Premodern Korea Lecture Series with Ross King

Did Ch’usa Kim Chŏnghŭi 秋史 金正喜 (1786-1856) Really Translate Xixiangji 西廂記 into Korean? Literary Fame, Manuscript Culture, and the Story of the Western Wing in Chosŏn Korea

Premodern Korea Lecture Series with Ross King

The history of the reception of Xixiangji 西廂記, arguably China’s most popular dramatic work, in Chosŏn Korea (1392-1897) and into the Taehan Empire (1897-1905), Japanese protectorate (1905-1910) and colonial (1910-1945) periods, raises interesting questions about the intersection of literary fame and book culture. Numerous print editions were imported from China from the 17th century onwards, but because of its reputation as a ‘nether book’ 淫書 and unlike, say, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三國志演義, Xixiangji was never printed in Chosŏn. Instead, it was avidly consumed in lovingly produced annotated manuscript copies along with glossaries and commentaries.

This presentation examines the claim, first advanced in the 1970s by Professor Yi Kawŏn on the basis of a manuscript vernacular translation of Xixiangji then in his possession, that one of the Korean translations in wide circulation in late Chosŏn was executed by none other than famous late-Chosŏn polymath Kim Chŏnghŭi 金正喜 (1786-1856), whose numerous noms de plume and sobriquets include Wandang 阮堂 and Ch’usa 秋史.

An examination of this claim requires a survey of the history of the reception of the Xixiangji in Korea, as well as a consideration of the history of the image and reputation of Kim Chŏnghŭi, who was not lionized in modern scholarship until the late 1920s and 1930s. The facts adduced here also force us to reconsider the timing of the “Xixiangji boom,” which is usually alleged to have peaked in the last decade of the 19th century and first decade of the 20th century; they also compel us to rethink common modern-day assumptions about the withering of traditional reading practices and manuscript culture after the turn of the 20th century.