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Different kinds of good fortune and poverty

#Sounds of Korea l 2019-01-09

Sounds of Korea


The famed Joseon Dynasty scholar Jeong Yak-yong said there were two kinds of good fortune. One type refers to fame and fortune, having a high-ranking position with easy access to the royal palace and living in a great mansion with many servants. This good fortune is called “yeolbok열복”.


The other type of good fortune is called “cheongbok청복”, translated literally as “clean fortune.” It refers to living a simple and carefree life in a secluded place, preferably deep in the mountains. One spends their time reciting poetry, playing a musical instrument and tending to a garden full of life-giving plants and herbs.


Which life do you prefer? Some would think the first type of fortune is the way to live this life, for you only live once, right? Why not live in style, with all your wants and needs taken care of? But others like the idea of living a quiet life in nature away from all the worries and hassles of modern society.


It all depends on how satisfied you are with your current situation. Let’s start this week’s Sounds of Korea with “Snow Queen” written by Shin Hyun-jung and performed by The Forest. 

Music 1: “Snow Queen”/ Written by Shin Hyun-jung, performed by The Forest


Just as there is “cheongbok” or “clean fortune,” “cheongbin청빈” refers to voluntary poverty. You live in poverty not because you are forced to from a lack of money, but because you want to. You choose to live simply and frugally, away from the temptations of the riches of the world. 


A small hut built against the stone wall.

It’s barely big enough for me. 

My bed is made of fallen leaves 

And dead branches prop up the roof

And the roof is made with pine wood. 

My heart is glad although the room is small. 

The glowing clouds become the curtain

And the green mountains become the screen. 


This is an excerpt from a poem written by the Joseon-era scholar Kim Si-seup. Some people are happy and attain peace of mind even when living in a cramped hut with a roof full of holes, while some remain insatiably greedy no matter how much money they have. 


Nolbo, the older brother from the Korean pansori “Heungboga흥보가” is one such greedy character. Nolbo mercilessly kicks out his younger brother Heungbo and his family in the middle of winter. The gentle and kind-hearted Heungbo dares not protest the decisions of his older brother and his family pays the price for Heungbo’s timidity by living out on the street. Here’s a passage from “Heungboga” describing the moment when Nolbo evicts Heungbo’s family. It is sung by Oh Jeong-suk.

Music 2: Passage from “Heungboga”/ Sung by Oh Jeong-suk


Melodramatic stage plays were popular during the Japanese occupation period. A protagonist would go through all sorts of hardship and sorrow before the villain gets punished and the main character with a heart of gold lives happily ever after. This may sound cliché to us now, but such plays were all the rage back in the early 20th century.


Such stories are still popular in modern times, as evidenced by the high ratings soap operas attract on TV. One of the better-known histrionic plays is the love story of Lee Su-il이수일 and Sim Sun-ae심순애. Most Koreans are probably familiar with the iconic line, “Did you like Kim Jung-bae’s diamond that much?” 


Lee Su-il condemns his girlfriend, Sim Sun-ae, for choosing the rich Kim Jung-bae over him. Su-il pleads and begs her to come back to him, but it is not easy to convince her. 

At the end, she finally realizes the mistake she made and reunites with Su-il, her true love. This story’s original titled was “Janghanmong장한몽” and it was adapted from a Japanese novel into a stage play and a song. Since the play is set against the Daedonggang대동강 River in Pyongyang, the song has been passed down in the western region of Korea. Today’s “Janghanmong” is sung by master singer Oh Bok-nyeo.

Music 3:  “Janghanmong”/ Sung by Oh Bok-nyeo

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