Understanding Korean Literature

Understanding Korean Literature

Understanding Korean Literature

Understanding Korean Literature


Understanding Korean Literature (Han'guk munhak ui ihae) introduces the development and characteristics of the various historical and contemporary genres of Korean literature in a refreshingly clear way. It also presents detailed explanations of the development of a literary Korean language and of literacy and a reading public in Korea. A brief history of literary criticism, both traditional and modern, is included to give the discussion historical context. This translation provides a long-overdue source on Korean literature that can be used as a reference or text in Korean and Asian studies courses and as a general introduction to Korean literature for students of literature.


This project began with a conversation I had with Lee Hyeong-dae, one of Professor Kim Hunggyu's Ph.D. students, in Seoul in August of 1993. I mentioned that Professor Kim's Hanguk munhak ŭi ihae (Understanding Korean Literature) would be of great help to foreigners interested in leaming about Korean literature, as it had helped me gain a clearer understanding of Korean literature. Several weeks later, I met Professor Kim, who kindly agreed to let me translate his book.

Since its publication in 1986, Understanding Korean Literature has been reprinted several times, and it is widely used as a textbook in university courses. It appeals as well to general readers because it covers areas typically ignored in such introductory studies: Korean literary criticism and the history of printing and transmission of literary works in the nation. As a scholar of traditional Korean poetry, Professor Kim has also given a great deal of attention to genres of Korean literature thalt are often mentioned only in passing, and he adds a fifth category, "mixed genres," to the standard four-genre classification of Korean literature, which has caused considerable debate in scholarly circles.

Many important Korean literary works are available in English translations, but no scholarly work of Korean literary criticism has been translated into English. As interest in Korean literature and the number of students learning Korean increase, the dearth of information on Korean literature in English becomes even more glaring. This translation of Understanding Korean Literature helps to fill the void. It is, however, only a beginning, and I hope that its publication will stimulate the writing and translation of a variety of reference materials in English and other languages.

I have followed Professor Kim's original closely, omitting and embellishing as little as possible. Where possible, I have added dates to give readers more background information. To make the text easier to follow, I placed all original Korean titles in parentheses after the En-

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