Hwang, Sun-won 1915-2000

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Hwang, Sun-won 1915-2000


Born March 26, 1915, in Pyongyang province, Korea (now North Korea); died, 2000.Education: Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan, graduated, 1939.


Seoul High School, teacher, beginning 1946; trained as a journalist and contributed stories to newspapers; Kyonghui University, Seoul, South Korea, professor, 1957-93.


National Academy of Arts (Korea).


Pangga: Hwang Sun-won sijip Haksaeng Yesulchwa Munyebu (Tonggyong, Korea), 1934.

Hwang Sun-won tanpyonjip, Hangong Toso Chusik Hoesa (Kyongsong-bu, Korea), 1940.

No wa na man ui sigan: Hwang Sun-won sosolchip,Chongumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1964.

Trees on a Cliff: A Novel of Korea and Two Stories,translated by Chang Wang-rok, Larchwood Publications (Larchmont, NY), 1980.

The Stars and Other Korean Short Stories, translated and with introduction by Edward W. Poitras, Heinemann Asia (Hong Kong, China), 1980.

Nup, Munhak kwa Chisongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1980.

Hwang Sun-won chonjip: Works, twelve volumes, Munhak kwa Chisongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1980.

Pyol kwa kachi salta; Kain ui huye, Munhak kwa Chisongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1981, translated by Suh Ji-moon and Julie Pickering as The Descendants of Cain, M.E. Sharp/UNESCO (Armonk, NY), 1997.

Ingan chommok; Namudul pital esoda: Hwang Sunwon chonjip, Munhak kwa Chisongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1981.

Mongnomi maul ul kae; Kogyesa, Munhak kwa Chisongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1981.

Sindul ui chusawi, Munhak kwa Chisongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1982.

No wa na man ui sigan; Naeil Munhak kwa Chisongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1982.

Chayurul kurinun maum: aedokcha 693-in i ppobun Hanguk myongjak tanpyon sosol 15 sonjip, Samil Sojok (Seoul, South Korea), 1983.

Irwol, Munhak kwa Chisongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1983.

Sisonjip (poems), Munhak kwa Chisongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1985.

Mal kwa sam kwa chayu: Hwang Sun-won kohui kinyom chakpumjip, Munhak kwa Chisongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1985.

The Moving Castle, translated by Bruce and Ju-chan Fulton, Pace International Research (Arch Cape, OR)/Si-sa-yong-o-sa (Seoul, South Korea), 1985.

Sonu Hwi munhak sonjip, Choson Ilbosa (Seoul, South Korea), 1987.

Pulkkot oe, Choson Ilbosa (Seoul, South Korea), 1987.

(With Kim Song-han and Yi O-ryong pyon) Oemyon oe Choson Ilbosa (Seoul, South Korea), 1987.

(With Kim Song-han and Yi O-ryong pyon) Muksi oe,Choson Ilbosa (Seoul, South Korea), 1987.

(With Kim Song-han and Yi O-ryong pyon) Chujok ui pinalle oe, Choson Ilbosa (Seoul, South Korea), 1987.

Hanguk hyondae munhak ui tamgu, Chisong Munhwasa (Seoul, South Korea), 1988.

The Book of Masks (short stories), edited by Martin Holman, Readers International (London, England), 1989.

Sunlight, Moonlight, translated by Sol Sun-bong, Si-sa-yong-o-sa (Seoul, South Korea), 1990.

Sesang eso kajang arumdaun yagi, Tongtchok Nara (Seoul, South Korea), 1990.

Shadows of a Sound: Stories, edited by J. Martin Holman, Mercury House (San Francisco, CA), 1990.

Hwang Sun-won tasi ilki: morae wa pyol sai eso,Hanguk Munhwasa (Seoul, South Korea), 2004.

Trees on a Slope, translated by Bruce Fulton and Ju-Chan Fulton, University of Hawaii Press (Honolulu, HI), 2005.


Best remembered for his short stories, which have become well-beloved works in his native Korea, Hwang Sun-won also wrote poetry and novels. Hwang lived through turbulent times including the Japanese occupation of his land, followed by the imposing influence of the Soviet Union of the North, and the civil war between North and South Korea. Despite such a history, however, Hwang's fiction managed to be fairly apolitical, though he did not avoid important social issues including the stigma many Koreans felt living in a land whose culture was often subjugated to others.

While he was still a child, Hwang's home was occupied by the Japanese, who treated Korea like a colony and forbade the use of Korean in schools. Hwang consequently attended college in Japan, earning a degree in English literature at Tokyo's Waseda University. Returning home in 1939, he began writing short stories, but because the Japanese would not permit Korean publications during the war, he kept his manuscripts in storage for publication when hostilities ended. When the Korean War broke out a few years later, he left his home province for South Korea, later taking a job as a professor at Kyonghui University. He remained in that post until he retired in 1993.

Several of Hwang's short stories and novels have been translated into English and have received positive critical attention. The Book of Masks, for instance, includes fourteen of the author's tales, including one lyrical tale about a soldier who dies and whose spirit becomes a reed; the reed is eaten by a bull, which is then killed and eaten and eaten by another soldier, who was the one who had originally killed the first soldier. The man's spirit thus enters the body of his attacker. The message is a very spiritual one of the recycling of human misery. Other stories are similarly poetic, and sometimes perplexing, such as one in which a man is doomed to spend four thousand won (Korea's monetary denomination) every day; in another story, a guilt-ridden man finds solace by contemplating a gingko tree. A Kirkus Reviews writer noted that the tales "work by indirection and suggestion, although delicate and metaphorical," while World Literature Today critic appreciated their "universal" themes.

More typical of Hwang's fiction, though, are the tales found in Shadows of a Sound: Stories. Often set in the countryside and featuring strong protagonists—both male and female—the stories here "are frequently idealistic and unconvincing," according to Trevor Carolan in a Bloomsbury Review article, "but beautifully so." Commenting that Hwang has been criticized for not being more political in his writings, given his country's history, Carolan pointed out that they offer "marvelous insight into Korean culture." "Hwang," added Edgar C. Knowlton, Jr., in World Literature Today, "has heart as well as impressive skill as a writer." Knowlton added that the author "deserves his reputation as a master storyteller."

Though his short fiction is more often written about, Hwang has been particularly noted for his novel The Descendants of Cain, which focuses on the culture-shaking event in Korea's history when the Soviet Union redistributed land to the peasant classes. This profoundly changed a system in which rich landowners had dominated the social arrangement. While those Koreans who were poor and farmed the lands of the rich had to pay their masters with over half of their crops, the landowners paid them back by offering them protection and security. Many of the poor farmers therefore felt a great loyalty and fondness for those who controlled their lives. However, when that changed, the working classes had to decide between relative security and the chance to own their own land. This resulted in violence and revolt between the classes. Into this setting, Hwang introduces Hun, a meek but wealthy landowner, and Ojaknyo, a married woman who lives under Hun's care. While Hun seems meek, he longs for Ojakno, and Hwang slowly lays the groundwork for the startlingly decisive action he takes by the end of the novel. Knowlton, writing again in World Literature Today, remarked especially how Hwang "combines elements of satire along with convincing dialogue [and] vivid characterization" in a story that expresses how "liberation is not an unmixed blessing."



Bloomsbury Review, June, 1991, Trevor Carolan, review of Shadows of a Sound: Stories, pp. 18-19.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1989, review of The Book of Masks, pp. 940-941.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 4, 1990, Sonja Bolle, review of Shadows of a Sound, p. 6.

Pacific Affairs, summer, 2000, Wolhee Choe, review of Descendants of Cain, p. 303.

World Literature Today, spring, 1990, Edgar C. Knowlton, Jr., review of The Book of Masks,p. 365; autumn, 1990, Edgar C. Knowlton, Jr., review of Shadows of a Sound, p. 703; summer, 1998, Edgar C. Knowlton, Jr., review of The Descendants of Cain, p. 690.