By Lee Nam-hee
Senior Researcher at Korean Studies Database Research Institute
The “Click into the Hermit Kingdom” series which appeared in Tuesday editions of The Korea Times, has finally ended with the 100th installment. It’s an admirable work in every respect. It would have been impossible to continue the series for so long without the enthusiastic support of Times readers.
About two years have passed since the first installment was printed on Feb. 3, 1998. Instead of missing those days, the ending of the series promises a new start.
The watershed achievement of the CD-ROM Annals of the Choson Dynasty, developed by Seoul Systems Co., has opened a new chapter in historical study.
Broadcasters aired related programs on the Choson Kingdom, using the CD-ROM and ordinary people began to pay attention to a history which was largely unknown and neglected.
Yet the serialization of the Choson history in a daily, especially an English-language newspaper, was groundbreaking.
In the winter of 1997, Times culture editor Han Dong-soo first suggested the idea and reporter Yang Sung-jin took up the task.
Yang, who wrote the articles every week, continued the series even after he was transferred to the economics desk.
In February, 1999, Yang received the prestigious “Journalist of the Month Award” from the Korea Press Foundation and the Journalist Association of Korea, in the special feature story category for his weekly series.
At the same time, the series has set a record as the longest weekly serialization in an English daily.
When we first embarked on the journey into the Choson Kingdom, the primary purpose was to show readers the dynamic and multi-layered aspects of the 500-year history of Choson in detail.
And foreign readers were considered as the chief target, given the function of The Korea Times.
In an effort to meet the requirement, Korean Studies Database Research Institute researchers and reporter Yang held countless meetings to discuss topics.
For one installment, a general idea was put forward and a specific target area was decided on. CD-ROM researchers sorted the essential articles related to the subject, followed by an interpretation of the historical incident.
In structuring an article, current issues facing Korea were placed in the lead part of the installment and related Annals articles found in the CD-ROM were presented in order to give a historical insight into today’s Korea.
When the draft dodging scandal broke out, the Choson yangban class and their draft dodging was covered (Hermit Kingdom No. 25, 26), while introductory articles on Chusok, or Korean Thanksgiving, (No. 35) and Sollal, or Lunar New Year’s Day (No. 54) were offered as timely topics.
When the wives of ranking politicians were entangled in a clothes-for-lobbying scandal, similar incidents were presented (No. 66) and ideal leaders and their achievements were reviewed (No. 98, 99) in the hope that the nation would usher in a great leader and prosperity in the future.
Indeed, there were more topics than imagined. The Choson period was not an outdated past. The Annals demonstrated its power as a source of inspiration and insight nurtured by our forefathers, regarding the hottest issues in Korea.
In other words, all things in society have a similar historical precedent.
Such an original concept and theme-based writing was the driving force which pushed the series to the 100th installment.
If foreigners want to read about the Choson period, I recommend the one and only English series, “Click Into the Hermit Kingdom.” I believe they will find specific information and intellectual satisfaction from the series.
“Click Into the Hermit Kingdom” will be remembered as a virtual travelogue of the Choson history. Although the series has reached its final destination, the journey will never end. Or, it has just begun.