SOAS University of London

Japan & Korea Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Culture

Literary Traditions and Culture of Korea

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 3 of 4 or Year 4 of 4
Taught in:
Term 1

This course examines Korea's rich literary heritage, culture and developments, through a syllabus which considers the relationship between orality and literacy, history and literature, memory and identity. It aims to provide students with the skills to read, analyse, and discuss diverse forms of traditional Korean literature against past socio-historical and present day academic contexts. 

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Literary Traditions and Culture of Korea

Each class session consists of a seminar and a lecture. Each week, students are assigned a set of primary texts (literary works), secondary sources (literary history and criticism), and questions to consider and discuss in class. Students will develop analytical and presentation skills through the seminars, knowledge of traditional Korean literary culture through the lectures, and critical writing and research methods through the coursework essays.

This module, together with ‘Trajectories of Modernity in Korean Literature', is designed to complement other content courses to provide BA Korean students with a well-rounded understanding of Korea and Korean culture. They also offer students with training in writing, research and critical skills.  While the course is designed primarily for BA Korean students, it is also offered as a non-language open option module to students in their pre-final or final year of other BA degrees. No prior knowledge of Korean language or literature is required, as all texts studied on the course are in English translation.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module, 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 module will be taught over 10 weeks with a 1 hour lecture and 1 hour seminar per week.

Method of assessment

A 1,500-2,000 word essay (textual analysis or reaction paper) due on day 5 (Friday), week 5 of the term in which the module is taught (40%); A 3,000-3,500 word essay (research paper), due on day 1 (Monday), week 1 of the following term (50%); A 10-20 minute oral presentation (in groups of 2-4, 5 minutes per person in each group) on the final topic, with a hand-out summarising the main points (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