December 8, 2016

Dr. Ross King – Reflections By Jamie Seah

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 the Kim Program’s Distinguished Lecture 2016-17, the Program hosted Dr. Ross King, Professor of Korean Language and Literature and Head of the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia. Dr. King’s talk centered on his research examining Korean reception of xixiangji (西廂記, or 서상기), one of China’s most famous plays, and Korean interactions with vernacular Chinese through such a written medium. The dramatic work is also known as “The Story of the Western Wing” or “Romance of the Western Chamber” and details a young couple’s consummation of their passionate love without parental approval. It was semi-erotic for Korean readers, who were arguably unfamilar with plays because pre-modern Korea did not possess a dramatic tradition.

In particular, Dr. King was interested in the xixiangji-mania of 20th century Korea and the concomitant manuscript culture it spawned. Today, there exists about 40 to 50 xixiangji manuscripts housed in public collections. These manuscripts were well-produced and interestingly given names such as pogam (“treasure”), exemplifying the extent to which its owners treasured them. In Edo Japan, the publication and circulation of printed copies of shuihuzhuan (a famous Chinese novel written in vernacular Chinese) led to a boom in studies of vernacular Chinese, the rise in study groups, and the development of glossaries to aid in understanding the texts. Similarly, in Chosŏn Korea, Korean readers were intellectually engaging with another vernacular Chinese text, the xixiangji, by making physical markings on the margins of the manuscripts themselves to aid their own comprehension. These markings or glossing usually comprised a mélange of both Chinese characters and Korean hangul characters. Dr. King termed such writing the “recorded sayings” style or ŏrokch’e, a mute form of the vernacular that was sinographic but not spoken Chinese. He further argued that this represented the vernacular “third way”, a literary language that gestured towards or even incorporated vernacular and colloquial elements. Instead of writing solely in Classical Chinese or in hangul, this was a necessary in-between.

Dr. King’s research on xixiangji manuscripts is especially important because modern Korean scholars rarely examine Chinese texts while Chinese scholars have little interest in the reception of vernacular Chinese texts in Korea. As a student of Korean history, as well as both the Japanese and Korean languages, I find his research particularly illuminating, because I often use my native knowledge of the Chinese language (Mandarin Chinese) to enhance and aid my learning of the other two East Asian languages. His work reminds me of the complex interactions between a Japanese audience and a Korean-language play (ch’unhyang, which was likely inspired by xixiangji) performed in Japanese in the colonial metropole, Tokyo, during the colonial period. Nayoung Aimee Kwon looks at these interactions in her recent book, Intimate Empire: Collaboration and Colonial Modernity in Korea and Japan (2015), which I read last semester while writing my final research paper for my Korea in the Age of Empires history seminar.

October 18, 2016

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.

October 12, 2016

Dr. Ross King – reflections by John Grisafi

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.

In Chosŏn Korea, Chinese graphs were the predominant writing script, especially for the aristocratic yangban class. Classical Chinese in particular was highly valued among the educated elites of society. Spoken Korean was, of course, a distinct language from both classical Chinese and the Chinese spoken at the time. What place then, did the vernacular Chinese of Qing China – and works written in such language – have in Chosŏn Korea?

In his guest lecture for the Kim Program, Dr. Ross King enlightened the audience as to how Koreans of the Chosŏn dynasty engaged with a specific example of vernacular Chinese literature, the Xixiangji. Dr. King described Xixiangji as “China’s most famous play” and semi-erotic for Korean readers in Late Chosŏn. It was not printed in Korea but manuscripts from China were circulated and copied. Korean copies of the work remained printed in vernacular Chinese, but the text was supplemented by marginal notes, glossing (explanatory notes to aid understanding of words or phrases), commentaries, and glossaries. These forms of additional content aided Koreans in engaging with a work which contained otherwise unfamiliar phrases and terms from the colloquial language of Qing China.

One example of how Korean readers engaged with the text was to gloss portions of the text by writing more familiar Chinese characters, Korean hangul script, or a combination of the two, alongside the Chinese characters. This aided readers in identifying the meaning of unfamiliar phrases from vernacular Chinese found in the Xixiangji. This was not an effort to learn colloquial Chinese, however. The glossing in hangul showed Korean pronunciations of words, not the way they were pronounced in Chinese as spoken in Qing China. Other forms of supplement to the text were commentaries which told readers “how to read a Chinese play.” including explanations of play terminology, and glossaries listing unfamiliar Chinese terms for reference.

Aside from the aforementioned efforts to increase the readability of this work for a Korean speaking audience, there is ample evidence to suggest Xixiangji was a popular and highly-regarded work in Chosŏn Korea. According to Dr. King, readers took great care in putting together their manuscript copies, which tended to be “neatly and lovingly produced” and included covers which featured time-consuming illustrations. Readers gave the copies names such as Kisŏ (“marvelous book”) and Pogam (“treasure”).

Dr. King argued that examples such as the Xixiangji demonstrate a “third way” of Korean writing in this era. While Korean scholars tend to exclusively study either Chinese literary works as originally written in (usually classical) Chinese or Korean works as written in Korean, the Xixiangji represents an underemphasized middle ground where Korean language was used to engage with otherwise Chinese language works. Rather than a direct shift from writing in classical Chinese to writing in Korean with hangul, the transition was gradual and less than linear. Amidst this long transition, Korean readers were engaging with vernacular Chinese works through limited usage of hangul as well as Chinese graphs as they were understood by Korean speakers.