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From Sanguozhi yanyi to Samgukchi : domestication and appropriation of Three Kingdoms in Korea Kwon, Hyuk-chan


My dissertation entitled “From Sanguo zhi yanyi to Samgukchi: Domestication and Appropriation of Three Kingdoms in Korea” shows how a ‘Chinese’ work of fiction has become an enduringly popular Korean work since its importation in the sixteenth century. In this context, my thesis encompasses a comparative exploration of the influence of the Sanguo zhi yanyi 三國志演義 (Romance of the Three Kingdoms; hereafter Three Kingdoms) as reflected in premodern and contemporary Korean culture and literature. The domestication and appropriation of Three Kingdoms today can be attributed, in part, to a relentless modification and re-creation of its contents in the forms of numerous translations, adaptations, and revisions that have reflected socio-political and ideological agendas in Korea. I also clarify how the sociopolitical and ideological changes in Chosŏn Korea accelerated the reception and dissemination of Three Kingdoms by illuminating in particular how the Chosŏn rulers utilized the Neo-Confucian values in Three Kingdoms to maintain and strengthen Korea’s identity as the sole cultural and spiritual successor of the Great Han-Chinese empire after its collapse in 1644. Three Kingdoms’ status in Korea has been much higher than that of a Chinese classic; it remains the most widely read of all novels in modern Korea. Moreover, authors like Chang Chŏng’il do not hesitate to define Three Kingdoms as a national novel of Korea. It is virtually impossible for a modern Korean to lead a life divorced from Three Kingdoms. My dissertation shows that these phenomena did not appear suddenly in the twentieth-century Korea. Rather, they are the result of domestication and appropriation of Three Kingdoms that has steadily progressed for centuries; the novel has been relentlessly re-interpreted in terms of Korea’s socio-political and cultural context. My dissertation elucidates the cultural politics that contribute to making Three Kingdoms into a national novel of Korea.

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