Yun Tongju (Yun Hae-hwan) (Writer)


(1917-1945) poet

Yun Hae-hwan was born on December 30 in My-ongdong, North Kando province of Korea. He regularly published children’s poems while studying literature at Yonhui College and wrote poems for a volume he hoped to publish later. After graduating in 1941, he chose to continue his studies in English literature.

Like many students in Japanese-occupied Korea, Yun Tongju traveled to Japan, first enrolling at Rikkyo University in 1942 and then transferring to Doshisha University in Kyoto. At the time, resistance to Japanese colonial rule was high, and restrictions on Koreans in Korea and Japan were increasingly stringent. Yun Tongju was forced to take a Japanese name and read, write, and speak in Japanese. He wrote secretly in his native language.

Yun Tongju actively participated in the Korean independence movement. As a result, in July 1943, he was arrested for subversive activity by the Japanese government. It is thought he was mistreated and abused in Japan’s Fukuoka prison, where he died under unknown circumstances at the age of 28.

His one volume of poetry, Sky, Wind, Stars and Poetry, was published posthumously in 1948. The poems closely reflected Yun Tongju’s feelings as a subject of Japanese colonialism. Particularly because he studied in Japan, he had to deal with a marked isolation from his native country and culture. His poems capture his displacement and resentment. “Counting the Stars” is replete with melancholic remembrances of the past, while “Awful Hour” examines the depths of the narrator’s sense of alienation, perhaps in a period of intense solitude.

Yun Tongju’s writing is the poetry of an exile. He searched for spiritual integrity and a Korean identity under an oppressive foreign regime. As he was battling outward influences of oppression, his inner struggle manifested itself in tortured, anguished, highly personal poems that seem to document both his individual struggle between self-love and self-hate and Korea’s national crisis to articulate its independence. Because his writing is a testament to Korea’s struggle against colonialism and provides a moving portrait of a young person’s inner struggles, they were extremely popular, especially among younger readers.

Yun Tongju did not live to see Korea’s liberation in 1945. In 1968, his alma mater, Yonhui College, erected a monument in his honor.

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