Oh Jung-hee

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Oh Jung-Hee
Language Korean
Nationality South Korean
Ethnicity Korean
Citizenship South Korean
Korean name
Hangul 오정희

Oh Jung-Hee (born November 9, 1947) (Hangul오정희) is a South Korean writer.[1]


Oh Jung-Hee (Also romanized as O chonghui, O Chong-hui) was born in Seoul on November 9, 1947. She attended the Sorabol Art College from which she received her B.A. in Creative Writing in 1968.[2] Oh made her initial literary impact while in her final year of college as she was awarded the Chungang Ilbo annual award for aspiring writers. This work was even more remarkable as Oh began to write it while she was still in high school.[3] The story was “The Toyshop Woman,” a dark story about a high-school girl, who is emotionally abandoned by her parents and whose disabled brother dies. This sets her on a path of madness which is paved by kleptomania and sexual obsession. This was a groundbreaking work.[4] As Oh matured as a writer, her work became increasingly non-imagistic and centered on family life as something like a trap for women.[5] From 1990 on, Hui has published only sporadically, including one work of children’s fiction, Song-I, It's Morning Outside the Door.[6]


Oh has captured both the Yi Sang Literary Award and the Dongin Literary Award, Korea's most prestigious prizes for short fiction, and her works have been translated into multiple foreign languages in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Europe[7]

Oh’s work in English is varied. Her most recently published work is Spirit on the Wind. Spirit on the Wind alternates between the first-person narration of a husband, Se-jung, and the third-person narration of Ŭn-su, his wife. As the story begins, Se-jung ponders the latest in a series of his wife’s disappearances, the first of which occurred a mere six months after their marriage. As Ŭn-su continues to wander off all of those around her, including her mother, become increasingly incredulous and troubled by Ŭn-su’s behavior, which they see as an abandonment of her family. Ŭn-su herself is unhappy. She vaguely identifies the root of her wanderlust in the fact that she was an adopted child, but this never quite seems reason enough and she is, “tired of wandering, tired of feeling that the home in which she was living was temporary”.[8] Ŭn-su’s continued betrayal of the family bond strains everyone, yet she is unable to control the winds that drive her. Worse, she cannot seem to summon up the memories that might explain it, “Everything before that [her 5th birthday] seemed hidden behind a dark curtain: none of it had surfaced in her mind” (55-56). The consistent and obvious metaphor in Spirit on the Wind is the wind itself, which is explicitly tied to memory: “Whenever she heard the wind, Ŭn-su would nod as if some long forgotten memory has just then surfaced“ (50); and she is left with only, “her anxious quest for identity to be stirred up and given wing by the slightest breath of wind” (56). Ŭn-su’s marriage collapses. Ŭn-su is finally reunited with her memories, but by the time that comes, it is too late for a happy ending. Ŭn-su remains in search of that wind that can blow her clean. This work is an example of Oh’s later work in which women “perceive, with fear and trembling, the abyss of emptiness that is the origin of and the truth of human existence.[9]

Chinatown by Oh Jung-Hee contains three stories, the eponymous Chinatown, Wayfarer, and The Release. These stories have been translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton. Chinatown takes place, in Incheon’s (Once Chemulpo) famous Chinatown, a tourist destination in the modern era, but a slum at the time. Though the story is placed in the post-war era, and though it features unavoidable fallout from the war, it is much more a coming of age tale than a tale about effects of the war.

The heart of the story is of a nine-year-old girl who comes to a greater awareness of sex and death. As the narrative moves forward, the girl observes the relationship, family, and eventual death of a prostitute named Maggie, as well as the sad death of her own grandmother. As backdrop to these events, Oh gives us the seventh pregnancy of the girl’s mother. Oh blends these stories into a collage representing the circle of life, and then drops a final graceful note in a one sentence paragraph with which the narrator concludes her story: “My first menstrual flow had begun.”

Wayfarer is the sad story of a woman who has been abandoned (in a cruel replay of childhood trauma) by her family and society. After killing a burglar, and spending two years in a mental hospital, Hye-Ja returns to a world that wants no part of her. Family and friends have reframed the killing of the burglar as the murder of a man who may or may not have been somehow related to Hye-Ja. In other words, Hye-Ja is suspected of having killed her lover. Oh cleverly weaves metaphors of blankness, coats of snow, and inaccessibility to paint a picture of Hye-Ja’s isolation, an isolation so profound that Hye-Ja is spurned even by beggars. At the end, drunk and staggering, Hye-Ja walks down a road that she knows will never end. The Release portrays a mother and daughter united by a shared but separate tragedy. Both women have lost their husbands at an early age, and in a culture that is historically inimical to widows, this is a social kiss of death. The pain they share is exacerbated by the mother’s intimate knowledge of what her daughter must undergo.

The Bronze Mirror is in at least two collections, including the seminal Land of Exile. In The Bronze Mirror an elderly couple live with memory of their son, killed twenty years earlier in the April 1960 student revolution.

The Bird is a thoroughly depressing story of two siblings in the economic slump of the mid 1990s. A 12-year-old girl and her brother are abandoned by their abusive father (who has already driven away the mother). The children are semi-adopted by an eclectic set of neighbors but soon enter an apparent downward spiral.

Works in Translation[edit]

  • Chinatown, Wayfarer, The Release (in Chinatown)
  • Spirit on the Wind (in Red Room: Stories of Contemporary Korean Trauma)
  • Bronze Mirror (in Land of Exile)
  • The Bird'
  • River of Fire translated by Bruce Fulton and Ju-Chan Fulton
  • Evening Game, Chinatown, Words of Farewell (in Words of Farewell)
  • Vogel (새)
  • Wayfarer (in The Future of Silence Fiction By Korean Women)

Works in Korean (Partial)[edit]

  • Fire River (불의 강) (1977)
  • Childhood Garden (유년의 뚤) (1981)
  • Spirit of the Wind (바람의 넋) (1986)



  1. ^ "Oh Jung-Hee" LTI Korea Datasheet available at LTI Korea Library or online at: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on September 21, 2013. Retrieved September 3, 2013. 
  2. ^ Who’s Who in Korean Literature, Hollym Publishing, Seoul Korea, 1996. P. 363
  3. ^ Bruce Fulton. The Death of The Yoryu Chakka. http://eng.buddhapia.com/_Service/_ContentView/ETC_CONTENT_2.ASP?PK=0000594138&danrak_no=&clss_cd=&top_menu_cd=0000000808
  4. ^ Bruce Fulton. The Death of The Yoryu Chakka. http://eng.buddhapia.com/_Service/_ContentView/ETC_CONTENT_2.ASP?PK=0000594138&danrak_no=&clss_cd=&top_menu_cd=0000000808
  5. ^ Who’s Who in Korean Literature, Hollym Publishing, Seoul Korea, 1996. P. 364
  6. ^ Who’s Who in Korean Literature, Hollym Publishing, Seoul Korea, 1996. P. 364
  7. ^ The Bird by Oh Jung-Hee, Bookslut, http://www.bookslut.com/fiction/2007_10_011811.php
  8. ^ Spirit on the Wind, in “Red Room; Stories of Trauma in Contemporary Korea. P. 57
  9. ^ Who’s Who in Korean Literature, Hollym Publishing, Seoul Korea, 1996. P. 364

External links[edit]