Research conducted within this SEED project comprises altogether 6 (plus 1) sub-projects


1) Aspects of the never-ending translation wars in South Korea

Andreas Schirmer

Translation has always played a major role in Korea’s often painful process of modernization. But even in this context, the frequent “translation wars” are a striking phenomenon—especially when the zealous battles about mistranslations are fought not only within the limited confines of professional or aficionado circles, but also (as periodically occurs) captivate the general public.

The fact that public discourse about the quality and reliability of translations is much more common in South Korea than anywhere in the West is very telling in cultural anthropological terms. This significance has, however, never been considered a matter deserving of academic attention in and of itself.

Conspicuously, the public denunciation of translation mistakes, as practiced in Korea, often targets not only the immediate culprits but claims to expose a fundamental (culturally conditioned) mentality among the general Korean population. The implication is that Korean audiences lack self-assurance and tend to accept dubious passages meekly because they are conditioned to suspect themselves of being simply too stupid to understand.

Korea’s ongoing translation wars are epitomized by encyclopedic books that present vast collections of detected mistakes and usually receive a great deal of media coverage. One regularly recurring motif of the multifaceted debates on mistranslations is the supposed disgrace and disadvantage sustained by Koreans when they are left with imperfect renderings of insights easily gleaned by those elsewhere in the world, who read, if not the originals, at least perfectly faithful translations.

Andreas Schirmer: Aspects of the Never-Ending Translation Wars in South Korea

A Cultural Phenomenon and its Reasons.

Lebende Sprachen / Living Languages 65, no. 2: 1–21. [Publication date: November 15, 2020.]

2) A Reconsideration of the New Right’s Formative Period (2003–2008): Conservative Experiences, Mass Media and Cultural Memory in Post-Authoritarian South Korea

Patrick Vierthaler

My research re-considers the emergence and institutionalization of the South Korean New Right Movement (2003–2007). Tracing institutional changes in post-democratization South Korea, I argue that the New Right can be evaluated as a process of Cultural Trauma within the conservative ideological spectrum. Revealing the movement’s institutionalization until the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak government in 2008, I investigate in detail the role of the conservative mass media in the movement’s rise. Furthermore, I examine the movement’s relation to contemporary Korean history and memory, clarifying why the New Right ultimately failed in gaining wide-spread support for their historical narratives.

Patrick Vierthaler: A Reconsideration of the New Right’s Formative Period (2003–2008)

Conservative Experiences, Mass Media and Cultural Memory in Post-Authoritarian South Korea.

European Journal of Korean Studies 20, no. 1: 42–98. [Publication date: October 1, 2020.]

3) Order of ideas upside down – the neglected role of sequence in translating from and into Korean

Andreas Schirmer

Head or tail? Preserving the original’s sequence as an underrated but crucial task for adequate literary translation from and to Korean

When translating Korean into Western languages and vice versa, reshuffling maneuvers that turn the source text’s sentences upside down are performed routinely all the time. Translating between distant languages inevitably requires the need for head and tail inversion, shifting the order of the phrase’s elements and re-arranging what comes first, next, last — or at least this is the generally accepted truism. Invoked for justification are differences in grammar and the irrefutable fact that rhetorical sensibilities and norms are simply not universal.

What is thus overlooked, however, is the fact that with literary translation, the re-enacting of a carefully crafted sentence is a task that concerns the very essence of narration: sequence. After all, creating a narrative is about consecutive discursive presentation: A story’s events are conveyed in the storyteller’s calculated, often very arbitrary order. Some information may be relayed in advance while other crucial information may be withheld. Some backgrounds are disclosed early while others are purposefully only revealed at the very end. This basic principle applies not only to the narration as a whole but (and this is what tends to be forgotten) also to its constitutive smaller units — as we can see when a novel’s sentences are ingeniously constructed in terms of what is said first and then and last.

The empirical basis for my exploration consists of numerous examples collected over a long period of time. The point of departure is an observation that I could confirm again and again: Korean translations of aphorisms, canned jokes, poems and rhetorically elaborated essays tend to prioritize syntactical, structural fidelity at the expense of a parallel order of ideas. The cognitive surprise-effect of the original punchline is thus squandered for the sake of habitual word order (which should be regarded as the lesser good).

But my main focus is a mirror image or a complementary phenomenon to this first one: Western translations of Korean fiction tend to diminish the role of sequence within a single sentence, thereby sacrificing special effects of suspense and failing, in extreme cases, to convey the chosen narrative strategy. A functional approach would allow the reader to process the given information at a pace that is analogous to that of the original.

The proposed paper argues that sequence deserves more attention as a meaningful layer of speech. Beyond practical consequences for the translation of Korean literature, this insight should also relativize and complement the typological approach that is usually adopted when it comes to the contrasting of Korean with Western languages.

Head or tail?

Paper for the CEESOK conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, July 5-6, 2019.


Submitted to a prestigious journal, currently under review.

4) Narrative Inquiry of Korean Transnational Families Motivated by Music Education in Austria

Sun Young YUN

This study on Korean transnational families living in a German-speaking country reports on three main issues: (1) how Korean boys have come to form a substantial part of the choir; (2) what basic factors contribute to the families’ decision to live physically separated between the two countries, Austria and South Korea; and (3) which characteristic features of Korean people conduce to such decision.

Based on in-depth interviews with alumni and parents, this study has discovered several components of Koreanness – vague confidence, improvisation, dynamism, positive illusions and unrealistic optimism – to play important roles in making the decision. Transnationality is one of the characteristics of modern Korean society. In the end, this research contributes to our understanding of Koreanness.

윤선영: “오스트리아 음악 교육이 계기가 된 초국적 가족 이주에 대한 내러티브 탐구.”

문화교류와 다문화교육 / Cultural Exchange and Multicultural Education 9, no. 3: 299–318.

5) John Ross’s Corean Primer and Korean Speech – The First Textbooks of Korean in English

Pawel Kida

This research explores the features of two late nineteenth century Korean language study materials, entitled Corean Primer and Korean Speech with Grammar and Vocabulary. Corean Primer is the first textbook to examine the Korean language in English, Korean Speech with Grammar and Vocabulary is an updated version of Corean Primer. Missionary John Ross wrote both of them. Comparison of both books and presentations of their grammatical and teaching content. Observations about the Korean language and the format of presenting the language developed from the work of John Ross are still found in contemporary language teaching materials.

Submitted to a prestigious journal, currently under review.

6) Re-invented in Translation? Korean Literature in Literary Chinese as one Epitome of Endangered Cultural Heritage

Andreas Schirmer

South Korea is famed for its condensed development. In public campaigns for progress the adherence to old customs has been associated with backwardness, inhibiting the desired rapid transformation. On the other hand, this also provoked a strong defense of traditions, with the core argument that the pursuit of modernization needs a solid foundation in the country’s deep roots. Obviously, heritage preservation is a major issue in Korea. But quite unnoticed in related debates goes what could be considered an epitome of endangered cultural heritage: hanmun, Korean literature written in classical Chinese (Literary Sinitic).

Park Chung-hee’s 1968 five-year plan for hangul exclusivity, meant to completely eliminate hantcha (Chinese characters), had the side effect of thrusting hanmun into the limelight. The governmental initiative for swift translation of hanmun literature was supported by grassroots activists (including many who disapproved of the overall direction of the regime’s language policy).

Drawing on a collection of voices raised in newspapers since the mid-1960s, this chapter contextualizes the vociferous appeals for more translations of hanmun, and identifies recurrent themes, motifs, and rhetorical maneuvers. One particular case is the warning that Koreans would be cut off from their ancestors if they fail to translate. After all, the “writing on the wall” that predicted an imminent rupture between fathers and sons due to modern times had disquieted many an erudite Korean scholar already a few generations before. Either the prophesied catastrophe never materialized, or standards were constantly lowered.

Often the discussion orbits around the question of “true” Korean tradition, with apologists of hanmun translation claiming that Literary Sinitic represented the very epitome of Koreanness. This is, of course, a calculated contradiction to the othering of hanmun pursued by progressive nationalists since the late 19th century. Ultimately, translations of hanmun do not concoct something that was inexistent, but still they create a “new tradition,” while the vision of a whole nation united in reading the “old classics” in modern translation imagines a community that actually did not exist, at least not in this form.

To be published as chapter 5 of Invented Traditions in North and South Korea.

Edited by Andrew David Jackson, Codruța Sîntionean, Remco Breuker and CedarBough Saeji. University of Hawaii Press 2021.

7) Negotiating the essence of being Korean in South Korean fiction: Literary contributions to the discourses on Koreanness

Andreas Schirmer

An-na is a simple Korean woman, but when sleeping she could be taken by an outsider as a Chinese, a Japanese, any Southeast Asian, a Mongolian, an American Indian, etc. Such musings when looking at an elderly woman in his neighborhood are mulled over by the protagonist and narrator of one of the most famous examples of South Korea’s damunhwa munhak (multicultural literature): Son Hong-kyu’s The Muslim Butcher, a novel centered on an orphaned Korean teenager who gets adopted by a former Turkish soldier still stranded in Seoul decades after the Korean War.

Exposing the shameless exploitation of foreign workers and the plight of foreign brides—massive discrimination that looks all the more apalling when contrasted with the immense adoration for white Westerners—damunhwa munhak, a genre that developed during the last two decades, can be understood as an attempt by fiction writers to contribute to a better world by inducing readers to feel empathy. While this aim may be a common denominator of all damunhwa munhak, some of these novels have an additional focus: contesting the infamous danil minjok sinhwa, the “myth of the homogenous nation” by contending that “Everybody is a mixed blood” (The Muslim Butcher).

Koreanness is usually conceived of as either as “DNA”, a “software” and a bundle of “codes”, or, alternatively, constructed as a set of skills, beliefs, and habits. However, what the struggling protagonists or figures in these novels are haunted by is not any presumed essence of the homo coreanicus but simply outward appearance. A society wrapped up in surfaces, a “republic of plastic surgery” (seonghyeong susul ui gonghwaguk), South Korea proves unforgiving not only for the “underclass” of the unlovely among their compatriots but most of all to those whose appearance marks them as outsiders in the most literal sense: the low-life underclass from abroad.

Dissecting this motive of “appearance” as dominating damunhwa munhak, the proposed paper dwells specifically on examples of resistance to or subversion of ascribed identity, found both in damunhwa munhak and, as a complementing contrast, in novels about individual Koreans resembling foreigners. Fraud, deception, and camouflage are chosen here to construct and take on an identity of one’s choosing—or at least one that allows a more decent life. Even in cases that expose such identity construction as mere escapist denial, or as leading to total debacle and disaster, these novels voice a powerful dissent, providing impactful and evocative condensed formulas to make an intervention on public discourse.

Planned for publication in 2021 as a chapter for a peer-reviewed edited volume.

8) IMF crisis mirrored in fiction: Analogies, emblems, symbols and metaphors in Park Min-gyu’s collection of short stories Castella

Andreas Schirmer

For Martians and other aliens, UFOs, Godzillas and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld; a giant squid, the extinct dodo and a laboratory mouse on whose back grows a human ear; Hulk Hogan and a hooligan from the Heysel Stadium disaster turned refrigerator when reborn, etc. — a panopticon of popular culture is offered in Castella, that famed collection of ten short stories by Park Min-gyu. These stories were all first published between 2003 and 2005 and, when released as one volume in 2005, immediately made an enormous impact. The collection has been praised not only for its unique humor but also its bitter, satiric representations of reckless capitalism and the consequences of neoliberalism in Korea.

The freakish characters make up a bizarre imagery and serve as intricate metaphors conveying the — overall accusatory, rather than resigned — message that in the current state of affairs, only superhuman and extraterrestrial powers or some deus ex machina can promise salvation. One might argue that this just follows existing and well-known patterns of escapism while, on a more general level, the pathos of lost cases is (along with the joy of grief) anyway much favored in Korean literature and film. But Park Min-gyu’s wealth of imagination is nevertheless unique, and constitutes a case worth revisiting.

If an analogy links an unfamiliar idea with something common, then this author’s heavy use of highly unconventional analogies is certainly due to his unfamiliar ideas. As he constantly uses daring, audacious comparisons and inventive similes that render his style very entertaining even on the most microscopic level, the cornucopian opulence of his imagination deserves a close reading and a proper description of how his comparisons work.

But what this paper is rather after are those metaphors that inform and overarch one whole story on a macroscopic level, e.g., the extinct dodo in the story Yakult Lady. In particular, these emblematic animals (depicted, after a drawing by the author himself, on the iconic cover of the book, in the same unchanged longseller edition) are truly inextricable conceptual integrations, disallowing any paraphrasing or alternative wording — which in the end is something that truly befits literature.

This subproject was replaced by other research subprojects within SEED Olomouc, but will be pursued at a later time.

Note: The German translation of Castella by Andreas Schirmer will finally appear (under the title Entenbootweltbürger [Duck boat world citizens]) in November 2020, as the first volume of a series of Korean literature in German translation, edited by Andreas Schirmer for the Austrian publishing house Praesens. See