2009 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Senior first place

Two Tales as Old as Time
Shimchong vs Beauty and the Beast
Hannah Ruebeck

Folk tales reflect ideals and undertones of societies, embedding cultural standards in children from a young age. The classic Western fairy tale Beauty and the Beast introduces ideas of individuality, second chances, and feministic power. The traditional Korean folk tale Shimchong presents the themes of filial piety, Confucian ideals, and triumph over adversity. These differences in themes and symbols show the understated educational responsibility of folk tales and the variations between the two cultures.

Folk tales introduce one’s position in a community, and in life, from a young age. In Korea, supporting and serving ones parents is the natural duty of a person, and it has been taught to children as a part of their education for thousands of years. This responsibility is called filial piety, and it is a primary cultural consideration in Korea. Filial piety is a predominant theme in Shimchong; when her father needs something it is of course Shimchong’s duty to solve his problem. “In her dreams, her mother appeared and told her how she might get the rice for her father…the merchants needed to sacrifice a beautiful maiden.” The rest of the story stems from this one idea of her personal sacrifice, and Shimchong goes through pain and suffering for her father without thought of any other possibility. While this may be true, in the Western interpretation Beauty and the Beast, the beast’s transformation relies on Belle seeing underneath the surface and appreciating the individual that the Beast is inside. In Western culture, individuality is respected and encouraged, which is represented in the folk tale, “Beast was disappeared, and she saw, at her feet, one of the loveliest princes that eye ever beheld; who returned her thanks for having put an end to the charm, under which he had so long resembled a beast.” This effect of finding beauty on the inside inspires many a young girl to be their own person, beautiful on the inside sooner than the outside. Individuality promotes independence and self-reliance, as opposed to collectivism, where communal goals are put over personal goals. The capitalistic influence in the West can be linked back to this concept. These two opposing characteristics of Korean and Western culture are each taught to children in the two respective folk tales.

One main difference in the two classic folk tales is the combination of the beast and prince in the Western story, versus the separation of the dragon king and the king in the Korean tale. These represent strong cultural and religious differences of the two societies. The climax of the Western story is the transformation of the beast into a handsome Prince Charming, and this shows the importance of second chances in Western culture. The history of the United States is based on a new future, and this underlying theme is seen when Belle says “Alas! I thought I had only friendship for you, but the grief I now feel convinces me, I cannot live without you.” Her view of the beast has changed, and their second chance teaches the importance of learning one is wrong. The Christian influences in the West are also represented here, as the Beast has been punished for vanity and pride, which are two of the seven deadly sins in the Christian church. The Korean folk tale features a separated beast and hero, which is explained by the Confucian teachings which are underlying themes of young peoples’ education in Korea. Confucius teaches the search for the perfect man, a combination of a saint, scholar, and gentleman, referred to as a junzi, or literally ‘ruler’s son.’ Confucius says a humane person should rule the state, and a ‘beastly’ person would lose the mandate of heaven, or right to rule, and therefore a beast could never be a king. For this reason, the Dragon King and the King in Shimchong are separate entities. This important difference in the two stories shows important cultural variations, which are therefore taught to children at a young age.

The rose, in Beauty and the Beast, and the lotus, in Shimchong, have similar cultural meanings in their respective societies. Both flowers are symbols of love, beauty, and respect, but their further meanings delve deeper into the cultures of the two stories. “…the Dragon King transformed Shimchong into a giant lotus flower…When the King first beheld the flower, his eyes lit up in wonder.” A lotus flower blooms in the mud, and is therefore a symbol of overcoming hardships, which has been a key part of Korean history. It also signifies the harmony between male and female, which represents one of Confucius’ five relationships and consequently is an important part of Korean life. The red rose emphasized in the Western story is often noted for its unparalleled beauty and fragrance, and is often used to signify true love on Valentine’s Day. White roses imply purity and innocence, “…be so kind to bring me a rose, for none grows hereabouts, they are a kind of rarity.” The rose is also used to symbolize the strength and purity of women, and feminism has a direct hold on the past of western culture. The two flowers are truly one of the most uniting symbols of the two folk tales.

These two folk tales are linked beyond their plot and design; they are classical mementos of childhood with cultural meanings and designations that educate the future leaders of the two societies. Filial piety, Confucianism, and overcoming hardships elucidate the history and future of Korea, and there is no better place to share them than in a child’s fairy tale. The search for individuality, understanding of changes in personality, and drive for female power have had, and will have, a deep impact on the lives of those living submersed in Western culture. Folk tales influence the youngest and most open-minded, and these fables of different cultures continue to shape their future generations by introducing unique and important ways of life.