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Korea (Source: cover image of translated book The Underground Village: Short Stories by Kang Kyeong-ae, translated by Anton Hur, 2018). 

This week introduces *Kang Kyeong-ae (1906-1944)’s novel From Wonso Pond or Human Predicaments (1934). Her works are among most acclaimed socialist realist literature that represent early 20th century writers and none of other women writers of the category and time are more survived and introduced than she is since the division of Koreas. Circulation of her work is unusually wide, surpassing the Cold War regional boundary. Her work was circulated in the former Soviet Unions through North Korea’s literary initiative, which is definitely earlier than timing of her work getting attention in South Korea and in the Anglophone literary studies. The latter circulation gradually happens since the South Korean parliamentary democracy began by overturning anti-communist military regimes (1960 to 1987). It is unclear whether her work was introduced to Third and Fourth worlds.

            Provided further readings in English evince leftist feminist scholars’ appreciation and appraisals of Kang’s work, including Salt, Underground Village, and Human Predicaments (From Wanso Pond) in the field of Korean literature studies. Sunyoung Park’s secondary text is a comprehensive examination of Kang’s work, featuring Human Predicaments as most mature socialist feminist piece. Barraclough’s piece in Red Love exposes that Kang was never officially part of Korean leftist writers’ association despite the conventional understanding of so. But both literary scholars give high regards on Kang’s life experience as an orphan, factory worker, and migrant to Manchuria as part and parcel of her original place among socialist (women) writers. In addition to their focus on Kang’s work, Suzy Kim’s historical piece of Kang’s contemporary political figure, Pak Chong-ae (1907-?) who was active in WIDF and contributing to founding and running women’s organization in North Korean labor party.

            If Yim (or Lim)** Sun-deuk’s work and Sang-Kyung Lee’s secondary text on Yim/Lim’s work are translated in English***, their work would be a great addition to this week, if not more apt to the purpose of syllabus in terms of her feminist and socialist internationalist consciousness. Yim/Lim was not just focused on the atrocity of (transnational) Korean subalterns, such as workers and women, under Japanese colonialism. Rather she situates Korean anticolonialism as part of socialist international struggle against imperialism and capitalism. 

  • * Korean name spells last name first.
  • **Yim is South Korean pronunciation and Lim is North Korean.
  • ***There is a trace that Yim’s work was translated in Czech and other languages in the former Soviet Unions.

Primary text

Kyeong-ae Kang’s Human Predicaments (1934)

Secondary texts

Park, Sunyoung. “Rethinking Feminism in Colonial Korea: Kang Kyongae and 1930s Socialist Women’s Literature. positions: asia critique. 21(4): 947-985.

Barraclough, Ruth. 2015. “Red Love in Korea: Rethinking Communism, Feminism, Sexuality.” From Red Love Across the Pacific: Political and Sexual Revolutions of the Twentieth Century. Spring Nature: Palgrave McMillan. Pp.23-38.

Kim, Suzy. “Pak Chong-ae (1907-?): From Red Labor Unions to the Korean Democratic Women’s Union” The Palgrave Handbook of Communist Women Activists around the World. Spring Nature: Palgrave McMillan. Pp.299-326.


Week 3 - Korea