2018 Sejong Writing Competition
Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior second place
second place, junior essay division
Conjui and Potjui: An Outdated Happily Ever After
"Congjui and Potjui," like the western Cinderella tale, teaches children to work hard and be persistent, patient, and kind. The moral of the story is that these good qualities will be rewarded, whereas laziness and cruelty will be punished. While this moral is a good one, the ending of the story leaves much to be desired for the modern reader. The lazy Potjui and her unjust stepmother receive a fitting consequence for their behavior, yet Congjui does not. Her reward, marrying a rich man, is not the logical result of hard work, patience and goodness. The ending of Congjui and Potjui should be changed so that Congjui achieves a success and happiness that is more directly related to her good traits and behavior.
In the story "Congjui and Potjui," Congjui is a sweet, hard-working girl and Congjui’s step-sister, Potjui, a lazy, insensitive fool. Whenever Congjui completes a chore, Potjui takes credit for the work. Congjui’s stepmother favors Potjui, so she constantly gives Congjui more hard work. One day, when Potjui and Congjui were supposed to weed a vegetable garden, Potjui plays while Congjui does all the work. Eventually, Congjui realizes that the task is impossible and begins to cry for fear of her stepmother’s anger. Then, an ox appears, who tells Congjui to go wash her face in the river. When she returns to the garden, she finds all the work magically done! Later in the story, the family attends a town festival, but Congjui’s stepmother leaves Congjui at home with many chores. Only if Congjui finishes her chores would she be allowed to join them. Congjui desperately wishes to go to the festival, so she sets about trying to finish the unreasonable chores: one task is to fill a leaky pot with water; another, to hull ten sacks of rice; and lastly, to wash a massive load of laundry. Just as she is feeling hopeless, she is helped by magical animals. Then, a Heavenly Maiden appears to gift Congjui with beautiful clothes to wear to the festival. In her haste to attend the festival, Congjui accidentally loses one of her shoes while passing the town magistrate’s retinue on a narrow bridge. The magistrate orders a servant to retrieve the shoe floating down the river and announces at the festival that he will marry the owner of the shoe. Potjui claims the shoe is hers, but of course, it does not fit. Then the magistrate’s servant tries the shoe on Congjui, which fits her perfectly. The tale ends with the marriage of Congjui and the magistrate and the public spanking of Potjui and her mother.
Clearly, the moral of this story is to be well-mannered, humble, patient, and hardworking like Congjui, for you will be rewarded. Congjui, who works hard without complaint, is ultimately rewarded by marrying the magistrate. In contrast, Potjui and her mother are publically shamed for their laziness and cruelty. Though Potjui and her mother’s punishment fits their crimes, Congjui’s reward does not fit her virtues. First of all, the rich magistrate could not have known what a good person Congjui was when he announced he would marry her. He only knew that she was a beautiful young woman in very fine clothes. This “happily ever after” of him marrying her seems to reward Congjui’s good looks, not necessarily her good behavior, even though the story wants us to aspire to Congjui’s good personality and behavior, not her good looks. Secondly, the logical effect of hard work is not marrying a rich person, but rather a nice job, good income, and a good reputation. Furthermore, Congjui’s end reward is not only illogical, it also does not send a good message. It implies that the best a girl can do is marry a rich man. Today, girls should not strive to marry a rich man whom they had never even met. They should strive to fulfill their potential through their own initiative.
The intended moral could have been conveyed much more effectively if Congjui’s reward were more logically related to her laudable qualities. Instead of being discovered by a rich magistrate who wants to marry her, Congjui could be discovered by an entrepreneur, who appreciates her skills and work ethic and makes her an equal partner in a business that becomes successful. Perhaps the business partner could be a handsome, clever young man and, viewing each other as equals, they could fall in love. Or, the business partner could be another diligent woman who, instead of envying Congjui for her beauty and goodness, supports her and defends her.
The original ending is understandable for the time. In the olden days, poor people had very few ways to move up in social class, especially a woman. To believe a rich man would choose to marry an industrious woman would encourage girls to work hard. Though understandable for the time, the story’s ending needs an update to be relevant to modern readers. An ending where Congjui becomes rich and happy through her ownskill, tenacity, and character, and not because of a rich man who liked how she looks, would support the moral much more effectively and would be more gratifying.