Creating a Formidable Hero: Ch’oe Ch’iwŏn and Contested Worlds in Chosŏn Literature and Culture


Thursday, October 7, 2021, 6:00pm to 7:30pm


Online (Zoom)

Harvard Worldwide Week event co-sponsored by Harvard University Asia Center, Center for African Studies, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard China Fund, John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Korea Institute, Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Office of FAS International Affairs, Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs, Office of International Education, Program on US-Japan Relations, and Weatherhead Center for International Affairs 

event poster

Sookja Cho 
Visiting Scholar; Associate Professor of Korean and Comparative Literature, Arizona State University

Sookja Cho is an associate professor in the School of International Letters and Cultures at Arizona State University. She holds doctoral degrees in Chinese and Comparative (Korean) Literature from Washington University in St. Louis and in premodern Chinese Literature from Seoul National University. Her research addresses premodern Korean literature and culture, Sino-Korean exchange and East Asian comparative literature, gender and religious literature, performance literature, and oral storytelling and folk literature. Her recent publications include Transforming Gender and Emotion: The Butterfly Lovers Story in China and Korea (University of Michigan Press, 2018), The Tale of Cho Ung: A Classic of Vengeance, Loyalty, and Romance (Columbia University Press, 2018), and “The Tale of Ch’oe Chŏk” in Korean Literary Prose: An Anthology (Columbia University Press, 2018). She is currently working on projects concerning Sino-Korean literature and cultural exchange.

Chaired by Yoon Sun Yang, Associate Professor of Korean & Comparative Literature and Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program, Boston University

In mid- to late Chosŏn fictional narratives, Ch’oe Chiwŏn (857-?), a real-life intellectual from Silla Korea, was reincarnated as a powerful and fashionable hero. His described military prowess and cultural superiority were an astute response to the cultural calls of the time. The fictional hero Ch’oe’s popularity arises from his power to draw Koreans into the embrace of history, speaking for those whose desires were thwarted by the limits of traditional Korea and who yearned to redefine the country’s position anew. In exploring the fictionalization of Ch’oe Ch’iwŏn into a formidable, legendary hero, I scrutinize how the narratives and images of Ch’oe Ch’iwŏn evoke the voices of the time and what lies behind those voices. I argue that Ch’oe’s reinvention addressed Koreans’ changing worldview—specifically, their aspiration to assume ascendency within the center-periphery dynamic of a Sino-centric world. The fictional Ch’oe’s exaggerated role and power, as well as his placement in an imaginary geography rooted in folk beliefs and popular religions, broadened the horizons of the Korean imagination and give birth to a new literary hero, encouraging Korean readers onward and easing their conflict and tension.

To attend this online event, please register here.

A reminder email with the Zoom link will be sent in advance of the event. 

Generously supported by the Sunshik Min Endowment Fund for the Advancement of Korean Literature at the Korea Institute.