Kim Shi-sup (Kim Sisup) (Writer)

(1435-1493) fiction writer

As a child, Kim Shi-sup was very precocious. He lived in the early years of the Yi dynasty and as a young man held an administrative position at the Korean court during the reign of Tanjong. After Tanjong was overthrown by Se Jo, Kim Shi-sup shaved his head and became an itinerant Buddhist monk rather than serve the usurper.

At age 30, he settled at Kumo-san, near Kyongju, where he developed a reputation for eccentric behavior. His collection of stories Kumo Sinhwa (New Stories from Golden Turtle Mountain) is named after this location. Kim Shi-sup wrote the five stories in the collection in classical Chinese and used as his sources supernatural tales called chuanqi (ch’uan-ch’i), or “tales of wonder.” These folk tales typically dealt with love affairs between mortals and otherworldly beings, as well as dream voyages to the dark underworld or exotic places, such as the Dragon Palace. Kim Shi-sup’s story “Yisaeng kyujang chon” (Student Yi peers over the wall) contains many elements characteristic of the ch’uan-ch’I, such as a ghost wife, an exchange of poems, and a moral lesson at the end of the tale.

Kim Shi-sup’s writing is, moreover, marked by allusions, or veiled references, to Chinese literature, especially a work by Qu You (Ch’u Yu; 1341-1427) called Jiandeng xinhua (Chien-teng hsin-hua; New tales written while cutting the wick), from which he drew much inspiration.

Kim Shi-sup returned to Seoul after Se Jo died but did not take up a government position again. Like other educated men of this period, he also wrote verse, but it is for his stories that he is most remembered.

An English Version of a Work by Kim Shi-sup

“Student Yi Peers Over the Wall.” In Anthology of Ko-rean Literature from Early Times to the Nineteenth Century. Compiled and edited by Peter H. Lee. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1981.

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