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Han’s Chinese poetry in Japan

Departing Gangwon-do for Japan in April 1908, Han Yong-un read Japanese newspapers and spoke with Japanese Buddhist leaders at the Daehakrim School in Tokyo, where the Soutou sect had its headquarters. He published 12 Chinese poems there in Wayuu (kor. Hwayung) Magazine in four installments. The Wayuu Association (jap. Wayuukai, kor. Hwayunghoe)’s official journal, Wayuu Magazine was produced from 1898 (Meiji 30) through 1914 (Taishou 3), under the direction of young Japanese monks of the Soutou sect. Today, the magazine is still recognized as a priceless historical asset thanks to the numerous editorials it published that helped to modernize and popularize the faith. Wayuu Magazine (vol. 12, no. 6) initially reported on Han's visit to Japan in its June 1908 issue. The poetry section in the June issue featured two of Han's Chinese poems, "Thoughts of My Hometown" and "Night Alone at a Mountain Temple." The poet is mentioned in the issue's closing remarks: "On May 9, we welcomed Han Yong-un. Han is an apprentice at the Geonbongsa in Ganseong-gun, Gangwon-do, Korea. During his four months at the Daehakrim School […], Han wrote 12 Chinese poems for our magazine.” "Han returned to Korea on September 1st," it says in the October 1908 issue (vol. 12, no. 10). This document confirms that Han was present at the Daehakrim School from May 9 to September 1, 1908.

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Publication of The Silence of Love

On May 20, 1926, the publisher Hoedong Seogwan published Han Yong-un's first collection of poetry, The Silence of Love, which he had composed in August 1925 in Ose’am Hermitage on Mt. Seorak. An introduction and an essay ("To the reader") are attached at the beginning and end of this work, respectively. Between the two “bookends”, a total of 88 poems, including the title poem, "I Do Not Know," "Ferryboat and Pedestrian," and "Obeyance," form the main body of the text. Each piece in the collection form a chain, or a sequence of poems focused on the one poetic subject "You", or “My Love”. The most notable aspect of this is that the subject "You" is implied to be physically absent. The poetic subject, "I," does not, however, sing only of the loss of "You", but instead, pulls "You" from the painful reality of You’s absence, paradoxically emphasizing the legitimacy of You’s existence. Here is where Han's fresh viewpoint emerges, one that aims to comprehend the separation and (re-)integration of the subject and the object on a deeper level. “You”, the poetic subject, and I, the poetic object, are finally one, not two.

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Shim'ujang Prose Poems: a new kind of linked poetry developed

Han published 15 poems in the Chosun Ilbo under the title "Sim'ujang Prose Poems" over the course of 7 issues from March 27 to April 5, 1936. "Living in the Mountains," "Mountain Valley Water," "Contradictions," "Setting Sun," "The Rat," "Sunrise," "Sunset at the Seaside Village," "River Boat," "Falling Flowers," “A Single Stalk of Grass,” "Early Spring Song," "Sponge," "Flies," "Mosquitoes," and "Half Moon and the Girl" are among the individual poems. These pieces capture in poetic form various snippets of Han's experience of daily life while he was residing in “Sim'ujang”. The prose poems provide a view of Han's literary activities and his artistic and mental world in the middle of the 1930s, along with the prose works he simultaneously published under the pen name "Sim'ujang Manpil." The Silence of Love's self-confessional remarks and tone of resentment against the poetic object are avoided in Sim'ujang Prose Poems. However, the interior terrain of the prose poems continues to be dominated by the poet's critical attitude towards reality and his acute historical consciousness, which are subtly articulated through satire on reality's paradoxical nature.

Black Wind serialized

From April 9, 1935, to February 4, 1936, Chosun Ilbo published Han's novel "Black Wind" in 243 parts. The installments were accompanied by drawings by painter Kim Gyu-taek (also known as Ungcho). The novel explores class warfare and the cruel exploitation of the landlord class against the backdrop of China in the first section of the narrative. In an effort to resolve these disputes, attempts are made to impose punishments on individuals. Individual punishments, however, run the risk of worsening the depth suffering beyond what was merited by the scope of the initial problem, demonstrating the impossibility of finding a fundamental solution in the absence of a fundamentally altered societal framework. Driven by this realization, the main character of the book enters the ranks of people working for social change. Of course, revolutionary action frequently lacks practical concreteness because it is always a risky effort in search of "the possible." Furthermore, it is obvious that there are limitations to joining a Chinese revolutionary movement while studying abroad in the US. The main character returns to China in the second half of the book, marries, flees the conservatives' clutches, and settles into a complacent routine of family life. The wife's resolute attitude toward death at the novel's conclusion, however, as she manifests the passion of the revolution itself, marks a dramatic turn in line with the novel's highly melodramatic structure.

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A Short Life serialized

From May 18, 1938, through March 10, 1939, Han published his full-length novel A Short Life in Chosun Ilbo as a serial. The five chapters of the book, "Temptation," "Tavern," "Marriage," "Divorce," and "Last Days," tell the story of the protagonist Sun'yeong, who grew up being tormented by her stepmother in the mountains of Gangwon-do. Sun'yeong's birth mother passed away when she was seven years old, and her stepmother then entered the picture. The stepmother starts abusing her, forcing her to perform all of the filthiest chores around the house after her father dies as well. She gets caught in the snares of a lady pimp from Seoul, and travels with her to the big city to learn the flesh trade. She works as hard as she can on her own, providing for herself and making money after being sold to an Incheon bar, for three years. She faces a variety of challenges but manages to leave the bar and find love. She is, however, the victim of extortion once more, this time at the hands of her husband. Her husband forces her to make unbalanced sacrifices while pretending to adore her. The heroine's hopes for happiness in her life have all been dashed, so she turns to Buddhism to escape her misery in this life.

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Posthumous publication of the novel Death

Han finished writing Death on October 24, 1924, and it was eventually made public as a posthumous work in the autumn 1970 edition of the quarterly journal Creation and Criticism. The main character, Choi Yeong-ok, chooses Kim Jong-cheol over Jeong Seong-yeol, despite the latter’s financial wealth and social standing. This is because Kim sincerely loves her and wants to protect her. Yeong-ok suffers excruciating anguish as a result of her decision. Jeong, a man of low character, attempts to smear Yeong-ok in order to interfere with her marriage to Kim when, despite his wealth, his passion for Yeong-ok is unrequited. In the end, Jeong murders Kim. This sequence of events ironically demonstrates how challenging it is for a woman to find perfect love in her lifetime. The plot's randomness and the lack of concreteness in the characters, prevent the work from reaching narrative perfection, yet it is nevertheless significant as a demonstration of Han's novelistic creativity.

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