Books

Kang Kyong-ae

  • (1906-1944)
  • Changyon, Korea

KANG KYONG-AE was born in 1906 the daughter of a servant. Having lost her father at age five, she moved with her mother from the village of Songhwa to the small city of Changyŏn, Hwanghae-do, where her mother remarried a man with three older children. As she herself recounts it, her life as a child was punctuated by family friction, with the pressures of step-parenting and new siblings taking their toll on all members of the newly merged family. But at the age of eight Kang picked up her stepfather’s book The Tale of Ch’unhyang and she began to learn the Korean alphabet. By age ten she’d been nicknamed the “little acorn storyteller” by the old men and women in her neighborhood, to whom she would read widely-printed, traditional Korean stories.

At grammar school Kang was praised by her teachers for her essay writing, and by middle-school she would read out loud to her friends the “hack writing” she produced whenever she was bored. With help from her brother-in-law, Kang would enroll in a Catholic boarding school in the city of P’yŏngyang; however, she was later expelled for being among several students who staged a sit-in against the school’s strict regulations and the cruelty of a particular dorm mistress. After meeting a young college student earlier that year, who was visiting from Waseda University in Tokyo, Kang scandalously escaped with him to study in Seoul, where the couple lived together for a short time while Kang completed her third year of high school. Whenthe affair ended, Kang would go back to Hwanghae-do for several years, living with her stepsister and then with her mother.

In 1931, hard on the heels of the invasion of Manchuria by the Japanese Kwantung Army, Kang would publish her first works of fiction and move to Manchuria with her new husband—a communist who first had to divorce his “old-fashioned” wife, to whom he had been betrothed as a teenager. While living as a housewife in the small town of Yongjin on the banks of the Tuman River, she wrote prolifically, anything from travelogues and short stories to what would become her serialized novels. In 1938, the year that Korean was banned as a language of instruction in Korean secondary schools, Kang stopped writing fiction altogether, and her very last essay appeared in July of 1940 in the journal Inmun p’yŏngnon, one of the last surviving Korean-language publications.

On April 26, 1944, Kang Kyŏng-ae died at home in Hwanghae Province of a long-standing illness, just a month after her own mother’s death. She was thirty-nine years old.

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