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Essay Contest Result

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Plan for Promoting Korean History and
Traditional Culture Using a Mobile App
“Webtoon The Talk of the Joseon Dynasty (Chinese version)”

Recently, Korean popular culture – from movies and music to clothing and food – has become popular all over the world under the name of “hallyu.” Chinese people are interested in Korean popular culture, but they still lack in-depth understanding of Korean history and traditional culture. In most cases, knowledge of Korea stops at “Korean dramas” or “Korean cosmetics.” Many people who have some knowledge of Korean history and traditional culture are not able to evaluate Korea objectively because of biases and misunderstandings in their knowledge.

I am a student studying Korean language and culture at Peking University, China. I am particularly interested in Korean history and traditional culture, and I have spent a lot of time thinking how I could spread this knowledge to other Chinese people. There is a saying in Chinese: “You can know the rise and fall of nations if you use history as a looking glass (以史為鏡, 可以知興替).” These words mean that you can find the path of the future only by understanding the history of the past, and I think that studying history is very important. I also think that when trying to understand any aspect of a country, one must start by learning about that country’s history and traditional culture. However, because of the huge amount of history and culture and the fact that it is mostly recorded in literature, the study of these topics is not as entertaining as one might think. In fact, non-Koreans might even find Korean history boring when it is introduced monotonously and stiffly, and I believe that this will cause them to resist learning about it.

Recently, a new cartoon format called webtoons have become very popular amongst young people. Webtoons have several good qualities. They can easily be accessed by anyone using the internet, they cover a variety of topics, and they can hold the interest of their readers. In addition, when webtoons are made using an app, they are very convenient because they can be viewed for free using a smartphone. In light of the recent trend of smartphone use, I thought that it would be great to introduce Korean history and traditional culture to Chinese people using a Chinese version of webtoons.

The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty is one of the most representative of the many records from the Joseon period. It is a 472-year history from the time of Taejo through Cheoljo, and it is a treasure trove of various traditional cultures such as politics, economy, diplomacy, religion, and social customs of the time. Therefore, this book is a great textbook for those who want to know more about Korean history and traditional culture. Recently, a webtoon called The Talk of the Joseon Dynasty, serialized on the Naver webtoon site, caught the attention of Korean netizens. There were 300 episodes as of January 2018, and more are currently being published. Based on The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, the story progresses as a conversation with netizens on the popular mobile messaging app, KakaoTalk. One of the reasons why it is beloved by netizens today is that it is a modern, easily understood version of a difficult and confusing history. In other words, they use tools like almost all people use today: mobile messenger, conversation methods, buzzwords, picture attachments, and emoticons. So I would like to propose a plan to inform Chinese people about Korean history and traditional culture by using the webtoon The Talk of the Joseon Dynasty (Chinese version). There are three specific parts of the plan.

First, a plan to teach about important dates in Korea.
Just like in China, Korea has special dates which have great significance nationally. Some of these dates have been set aside by law as days for observation or celebration as a nation. In addition to New Year’s Day and Chuseok, days which hold special meaning to Korean people include Sam-iljeol, Independence Day, Gaecheonjeol, and Hangeul Day. As shown in Table 1, there are four episodes of The Talk of the Joseon Dynasty which deal with some of these special dates. These episodes teach about the day’s origin, related people, and traditions or customs.

Let’s look at episode 175 “Hangeul Day Special” as an example. Hangeul Day is a commemoration of the creation of Hangeul and its distribution to the world. It is celebrated every year on October 9 as a national holiday to honor Hangeul’s excellence. Therefore, Hangeul Day is a very meaningful day for the Korean people. As can be seen in Figure 1 from the “Hangeul Day Special,” the episode tells the story of King Sejong (Grand duke Chungnyeong at the time) who created Hangeul with his children because his people suffered due to their inability to learn Chinese characters. The story is told with an entertaining mix of pictures and dialogue, so readers can quickly absorb basic information about Hangeul Day – What does it commemorate? What are its origins? Who created it? – by reading an interesting webtoon.

Photo - Episode 175 “Hangeul Day Special”
These important dates are a result of the fusion of meaningful history and culture. For those who want to learn about Korean history and traditional culture, I believe that studying about these dates is a “mandatory course.” The Talk of the Joseon Dynasty (Chinese version) will be useful to the general public in China, and I believe that the Korean version can be very useful to Korean language teachers in China or to Chinese learners of the Korean language.

Second, a plan to teach about important historical events in Korea.
Important historical events are important context and clues to understanding history. As shown in Table 2, about 20 episodes in the first 100 episodes of The Talk of the Joseon Dynasty covered historical events which had great influence on Joseon society.

Episode 90 “The Battle of Haengju” is an example of this. At the end of the 16th century, Joseon faced destruction as a nation due to several invasions. The Joseon army and people of the time were braced for attack from outside forces. The Battle of Haengju was a battle during the 1592-1598 Japanese Invasion of Korea in which the Korean leader Gwon Yul routed Japanese forces at the fort of Haengju. Considered one of the three great battles of the 1592-1598 Japanese Invasion of Korea, it has great historical meaning. As shown in Figure 2, the battle’s time, location, outcomes, and situation are all showed in the webtoon using pictures and conversations. In fact, the webtoon will give readers a more vivid feeling than a book even because it uses pictures to introduce weapons that the Joseon army used at the time, including bomb shells, hwacha, new weapons, and various types of artillery. I think that these events, which had such great influence on the flow of history, are another essential part of our understanding of Korean history. By reading the webtoon, readers will gain a deeper understanding of important historical events from the Joseon period.

Photo - Episode 90 “The Battle of Haengju”
Third, a plan to teach stories from Korean history and traditional culture.
When introducing Korean history to non-Koreans, it is much more effective to use unknown stories than dry narratives. Take for example episode 19 “Tuition in Joseon.” The story is told as a conversation between a mother and son. Next, look at Figure 3. The son was accepted to a school, but the mother is worried about the expensive tuition. Her fears are assuaged only after the son tells her that he doesn’t have to pay tuition. Through this cartoon, readers can learn about the civil service and testing systems in the Joseon period. We learn that there are two types of school (sogwa and daegwa), that only 100 people across the nation are accepted to the sogwa, that sogwa graduates can go to Sungkyungkwan, and that all expenses (tuition, clothing, room and board, etc.) are covered by the government. In addition, the student must present the teacher with alcohol, fabric, and food as part of a kind of ritual. As you can see, many of the contents in The Talk of the Joseon Dynasty, though not necessarily serious historical events, are anecdotes containing the social customs and interesting stories of the time. These stories help us understand the culture, fashion, and habits that existed at that time.

Photo - Episode 19 “Tuition in Joseon.”
This is my proposal to spread knowledge about Korean history and traditional culture to Chinese people using the mobile app The Talk of the Joseon Dynasty (Chinese version). I have also introduced the detailed contents and plans for the app. My hope is that this app would help spread knowledge of Korea’s rich history and traditional culture not just in China, but around the world. As a student of Korean language and culture, I will do my best to teach other Chinese people about Korean history and traditional culture.

[Participation Prize]
Zhang Fengshuo

(Country of Activity : China)

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