Legend – Korean

“There’s this really popular story in Korea and they even made it into a lot of dramas. Uhh… it’s about this girl named Chunhyang and her dad died and her mom teaches her how to be a really proper lady. But they are like the Korean version of geishas. So she’s thought of as really low in society. Umm. So one day, Chunhyang is out swinging on the swings and this random guy sees her. His name is Mongyong, and he falls in love with her. Ummm.. Mongyong is the son of a major and he tries to get with her, but she rejects him. Later, she falls in love with him anyways and they get married in secret. Mmm… then the guy’s dad gets a promotion and they move so they separate for a while. He finishes school and he gets a job as one of those internal affairs type of guys that arrest corrupt officials. He goes back to his hometown where Chunhyang is and finds out that she’s been arrested by the new mayor there. Uhh… The mayor is this really bad guy and he tries to seduce Chunhyang, but she rejects him, so he arrests her and sentences her to death. When she is about to be killed, Mongyong reveals himself and arrests the mayor. Mmmm… Then the two live happily ever after.”

Alicia learned this story from her mother when she was a young girl, probably still attending elementary school in Los Angeles. It was one of those stories that her mom told her to amuse her and pass the time. She said that her mother learned it from her mother, but that the story is actually very common knowledge in Korea. In fact, it is often written in textbooks about Korea. Alicia, herself, has learned this story from multiple sources, including in one of her classes at the University of Southern California.

This story is told usually to young children who have yet to learn much about Korean culture and its past, usually around the elementary ages. It can be performed at any time, but usually comes up when talking about Korean folklore or culture. Although many Korean-Americans know of this story, Alicia said that most details are lost in the American versions. She said that the full version is most often heard in Korea. She also said that some people in America confuse dramatized versions of the story with the original.

Alicia regards this story as very typical and a mixture between Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet. She does not think much of the story and its cultural importance and explained by saying that it acts like a child’s favorite bedtime story. However, she did say that it is one of the few stories still being passed down and the various versions continue to be a part of Korea’s culture.

I think that the story of Chunhyang and Mongyong is very similar to many maarchen and legend stories. The good and evil characters are typified and are not necessarily very developed. The story basically tells the audience that love conquers all, no matter what gets in the way. The story also reveals that a long time ago there was a caste system in Korea. Rank and status was very important in arranging marriages. People in government are considered of higher power and therefore better status, while working families are just commoners. There is a fine line of separation between the two groups, which explains why Chunhyang and Mongyong had to get married secretly.