The Farmers

20th Century Korean Literature

Book 16
Literature Translation Institute of Korea

 “The Farmers” (1926) is one of his representative stories. It highlights the harsh life of farmers in the colonial period who are driven from their land and migrate to such places as Gando in China and Japan or into a life of poverty in the cities. Through this short story Cho vividly depicts the cruel reality experienced by farmers in colonial Joseon, despoiled by imperialism and ruined by famine and drought. When one of the farmers in the story cries, “Should we all starve and die? Let us have some sprouts to sell at least,” it symbolizes the impoverished plight of colonial farmers who were forced to leave their homes and go to foreign countries simply to survive. Their wretched existence contrasts sharply with that of the Kim Chambong character, who has become rich by working for a Japanese colonization company. Wonbo, the main character, ends up divorcing his wife due to extreme poverty, when she starts having an affair with Kim Chambong’s son. In the end, Wonbo tries to rob the rich man’s house but gets caught by the Japanese military police and hangs himself in his cell. The story closes with the depiction of the villagers leaving their homes for Seogando. Cho Myung-hee’s “The Farmers” is a work that succeeds in painting a detailed portrait of the dark, hopeless reality of a polarized farm life during the Japanese colonial period.
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About the author

 Cho Myung-hee (1894~1938) was born in 1894 in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, as the son of a poor scholar. His pen name was Poseok. He graduated from Jungang High School in Seoul and studied philosophy at Toyo University in Japan. In 1919 he was arrested and jailed for participating in the March 1st Movement. He first established himself as an author in 1925 with the publication of “Into the Ground” in Gaebyeok magazine, and published his most representative short story “The Nakdong River” (1927) in Joseonjigwang magazine.

He went into exile in 1928 in the Maritime Province of Siberia in the Soviet Union in order to escape the Japanese crackdown. In 1934, he served as an executive of the Far East chapter of the Soviet Union of Writers and also published his epic poem, “Goryeo Trampled.” He was arrested by the Soviet military police in 1937 and deported to Tashkent in Uzbekistan. In 1938, he was reportedly executed by firing squad at a Khabarovsk prison. His publications include a collection of poems, On a Spring Lawn, and a collection of stories, Into the Ground.

Cho Myung-hee is a representative writer of the Japanese colonial period who followed the communist ideologies of KAPF (Korean Federation of Proletarian Art) and fiercely depicted in literature the dark reality of farm life in those days.

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Additional Information

Literature Translation Institute of Korea
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Published on
Dec 11, 2013
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Literary Collections / Asian / General
Literary Collections / General
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