A Dramatic Travelogue: Hyecho 1, 2 by Kim Takhwan

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.2 Winter 2008
  • byJung Yeo-ul
Hyecho 1, 2

In the Korean publishing industry, there has never been a shortage of travelogues by foreign writers who visited Korea and expressed their feelings about the country. Western writers from Isabella Bishop to N.H. Allen, viewed Korea as somewhere between barbaric and civilized. On the other hand, Korean writers tended to view the Western world with a favorable bias. Yu Kil-jun’s Seo Yu Gyeon Mun and Yun Chi-ho’s English travelogue Yun Chi-ho’s Journal are filled with admiration for and jealousy of advanced Western civilization.

The dichotomy between barbarism and civilization is a byproduct of the emergence of the nation-state. But what about the past when there was no such distinction between the East and West, and barbarism and civilization? About 1,300 years ago, a Silla monk named Hyecho traveled throughout ancient India and left an impressive travelogue titled Wang Ocheonchukguk Jeon (Memoir of the Pilgrimage to the Five Kingdoms of India). Hyecho is estimated to have written the landmark book in 727, and French scholar Paul Pelliot found the book in a Dunhuang grotto in China in 1908. It was subsequently published in numerous languages over the years. One handwritten copy is now preserved in the National Museum in Paris, France.

Kim Takhwan offers his take on the legendary traveler in his latest novel Hyecho. In the two-volume novel, Hyecho is depicted as a modern-day budget traveler who does not care about all the troubles in a foreign country. He is also cosmopolitan with an open mind that beats today’s self-styled globe-trotting traveler. At the tender age of 20, Hyecho moved to China and made an unfathomable journey in terms of scale, recording what he saw on the road from India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, to Iran and back to China. His travels are filled with numerous adventures and unparalleled passion. Kim Tak-hwan shows that Hyecho, fully rediscovered through meticulous research, is not a simple Buddhist monk but a truly creative nomad who thought beyond the confines of national boundaries. 

Author's Profile

Kim Takhwan made his literary debut in 1996 with the novel A Love Story of Twelve Whales. Historical novels are his forte, with several of them being adapted for television and cinema, including How Rueful to Be Forgotten (2002); I, Hwang Jini (2002); Death by Fiction (2003); Hyecho (2008); The Immortal Yi Sun-sin (2004); and Russian Coffee (2009). His most recent novel is The Magician from Joseon (2015).