Korea-China Relations Seen through Exchange between 20th Century Intellectuals
Kim Sang-un

Staff Reporter
The Dong-a Ilbo

“Origin of Korea-China Exchange in the Modern Era”

By Hong Seok-pyo, Ewha Womans University Press, 408 pages, 27,000 won


Korean writer Yi Yuksa met Chinese writer Lu Xun in Shanghai by chance in June 1933. Having graduated from the Korean Revolution Military Academy in Nanjing, Yi had visited Shanghai before slipping into Korea under Japanese rule. Having written a book about Lu Xun, Yi must have been deeply impressed. Later, in an article titled “In Remembrance of Lu Xun,” Yi wrote, “When Lu Xun took my hand again, he had already become a warm, familiar friend.”


This was the moment when the Chinese intellectual Lu Xun, who wanted to change the world, and the Korean nationalist Yi Yuksa, who rose up against the Japanese colonial rule, came together with one mind. Actually, Yi’s view of literature was strongly influenced by that of Lu Xun. In his book, Yi wrote, “To Lu Xun, art was never a slave to politics; rather, art was like a pioneer leading politics.” They shared similar views of art as well as aspirations to change the world.


“Origin of Korea-China Exchange in the Modern Era” covers the relations between Korean and Chinese intellectuals in the early 20th century. Their interactions were forgotten during the Japanese occupation of Korea, World War II and the ensuing Cold War. Although Korea’s sovereignty was relinquished to Japan, intellectual exchange between Korea and China remained intact, maintaining thousands of years of discourse.


What is interesting is that even then there was a love-hate relationship between the two countries. Beijing University Professor Wei Jiangong, who was a visiting scholar to the Department of Chinese Literature at Keijo Imperial University in Seoul in 1926, said, “In their hearts, the Chinese and the Korean people may hate each other, but in their minds, they keep friendly relations. This is like the two opposite sides of East Asia regionalism pursuing co-prosperity and coexistence.”


This extends to the present day when the two nations are forming a huge economic bloc under a bilateral free trade agreement and yet cannot smooth out the differences over historical matters such as whose history includes the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo, which existed in Northeast China and today’s North Korea.


The author attempted to add more color to the past by visiting the university in Beijing that Yi Yuksa attended in 1926. He also added an interview with one of the school’s graduates to explain how Yi Yuksa became fascinated with modern Chinese literature. There is another eye-catching episode about how the Chinese writer Eileen Chang (1920-1995), author of the short story “Lust, Caution” which was made into a movie with the same title, met Choi Seung-hee, Korea’s most talented dancer at the time.

[February 7, 2015]