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The Backdrop of Shim Hun’s “Evergreen Tree”

Posted May. 03, 2008 08:50,   


“Bang! Bang!” “Go blue team! Way to go white team!”

“As the earth is round, if I keep walking, I will be able to come back after meeting all the children around the world. Forward! March on!”

Flags of all nations flapped in the wind across the blue sky above the playground of the Sangnok Elementary School in Bugok-ri, Dangjin, South Chungcheong Province. The Sangnok Family Hanmadang Festival was held on Friday with some 600 participants in attendance, including students, their parents and teachers. In the shade of trees, children in blue sports uniforms cheered their teams in a relay. The green color of the trees seemed to illustrate the name of the school, Sangnok, which can be translated into “evergreen” in English.

It was recently found that the school had been following the “Sangnok Spirit” founded by Shim Hun (1901 - 1936), author of the “Evergreen Tree,” a.k.a. “Sangnoksu,” published as part of his efforts to enlighten rural Koreans during Japanese colonial rule. The history of the Sangnok Elementary School dates back to 1935. For the establishment of the school, Shim donated 100 won, a significant portion of the prize money that he received for winning the Dong-A Ilbo 15th Anniversary Full-Length Novel Contest for “Evergreen Tree.”

“You could buy 10 sacks of rice with 100 won at that time,” said Yoo In-jong, principal of the school. “Thanks to Shim Hun’s donation, the evening class at the town hall could finally turn into a school.”

Yoo, who confirmed this after he became the school’s new principal last year, has erected a monument inscribed with “When the Day Comes,” one of Shim’s poems, and has organized the “Sangnoksu Annual Essay Contest.”

The novel “Sangnoksu” was published serially in 127 installments in the Dong-A Ilbo from September 10, 1935 to February 15, 1936. “Against the backdrop of Joseon’s rural village, [the book] shows the unique colors and sentiments of Joseon. Its characters are Joseon’s youth with high spirits and initiative,” the Dong-A Ilbo commented on the book on August 13, 1935.

Shim Hun, who was also a reporter for the Dong-A Ilbo between 1924 and 1926, settled in Bugok-ri after his collection of poems, “When the Day Comes,” was censored and prohibited by the Japanese in 1932. His nephew, Shim Jae-yeong, was conducting a rural enlightenment campaign in Bugok-ri, while running a communal cultivation organization and an evening class. Shim Hun wrote “Evergreen Tree” at “Pilgyeongsa,” a house that he built near the school. However, he died of typhoid in 1936.

Park Dong-hyeok, the protagonist of “Evergreen Tree,” is based on his nephew Shim Jae-yeong and the novel’s background Hangok-ri was named after Bugok-ri and its neighboring village, Hanjin-ri. Shim Jae-yeong, who dedicated his entire life to the school, passed away three years ago. He wrote the school song as the night school became Sangnok Elementary School after Korea gained independence.

Students and their parents participating in the school event on Friday showed off their pride over the fact that Sangnok Elementary School is the birthplace of “Evergreen Tree.”

“I’m proud that the background of the novel, which even appears in the text book, is where our school used to be,” said sixth-grader Jeong Yoo-jin. “I’d like to look after the spirit of Shim Hun who gave hope through education even during the time of Japanese colonial rule.”

“I hope that Pilgyeongsa, where he wrote the book, and the whole area around the Sangnok Elementary School, including Shim Jae-yeong’s house, can be turned into a cultural park,” said Principal Yoo.