Hong Gildong is Korea.
Hong Gildong is the classic Korean tale about the High Minister Hong’s concubine’s son, who, because of his birth status, is not able to have all the rights of the nobility. He is unable to become a righteous government official which compels him to leave home and instead he becomes the leader of a righteous band of outlaws, eventually creating a new kingdom with himself as monarch.
Our hosts, the Asian American Writers’ Workshop (AAWW), welcomed Minsoo Kang, professor of history at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and translator, to present his research for this new English edition of The Story of Hong Gildong published by Penguin Classics. His work reveals many insights, challenging what is generally thought about the story’s details and origin. He cataloged no less than 34 different versions, tracing them back to the real original (and longest) version produced in the 19 Century late Joseon period. This is what his English translation is based on.
Professor Kang identifies that the initial themes in the story, of Hong Gildong being disrespected and unable to create a future based on his own desires, seems to parallel Korea’s actual 20th Century timeline. This in part is what has made the story of Hong Gildong so resonant for the country and its people.
The story is simultaneously explicit and subtle, conservative and subversive. This allows it to be reinterpreted, reimagined, and retold by many generations, who find new or unexplored themes that speak strongly for that time.
Professor Kang’s research helps challenge the notion of what is actually authentic in society and culture. In Korean society, Hong Gildong has been deemed authentic in all of its forms, so even if new details are added, or the plot is revised here and there it's status is simply reaffirmed. Each time a new version appears, that only grows its power in Korean culture. Now, with this amazing translation and the research that accompanies it, Hong Gildong’s legacy will expand even further.