originally published in Seoul in 1938, soon after the outbreak of the Pacific War, "Peace Under Heaven" is a satirical novel centering on the household of a Korean landlord during the Japanese colonial occupation. Master Yun, embodying the traditional ambitions of a standard Korean paterfamilias, by being projected fast forward into a modern urban environment, caricatures the increasing irrelevance of Confucian mores to 20th-century social reality. Depicting the anomic lives of the Yun household in colonial Seoul, Chase Man-Sik, one of modern Korea's best-known writers, uses black comedy to underscore the collapse of ritualistic traditional values in the face of capitalist modernisation. The decadence of the nouveau riche pseudo-aristocrat Master Yun is interwoven with insights into the customary bases of oppression of Korean women into the self-deceptions underlying collaboration by Koreans with the Japanese oppressor. The savage hilarity of Chae's style lends force and historical relevance to his insight into the attitudes of the milieu in which his narrative is set.

Excerpt

In Peace Under Heaven Ch'ae Mansik (1902-1950) has fashioned a brilliant black comedy of many meanings. It is a work that is historically specific to Korea's colonial past and also universal in its human understanding and appeal. It is a work whose concrete and precise descriptions of people, places, and events are suffused with ironies that are simultaneously funny and appalling. It is, not least of all, a tragicomic story of the sudden fall from grace of one of fiction's most unforgettable, larger-than-life characters. It is all these things and more.

With so many approaches to this great novel, now splendidly rendered into English by Chun Kyung-ja, it would be presumptuous for me, especially as an historian, to offer anything suggesting an authoritative literary interpretation. Everyone will have his or her own favorite reading, and one of the communal delights to Korean studies in the classrooms and colloquia of the future will be to discuss and debate various aspects of Ch'ae's work. Nevertheless, Peace Under Heaven has given me such unmitigated pleasure that I am unable to resist a brazenly pre-post-modernist attempt at explanation, however personal and impressionistic. Caveat lector. Those readers who wish to keep their minds . . .

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