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Special Exhibition

Seoul as the Main Character of Novels
Title Seoul as the Main Character of Novels
Period 2020-05-06 ~ 2020-11-01
Location Special Exhibition Hall A
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Seoul as the Main Character of Novels

Seoul as the Main Character of Novels


This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean War and the 60th anniversary of the April Revolution. To commemorate these two historic milestones, the Seoul Museum of History is presenting a special exhibition to highlight through novels and poems the city of Seoul and the lives of its people between 1945, when Korea gained independence from Japanese colonial rule, and 1960, when the April Revolution took place.


Understanding History with Literature, Reading Between the Lines

The city of Seoul played a prominent role at points during the Korean War (1950-1953) and the April Revolution (1960). This exhibition presents literary works by authors who captured those moments, revealing the stories of Seoul and the lives of its people from those times.


Seoul After Independence (1945-1949)
- A Chaotic City with Joy of Independence and Pain of Division

Feel the joy of independence from colonial rule with Park Jonghwa’s poem, “Spring in the Great Joseon (Korea)” and face the frustrating reality of a divided nation during what was supposed to be a joyous time with “At the 38th Parallel”, a poem by Lee Yong-ak.
Depictions of a chaotic Seoul, driven by the rise of numerous political factions, can be found in Oh Jang-hwan’s “Sick Seoul”, while disappointment that comes after eager anticipation for a new world is expressed in Choi Tae-eung’s Glory After Times of Sadness and Ordeals, Mister Bang by Chae Man-sik is a sharp satire of the new ruling class that emerged under the rule of the United States Army Military Government in Korea, who used English skills to climb up the social ladder.


Seoul During the Korean War (1950-1953)
- A City Repeatedly Lost and Retaken

Seoul fell only three days after North Korea started the Korean War on June 25, 1950, and the people of Seoul experienced a difficult life under enemy occupation for three months. But when the capital city was recaptured on September 28, the people who survived now faced harsh punishment as “collaborators” and felt betrayal and fear instead of joy. When the Chinese Army entered the Korean War and Seoul was about to be lost again in January 1951, the people of Seoul were desperate to flee the city as they did not ever want to experience “the world turning upside down” once again. We can meet Seoul – as the city was lost and retaken repeatedly – and the lives of its people described in detail in Park Wan-seo’s novel, The Thirsty Season.
Cho Ji-hun’s “In Jongno” sings about empty Seoul in ruins, and Park In-hwan’s “To My Young Daughter” narrates a father’s hopelessness about the future and sympathy for his daughter as he boards a roofless freight train in the cold winter as a refugee.
In the novel The Naked Tree, we read about the scenery of Seoul where the ruins of the Korean War and prosperous military market (PX) in Myeong-dong area stood side-by-side while the war still raged on


Reconstruction & Restoration of Seoul and the People’s Lives

After the Korean government returned to Seoul in 1953, the city government rushed to embarked on reconstruction and restoration efforts in a city destroyed by war. To cope with the rapid population increase, the government constructed various types of public housing, which we can get a glance of via Kim Gwang-sik’s novel, House No. 213. On the other hand, the society during the period of reconstruction in the 1950s was two-faced, where extravagance and corruption were widespread among the few rich and powerful while exhaustion and extreme poverty were common among most of the people. A Stray Bullet by Lee Beom-seon and Madame Freedom by Jeong Bi-seok captured this contradiction as they focus on the lives of the people of Seoul in the 1950s. Today and Tomorrow by Kang Sin-jae chronicles in detail the atmosphere in Seoul during the final days of the Rhee Syngman Administration (1948-1960) before the presidential election on March 15, 1960. This rigged election led to the April Revolution the following month.


Seoul, Filled with Calls for Revolution

After a rigged election was held on March 15, 1960, demonstrators across the country protested presidential election fraud. Many were wounded as the police forcefully broke up protests. After 16-year old student Kim Ju-yeol who participated in the protest was discovered dead, the people began to call for a revolution. In Oh Sang-won’s Mumyeonggi, the lead character is a journalist closely following real events that took place on the eve of the April Revolution, when Korea University students were attacked by gang members hired by the ruling party in front of Cheonil Department Store on April 18. Prominent writers including Kim Su-yeong, Shin Dong-yeop, Song Wook, Kim Chun-su, Park Du-jin, and Hwang Geum-chan have written poems commemorating the April Revolution.
The significance of the April Revolution in Korea’s contemporary history can be viewed in a new perspective in Park Taesun’s
The Collapsed Theater which dramatically narrates the destruction of Pyeonghwa Theater on the night of April 25 as
the chaos of the revolution was reaching its apex, and About Fantasy, which focuses on what remained after the revolution.