SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of Japan and Korea

Literary Traditions and Culture of Korea (Masters)

Module Code:
Unit value:
Taught in:
Term 1

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  • demonstrate a critical understanding of the forms and themes of pre-modern Korean literature with respect to socio-historical context and cultural developments;
  • demonstrate advanced skills in literary analysis and research;
  • question, identify, and discuss features of Korean literary culture and traditions in the East Asian context based on a wide range of sources;
  • compare and engage with 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 with 1 hours lecture and further 2 hours will be spent in seminars the 11 week period.

Scope and syllabus

This course, together with Trajectories of Modernity in 20th Century Korean Literature (Masters) is designed to complement Readings in Korean Literature (Masters) to provide MA Korean Literature students with comprehensive training in advanced reading, analytical and critical skills in the study of Korean literature. While Readings in Korean Literature focuses on close readings and analysis of primary texts in Korean, this course is designed to develop a student’s understanding of Korean literary traditions with consideration to socio-historical context and cultural developments through diverse source materials. The course is intended as a compulsory course for MA Korean Literature students, but can also be taken by MA Comparative Literature and MA Korean Studies students who do not know Korean but are interested in learning about Korean literature for comparative purposes.

The course will cover Korean literary history from the earliest times up to the late nineteenth century. This course aims to provide students with a critical overview of the history and development of traditional Korean literary culture within the East Asian context and the sources for their study, with reference to Chinese and Japanese traditions for comparative purposes. Students are encouraged to consider the question of genre, taking into account how ‘literature’ was perceived and defined differently in earlier times. It also aims to provide students with the knowledge and skills to read, 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.

The course consists of lectures and seminars. 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. The seminar sessions will focus on 3 or 4 specific topics related to theme, genre, and critical discourse, which will be discussed in depth.

Method of assessment

Essay 1 of 1,000 words to be submitted on Friday, week 4, term 1 (15%). Essay 2 of 1,500 words to be submitted on Friday, week 7(week after Reading week), term 1 (25%). Essay 3 of 3,500 words to be submitted on the last day of term 1 (50%). Seminar Participation: 15 minute presentation on an assigned topic, with a handout summarising the main points (10%).

Suggested reading

NOTE: All books are already in the Library

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.

Related Readings: East Asian Literary History and Criticism

  • Campany, Robert Ford. Strange Writing: Anomaly Accounts in Early Medieval China. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.
  • Chance, Linda H. Formless in Form: Kenko, Tsurezuregusa, and the Rhetoric of Japanese Fragmentary Prose. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997.
  • Deeney, John J. “Chinese-Eastern Comparative Literature Studies: The Case of China-Korea-Japan.” Tamkang Review 15.1-4 (Autumn 1984-Summer 1985): 185-200.
  • DeWoskin, Kenneth J. In Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record (Sou-shen Chi). Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996.
  • Dudbridge, Glen. Books, Tales and Vernacular Culture: Selected Papers on China. Leiden: Brill, 2005.
  • Gu, Ming Dong. Chinese Theories of Reading and Writing. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005.
  • Kelsey, W. Michael. “Konjaku Monogatari-shū. Toward an Understanding of Its Literary Qualities.” Monumenta Nipponica 30.2 (Summer, 1975): 121-150.
  • Knechtges, David R., ed. and trans. Wenxuan, or Selections of Refined Literature, Volume One: Rhapsodies on Metropolises and Capitals. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982.
  • Lu, Sheldon Hsiao-peng. From Historicity to Fictionality: The Chinese Poetics of Narrative. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994.
  • Owen, Stephen. Readings in Chinese Literary Thought. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992.
  • Plaks, Andrew H., ed. Chinese Narrative: Critical and Theoretical Essays. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.
  • Ury, Marian. Tales of Times Now Past: Konzaku-monogatari. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.


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.
  • Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1957.
  • Lotman, Yury M. “The Content and Structure of the Concept of Literature.” PTL: A Journal for Descriptive Poetics and Literature 1 (1976): 339-43.
  • 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