Kim Tong-ni

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Kim Tong-ni
Born 김시종
(1913-12-21)December 21, 1913
Died (1995-06-17)June 17, 1995
Language Korean
Nationality Korean
Citizenship South Korean
Pen name
Hangul 김동리
Hanja 金東里
Revised Romanization Gim Dongni
McCune–Reischauer Kim Tongni
Actual name
Hangul 김시종
Hanja 始鐘
Revised Romanization Si Jong
McCune–Reischauer Si Chong

Kim Tong-ni (The romanization preferred by the author according to LTI Korea[1]) was a Korean writer.[2]


Kim Tong-ni (real name: Kim Sijong[3]) was born on December 21, 1913, in Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, Korea. Kim attended Gyeseong Middle School in Daegu before transferring to Kyungshin Middle School in Seoul. After family circumstances forced him to drop out, he devoted himself to reading in place of regular coursework. He read a tremendous number of books, including philosophy, world literature and Eastern classics. In fact, Kim’s eldest brother Kim Beom-bu, who was a scholar of Chinese classics and a philosopher, had great influence on his extensive reading and his prospects of becoming a writer of Korean literature.[4]

Kim was so poor from his childhood that hunger was almost part of his life. He once wrote that sometimes if there was any liquor remaining in the bowl after his father drank from it, he would gulp down even that leftover liquor to relieve his hunger.[5] In 1928, he dropped out of school in order to devote himself to writing.[6] He started his literary career by publishing poems in various newspapers at the age of 16. He made a name for himself in the Korean literary world with his short stories. Over the years he received numerous literary awards. Kim Dongri debuted as a poet in 1934 with the publication of the poem "White Heron" (Baengno) in the Chosun Ilbo and emerged as a fiction writer the next year when his story "A Descendant of Hwarang" (Hwarangui huye) was published in the JoongAng Ilbo.[7]

He was also active in a number of organizations such as The Association of Young Korean Writers (Hanguk cheongnyeon munhakga hyeophoe), The Korea Academy of Arts (Daehanminguk yesurwon), and the Korean Writers' Association (Hanguk munin hyeophoe).[8]

Kim was married to the writer Son So-hui (1917-1987).[9] Kim died on June 17, 1995.


Kim’s work deals with traditional and native Korean themes from a 20th-century perspective . As a right-wing writer and advocate of “pure literature,” Kim Dongri produced a series of critical essays opposing ideological literature, including The True Meaning of Pure Literature (Sunsu munhagui jinui, 1946) and The Theory of National Literature (Minjok munhangnon, 1948).[10]

Kim Dong-ni’s literary world, characterized by a mixture of traditional mysticism and humanist realism, investigated the idea of fate and man’s place in the universe through the spiritual world of Korean tradition as it collided with foreign culture. His early works such as "The Portrait of Shaman" (Munyeodo, 1936), "The Post Horse Curse" (Yeongma), and "The Legend of Yellow Earth" (Hwangtogi) draw heavily on elements of traditional myth to explore the relations between shamanism and Confucianism, Christianity and Buddhism, fatalism and naturalism. "The Post Horse Curse" portrays a man’s rebellion against and eventual acceptance of his fate as a wanderer; "The Portrait of Shaman," which was later expanded into a full-length novel entitled Eulhwa, depicts a conflict between a shaman mother and a Christian son. In the mother’s suicide, the narrative predicts the decline of shamanism and ascendancy of newly imported Christianity.

After the Korean War, Kim Tong-ni expanded his thematic concerns to include political clashes and the resultant suffering of people during the Korean War. "Hungnam evacuation" (Hungnam cheolsu), based on the actual event of the UN forces’ retreat from the city of Heungnam during the War, delves into the conflict between democracy and communism. "Dance of Existence" (Siljonmu) narrates a love story between a North Korean man and a South Korean woman that comes to an abrupt end when the man’s wife from North Korea reappears. Apparent in these stories is the author’s attempt to universalize elements of Korean tradition and spiritual identity by transposing them onto a contemporary reality. "The Cross of Shaphan" (Sabanui sipjaga, 1957), a fictional account of a man crucified next to Jesus, combines the subject of political strife with fatalistic attitude and critique of Western culture. In lieu of the otherworldly and removed God presented in "The Cross of Shaphan," "A Life-sized Figure of the Buddha" (Deungsinbul) suggests an image of God who embraces human suffering.

Some of Kim's short stories were translated into English and plubished in the volume Loess Valley. The short story "Loess Valley" could be read as a parable for the crippling effect China has had on Korea in which a Chinese general "assassinates” a local mountain to ensure that no local Hercules can ever threaten China, but mainly it seems to be about two strong, sort of wife-swapping drunken Korean louts. Full of violence, it is an interesting story to read, but not one that leaves much of an impact. In "The Tableau of the Shaman Sorceress" is a Shaman who lives with her deaf and mute daughter. The daughter is re-united with her son who is now a Christian, and they fight for religious supremacy, with tragic results. Like "Loess Valley," it is long on trauma and violence. As in most cases with Kim, it ends in warfare. "The Rock" and "Two Reservists" are short, the first another tragic family story (featuring yet again an attempted murder), and the second about how a sense of family (including both love and loathing, but at least the violence is kept down to a mugging) grows between two reservists, both released from the army. The next two, and last stories by Kim, Cry of the Magpies and Deungshi-bul, were later released by KLTI and Jimoondang, and can be found and with reviews, elsewhere[11]


  • Freedom Literature Prize (1955)
  • Korean Academy of Arts Prize (1958)
  • Citizens' Order of the Republic of Korea (1958)
  • 3.1 Literature Award, Arts Section Main Prize (1967)
  • Seoul City Literature Award (1970)
  • Order of Civil Merit, Peony Medal (1970)
  • 5.16 People's Literature Award (1983)
  • Korean Arts Council Selection Shining 20th Century Artist (1999)

Works in Translation[edit]


  • The Shaman Sorceress - English
  • ULHWA the Shaman - English
  • ULHWA, la exorcista - Spanish
  • Ulhwa, die schamanin - German
  • 乙火 - Chinese
  • La Chamane - French

Saban-ui sipjaga[edit]

  • The Cross of Shaphan - English
  • La Croix de Schaphan - French

Short Stories[edit]

  • A Descendant of the Hwarang in A Ready-made Life: Early Masters of Modern Korean Fiction
  • Greedy Youth in Collected Short Stories from Korea

Works in Korean (Partial)[edit]

  • A Descendant of the Hwarang (Hwarangui huye)
  • The Rock (Bawi)
  • Seondo Mountain (Seondosan)
  • Seomun Street (Seomun geori)
  • Portrait of a Shaman (Munyeodo 1936)
  • Loess Valley (Hwangtogi 1939)
  • The Cross of Shaphan (Sabanui sipjaga 1955)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 2015-01-13. 
  2. ^ "김동 " in the Korean Author’s Database at LTI Korea: Archived 21 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ Great Novelist Kim Dong-ni Represents Korean Modern Literature, 2013.09.10, KBS World
  4. ^ Great Novelist Kim Dong-ni Represents Korean Modern Literature, 2013.09.10, KBS World
  5. ^ Dong-Ni Mok-Wol Literary Museum, KiWoong Jang, 2009_11_18일.
  6. ^ "김동 " in the Korean Author’s Database at LTI Korea: Archived 21 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ "김동 " in the Korean Author’s Database at LTI Korea: Archived 21 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ "김동 " in the Korean Author’s Database at LTI Korea: Archived 21 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ Naver people search| accessed 1/19/2014
  10. ^ "김동 " in the Korean Author’s Database at LTI Korea: Archived 21 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ LOESS VALLEY And Other Korean Short Stories, Reviewed at KTLIT:

External links[edit]