Si Nae Park

Si Nae Park

Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations
Professor Si Nae Park

I am a scholar of the literature and literary practices of premodern Korea within the larger context of the Sinographic Cosmopolis. I am broadly interested in how the Korean language, written and spoken, coexisted with, mediated, and co-opted Literary Sinitic (hanmun) as the privileged written lingua franca of premodern East Asia along with sinographs (hancha) as a shared ‘scripta franca’ of premodern East Asia. Examining how the interplays between cosmopolitan Literary Sinitic and vernacular Korean shaped literary production, linguistic thought, and the materiality of texts, I have written on inscriptional ecologies, vernacular reading practices, nation-centered linguistic ideologies, the history of the book, the vernacular story (yadam) genre, and fiction glossaries (sosŏl ŏrokhae).

My first monograph, The Korean Vernacular Story: Telling Tales of Contemporary Chosŏn in Sinographic Writing (Columbia University, 2020), is the first English-language book to trace the rise of the yadam (“unofficially circulating tales”) genre of Chosŏn Korea. Focused on the Tongp’ae naksong (Repeatedly Recited Stories of the East, late 18th century) by No Myŏnghŭm (1713-1775), it is also the first book in any language to situate yadam within the interplays between cosmopolitan and vernacular, the rise of a Seoul as a cultural capital in the eighteenth century, emergent sensitivities to the here and now as a worthy literary topos, and the culture of books and publishing at that time. The book intervenes in the common practice of coupling Korean vernacular literature with Hangul, the Korean alphabet invented in the fifteenth century, to show how the Tongp’ae naksong inspired an innovative literary medium of vernacular-hybridized Literary Sinitic, whereby Literary Sinitic is deliberately intermixed with vernacular lexical and stylistic elements inflected by the sociolinguistic realities of the time in order to tell tales of and by contemporary people.

My recent peer-reviewed journal publications are as follows: In “The Sound of Learning the Confucian Classics” (Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 79 1/2, 2019), I survey a variety of technologies of vernacular reading in premodern Korea and highlight the significance of the seventeenth-century Chosŏn state-published vernacularized editions (ŏnhaebon) of the Confucian Classics as a vocalization guide that fundamentally shaped the cultural imagination of the sound of literacy and erudition. “Romancing Precolonial Korea: The Making of Yadam as Heritage Tales in Early Twentieth Century Korean Publishing” (East Asian Publishing and Society 11, 2021) examines how early twentieth-century Korean publishing—an environment undergirded by the construction of a new inscriptional culture premised on the telos of text production using the Korean writing system and the imperatives of the production of knowledge about Korea’s past against colonial censorship and the colonial episteme—elevated a repertoire of premodern narrative texts to the status of national heritage tales. Analyzing the 1909 publication of yadam tales in Kyŏnghyang sinmun (Capital and Provinces Weekly) alongside several collections of tales from the Chosŏn period published in the 1910s and 1920s, the paper argues that these two reception moments authenticated tales of Chosŏn Korea through rhetorical ‘antique’-ing and orthographic strategies, priming Korean co-national readers to romanticize Korea’s precolonial past as an idyllic haven and a wellspring of national pride.

My recent peer-reviewed book chapters are as follows: In “Manuscript, Not Print in the Book World of Chosŏn Korea (in Routledge Companion to Korean Literature; Routledge, 2022), I problematize current print-centered, movable-type-printing-centered, Eurocentric approaches to the book world of Chosŏn Korea. Analyzing examples from surviving editions of A Small Chest of Collected Writings of a Guest from Chosŏn (Han’gaek kŏnyŏn chip, 1776) and The Record of Manifesting Goodness and Inspiring Righteousness (Ch’angsŏn kamŭirok, ca. late seventeenth century), the paper contributes to the historical reconstruction of the affordances of Chosŏn manuscripts. In “Vernacular Eloquence of Fiction Glossaries in Late Chosŏn Korea (in Ecologies of Translation in East and South East Asia, 1600-1900; Amsterdam University Press, 2022), I rethink the standard origin story of late-Chosŏn fiction glossaries (sosŏl ŏrokhae) of four works of late imperial Chinese fiction (Shuihuzhuan, Xixiangji, Sanguozhi yanyi, and Xiyouji) as reading aids that mitigated a lack of proficiency in spoken Chinese, and explains their significance as literary products that responded to the stylistic merits of plain Chinese (baihua) as a new literary medium, thereby illustrating the affective eloquence of Korean and the limited articulacy of classical, orthodox Literary Sinitic.

I am a co-editor of Score One for the Dancing Girl and Other Selections from the Kimun ch’onghwa: A Story Collection from Nineteenth-Century Korea (University of Toronto Press, 2016). This book introduces over a hundred yadam tales from a nineteenth-century compendium that James Scarth Gale (1863-1937)—a Canadian Protestant missionary to Korea and dedicated translator of Korea and Korean literature for the English-speaking world—translated into English with the help of his Korean co-translators. Through academic translation, I have contributed to the following key studies on the Sinographic Cosmopolis of premodern East Asia: Saitō Mareshi, Kanbunmyaku: The Literary Sinitic Context and the Birth of Modern Japanese Language and Literature (Brill, 2021) and Kin Bunkyō, Literary Sinitic and East Asia: A Cultural Sphere of Vernacular Reading (Brill, 2021). I have translated “Record of My Hardships (Kohaengnok)” (in Premodern Korean Prose: An Anthology; Columbia University Press, 2018), an eighteenth-century autobiographical narrative by Lady Hansan Yi (1659-1727) of the Chinju Yu family that survives in a handwritten scroll and is written entirely in the Korean script.

My current book project, tentatively entitled Within Earshot: Technologies of Reading, Script, and the Voice in Chosŏn Korea, is a study of representations of reading and literary production. It rediscovers Literary Sinitic as not only a written medium for the educated class but also as a heard language for all in society. I analyze a variety of written and visual materials, both overlooked and well known, to chart how hearing, listening to, and overhearing another’s oral decoding of script were integral to reading. Documenting wide-ranging oral-visual-aural interplays in reading practices and social contexts of reading, the book uncovers a multifaceted culture of vocal reading in Chosŏn Korea, for example, from regulated vocalization of classical texts using vernacular reading and poetry composition to women readers’ vocal reading of vernacular fiction in the domestic space, and from dramatic public reading to young elite men’s acquiring how to read the classical texts through formal learning and their sisters’ ear-reading of their voices by stealth. Focused on sounds of reading, the ear, and the voice, I examine literary production and textual authority both in Literary Sinitic and the vernacular through the lenses of quotability and performance. In so doing, the book offers an alternative interpretation of the distance between Literary Sinitic, as a classical medium, and the language of vernacular fiction and songs, providing a new framework for understanding the cultural significance of the rise of vocal reading of vernacular fiction and rethinking the stereotyped premodern-modern divide.

“New Perspectives in the History of the Book and Reading in Korea,” a conference and Korean rare book workshop that Park is co-organizing, will be held at Harvard University on December 8, 2022.


curriculum vitae March 2022

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2 Divinity Ave. #228
p: (617) 496-5355
Office Hours: Fall 2022: Tuesday 10:30 am - 12:30 pm and by appointment


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