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The Testimony of the Printing Form: The Translation of Tyeonroryukjeong (1895) and the Traditions of Korean Language in the late 19th Century

Moon-seok Jang, Seoul National University

Most researches on Tyeonroryukjeong(1895) put great emphasis that it is a complete translation using only Hangul. But the Korean literary context surrounding Tyeonroryukjeong is not simple. Many people thought that Tyeonroryukjeong was translated by J. S. Gale alone. In fact, the process of translation was possible with the help of Korean Helpers, for example, Yi, Chang-Jik. They used Tianlulicheng, the Chinese version of The Pilgrim’s Progress, as the original text. But there are fundamental differences between Tianlulicheng and Tyeonroryukjeong. Tianlulicheng was designed for close-reading. Many comments, pictures, underlines, and Chinese Poems made it easier for the readers to understand Tianlulicheng. This intent of the translators was realized with the help of suitable book design. But the case of Tyeonroryukjeong was different. Of course, J. S. Gale and his Korean helpers wanted their reader to read Tyeonroryukjeong closely, too. But they chose traditional book design in Korea. Throughout the Choseon dynasty, many Chinese Literary works like Romance of the Three Kingdoms, had been translated and published. Many Koreans enjoyed them, so the literary polysystem of translation had already been formed and operated well. The translation of Tyeonroryukjeong also gained access to that system. They published Tyeonroryukjeong in the manner of wood-block prints (Bang-gak). This raises some problems. The book design of wood-block prints was not suitable for close-reading, but just "rough-reading". There was no room for comments in wood-block prints. So, some information was lost in Korean version, compared to Chinese one. Also, it was the first time in Korean Novel history that the states of mind were presented as conceptualized and personified. The readers of Tianlulicheng could understand it without difficulty, since the chinese characters were ideographs. But the readers of the translation in Hangul, which was phonographic, couldn’t understand many peoples’ name. In short, the Chinese version was suitable for close-reading but the Korean one was not. That’s because there was a cultural and technical “time difference” between Shanghai, China and Seoul, Korea. This cultural-historical discord of the intention and the convention of translation, manifested in translation of Tyeonroryukjeong, was resolved only after the Western Literature and Concepts were introduced and translated in 1900s and 1910s. Tyeonroryukjeong is the example of prehistory of Moden Korean Translation Literature. Also it is the text where the scar of transition into the modern was deeply carved.