2009 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior first place

Shimchong vs Beauty and the Beast
Yegina Whang

For centuries, stories have been handed down from generation to generation, entertaining children of all races, nationalities, and genders. After research and comparisons, Korean folktales and modern European stories have shown to be much alike both in plot and characters. I remember the tale “Shim Chong” from my childhood quiet well, and found that it was greatly similar to the widely known “Beauty and the Beast”; both tells the story of young daughters sacrificing their own souls for the benefit of their family, but eventually getting rewarded for their selflessness. The Korean folktale seemed to stress more on familial relations while “Beauty and the Beast” emphasized duty as well, but then slowly changed into a more “American dream” ending, where the heroine found bliss after finding a handsome prince and gaining materialistic possessions.  Although stories from different cultures may seem alike by outside appearance because of their similar plots and ideas, ultimately the values of the characters differ simply because of cultural viewpoints that are reflected in the stories.

The two tales both have obvious ethnic dissimilarities, but past that, they share similar motifs. Sacrifice and honor have played an enormous role in any society, and are displayed in “Shim Chong” and “Beauty and the Beast”. Shim Chong and Beauty both proved to be alike, even though they were from two unlike cultures and were both modestly beautiful and highly honorable in their actions, portraying the universal image of an ideal female. The morals of the folk/fairytales revealed that selflessness eventually is rewarded in the future. The stories illustrate their culture’s standards and how a person’s priority must include the well being of their family. The two tales also reflected the culture’s views on women, and although the two main characters were females, they were often degraded. In “Shim Chong”, a woman had to give up her life for the safety of other seamen, and was sacrificed without much value. Beauty in “Beauty and the Beast” was also put down under men, for her life was less “valued” than the man of the household, her father. The two daughters of helpless men were expected to give up their lives, even when they had more potential to live a fuller, better life than their fathers.

If a person were to look deeper into the two stories however, they would find that the tales are extremely different overall in values. The Korean folktale “Shim Chong” seem to be more directed to the duty and responsibility one must fulfill for his or her family’s welfare. The catalyst that sent Shim Chong on her journey was caused by religious and physical needs of her family. Because her father was blind and received help from a Buddhist monk, it was only honorable to respect the Buddha after getting rescued and would face an ethical concern if the expectations were not met. Though Shim Chong knew that she would be killed in helping her father regain his sight again, she faced death without fear. Once she regained her life again, she went through extreme efforts to meet her father again and share her wealth with him. She then was reunited with her father that had recovered his sight again, her reward for her previous unselfishness. In “Beauty and the Beast”, the family’s suffering was caused because of their father’s hostage that was caused by his own attachments. The healthy father of Beauty was not handicapped by either religious nor physical barriers, and had almost no reason to be distressed except for the minute fact that they were not rich. Both heroines were similar, but Shim Chong proved to be the more honorable simply because she had more to overcome and in the end still remembered her “roots”. Even though Shim Chong did marry a prince and became well off, that was not the real reward. The overall message of “Shim Chong” showed that in the end the well being of one’s family is always the best reward, even more so than riches.

As a Korean-American, I understand the differences in the two ethnicities I am divided by. I realize that honor plays a big role in both of the cultures, however is measured differently, and I could clearly see this when I juxtaposed the two stories. I remember my mother telling me the story of  “Shim Chong” and I had always thought that the part when she jumped into the sea thinking of her father was the most beautiful and was inspired to help my family as well, whenever I was needed. However, the real reason why my mother read me this story is now clear; it was to show me that sacrifice is necessary in trying to achieve a goal, but a person should never forget where they come from. She wanted to keep the dream alive, and as a child the dream for me was riches and on a superficial level. “Beauty and the Beast” and other fairy tales does not just revolve around money, but has also showed me to dream big and not surrender to anything, no matter how hopeless the situation may be. No matter what I pursue, “Shim Chong” and “Beauty and the Beast” illustrated to me to become successful and aspire to achieve my goal, while never forgetting where I came from.