Possibly the First Mention of Brecht in Colonial Korea (Dong-a Ilbo, 1933)

While browsing online newspaper archives, I (more or less) coincidentally stumbled upon what might be the very first reference to Bertolt Brecht in Korean media. At least I cannot remember reading anything about this (albeit brief) mention, or any earlier ones in the existing research on Brecht.

동아일보 1933-06-18, p5 more close-up Brecht marked

An early (possibly the first?) mention of Bertolt Brecht’s name in Korean media

The article in question was published on June 18, 1933, in the newspaper Dong-a Ilbo (동아일보), at that time a daily paper rather critical of imperial Japan. On page five, several journalists reported on some trends in foreign literature, under the title “Overview of Modern World Literature” (현대세계문단총관 現代世界文壇總觀) including Great Britain, France, Russia, Japan, and the US. You can see images of featured authors, including James Joyce and André Gide.

Seo Hang-seok (서항석, other romanizations are Hang-Suck Suh, or Sun Hang-Sok, as I learned later) wrote on “The Instantaneously Real Tendency in Germany” (독일 즉실적 경향 / 獨逸即實的傾向), noting that given recent political developments – Hitler had been elected chancellor earlier that year and non-Nazi parties would be outlawed just a few weeks later (see Wikipedia on Hitler’s rise to power) – artists would have to face realities in a more immediate fashion than before.

동아일보 (東亞日報), 1933년 6월 18일 (日), 5면

동아일보 (東亞日報), 1933년 6월 18일 (日), 5면 [click for original at Naver]

In his article that is split in two parts (bottom left and right, marked in blue), he mentions several famous German-language authors, presumably those he considers capable of this task. These include Thomas Mann (토마스 만, pictured in the featured image), [Carl] Zuckmayer (추크마이에르), Joseph Roth (로제프 로오트 [sic]), Alfred Döblin (알프레드 되블린), and “old master” [Gerhard] Hauptmann (하우프트만), whose work had been productively received in Korea at that time. For example, early feminist writer Kim Myeong-sun (김명순, 1896–1951) had adapted Hauptmann’s play Einsame Menschen into several novels (see 신혜수, “김명순의 하우프트만 문화번역 연구”, 국제어문 69 (2016): 175–99 at RISS).

And [Bertolt] Brecht (브레히트) is mentioned, alongside playwrights [Fritz von] Unruh (운루우), [Franz] Werfel (붸르펠), expressionist sculptor [Ernst] Barlach (바를라하), and others.

동아일보 1933-06-18, p5 part1

The first part of the article (left)

When I entered the search term “브레히트”, I was interested in reviews of the first official performances of Brecht’s plays in the late 1980s – for most of the post-war period, he was censored as a communist author (see other blogposts on Brecht). At the time of writing – mid-1933 – he Brecht was already on the run, having left Germany soon after Hitler’s election as chancellor earlier that year. I did not expect that it was possible under Japanese colonial rule to express quite openly anti-Nazi opinions, like this article, which sounds like an endorsement of progressive and critical authors… But then again the 1936 Anti-Comintern Pact between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, that signalled closer collaboration, was still some years away.

동아일보 1933-06-18, p5 part2

The second part of the article (right), Brecht mentioned in the upper section

In some cases, authors are paired with their most famous work (such as “Alfred Döblin, author of Berlin Alexanderplatz [백림 알렉산더 광장]) and several of them were known among intellectuals in Korea. Still, I have no idea who would recognize Brecht at that time. I could not find earlier mentions in the Dong-a Ilbo, but it would be interesting to look for traces of Brecht in other colonial newspapers. Unfortunately, the research site Media GaOn (where I found some news on early Shakespeare readings in 19th-century Seoul) seems to be down. A replacement, the database BigKinds by the Korea Press Foundation (한국언론진흥재단), seems to work fine but does not yield any relevant results for “브레히트” before 1933.

Another surprise was the author of this article (Seo Hang-seok), who turned out a quite prominent figure in the Korean world of theatre. But that’s another story…

– 10 May 2017 (水)

  • 서항석 (徐恒錫), “獨逸 即實的 傾向 (독일 즉실적 경향)”, 동아일보 (東亞日報), 1933년 6월 18일 (日), 5면. [via Naver]

About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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