Yi Kwang-su (1892-1950), the author of Mujeong (1917), is regarded as a pioneer of modern fiction and a leading voice in modern Korean literature. As a scholar and thinker of the Enlightenment movement, he played an important role in forming the current intellectual history of Korea. His works criticized the irrationality of the old conventions shackled by Confucian traditions while advocating the enlightened views of his age, and he helped create the modern consciousness and raised ideas to strengthen Korea through new education and civilizing forces. He also changed the internal grammar of narrative literature, which had until then been pre-modern, and played a role in proving that Korean was an appropriate language for modern fiction, in which the self and the world could simultaneously be depicted.
Because of Yi Kwang-su’s pro-Japanese stance in his later years, the importance of his literary accomplishments has sometimes been questioned. Such criticism, however, can make the mistake of neglecting the contribution that his early short stories in the 1910s and works, such as Mujeong, made to Korean literary history. He was a columnist who published around 300 editorials, such as “Children-centered Theory” and “Theory of Nation Reconstruction”; a literary critic who wrote around 50 reviews, such as “What is Literature?” and “Criteria for Evaluating Art”; an author of 28 short stories, including “To My Little Friend,” “Gasil,” and “Mumyeong,” and 35 novels, including Mujeong, The Soil, Love, and Great Priest Wonhyo; a poet who published numerous poems, including “Our Hero” and “Spring in Gangnam”; and a prolific essayist of such works as “Mt. Geumgang Travelogue” and “My Confession.” His vast literary world, which crosses all genres, thus demands an assessment that befits his accomplishments.