The modern South Korean cultural imaginary has been marked by a curious lack of large-scale, naturally occurring, apocalyptic disaster narratives. This absence becomes significant when mapped against narratives of manmade disasters that are typically juxtaposed with depictions of solid and unchanging physical land, within which the hyangto (home soil) frequently emerges as a comforting signifier for the cultural continuity of the Korean nation in the face of social and political disasters. This article will discuss the significance of this representational insistence of safe land, and why the physical soil of the Korean peninsula itself takes such a central stage in narratives of national (but very rarely natural) disasters. To foreground a reading of the only Korean natural disaster blockbuster film to date, Haeundae (Tidal Wave, 2009), as an example of how disaster narratives have been integrated into wider political discourses of communal or even national identity, this article will highlight a clear resistance to the mere possibility of nature turning on human beings in the modern Korean cinematic imaginary. This approach, in turn, reveals a strong symbolic link between the grand narrative of the Korean people and culture as being inextricably entwined with the unchanging nature of the physical soil itself.
This paper examines how the Yeonam group, led by Bak Ji-won (1737–1805), collected and compiled Korean literature written in classical Chinese during the mid-18th and early 19th centuries. The Yeonam group attempted to prove how well Korean intellectuals had adopted and developed Chinese culture. Korean history, culture, and literature rapidly garnered the attention of Silhak (Practical Learning) intellectuals during this era. Previous studies, which tend to reflect the perspective of modern nationalism, have understood this academic trend as an early form of Korean nationalism. However, the Yeonam group held the opinion that Korean literature written in classical Chinese served as an indicator of the writer’s degree of embodying Chinese culture, which was understood by the Yeonam group as the epitome of cultural advancement. For this reason, the Yeonam group explored and compiled a series of Korean literary works written in classical Chinese, the ideal language according to the group. This paper demonstrates that the Yeonam group’s interest in Korean literature written in classical Chinese stemmed from the idea that Joseon was a sophisticated dynasty endowed with Chinese civilization.
This article examines the aspect of physical expression in the Korean Bongsan Mask Dance, a composite art form that combines theatre, music, and dance. Compared to other Korean mask plays, movement is highly important in the Bongsan Mask Dance as it contains a variety of technically developed and stylized physical expressions. Considering that dance is so prominent and influential in the development of the story, this drama is referred to as the Bongsan Mask Dance rather than the Bongsan Mask Play. This paper focuses on both direct and indirect physical expression—often neglected despite their importance—and this is in contrast to other studies of this work, which have primarily the actors’ dialogue. This paper classifies physical expression into three types based on style and form, and into four categories according to function and role. Also, it argues that physical expression in the Bongsan Mask Dance functions not only as a supportive but also an independent medium that develops the story, contributes to the overall coherence of the artistic work, and communicates critical ideologies and themes differently from speech.
Mountains have long held a central role in Korean culture, a role that has been newly highlighted by the surging popularity of recreational hiking in South Korea. And yet, to the extent that hiking foregrounds the significance of the mountains, it also foregrounds the significance of the body in South Korean society today, as both the land and the body are implicated in the growth of hiking. After charting the historical and cultural background of the hiking phenomenon, which has ascended to a national pastime, this article will analyze the meanings attached to the mountains and the body as a result. What emerges from the analysis is evidence of recreational hiking’s truly transformational potential, its capacity to recreate. In terms of the body, the ritual and performative dimensions hiking has acquired unlock occasions for physical and spiritual transformation, as well as structure new opportunities for the playful and ethical reinvention of the self. In regard to the land, hiking literally transforms the faces of mountains as its mass appeal challenges competing claims for land use and development. Equally important, however, are the ideological transformations of mountain space that sustain hiking’s material claims.
This article examines the life spiritualism of Donghak, one of the representative Korean national religions, to establish the relevance of Donghak in the search for metaphysical references for a new value system in the global age. The current reign of multinational corporations and recent leaps in information technology have turned the whole world into a single mega society that defies the traditional world order characterized by blocks of nation states. This change—in the way the different parts of the world are connected—presents a new challenge for humanity: the need to establish a global community governed by the idea of peace and a respect for life. The road map to this new community begins with a step, and this step consolidates a value system that helps to supersede the refuse of the old world order such as war, materialism, alienation, racial, and sexual discrimination, and environmental destruction. Donghak ideals can be of great help in this venture towards a new global community, and thus, this study on Donghak’s life spiritualism suggests a way of utilizing one of the most traditional Korean value systems in trailblazing a path towards a new value system—much needed in the emerging global order.