"Kapitan Ri" (1962) by Chon Kwangyong

senior division, 2017 essay competition

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"Kapitan Ri" will be available on our website until the end of the 2017 Writing Competition (February 28, 2017). Please note that per our agreement with the publisher, this story may not be printed from our website.

About the Author

A writer of the immediate post-Korea War period, Chon Kwangyong (1919-1988) made his debut in the Choson Ilbo in 1955 and flourished in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960. He was also a noted scholar of early-modern Korean literature and a professor at Korea’s top-ranked Seoul National University. This strong and commanding figure was revered by generations of students, who recall his booming voice with its Hamgyong accent echoing down the halls of his school office building. In 1962 Chon’s story "Kapitan Ri" brought him the coveted Tongin Literary Prize, established by the intellectual magazine Sasanggye to honor contemporary writers while commemorating a pioneer of modern fiction, Kim Tongin (1900-1951). The prize citation referred to "Kapitan Ri" as a work that "sets historical consciousness into bold relief as it also shows the possibilities of satirical characterization."

Chon Kwangyong was born in Pukchong, South Hamgyong Province, on March 1, 1919, a date that still stirs an emotional reaction in Koreans when they recall the millions who arose that day in unarmed rebellion against Japanese colonialism. By the time of Liberation from Japan, Chon was already twenty-six and had been educated in the Japanese-operated educational system. Then in 1947 he entered the Department of Korean Language and Literature at Seoul National University. A member of the first generation of Koreans to receive a college education in their own language, he graduated in 1951.

Having lived through these changing times and being embued with a strong sense of national pride, Chon was particularly well prepared to create the character Yi Inguk, M.D., who energetically collaborates with whatever power there is—Japanese, Russian, American. The biting satire of "Kapitan Ri" captures the feelings of those who, after Liberation from Japan, were sworn to "liquidate" the "colonial vestiges" represented by people such as Yi Inguk, M.D.

"Kapitan Ri" was first published in Sasanggye in 1962.