The Song of Ch’un-Hyang

The folk tales that have been composed and flourished during the XVI-XVIII centuries take a prominent place in Korean literature. They include numerous legends grounded on the national motives. The Song of Ch’un-Hyang (“The Ch’unhyang Story”), which refers to the masterpieces of the Korean national literature, is a story about a deep love of Wol’-mae’s daughter, who was a kisaeng (singer and dancer), and the young man of noble birth. It is highly appreciated by the generations of Koreans and representatives of other nationalities. In earlier times, there existed different versions of the legend. However, the people’s favorite story has a prominent final, where, despite separation and hardships, Ch’un-hyang and Yi Mongyong achieved mutual happiness in marriage and glory. The legend is a treasure trove of wisdom because it extols such virtues as love, fidelity, honor, justice, and courage. At the same time, it shows a spiritual perfection of the main characters hardened with guilt and shame very subtly. This study focuses on the legend analysis through the prism of these feelings because shame and guilt form a significant part of the narrative’s moral background and make possible to bring out the best ideas of The Song of Ch’un-Hyangthrough contrast.

Concepts of Shame and Guilt in Ch’un-Hyang’s Life Philosophy

Love and loyalty create a single leitmotif of the epic story, its core theme, which is reflected even in the main character’s name that means ‘Spring Fragrance’ (“The Ch’unhyang Story”). In the Korean tradition, spring is a symbol of renewal and love. At that time, Ch’un-hyang met her beloved Master Yi and became his wife. A sense of duty was above all for her, and the greatest shame for the woman was the very idea of misconduct and betrayal. She was the only daughter of a famous courtesan and a wealthy official. Despite the fact that she was not working as a kisaeng and kept her virginity for a future husband, according tothe laws of the society, she had to feel shame from the very childhood because of her birth and mother’s status. Nevertheless, Ch’un-hyang did not consider herself as a person of the lowest grade. According to her considerations, there was nothing in her behavior and way of life that she chose on her own to be ashamed of.

After Yi’s departure to Seoul to finish his education and pass the state exam, a new governor arrived in Namwon and desired Ch’un-hyang to become his concubine. However, she refused the official saying that wife cannot serve two husbands as well as an honest governor cannot serve two kings (Touch). The woman was sent to prison and sentenced to torture and, eventually, to death. Ch’un-hyang was pressured to believe that she was guilty of disobedience to superior law. Officials tried to make her feel ashamed because she refused to become a mistress of the new Namwon governor. Despite that, the high-minded young wife held out against bullying and did not succumb to those destructive feelings. Ch’un-hyang’s philosophy of life stated that guilt and shame would cover her if she betrayed the only love. That was impossible.

Place of Shame and Guilt in Yi’s Comprehension

A son of the old governor Yi Mongyong had to feel shame and guilt because of his love to Ch’un-hyang. He was a person of noble birth and could not marry a girl like Wol’-mae’s daughter. However, he belonged to an opposition-minded part of society inspired with the enlightenment ideas that were widely supported by young Koreans in XVII-XVIII centuries. Ch’un-hyang’s origin did not confuse Yi because she was educated, talented and virtuous person. The generous young man showed courage and challenged a public in the best oriental traditions. Realizing that his action had no chances to receive an approval of the parents, he kept his marriage in secret and promised his wife to reunite with her after the exams were passed.

Yi felt guilty for having left his young wife; Ch’un-hyang fell into despair and was on the verge of shame bbecause a fate of the abandoned woman was bitter. However, Yi knew that he could atone for his guilt in the future. Thus, Ch’un-hyang’s husband brilliantly passed the state exams and was greeted by the emperor. He became a secret inspector and traveled around the country fighting dishonest governors and eradicating unjust laws. At the end of the legend, Yi Mongyong was able to bring to legal responsibility the new governor of Namwon (Ch’un-hyang’s offender) and save his faithful beloved.

Yi could consider betrayal as an occasion for shame and guilt. However, it included the public service issues. His appearance at the birthday party of the cruel Namwon governor showed everyone Yi’s defiance of the greedy and arrogant nobility. It can be assumed that he felt shame for it because of his high birth. Nevertheless, Master Yi remained faithful to his beloved wife and motherland. Thus, he had no reasons to feel guilty and ashamed.

Crowd and Other Characters as Personification of Social Morality

An image of the crowd and minor characters appears as the morality and common values measure. Public opinion and customs pushed Ch’un-hyang into a corner of loneliness and misunderstanding. The new governor of Namwon considered the fact that a daughter of a courtesan could be an honest wife ridiculous. The movie Chunhyang(2000)shows very clearly an ambivalent attitude of Korean society towards the woman. People approved her behavior, but did it silently as she was the symbol of shame. The courtesan’s daughter could not be taken seriously, and no one gave honor to her, people just sympathized her. The only person who absolutely understood Ch’un-hyang’s life dilemma was her mother, who was trying to raise her child a decent woman. However, even she advised her daughter to accept the new governor’s courtship. The crowd continuously checked the woman’s willpower. People around her were trying to blame her for disobedience to the old customs. However, Ch’un-hyang won people’s respect and admiration. It proves that the public opinion is changeable.

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