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Jo Ki-chon

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Jo Ki-chon

Jo Ki-chon
Born (1913-11-06)6 November 1913
Ael'tugeu, Vladivostok District, Russia[1]
Died 31 July 1951(1951-07-31) (aged 37)
Resting place Patriotic Martyrs' Cemetery[2]
Nickname "Korea's Mayakovsky"
"Pushkin of Korea"
Occupation Poet
Language Korean
Nationality Korean
Ethnicity Korean
Alma mater Gorky Omsk State Pedagogical University
Genre Epic poetry, lyric poetry
Literary movement Socialist realism[3]
Notable works Mt. Paeketu,
Notable awards Festival Prize
National Flag Medal, 2nd class (1951)
National Prize, 1st class for Mt. Paektu (1948) and Korea is Fighting (1952)
Spouse Kim Hae-sŏn (late 1930s)[4]
Children Yurii Cho (son)[1]
Korean name
Chosŏn'gŭl 조기천[5]
Hancha 趙基天[6]
Revised Romanization Jo Gi-cheon[7]
McCune–Reischauer Cho Ki-ch'ŏn[8]

Literature portal

Jo Ki-chon (Chosŏn'gŭl조기천; 6 November 1913 – 31 July 1951)[9] was a Russian-born North Korean poet. He is regarded as "a founding father of North Korean poetry"[10] whose distinct Soviet-influenced style of lyrical epic poetry became an important feature of North Korean literature. He was nicknamed "Korea's Mayakovsky" after the writer whose works had had an influence on him and which implied his breaking from literature of the old society and his commitment to communist values.[10] After a remark made by Kim Jong-il on his 2001 visit to Russia, North Korean media has referred to Jo as the "Pushkin of Korea".[11]

Jo was dispatched by the Soviet authorities to liberated Korea when the Red Army entered in 1945. By that time, he had much experience of Soviet literature and literature administration. The Soviets hoped that Jo would shape the cultural institutions of the new state based on the Soviet model. For the Soviets, the move was successful and Jo did not only that but also significantly developed socialist realism as it would become the driving force of North Korean literature and arts.

Jo offered some of the earliest contributions to Kim Il-sung's cult of personality.[12] His most famous work is Mt. Paketu (1947), a lyrical epic praising Kim Il-sung's guerrilla activities and promoting him as a suitable leader for the new North Korean state. Other notable works by Jo include "Whistle", a seemingly non-political love poem which was later adapted as a popular song that is known in both North and South Korea. During the Korean War, Jo wrote wartime propaganda poems. He died during the war in a United Nations force bombing raid. He and his works are still renowned in North Korean society.


  • Life and career 1
    • Before emigrating from the Soviet Union 1.1
    • In North Korea 1.2
  • Death and legacy 2
  • Works 3
    • In the Soviet Union 3.1
    • In North Korea 3.2
      • Mt. Paektu 3.2.1
  • See also 4
  • Notes and references 5
    • Notes 5.1
    • References 5.2
    • Sources 5.3
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7

Life and career

Jo was born to poor Korean peasants in the village of Ael'tugeu in the Russian Far East in 1913.[1] The Pacific region of the Soviet Union, where he lived, was a center for Korean independence activists.[7] He drew inspiration from Jo Myeong-hui who believed in national emancipation by upholding socialist principles. Thus Jo acquired a nationalistic and class conscious worldview in his literature.[6][7]

Before emigrating from the Soviet Union

It is possible that Jo translated Kim Il-sung's victory speech of 1945 into Korean. Jo moved to North Korea that year.

Jo studied at the Korean Teachers College in Voroshilov-Ussuriysk between 1928 and 1931. During that time, he was also a member of the Komsomol.[13]

Jo was initially supposed to enroll at the Moscow University, but he was robbed at a train station in Omsk. With no money, Jo was stranded and had to work at a kolkhoz in Omsk for the summer to get some. The rector of the Omsk University, Aleksandr Sergeevitch Slivko was touched by his fate and decided to admit him in the university.[14] Thus, from 1933 until his graduation in 1937,[13][15] he attended the Faculty of Literature of the Gorky Omsk State Pedagogical University.[13] Although he was not fluent in Russian upon entering the university, he graduated with excellent marks,[14] and his time spent there amplified his Russian and Soviet sides.[16] He returned to the Far East and took up teaching responsibilities at the Korean Pedagogical Institute in Vladivostok until all ethnic Koreans were forcibly moved to Central Asia, and the Institute along with Jo were relocated to Kzyl-Orda, Kazakh SSR in 1937. The following year Jo went to Moscow and tried to enroll at the Moscow Literature University, only to find himself arrested on the spot for breaking breaking the law confining Koreans to Central Asia. He then returned to the Institute in Kzyl-Orda and worked there until 1941.[17]

Between 1942 and 1943, Jo served in the Soviet 25th Army's headquarters in Voroshilov-Ussuriysk in desk duty, and in a similar assignment in the Pacific Navy in Khabarovsk between 1943 and 1945 and in the First Far Eastern Front from October 1945. A part of his job was to write propaganda leaflets spread by the Soviet Red Army in Korea. Tatiana Gabroussenko thinks it is probable that he also translated the first speech given by Kim Il-sung after the liberation,[18] on 14 October 1945, called "Every Effort for the Building of a New Democratic Korea",[19] into Korean. The original speech was written by Soviet officers.[18] Jo entered North Korea with the Red army that year.[4]

In North Korea

Immediately after the liberation of Korea, Soviet authorities sent Jo, who was fluent in both Korean and Russian,[20] to North Korea in order to shape the country's literary institutions on the Soviet model. Jo diligently followed the Workers' Party's instructions to "immerse [oneself] in the masses" and would visit factories, villages and farms and write poems based on these experiences. His experiences in the Soviet Union helped him in producing explicitly political works. Many other authors were not equally adept to write about political subjects and were reluctant to visit place of work.[21] His role in shaping North Korean literature was to be pivotal.[20] Jo's early works Mt. Paektu (MR: Paektusan, 1947) and Land (MR: Ttang, 1946[22]) would point out the direction that North Korean literature was about to take.[6] These very works would soon become models for North Korean literature.[23] Upon his return, he started writing for Chosŏn Sinmun, the Soviet Red Army's Korean-language paper,[4] working as a correspondent and translator.[15] He translated works of such Soviet poets as Mayakovsky, Gribachev, and Jambyl Jabayev.[4]

The literary circles of the time were divided based on divisions in North Korean politics as a whole. Jo associated himself with the other ethnic Koreans who had come from the Soviet Union. This literary group was close to the political Soviet Koreans faction.[4]

During the war, Jo worked for MR: Munhak tongmaeng).[26]

Death and legacy

Jo died on 31 July 1951 in his office room in Pyongyang during a United Nations forces' bombing raid in the war.[27]

Mt. Paektu received the National Prize, first class, in 1948.[15] Jo's works were awarded the Festival Prize, the country's highest literary honor, modeled after the Stalin Prize.[23] He also was awarded the National Flag Medal, second class, for his work during the war in 1951,[27] as well as a posthumous National Prize, first class, in 1952 for his cycle of poems Korea is Fighting[15] (MR: Chosŏnŏn Ssaunda, 1951).[28]


In the Soviet Union

While still at the Pedagogical Institute, Jo released a novel. The novel describes anti-Japanese armed struggle,[7] and is similar in content to his later work Mt. Paektu. The novel might have acted as a prototype for it.[29] In addition to poetry and poetic criticism, Jo was interested in drama.[7] Jo contributed to the creation of a drama called Hong Beom-do, about the revolutionary Hong Beom-do,[30] by Tae Jang-chun and other Koreans living in the Soviet Union. Mt. Paektu retains elements from this work, too.[29] He published his first poem the age of 17 in a Korean newspaper, Sŏnbong, in Russia. Between 1930 and 1933 he wrote poems such as "The Morning of the Construction", "To the Advanced Workers", "The Military Field Study" and "Paris Commune".[13] While still in the Soviet Union, he also wrote poems "To Rangers" and "Outdoor Practice".[7]

In North Korea

After moving to North Korea, he released "New Year".[7] Other poems by Jo include: "Tuman River" (MR: Tumanggang, 1946) about the sufferings of Koreans under Japanese rule and "Our Way" (MR: Uri-ŭi kil, 1949) on Soviet-Korean friendship.[21] The Song of Life (MR: Saeng'ai-ŭi Norae, 1950) is a long epic abut industrialization. It praises the country's developing industry but fails to take note of its roots in Japanese projects during the occupation.[31] It also features a theme often found in Stalinist fiction: "class enemies" that seek to hamper progress.[21] Other poems include: Land, "Aircraft Hunters",[32] "On the Burning Street" (MR: Pul'anŭn kŏriesŏ, 1950), "Korean Mother" (MR: Chosŏn-ŭi ŏmŏni, 1950), " My Heights" (MR: Na-ŭi koji, 1951), "We are Korean Youth" (MR: Urinŭn Chosŏn Ch'ŏngnyŏnida, 1951)[28] as well as lyric poems "Swing"[33] (MR: Kŭne)[34] and "Sitting On a White Rock" (MR: Hŭin pauie anjaso, 1947).[35] The serial poem Resistance in Yosu (MR: Hangjaeng-ŭi yŏsu)[21] tells about the Yosu uprising in South Korea.[15] The lyric epic Land was written on the Workers' Party's orders on producing works about the land reform in North Korea after the liberation,[21] and was the first poem to describe the topic.[20] Jo wrote lyrics for "Mungyong Pass", a song about Korean People's Army soldiers fighting their way through Kyonggi to Ryongnam.[36]

While all of the poems are thoroughly ideological,[35] some South Korean scholars have sought to emphasize Jo's lyrical side in order to "domesticate" him to serve rapprochement between the two countries' cultural orientations. Some of Jo's poems have been adapted into popular music lyrics that enjoy popularity in the South as well as the North. "Whistle" (MR: Hŭip'aram), "Willow" (MR: Suyang pŏtŭl) and "Swing" are love songs that were inspired by a more relaxed cultural atmosphere following the translation of Russian-language poetry into Korean. These influence include Mikhail Isakovsky's "Katyusha",[34] to which "Whistle" in particular bears likeness.[37] "Whistle", adapted as a popular song in 1990, is often seen in the South as a non-political song.[38] However, according to Gabroussenko, South Korean observers often fail to notice the political and cultural elements borrowed from Isakovsky and Soviet lyrical poetry.[39] In "Whistle", for instance, the couple embodies exemplary socialist traits:[37]

Today you again smiled purely,
And said that you have overfilled the production plan threefold,
But I do not envy your achievement,
I can do even better,
But I like your smile.
Why is it so pure?[40]

Mt. Paektu

Mount Paektu, the namesake of Jo's most famous poem is a cornerstone of the cult of personality of the Kim family. A giant inscription attributed to Kim Jong-il on its slope reads: "Mount Paektu – the holy mountain of the revolution".

Jo's long epic poem Mt. Paektu[41][1] written in February 1947[32] and published in 1948 in Rodong Sinmun,[22] was the first poem written about Kim Il-sung,[33] whom the original version of the poem refers to as "Commander Kim". The poem tells about the Battle of Pochonbo that took place in 1937.[22]

The poem has its origins in Jo's fascination with the anti-Japanese guerrillas, including Ch'oe Hyŏn, with whom he had met.[22] The creation of the epic was politically motivated, too, as the Soviets, who had dispatched Jo to North Korea, wanted to strengthen Kim Il-sung's power. Publications presenting him as a legendary anti-Japanese hero were needed, and so Mt. Paektu was born.[29] The work is dedicated "to the glorious Soviet Army that liberated Korea",[42] and is written with the Soviets and not the Koreans in mind.[43]

Generally speaking, the poem was well-received. The public was interested and young readers acclaimed it.[43] It was liked in the KFLA as it employed revolutionary romanticism in its portrayal of Kim.[41] Kim personally liked the poem, too, and began visiting Jo's home.[44] Kim Il-sung's activities are exaggerated.[5] The poem presents Kim as having heroic, transcendental, humane and warm qualities.[29] He is presented as a popular hero that the people look up to,[45] suggesting that he is the right person to lead the newly established state.[29] Politically, Mt. Paektu was very effective in the newly founded state.[5] As such, it became a "new classic",[44] a model for the cult of personality of Kim Il-sung perpetuated by subsequent works of literature in North Korea.[29] It is considered a classic in literature portraying the anti-Japanese struggle.[29] Long epic poetry was not a popular genre in North Korea before Mt. Paektu, but it was in the Soviet Union where Jo had immigrated from.[29] Poema and Mayakovsky's prosody and poetry were also among Jo's influences that can be seen in Mt. Paektu.[30] These Russian stylistic influences gave Mt. Paektu its peculiar characteristics that prompted mixed reactions from the North Korean public. For instance, some in the literature circles were unfamiliar with the concept of a lyrical epic and thought of it as an improbable amalgam of genres,[43] criticizing the work for being indistinguishable from ordinary prose.[46] According to Alzo David-West, the relatively favorable reaction to Mt. Paektu compared to some other literature testifies to North Korean readership being both a receptive and a dismissive audience.[47]

South Korean scholars have presented two competing views about Mt. Paektu: academics of the older generation typically dismiss Mt. Paektu as "personality cult literature". Younger generation minjung and leftist scholars, however, see guerrillas other than Kim Il-sung — such as Ch'ŏl-ho, Kkot-pun, and Sŏk-jun — and by extension, the people, as the "hero" of the story.[42]

The 1947 text has been revised three times because of changes within the political system of North Korea to produce "heavily revised chuch'e [Juche] editions":[42] in 1955, 1986 and 1995.[45] It was adapted on stage by Han T'ae-ch'ŏn.[44] It has been translated into English,[48] Chinese,[49] Japanese,[50] and Russian.[43]

The original version of the poem invokes Russian Civil War heroes Vasily Chapayev, Nikolay Shchors and Sergey Lazo,[51] while a newer revision omits them and concentrates on indigenous assets:

See also

Notes and references


  1. ^ Chosŏn'gŭl백두산; hancha白頭山; MRPaektusan; RRBaekdusan[5][29][22]


  1. ^ a b c Gabroussenko 2005, p. 58.
  2. ^ 북한의 열사릉, 그 상징과 폭력: 혁명열사릉과 애국열사릉. Prometheus (in Korean). 13 August 2013. Archived from the original on 25 December 2013. Retrieved 22 July 2015. 
  3. ^ Gabroussenko 2005, p. 60.
  4. ^ a b c d e Gabroussenko 2005, p. 65.
  5. ^ a b c d Go Hyeon-cheol (2005). 북한 정치사와의 상관성으로 살펴본 조기천의 1955년 판 『백두산』 [A Study on the Interrelation between Jo Gi-Chun's Baekdusan 1955 Text and the Political History of North Korea]. DBpia (in Korean). Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c Luo Jin Hyun (2010). 趙基天論 – 생애와 문학 활동에 대한 재검토 [Discourse on Cho Ki Cheon — Review on His Life and Literary Activity]. DBpia (in Korean). Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Luo Jin Hyun (2011). 趙基天 詩의 기반과 세계 [Foundation and World of Jo Gi-cheon (趙基天)'s Poetry]. DBpia (in Korean). Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  8. ^ Gabroussenko 2005, p. 55.
  9. ^ Gabroussenko 2005, p. 58, 85.
  10. ^ a b Gabroussenko 2005, p. 56.
  11. ^ David-West, Alzo (May 2013). "Review Essays: Tatiana Gabroussenko, Soldiers on the Cultural Front: Developments in the Early Literary History of North Korean Literature and Literary Policy". The Comparatist 37: 298, 304 n4.  
  12. ^ Gabroussenko 2005, p. 86.
  13. ^ a b c d Gabroussenko 2005, p. 61.
  14. ^ a b Gabroussenko 2005, p. 89 n38.
  15. ^ a b c d e Cho Ki-chon. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (3rd ed.) (The Gale Group, Inc.). 1970–1979. Retrieved 5 July 2015. 
  16. ^ Gabroussenko 2005, pp. 61–62.
  17. ^ Gabroussenko 2005, p. 63.
  18. ^ a b Gabroussenko 2005, p. 64.
  19. ^ Dae-Sook Suh (1981). Korean communism, 1945–1980: a reference guide to the political system. University Press of Hawaii. p. 27.  
  20. ^ a b c Kim Nak-hyeon (2011). 재소(在蘇) 고려문인들의 북한문학 형성기의 활동과 역할 – 조기천을 중심으로 [The activity and roles of Koryo literary men in USSR of forming North Korean literature — Focusing on Jo Ki Cheon]. DBpia (in Korean). Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  21. ^ a b c d e Gabroussenko 2005, p. 77.
  22. ^ a b c d e Gabroussenko 2005, p. 69.
  23. ^ a b Gabroussenko 2005, p. 68.
  24. ^ Gabroussenko 2005, pp. 82–83.
  25. ^ Kim 2014, p. 120.
  26. ^ Wit 2015, p. 43.
  27. ^ a b Wit 2015, p. 44.
  28. ^ a b Gabroussenko 2005, p. 82.
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kim Nak-hyeon (2014). 장편서사시 『白頭山』 연구 – 창작 의도를 중심으로 [A Study on Long Epic Poetry Titled 『Mt. Baekdu』 – Focusing on Creative Intention –]. DBpia (in Korean). Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  30. ^ a b Luo Jin Hyun (2014). 장편서사시『白頭山』의 창작토대 [Creative Foundation of 『Baekdusan』 as Long Epic Poetry]. DBpia (in Korean). Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  31. ^ Gabroussenko, Tatiana (2004). The Implantation of Socialist Realism in the DPRK and North Korean Literary Politics 1945–1960 (PDF) (Thesis). Australian National University. p. 48.  
  32. ^ a b c Jo Ki-chon (1990). Mt. Paektu: An Epic Poem (PDF). Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House. 
  33. ^ a b "Famous Korean poet". KCNA. 5 July 2001. Archived from the original on 12 October 2014. Retrieved 22 July 2015. 
  34. ^ a b Gabroussenko 2005, p. 79.
  35. ^ a b Gabroussenko 2005, p. 78.
  36. ^ """Orchestral Music "Mungyong Pass. KCNA. 1 July 2013. Archived from the original on 12 October 2014. Retrieved 22 July 2015. 
  37. ^ a b Gabroussenko 2005, p. 80.
  38. ^ Korean Unification Bulletin. Ministry of Unification of the Republic of Korea. 2001. p. 46. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  39. ^ Gabroussenko 2005, pp. 80–81.
  40. ^ Jo Ki-chon. "Hŭip'aram". Cho Ki-chŏn sŏnjip 2: 69. Translation in Gabroussenko 2005, p. 80.
  41. ^ a b Kim 2014, p. 119.
  42. ^ a b c Gabroussenko 2005, p. 70.
  43. ^ a b c d Gabroussenko 2005, p. 73.
  44. ^ a b c Gabroussenko 2005, p. 76.
  45. ^ a b Yeo Ji-seon (2006). 조기천의 『백두산』과 개작의 정치성 [The political sense of adaptation and Jo Gi-Chuns's Baekdusan]. DBpia (in Korean). Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  46. ^ Gabroussenko 2005, p. 75.
  47. ^ David-West, Alzo (2012). "North Korean Literature and 'Theoretical Problems of Literary Studies': Tatiana Gabrousseko's Soldiers on the Cultural Front". Journal of Asian and African Studies April 47 (2): 236–249.  
  48. ^ "Mt. Paekdu : an epic poem (Book, 1990) []". Retrieved 7 July 2015. 
  49. ^ British Broadcasting Corporation. Monitoring Service (1978). Summary of World Broadcasts: Far East. Monitoring Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 6 July 2015. 
  50. ^ "Hakutōsan : Chō Kiten shishū (eBook, 1974) []". Retrieved 7 July 2015. 
  51. ^ Gabroussenko 2005, p. 71, 91 n96.
  52. ^ Jo Ki-chon. "Paektusan". Cho Ki-chŏn sŏnjip 1 (6). Translation in Gabroussenko 2005, p. 71.
  53. ^ Jo Ki-chon. " 


  • Gabroussenko, Tatiana (2005). "Cho Ki-ch'ŏn: The Person Behind the Myths" (PDF). Korean Studies 29: 55–94.  
  • Kim, Ellie Sue (2014). Rituals of Decolonization: The Role of Inner-Migrant Intellectuals in North Korea, 1948–1967 (PDF) (Thesis). University of California Los Angeles.  
  • Wit, Jerôme de (2015). Writing Under Wartime Conditions: North and South Korean Writers During the Korean War (1950–1953) (PDF) (Thesis). Leiden University.  

Further reading

  • Gabroussenko, Tatiana (2010). "2. Soviet Koreans in Northern Korean Literature: The Case of Cho Ki-ch'ŏn". Soldiers on the Cultural Front: Developments in the Early History of North Korean Literature and Literary Policy. University of Hawai'i Press.  
  • Pak Nam-su (1999). Chŏkch'i 6 nyŏn pukhan mundan [The North Korean Literary World: Six Years Under the Red's Rule] (in Korean). Seoul: Pogosa.  
  • Ri Chŏnggu (1953). Siin Cho Kich'ŏn ron [A Thesis on Poet Cho Kich'ŏn] (in Korean). Pyongyang: Munye ch'ulp'ansa. 

External links

  • (PDF)Mt. PaektuFull text of the English edition of at Naenara
  • Mt. PaektuRecital of on YouTube (Korean)
  • South Korean performance of the song "Whistle" on YouTube (Korean)
  • The song "Mungyong Pass" on YouTube (Korean)
  • Documentary on "Mungyong Pass" on YouTube (Korean)
  • Grave of Jo Ki-chon on Flickr
  • Anecdote Pushkin of Korea (KCNA) at the Wayback Machine (archived October 12, 2014)
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