Lament for Tansil Kim Myung-soon

  • onSeptember 26, 2017
  • Vol.37 Autumn 2017
  • byMoon Chung-hee
The literary journal Munye Joongang vol.148

Easy to kill a woman.
Studying abroad in Tokyo she met a somewhat older man from her homeland
who turned suddenly feral on a date
and raped her. That night
her life as a woman ended.
Born with filthy blood! A slut who never knew virginity!
She was cast out with cruel epithets.
Nineteen years old she’d come to this foreign land
with big dreams, this land of imperialists.
Now everyone took a crack at ridiculing, at scorning her.
As if that was not enough
Kim Dong-in, that era’s literary star, a drunk, a womanizer,
serialized the novel Story of Yeonsil 1 in a literary journal.
Modeled after her, it was a rape in fiction
a deft cowardly second killing.
With no sense of guilt, eyes closed to reason
the modern literary men of colonized Korea
rode their masculine superiority
to slay a woman and toss her on the garbage heap.
Changjo, Gaebyeok, Maeil-sinbo, Munjang, Byeolgeongon, Samcheolli,
Sinyeoseong, Sintaeyang, Pyeheo, Jogwang,2 the magazines filled with savagery.
Yom Sang-seop and Nakanishi Inosuke chimed in.
As liberation came they occupied each avant garde seat and wrote all the books and textbooks.
Palbong Kim Kijin became a critic without altering his stubborn bias
Neulbom Jeon Young-taek became a textbook editor and Christian writer
Sopa Bang Jeong-hwan became Saekdonghoe’s point man on children’s rights
Kim Dong-in sat at the exalted center of literary history.
And Yi Eung-jun, lieutenant in the Japanese army, the man who date-raped her
who married a patriot’s daughter and papered over his pro-Japanese past
became first chief of staff for the ROK’s national defense force
and now rests bemedaled in the national cemetery.
But Tansil Kim Myung-soon wasted away, bloody, without shelter.
Korea’s first female novelist, first published female poet,
a critic, journalist, translator from five languages
got beaten up in a Japanese back alley while scraping by
selling peanuts and toothpaste.
She died in a mental hospital, alone, far away from her liberated country.
Twenty-five works of fiction, twenty essays, 111 poems, plays, criticism,
some 170 works in all, plus translations of Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe
that introduced them to her country men.
Her body, full of hope and talent, was gnawed away,
given a wretched, naked burial.
Her works destroyed by prejudice and humiliation.
Colonization was lifted from this land seventy years ago
yet the shrieks and bloody tears of the colony of women continue.
Korea, mean tyrant, try abusing someone like me
and my throes will splash and bellow across the daily news.
Tansil Kim Myung-soon! So long, long gone.
This land! Petty land of raw violence, primitive custom and bias
this cruel, shameful land!


Translated by Clare You and Richard Silberg


1. Kim Myung-soon (1896-1951) debuted as a fiction writer in 1917 with the pen name Tansil. During her study abroad in Tokyo, she was date-raped by her hometown friend at age nineteen and was ostracized. Again, Kim Dong-in, a writer from her hometown, fictionalized her account in the Story of Yeonsil, effectively shutting her out of the literary world.

2. Magazines that carried the ridicule and scorn poured on Kim Myung-soon.

Author's Profile

Moon Chung-hee is a poet and Endowed Chair Professor at Dongguk University. She has won prestigious awards such as the Sowol Poetry Award, the Chong Chi-Yong Literature Prize, the Mogwol Literature Prize, and Sweden’s Cikada Prize. She has participated in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. English editions of her books include WindflowerWoman on the Terrace, and I Must Be the Wind.