The second Pak Kyongni Festival was held online with the support of the Russian Centre of Korea University, the Toji Cultural Foundation, and St Petersburg University. The event was organised as part of the ‘Culture and Arts’ section of the ‘Korea-–Russia Dialogue’ Forum.
This year’s festival is dedicated to the work of the great Korean writer Pak Kyongni. It marks the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and the Republic of Korea and the 10th anniversary of the Korea-–Russia Dialogue.
The session was opened by the actor and head of the Russian Research Centre for Art and Acting, Professor Woohyeon Jang from Hanshin University, who read in two languages the famous poem ‘The Blind Horse’ by Park Kyongni. The poem reveals the writer’s attitude towards writing poetry.
Literature and understanding between nations
In his opening speech, the Head of the Korea-–Russia Dialogue Coordination Committee and former Ambassador of South Korea in Russia Li Kyuhyong expressed his joy that this year, despite the impossibility of meeting in person, the festival was still held. ‘The author’s life principles are reflected in the pages of her novel The Land. It was the work of her life and it reveals common points between Korean and world literature. It is based on the life values of the writer who believed in dignity and mutual understanding between all living beings,’ Li Kyuhyong recalled. He also recollected the Pak Kyongni Literature Prize in South Korea and its second laureate Lyudmila Ulitskaya.
Chairman of the Russian Coordination Committee of the Korea-–Russia Dialogue Forum, the Rector of St Petersburg University Nikolay Kropachev expressed his hope that the online format will allow the expansion of the geography of the festival. ‘I often think of the lines carved on the pedestal of the monument: ‘Why do we feel joy and sorrow so intensely…’. This concise phrase expresses the whole essence of our earthly life, with its joys and sorrows,’ said Nikolay Kropachev.
Today I would like all participants and attendees to think again about Pak Kyongni in order to apprehend the significance of all that this seemingly fragile but courageous and strong woman accomplished and created.
Chairman of the Russian Coordination Committee of the Korea-–Russia Dialogue Forum and Rector of St Petersburg University Nikolay Kropachev
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Korea to the Russian Federation, Mr Lee Sok-bae noted that despite the difficult epidemiological situation all over the world, the governments continue to implement joint projects. ‘Celebrating the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations, the Korean government together with the Russian government confirms its commitment to developing cooperation, and expanding and deepening understanding between our nations,’ said Lee Sok-bae.
Andrey Kulik, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to the Republic of Korea, began his welcome speech by thanking the organisers and initiators of the festival. The Ambassador mentioned increasing interest from the citizens of both countries: ‘A milestone was the opening of a monument to Alexander Pushkin in downtown Seoul in 2013, and a monument to Pak Kyongni in St Petersburg University’s Modern Sculpture Park in 2018. This is deeply symbolic, because, as Pak Kyongni said, works of Russian classic writers greatly impressed her and influenced her decision to become a writer.’
The grandson of Pak Kyongni and Head of the Toji Cultural Foundation Sehee Kim noted the importance of such events when the world is divided by the pandemic. ‘Our talk about Pak Kyongni goes beyond the boundaries of nations and generations. It is a talk about the unity of life that is embedded in our souls,’ said Sehee Kim. ‘Today’s event will allow us to go beyond cultural exchange and relations between the two countries and evolve into something more; into a society that, after a long search, will find an answer to the question of human existence.’
In the framework of the festival, Director of the Central Library of Korea University and supervisor of the working group Culture and Arts of the Korea–Russia Dialogue Seog Young Joong presented a video about the life and work of Pak Kyongni. It was produced specially for the event.
The history of Korea in the epic novel ‘The Land’
Professor Seung Yun Lee from Incheon National University presented the plenary report ’26 years of life on the novel “The Land”: milestones towards the final version’. Pak Kyongni wrote her masterpiece from 1969 to 1994, with events unfolding from 1897 to 1945. The epic consists of five parts in 17 volumes. Professor Lee talked about: the different versions of the novel in Korea; the research and critical reviews of the novel ‘The Land’; and the editing of the original text of the work.
Maria Osetrova is Associate Professor at Moscow State Linguistic University, Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Korean Studies at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. She participated in the editing of the translation of the second volume of the novel ‘The Land’ into Russian, and shared her experience of working on it.
First of all, I was fascinated by the story. It is dynamic – the relations between the characters are unconventional and at times very unpredictable. At some points the book resembles a detective story, at other moments it seems to be a historical or love story, some parts of the book may even pass for a thriller.
Associate Professor at Moscow State Linguistic University, Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Korean Studies at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Maria Osetrova
She noted that the text of the novel is not only linguistically rich, but also contains valuable ethnographic material that gives a comprehensive picture of life in Korea. This is the reason why the text of the novel might be helpful in teaching the Korean language and other related subjects.
At present, at St Petersburg University, the life and work of Pak Kyongni is studied in such programmes as ‘Foreign Literatures’, ‘Asian and African Studies’ (‘The History of Korea’, ‘Korean Philology’), ‘Liberal Arts and Sciences’ (‘Arts and Humanities’). The University has also developed an academic course ‘Pak Kyongni (1926-2008): Life and Work’, and ‘Special Features of Pak Kyongni’s Creative Perception of the World (1926-2008)’.
The manager of Shining Park, former assistant director of the TV series ‘The Land’ on SBS, Shin Kyung Soo talked about the creation of the film version of the book. The novel was filmed as a series of 52 episodes. Shin Kyung Soo said that since the filmmakers tried to convey the plot of the original as fully as possible, the series will be of interest to everyone who wants to get acquainted with the story.
Assistant ociate Professor at the Far Eastern Federal University Ksenia Pak spoke about the opportunities to explore the novel for the general public. These may be of particular interest for students studying the Korean language. She mentioned among other things: the SBS TV adaptation that was discussed earlier; the graphic novel published in 17 volumes; as well as special literature about the world of the novel such as dictionaries and a book about the characters in the novel. The last one, ‘The life of the characters of the novel The Land’, published by the scientific society studying the novel, includes a detailed non-trivial description of 22 out of more than 700 characters. Ksenia Pak emphasised that it is the system of characters that is the key to understanding the whole epic, and such research works help to understand their role in building the plot and the main idea of the book.
Associate Professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics and translator Li San You presented a report on the experience of reading the novel ‘The Daughters of Pharmacist Kim ‘. It is based on readers’ essays sent to a competition organised by the Institute of Asia and Africa of Moscow State University and the National Institute for Literature Translation. She also spoke about how Russian students perceive Korean prose. The professor noted that this book is often described as an encyclopaedia of Korean life in the late 19th to early 20th century, which makes a reference to the novel ‘The Land’. ‘ The writer uses the example of the pharmacist Kim’s family, in which the fates of his father, mother and four of his five daughters are tragic in one way or another. She shows the life of Koreans during the times of Japanese rule, and talks about the social and political changes that took place in the country. She describes how these changes have affected the lives of people of different social classes,’ said Li San You about the plot of the book.
Poetry as a state of the mind.
During the festival, attention was paid not only to the prose heritage of the writer, but also to poetry. Associate Professor at St Petersburg University Anastasiia Gureva presented a report ‘The image of a common person in the poetic work of Pak Kyongni’. It is ordinary people – peasants or workers – who become the central figures in her works. The author searches for values in everyday things and meaning in everyday life, and this becomes the creative philosophy of Pak Kyongni. The researcher links this with the simplicity of her poetic language, which is devoid of pretentiousness and pompousness.
Traditionally, in Korea and the Far East, creativity was understood as the ability to see the essence of things, to reveal it and convey it to others. The genuine human nature is reflected in the ‘ordinary’ and the ‘simple’ that exists in every human being. Yet, this ‘ordinary’ and ‘simple’ has depth and fullness, as it expresses life.
Associate Professor at St Petersburg University Anastasiia Gureva
Contemporary South Korean poet Ko Chin Ha continued on the topic of poetic ideas, and talked about the ideology of life in the poetry of Pak Kyongni. He said that the poetry that Pak Kyongni had been writing until the end of her life had fascinated her since school. For her, according to Ko Chin Ha, poetry was a way of purification, a place of rest and freedom, and a supporting pillar. In her poems, she always returns to the idea of the coexistence of everything in the universe and the cycle of life and death, a philosophy of mercy. Ko Chin Ha pointed out that Pak Kyongni believed that people’s desire to defeat death through science and technology was a mistake, an encroachment on the role of God, and disrespect for the mystery of creation.
The festival traditionally ended with a recitation of poems written by Pak Kyongni, Kim So Yeon, Kim Nam-Jo and Oh Sae-young in Russian and Korean. Maria Soldatova, an Associate Professor at the Military University of the Ministry of Defense, was a moderator and reader. The following people also took part in the reading of poems: Associate Professor at St Petersburg University Anastasiia Gureva; Dean of the Faculty of Translation at Moscow State Linguistic University Ekaterina Pokholkova; Associate Professor at the Instutute of Asian and African Studies at Moscow State University Jeong Insoon; translator, responsible editor of the journal ‘The Bulletin of Korean Studies in Russia’ Anastasiia Pogadaeva; Associate Professor at Moscow State Linguistic University Ji Yun Rho; students and graduates of the Korean Studies Department at St Petersburg University Daria Kosokina, Evgeniia Bobkova, Elina Lee and Natalia Karavaeva; and a student from Moscow State Linguistic University Ivan Sirotin.