SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of Japan and Korea

Literary Traditions and Culture of Korea

Module Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 3 of 4 or Year 4 of 4
Taught in:
Term 1

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to:

  • demonstrate an understanding of the forms and themes of pre-modern Korean literature with respect to socio-historical context and cultural developments;
  • demonstrate skills in textual and literary analysis and research;
  • identify and compare different scholarly approaches to the study of Korean literary traditions;
  • assess critically the materials and themes explored in the course.


This course will be taught over 11 weeks;  1 lecture and 1 seminar over the 11 week period.

Scope and syllabus

This course, together with ‘Trajectories of Modernity in 20th Century Korean Literature’, is designed to complement other lecture-based courses (‘History and Culture of Korea to the Late 19th Century’, ‘Culture and Society in 20th Century Korea’, ‘History and Structure of the Korean Language’, and ‘The Other Korea: North Korea Since 1945’) to provide BA Korean students with a comprehensive understanding of Korea and Korean culture, particularly its rich literary heritage and diverse forms of literary expression. These courses contribute to a well-rounded approach to the study of Korea, and serve to provide BA Korean students with training in research, writing and critical skills, which form the basis of academic scholarship, in addition to language learning.

Each year, BA Korean students are expected to take at least 2 units in Korean language acquisition or language use courses, and 1 or 2 units in lecture-based courses to enhance critical knowledge of Korea. In the case of lecture-based courses, ‘History and Culture of Korea to the Late 19th Century’ (1 unit) and ‘Culture and Society in 20th Century Korea’ (1 unit) are offered in Year 1 or 3, ‘The Other Korea: North Korea Since 1945’ (0.5 unit) in Year 3 or 4, and ‘History and Structure of the Korean Language’ (1 unit) in Year 4. ‘Literary Traditions and Culture of Korea’ (0.5 unit) and ‘Trajectories of Modernity in 20th Century Korean Literature’ (0.5 unit) are intended to be taken in Year 3 or 4.

While the course is designed primarily for BA Korean (single-subject and combined degree) students, it could also be offered as a floater to students in Year 3 or 4 from other BA degrees.

This course is designed to introduce students to Korean literary traditions and writings from the earliest times up to the late nineteenth century, and to familiarise them with the history and development of Korean literary culture within the East Asian context, and the sources for their study. Students are encouraged to consider the question of genre, taking into account how ‘literature’ was perceived and defined differently in earlier times. The course also aims to provide students with the skills to analyse and interpret traditional Korean literature against the socio-historical and cultural context of the time in which the works were produced, as well as against present day academic contexts.

Each class session will consist of a lecture followed by a seminar. Each week, students will be assigned a set of primary texts (literary works), secondary sources (literary history and criticism, cultural history), and tasks or questions for discussion which they are expected to prepare prior to the next class. In the process, students will be offered training in techniques of textual and literary analysis, and research and academic writing skills through course work essays.

Method of assessment

Essay 1 of 1,000 words to be submitted on Friday, week 4, term 1 (20%); Essay 2 of 1,500 words to be submitted on Friday, week 7(week after Reading Week) of term 1 (30%); Essay 3 of 2,500 words to be submitted on last day of term 1 (40%) and seminar presentation 15 minutes on an assigned topic in groups (10%)

Suggested reading

Pre-modern Korean Literary Works in English Translation:
  • Chung, Chong-wha. Classical Korean Literature: An Anthology. London: Kegan Paul International, 1989.
  • Grayson, James Huntley. Myths and Legends from Korea: An Annotated Compendium of Ancient and Modern Materials. Richmond: Curzon, 1999.
  • Haboush, JaHyun Kim. The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyŏng. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
  • Lee, Peter H., ed. Anthology of Korean Literature: From Early Times to the Nineteenth Century. Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii, 1981.
  • ---, ed. The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Korean Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
  • ---, trans. and intro. A Korean Storyteller’s Miscellany: The P’aegwan chapki of Ŏ Sukkwŏn. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.
  • ---, trans. and intro. Lives of Eminent Korean Monks: the Haedong Kosŭng Chŏn. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard-Yenching Institute, 1969.
  • ---, trans. and intro. Pine River and Lone Peak: An Anthology of Three Chosŏn Dynasty Poets. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1991.
  • ---, trans. and intro. (Imjinnok) The Record of the Black Dragon Year. Seoul: Institute of Korean Culture, Korea University, 2000.
  • ---, trans. and intro. Songs of Flying Dragons: A Critical Reading. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975.
  • --- and Wm. Theodore de Bary, eds. Sources of Korean Tradition: Volume One. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
  • McCann, David R. Early Korean Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.
  • O’Rourke, Kevin, trans. and annot. The Book of Korean Poetry: Songs of Shilla and Koryŏ. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, c. 2006.
  • ---, trans. and ed. The Book of Korean Shijo. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Asia Center, 2002.
  • Rutt, Richard. The Bamboo Grove: An Introduction to Sijo. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998.
  • ---, trans. and annot. “A Lay of King Tongmyŏng.” Korea Journal 13.7 (July 1973): 48-54.
  • ---. “Paegun Sosŏl: The White Cloud Essay of Yi Kyubo”. Transactions of the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 52 (1977): 1-38.
  • ---. “Traditional Korean Poetry Criticism: Fifty sihwa”. Transactions of the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 47 (1972): 105-43.
  • ---. Virtuous Women: Three Classic Korean Novels. Seoul: Royal Asiatic Society / Kwang Myong Printing Co., 1974.
  • Yi Sunsin. Nanjung ilgi: War Diary of Admiral Yi Sun-sin. Trans. by Ha Tae-hung. Seoul: Yonsei University Press, 1977.
Korean Literary History and Criticism:
  • Allen, Chizuko T. “Northeast Asia Centered Around Korea: Ch’oe Namson’s View of History.” The Journal of Asian Studies 49:4 (Nov., 1990): 787-806.
  • Cho, Dong-il. “The General Nature of Pansori.” In Korean National Commission for UNESCO, ed., pp. 227-45.
  • Jorgensen, John. “Who Was the Author of the Tan’gun Myth?” In Sang-Oak Lee and Duk-Soo Park, eds. Perspectives on Korea. Sydney: Wild Peony, 1998.
  • Kim Hŭnggyu. Understanding Korean Literature. Trans. Robert J. Fouser. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1997.
  • Kim, Kichung. An Introduction to Classical Korean Literature: From Hyangga to P’ansori. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1996.
  • Kim-Renaud, Young-key, ed. Creative Women of Korea: The Fifteenth Through the Twentieth Centuries. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 2004.
  • Korean National Commission for UNESCO, ed. Korean Literature: Its Classical Heritage and Modern Breakthroughs. Seoul and Elizabeth, N.J.: Hollym, 2003.
  • Lee Peter H. Celebration of Continuity: Themes in Classic East Asian Poetry. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979.
  • ---. Explorations in Korean Literary History. Seoul: Institute for Modern Korean Studies, Yonsei University, 1998.
  • ---, ed. A History of Korean Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • ---. “Images of Society in the Early Chosŏn Literary Miscellany.” Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies 6.2 (2006): 137-75.
  • Lee, Younghee. Ideology, Culture, and Han. Seoul: Jimoondang Publishing Company, 2002.
  • McBride, Richard D. “A Koreanist’s Musings on the Chinese Yishi Genre” Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies 6.1 (2006): 31-59.
  • McCann, David. Early Korean Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.
  • ---. Form and Freedom in Korean Poetry. Leiden and New York: Brill, 1988.
  • Pak, No-chun. “Bak Ji-won: Satirist of Aristocratic Society.” In Korean National Commission for UNESCO, ed., pp. 247-58.
  • Pettid, Michael J. “Entertainment and Empowerment: The Shamanic Tradition of Humor in Korean Literature.” Acta Koreana 5.2 (2002): 45-64.
  • ---. “Sexual Identity in Chosŏn Period Literature: Humorous Accounts of Forbidden Passion.” Review of Korean Studies 4.1 (2001): 61-85.
  • Pihl, Marshall R. The Korean Singer of Tales. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994.
  • ---. “Koryŏ Sŏn Buddhism and Korean Literature.” Korean Studies 19 (1995): 62-81.
  • Rutt, Richard. “Chinese Literature Outside China: Traditional Literature in Korea”. In Contemporary Review 224, no. 1299 (April 1974): 205-212.
  • ---. “The Dual Cultural Background of Korean Literature”. In Asian and Pacific Quarterly of Cultural and Social Affairs 5:3 (Winter 1973): 38-47
  • ---. “Sijo Verse in Korea.” In Korean National Commission for UNESCO, ed., pp. 189-205.
    Seo Dae-seok. (Sŏ Taesŏk). Myths of Korea. Seoul: Jimoondang, 2000.
  • ---.  “A Study of World Views in Korean Myths and Folk Tales – An Examination of the Contrary World Views.” Seoul Journal of Korean Studies 8 (December 1995): 31-46.
  • Song, Jae-so. “The Poetry of Dasan Jeong Yak-yong.” In Korean National Commission for UNESCO, ed., pp. 259-76.
  • Trotsevic, A.F. “Korean Fiction and History.” In Daniel Bouchez, et al., eds. Twenty Papers on Korean Studies Offered to Professor W.E. Skillend. Paris: Centre d’études Coréennes, Collège de France,1989, pp. 313-23.
  • Walraven, Boudewijn. Songs of the Shaman: The Ritual Chants of the Korean Mudang. London and New York: Kegan Paul International, 1994.
  • Vos, Fritz. “Tales of the Extraordinary: An Inquiry into the Contents, Nature and Authorship of the Sui chŏn.” Korean Studies 5 (1981): 1-25.
  • Xin, Wei. “Song China's Role in Shaping Late Koryŏ Literature: An Analytical Survey of the Tongmunsŏn.” Acta Koreana 10.1 (January 2007): 37-68.
Related Readings: Korean History, Culture and Reference Guides
  • Barnes, Gina. China, Korea and Japan: The Rise of Civilization in East Asia. London: Thames and Hudson, 1993.
  • Best, Jonathan W. A History of the Early Korean Kingdom of Paekche. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center, 2006.
  • Chŏng Kubok. “Traditional Historical Consciousness and Historiography.” In National Academy of Sciences, ed. Introduction to Korean Studies. Seoul: National Academy of Sciences, 1986, pp. 113-36.
  • Deuchler, Martina. The Confucian Transformation of Korea: A Study of Society and Ideology. Cambridge, Mass.: Council of East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1992.
  • Eckert, Carter J., et al. Korea Old and New: A History. Seoul: Published for the Korea Institute, Harvard University by Ilchokak; Cambridge, Mass.: Distributed by Harvard University Press, 1990.
  • Haboush, JaHyun Kim and Martina Deuchler, eds. Culture and the State in Late Chosŏn Korea. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.
  • Kim Taijin, ed. and trans. A Bibliographical Guide to Traditional Korean Sources. Seoul: Asiatic Research Center, 1976.
  • Lee Ki-baik. A New History of Korea. Trans. E. W. Wagner and E. J. Schultz. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984.
  • Lee, Peter H. and Wm T. de Bary, eds. Sourcebook of Korean Civilization: Volume I. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
  • Nahm, Andrew C. Korea, Tradition and Transformation: A History of the Korean People. Elizabeth, N.J.: Hollym International Corp., 1988.
  • Pai, Hyung Il. Constructing “Korean” Origins: A Critical Review of Archaeology, Historiography, and Racial Myth in Korean State-Formation Theories. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard East Asian Monographs, 2000.
  • Shultz, Edward J. “An Introduction to the Samguk sagi.” Korean Studies 28 (2004): 1–13.
  • Skillend, W. E. Kodae Sosŏl: A Survey of Korean Traditional Style Popular Novels. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, c. 1968.
  • Song, Ki Joong, comp. Glossary of Korean Culture. Seoul: Chimundang, 2001.
Literary Theory:
  • Cuddon, J. A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. London: Penguin Books, 1998.
  • Ellis, John M. The Theory of Literary Criticism: A Logical Analysis. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1974.
  • Fish, Stanley. Is There a Text in this Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990.
  • Miner, Earl. Comparative Poetics: An Intercultural Essay on Theories of Literature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.
  • Todorov, Tzvetan. Introduction to Poetics. Trans. Richard Howard. Brighton: The Harvester Press, 1981.
  • ---. Genres in Discourse. Trans. Catherine Porter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules