Dr. Ross King – Reflections by Juliana Pena

The James Joo-Jin Kim Program in Korean Studies hosted Dr. Ross King (University of British Columbia) as the Distinguished Lecturer for 2016-2017. He spoke on “Out of the Margins: The Western Wing 西廂記 Glossarial Complex in Late Chosŏn and the Problem of the Literary Vernacular” on Tuesday, October 11, 2016.

For this event, Ross King, an esteemed professor from the University of British Columbia came to discuss his research regarding late Joseon Dynasty glossaries and literary vernacular. He describes the Chinese text Xixiang Ji and the Korean’s fascination for the text, comparing it to the Edo Japan craze for another text called the Shuihu Zhuan. Both of these texts spawned the creation of glossaries to facilitate the understanding of vernacular Chinese, as well as provide a space for commentary. Koreans would have the hangul next to the Chinese characters as a way to make pronunciation easier.

King also went through the history of publication and personalization of the book in Korea. It was one of the first texts printed, in 1906, and it was printed through the 1930s, spanning 5 editions. Of the forty to fifty manuscripts in public collections, they are all intact with original covers which show unique illustrations showing the owners thoughts on the book, some even going so far as to create their own title for the manuscript as well. The books were divided by main text, publisher’s commentary, and a written in section by the reader, glosses, to explain Chinese terms in hangul.

Through his presentation, King also mentioned the problems that the Xixiang Ji craze caused in Japan. Teachers and officials found students and exam takers using these Chinese sinographs in their papers rather than using Korean “Idu”. The same problem was found in some military texts as well.

While listening to King’s presentation, I found his section about the spread of manuscripts available for study. He mentioned that certain manuscripts featured regional terms, and I thought this would be an excellent way to catalog dialectical terms during the late Joseon period, which could be useful for those in Korea or abroad studying the evolution of dialects in Korea. I also thought that there should be a better system in place for locating manuscripts in private collections, as they feature important pieces of Korea’s literary pieces, and it is one of the only pieces that had such a large amount of readership in Korea.

King’s presentation was a testament to the rich literary processes going on in Korea at the time, and as a “foreigner” studying Korean linguistics, he is a prime example of the excellent scholarship being conducted now in the areas of Korean history and linguistics.  Having the opportunity to listen to his thoughts of Korean vernacular in relation to the Xixiang Ji and how the text was received in Korea and how it caused problems as well, showed me how complex the area of vernacularization is, and how much research there still is to be done, especially in Korea.

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