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Korean Literature

Korean Literature

Early Korean literature was heavily influenced by shamanism, Buddhism and Confucianism. The early literature, which began as an oral tradition, depicted a love of nature and man and held that man was a part of nature. Good was rewarded and evil was punished, and values like loyalty to the King, filial piety, respect for one's elders, true friendship and chastity were emphasized. Some of the earliest extant Korean writings are poems, called hyangga, written during the Unified Silla period (A.D. 668-935) using Chinese characters phonetically to represent the sounds of the Korean language, which as yet lacked a native alphabet. Only 25 remain.

During the Goryeo period and the later Joseon period, Korean literature of the upper class, mostly written in classical Chinese, was characterized by an emphasis on philosophic expositions on the Chinese classics, and art that was essential for government service, the only respectable avenue to success outside of teaching. Scholarly essays and the diaries of scholars and court ladies compose one strain of the literature of this time. Also during this period, hansi, poems in Chinese characters, developed to maturity, and toward the end of the dynasty, a new form of poetry called sijo gained wide acceptance. The sijo, a short three line poem written in Hangeul (the Korean alphabet), remained popular throughout the Joseon Dynasty, as did the later gasa, a new vernacular verse genre which was more descriptive and expository.

The Joseon period also saw a great outpouring of literature written in Hangeul which often centered on the concept that all men are equal and attacked social inequality, spurred by the introduction of Silhak (Practical Learning) in the 17th century. The predecessor of this genre was The Story of Hong Gildong, generally considered to be the first Korean novel, written in the early 17th century to criticize the inequalities of Joseon society. This trend was reinforced during the late 19th century by the introduction of Western influences, as writers were inspired by ideas of enlightenment, freedom and independence. Modern writers have also focused on social injustice, particularly under the authoritarian regimes, as well as the dehumanizing influence of industrialization and modernization.

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Last Updated on 2021-09-24

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