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Authors: Kang Kyong-ae

From Wonso Pond

BOOK: From Wonso Pond
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Table of Contents
 
 
 
More praise for
From Wonso Pond
“At once a folktale and a page-turner that acquires the dignity of tragedy. Samuel Perry has given us a new masterpiece, whose closing question is as urgent for us today as it was in 1934.”
—Norma Field, author of
In the Realm of a Dying Emperor: Japan at Century's End
 
“A vibrant account of the travails of Japanese colonialism, as experienced by workers and women, by the pioneering feminist writer of the Korean left.”
—Andre Schmid, author of
Korea Between Empires: 1895-1919
 
“How refreshing it is to have a good old-fashioned story, told without narrative
tricks or artifice. Kang Kyong-ae's
From Wonso Pond
is a powerful novel that charts
the struggles of her impassioned characters as they learn to live, work, and love.
The questions Kang poses and the issues she tackles are as universal as they are
enduring. This essential work should be required reading for anyone interested in
Korean history and literature.”
—Sung J. Woo, author of
Everything Asian: A Novel
 
“This novel's canonical status will remain unchallenged for years to come. It is a rare blessing that the English-language version was produced by Samuel Perry, whose first-rate linguistic talent, literary sensitivity, and scholarly rigor are distinctively channeled through his passion for social change and aesthetic excellence.”
—Kyeong-Hee Choi, associate professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago
 

From Wonso Pond
is a powerful literary indictment of sexual and economic exploitation of the poverty-ridden farming population in 1930s colonial Korea.”
—Yung-Hee Kim, professor of Korean Literature at the University of Hawaii at Manoa
Translator's Introduction
IN'GAN MUNJE
is the second novel written by Kang Kyong-ae (1906- 1944), one of several women writers active during Korea's colonial period.
1
Here, translated as
From Wonso Pond
(the literal translation of the Korean title is“Human Problems”),
In'gan munje
is one of Kang's most important works, one that provides a good introduction to the colonial history and literature of a nation still divided some sixty-odd years after its liberation from Japan. Given the paucity of women's works from this period that are available in English translation, Kang's novel helps in particular to illuminate the intersection of gender and modernity in colonial Korea and, more broadly speaking, in the Japanese Empire. Detailing both historical facts and human feelings,
From Wonso Pond
not only documents the daily lives of farmers, “new women,” revolutionaries, and nouveaux riches, but also sheds light on how the violent shock of colonialism was experienced in the hearts and minds of Korean people and how writers attempted to shape that experience into part of the collective imagination.
As were most novels published at the time,
From Wonso Pond
was serialized daily in a Korean-language newspaper. It ran in the
Tonga ilbo
from August 1 to December 22, 1934, with each of its 120 episodes illustrated with a black-and-white picture of the main characters or setting. The novel was neither reedited nor reissued in book form during Kang's lifetime, and for some fifteen years it remained out of print, until the Labor Newspaper (
Rodong Sinmunsa
), where Kang's widowed husband worked as an associate editor, published a version of the book in 1949 in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea). Not until decades after the Korean War, which ended only with a ceasefire in 1953, would Kang's novel be rediscovered in the Republic
of Korea (South Korea), where it is now celebrated as an extraordinary achievement of Korean realism.
2
Given the tragic events of twentieth-century Korean history—colonization, war, division, and sustained ideological conflict—most of Kang's original manuscripts have been irretrievably lost, and slightly different versions of
In'gan munje
exist in libraries today. In the absence of an extant original manuscript, I have, as translator of the novel, relied on the 1934 newspaper serialization to render it into English. The authenticity of this serialized version is nevertheless also in doubt, since little if anything ever appeared in newspapers without the official seal of a government censor.
3
Indeed, one year before
In'gan munje
appeared, Kang lamented police censorship in a short essay: “As for my own feelings, I cannot even pick up a pen and write! I have a mouth, but no words to speak!”
4
Like many colonial and especially socialist writers, Kang undoubtedly self-censored her writing, making careful decisions about individual words, scenes, and even plotlines that might have been deemed objectionable, and thus extirpated, by the publication police.
5
The flexibility of the novel form certainly allowed writers such as Kang some leeway. She begins her story with a traditional folk tale that amounts to an allegory for revolution, and throughout the novel Kang's irony mercilessly lampoons the hypocrisy around her—whether bureaucratic, corporate, or patriarchal. But the novel carries little exhortatory language, or ostensibly political commentary—certainly nothing overtly critical of the Japanese colonial regime.
How much of Kang's language was actually excised by censors from her original manuscript or changed by editors when it first appeared in the
Tonga ilbo
we will most likely never know. In episode 107 of
From Wonso Pond
, just as Ch'otchae is imagining Sinch'ol being arrested by the police, the word “censored” appears in the newspaper edition, marking a deletion of unknown length. In two places in her text the letters “XX” appear—a common mark of censorship at the time—most likely in reference to the Communist Party, which few educated readers would have failed to grasp. This overtly visible mark of censorship, however, which had been used for some time in both Japan and Korea—sometimes preemptively by the authors themselves—was itself increasingly excised from publications. In any case, the colonial censorship bureau, staffed by both Japanese and Koreans, was still not as effective as officials might have hoped by the mid-1930s. Part of episode 106, which describes an
uprising on the streets of Inch'on, managed to find itself printed in the morning edition of the newspaper, though it seems to have been, after further scrutiny, deleted from the evening edition. This particular passage was carefully translated into Japanese and documented by the censoring authorities in a 1935 report of the Korean Publication Police—one of dozens of passages from Korean-language magazines and newspapers that were duly recorded each month by bureaucrats.
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