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The Literary City, Bucheon

Bucheon’s Writers and their Works

YANG Gui-ja

YANG Gui-ja

Writer YANG Gui-ja
Summary One of the Korea's leading authors of contemporary Korean novels in the 1980s

Thirty Years On, Reminiscing on YANG Gui-ja’s


The birth of nameless and characterless satellite cities around Seoul in the 1980s was an inevitability resulting from industrialization and greater population concentration in large cities. Bucheon became the ‘middle stopover’ for people dreaming of making it big in Korea’s Seoul-centric society due to the city’s convenient location. During this era, many people from outside the metropolitan region passed through Bucheon. The 1980s in Bucheon are remembered as a time when the city was home to ‘working class people with hopes and dreams’ who engaged in various trades and held diverse viewpoints.


Thirty years ago, when no one could have dreamed that Bucheon would become the city it is today, a promising young female novelist moved to the city in the winter of 1981 and began to write , a book that would come to define the decade not only for readers, but for many people living in 1980s Korea.

Her name was YANG Gui-ja (born in 1955). By setting her novel in Wonmi-dong, a small neighborhood located in Bucheon, she made the suburb famous throughout Korea. Yang began to gain recognition in literary circles for , and later published , and <1000 Years of Love>. After living in a townhouse in Bucheon for ten years, Yang left the city in October 1990.

Released in 1987, is a series of 11 books. The short novel was later adapted into a TV drama, play and comic book series, touching many people and evoking memories of the past for Bucheon residents and others. was added to national Korean textbooks for middle school 3rd graders due to its vivid literary description of the lives of ordinary citizens in the 1980s.

The novel depicts a number of iconic figures and locations that were part of residents’ everyday lives during that era in Wonmi-dong, including Eun-hye-ne, local poet Mong Dal, KIM Ban-jang, KANG No-in, the Happy Photo Studio, Kimpo Grocery, Hyeongjae Grocery and the wallpaper store.


YANG wrote the following in an essay ten years ago when looking back on that era.

  “The question I most often receive from middle school students around Korea who have read the book is this. Is Wonmi-dong a real place? Did you really live there? I always tell them, Wonmi-dong is a real place in Bucheon, and I really lived there for ten years. Sometimes I go into more detail. I tell them, twenty years ago, I was so lucky that Wonmi-dong was there for me, and the memories I have of the decade I lived there are so precious to me.”


Of course, Wonmi-dong Street looks very different now from the way it did when YANG described it in her novel 30 years ago, but the surrounding scenery and old city center remain intact, bringing back memories of those days.    


Azalea Hill on Mt. Wonmi has recently become popular as an attraction not far from the Seoul metropolitan area where people can see azaleas in bloom. A commemorative stone tablet on Azalea Hill is engraved with a scene from, one of the books in series.


  The azaleas are blooming splendidly, and the light green leaves are so beautiful that I feel as if I will be dyed green just by looking at them. My husband is walking around Mt. Wonmi to spread the word that spring is here. All of the long ridges that can be seen from anywhere in Wonmi-dong are here on Mt. Wonmi. Even looking through a window, the mottled sea of red flowers caught my eye.



In remembrance of the old Wonmi-dong Street, Bucheon built ‘A distant and Beautiful Place ’ Street near the Wonmi-1-dong Administration and Welfare Center. The street features videos and sculptures that depict the characters in the novel, including Mong Dal and Kang No-in.




* The following articles about Yang are from http://ch.yes24.com/Article/View/29147http://www.yes24.com/24/AuthorFile/Author/109194 


YANG Gui-ja

Debut work:  Another New Dawn

Born: July 17, 1955


YANG was born in Jeonju, South Jeolla Province, in 1955. She was raised by her mother and elder brother after her father passed away when she was only five. After receiving literary inspiration from reading LEE Kwang-soo’s ‘Friendship,’ she began entering essay competitions and other contests while attending Jeonju Girls High school. As Yang learned to write novels, one of her works won a prize in an art and culture contest at Wonkwang University, winning her an art and culture scholarship to study Korean literature. Yang was a member of the student newspaper at her university when she won the college literary award organized by Sookmyung Women's University. As a result of this, a piece of hers was even published in . After graduating, she worked for two years at a middle and high school and a magazine publisher.


YANG made her first major breakthrough when her novel Another New Dawn won the Munhak Sasang rookie writers award in 1978. She later garnered even more attention with A distant and Beautiful Place(1987), which has been praised as the quintessential Korean short novel of the 1980s. As a collection of short stories written between 1986 and 1987, A distant and Beautiful Place depicts the joys and sorrows of the ordinary residents of Wonmi-dong as viewed through the warm gaze of the author. With this novel, YANG won the Ju-hyeon Yu Literary Award in 1992. In 1990, YANG released her first full-length novel Goodbye, Night, which was set in the 1980s and dealt with the reality of division between the two Koreas. However, it was not very popular with readers. During the 1990s she mainly focused on popular fiction, and I Wish for What Is Forbidden to Me, which was the subject of feminist controversy, was adapted into a movie and also performed as a play. YANG won the ‘Contemporary Literature Award’ in 1992 with Hidden Flowers, and again in 1996 with Bear Story. 1000 Years of Love, a story about a lifetime of unfulfilled love with another soul, was published in 1995. This book quickly became a bestseller and was hailed as a contemporary embodiment of oriental sentiment that changed the landscape of Korean fiction. In 1998, YANG released Contradiction, which was extremely popular with readers due to its elaborate narrative and fast pace. Through AHN Jinjin, the main character, YANG offers a solution to the puzzle of walking through life, ultimately reaching the conclusion that continued exploration is the only way to wisely navigate the contradictions of life. 


The literary value of YANG’s works has also been recognized by critics, who have praised her adept storytelling, detailed descriptions and warm attitude towards people. YANG has won over readers with her outstanding talent for capturing the imagery of life and her lively writing style.


The literary value of YANG’s works has also been recognized by critics, who have praised her adept storytelling, detailed descriptions and warm attitude towards people. YANG has won over readers with her outstanding talent for capturing the imagery of life and her lively writing style.


What she said

“The role of fiction is storytelling and emotion, and using this to give people the opportunity to contemplate. If you’re trying to do more than that, then it’s not fiction. Abandoning the desire to do everything, pruning your desire, that’s what’s important.” 

“In the act of creating something, whatever that may be, things go wrong from the moment you start attaching meaning to that labor. The more weight you place on the literature itself, the easier it is for the quality to suffer. Life is the part that should be emphasized, not the literature itself.”





supplementary referencehttp://library.ltikorea.or.kr/node/216

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