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Korean Classics for a Wider AudienceUCLA's Robert Buswell (left) this month in South Korea accepted the Manhae Grand Prize for his efforts to introduce Buddhism to westerners. With an Academy of Korean Studies grant, he is leading the translation of Korean Buddhist classics into English.

Korean Classics for a Wider Audience

Thirteen Korean historical, religious, and philosophical classics will be introduced to English readers under a translation project coordinated by the UCLA Center for Buddhist Studies.

By Margaretta Soehendro
Staff Writer

These essays reveal much of the anguish Korean intellectuals underwent attempting to (re)construct Korean identity while under colonial rule...

A GROUP OF ESSAYS on literature and culture written during the Japanese occupation (1910–45), a 13th-century compilation of history and folklore, a learned, early 13th-century handbook for Buddhist students, and 10 other Korean works written between the sixth and 20th centuries will be made available in English, under a portion of a Korean government–backed translation project that is being coordinated by the UCLA Center for Buddhist Studies. The 13 books, each of which in its way represents "the quintessence of Korean classical culture," will go to press in the 2009–10 academic year, according to Center Director Robert Buswell.

"We hope that these books will find a wider audience, rather than just fellow scholars," Buswell said.

The UCLA center last year received the first installment of a three-year, 600-million won ($527,000) grant from the Academy of Korean Studies, which in turn receives funding from South Korea's Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology. The center has since hired Jennifer Jung-Kim, who earned her doctorate in Korean history at UCLA, to coordinate the project and, this summer, settled on a list of 13 texts for careful translation into English from Korean and literary Chinese, long the chief written language of educated Koreans.

All told, through its Strategic Initiative for Korean Studies (SIKS), the Academy aims to translate 100 Korean classics into English and publish them.

Buswell is leading a Philosophy and Religion Series for SIKS, with seven titles, and collaborating with UCLA Center for Korean Studies Director John Duncan on a Historical Materials Series, with six titles. Two current and six former UCLA graduate students are among the translators on the two series.

"Rather than starting with an arbitrary list of books, we essentially tried to match worthy books with the best scholars who were available around the world," Buswell said.

Koryo togyong

The 12th-century Chinese envoy Xu Jing wrote about a trip to Korea in "Illustrated Record of a Mission to Koryo" (Koryo togyong).

With the exception of one that Buswell is updating, these are works that have either not been available in English or not adequately translated. A few were retranslated into English from Korean rather than from the original literary Chinese. For example, the 13th-century compilation of history, folklore, and legend known as Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms (Samguk Yusa) received only a partial translation from vernacular Korean into English. All of the new English translations will be made directly from the original source languages. A full list of titles, noting the author or compiler, appears at the end of this article.

From the modern era, the youngest selection is Our History, Our Culture, a collection of essays on Korean history, literature, and culture written during the Japanese occupation from 1910 to 1945. As Professor Duncan explained in an email, "These essays both reveal much of the anguish Korean intellectuals underwent attempting to (re)construct Korean identity while under colonial rule and sound themes that have remained central to the Koreans’ discourses on nation, culture, and identity during the 60-plus years since liberation."

Buswell is preparing an updated translation of Excerpts from the Dharma Collection and Special Practice Record, with Personal Notes (1209), by the monk Chinul. Earlier this month in South Korea, he received the Manhae Grand Prize for his work in helping to introduce the field of Buddhism in the West.

Historical Materials Series

Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms (Iryon)

The Collected Works of Ch’oe Ch’iwon

Illustrated Record of a Mission to Koryo (Xu Jing)

Collected Writings of Yongjae Song Hyon

Observations on a Journey to the West (Yu Kilchun)

Our History, Our Culture: Korean Essays on History and Culture from the Japanese Occupation Period

Philosophy and Religion Series

Chart of the Realm of Reality of the One Vehicle of Hwaom (Uisang)

Notes on the Mysterious Meaning of the Four Treatises of the Mahayana (Part One: The Meaning of the Middle and Provisional Truths) Hyegyun

Excerpts from the Dharma Collection and Special Practice Record, with Personal Notes (Chinul)

Anthology of Late-Koryo Son Works (T'aego Pou, Naong Hyegun, Paegun Kyonghan)

Speculum on the Son School (Hyujong)

The Correct Religion that Returns to the Source (Paek Yongsong)

Memoir of a Practitioner: Selected Writings of Kim Iryop

Center for Buddhist Studies