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How do we explain the ferocity of the attack mounted against Korea's 'New Women' authors? To what extent was it related to Korea's colonized status, and how much is due to the radicalism as well as the limitations of the women's own version of feminism? In your answer make reference to Kim Wônju's short story The Death of A Girl.
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Modern Korean literature had witnessed several crucial developments during the second half of the 1910s and the first half of the 1920s (Choi, 1999). There are many notable events in this regard, and among those, the most important one in leaving its impact on the Korean people was the publication of Mujong's 'The Heartless' in 1917 by Yi Kwang-us. In the Korean history, that period was vital for it has produced the well-known first generation women writers in the history of Korea. The most important names are Kim Myeong-sun (1896–1951), Kim Won-Ju (1896–1971), and Na Hye-sok (1896–1948). These women broke the deep-laid silence of centuries imposed on and carried by Korean women and they began to demonstrate the power of their existence by expressing their thoughts in written and ﬁctional form. They showed Korean women the path and possibility of creative writing in personal as well as professional life (Kim, 2002).
In her post-colonial debates, Kwon (2006) relates the new women movement to the colonized status of Korea and development of the country by saying that collective memory helps us in recollecting a particular historical and critical time. The prominent Korean historian named as I’m Chihyon explains that the histories are monopolized by some particular memories mean a lot in the past. Chihyon also emphasizes that people play the politics of memory which takes lives and desires, practices and thinking of the people in a certain direction (Kwon, 2006). Kwon discusses the life of Kim Hwallan in this context to see how it has influenced the history of the Korean feminist movements and Korea in general. Hwallan is considered as a pioneer in Korean women's high education but she is also famous as a notorious pro-Japanese intellectual. There are many women whose lives have been concerned with the current debate, but Kim Hwallan is very important as her memory removes the curtain from how a colonial era has used gender to construct a nation in a way which has silenced feminists and has interrupted their active role for a long time.
Yoo (2005) studies the need of exploring the new challenging forces which have challenged to define Korean women’s identity and their roles within the context of the new spaces which is made by colonialism and modernity. Kim Myeong-sun is considered as the ﬁrst woman to establish this breakthrough in Korea. She wrote her ﬁrst short story named as 'Usim ui sonyo' (A Mysterious Girl) which was published in November 1917 issue of Ch'ongch'un Youth. The story won the second prize in the literary competition which was sponsored by the magazine itself. In March 1920, there was an emergence of a third woman writer named Kim Won-ju who started her own magazine by the name Sinyoja which means New Women; and thus, she decided to set a new path for the Korean women through the publications of this magazine. Not only this, this journal was the ﬁrst to be published by Korean women with a pronounced and said feminist movement. This journal was more of a challenge in front of the nation and in front of everyone about its existence. The vociferous way it adopted was very clear by its name from its beginning. This is considered a pioneer in the establishment of New Women in Korea.
The founding principles of Sinyoja aimed to provide various ways to reveal the creative talents of Korean women. Kim Won-ju has published Kim Myeong-sun's second short story which was named as 'Ch'onyo ui kanun kil' which meant 'A Maiden's Path' in its first inaugural volume. She also published her own ﬁrst short story named as 'Kyesi' meaning Revelation in English. These stories got widely acclaimed as a small number of literate women took the initiative to improve and enhance the education of Korean women. Above this, they started defining the politics of physical aesthetics and took part in the debate on different gender roles and new expectations in Korean society. Not to mention these writings have been criticized many times as being under the guise of ‘Westernisation’ and progress led by the 20th century western influences (Yoo, 2005). The emergence and subsequent existence of these ‘new women’ have challenged all the traditional notions of the Korean womanhood, and it brought forward the ‘woman question’ in the eye of the public through their talent.