2009 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior third place

Shimchong vs Beauty and the Beast
Marian Baker

I cannot remember how long ago I first heard the tale of “Beauty and the Beast.” All I know is that I immediately fell in love with it, for the main character, Beauty, seemed to defy all the stereotypes of fairy tale princesses. Sure, she was beautiful and kind, like most princesses, but she was smart, too. Life did not revolve around her. Flocks of animals did not follow her and sing her praises. She was another person in the world, just trying to do what was right. Most of all, she loved her family, no matter what. Beauty was willing to do anything for them, including sacrificing herself. That is true bravery! What small, tomboyish little girl would not be thrilled by this tale?

Growing up, I never really heard any tales from other cultures—all I knew were the Western versions. It was only when I began school that I was exposed to these versions and fell in love with them. Most had the same themes as those I had been told! Some even had similar plots, so similar that it seemed only the names and descriptions of clothing and surroundings were changed. This did not make any sense to me. How could two groups of people, so far apart, come up with such a similar story? They had different cultures; they lived in different environments, and had different histories.

I only very recently heard the tale of Shim Chong, and the last time I had read “Beauty and the Beast” was in the distant past. However, as I read it, I immediately saw the similarities. While some details were reversed, such as Shim Chong being an only child born to poor parents, instead of being one of six children in a rich family, they both told alike stories and they delivered the same theme: be loyal and pure of heart, and you will eventually be rewarded. Also, in both stories, filial piety was very important to the plots—both girls were willing to sacrifice themselves for their fathers. This showed me that family was extremely important in both of the cultures where these stories originated.

“Shim Chong” and “Beauty and the Beast” paralleled each other at many points, and I found these points of action to be very striking. Both protagonists were beautiful, kind, and full of loyalty. Their fathers both made mistakes that led their daughters to sacrifice themselves for him. They both were kept away from their family in a place of captivity, where after a while they came to realize that they were very happy there. Neither daughter would forget her father, however, and Shim Chong and Beauty were both never truly happy until they could be together with him again. The last major similarity is that both girls, through the terrible predicament they are in, meet the love of their lives.

These stories were not completely similar, however. One could definitely tell where cultural differences affected the story. For instance, each story referred to a different deity or religion, and different sources of magical power. “Shim Chong” referred to the lotus blossom, while the flower in “Beauty and the Beast” was a rose. Most likely, each flower could be found more easily in the regions where these stories originated, respectively, and therefore the result was that the stories differed in this way. The captor of Shim Chong was the Dragon King, while a Beast was the one who held Beauty.  Regardless of these differences in minor details, however, I found that both stories ultimately deliver the same message, even though they go about different ways of doing it.

These two tales, “Shim Chong” and “Beauty and the Beast”, together, have finally answered that question that I have wondered for so long: how can two vastly different cultures come up with the same ideas, morals, and plots? It is really so simple: we are all human. No matter where we come from, or what race or culture we are, some things are just built-in. There are certain things that we are hard-wired to think. These two tales illustrate this by having the same themes of filial piety and punishments and rewards. While the execution of these ideas may slightly differ, they are really one and the same. Maybe, just maybe…we are not so different after all.