Letter reaches across the centuries to relate a tale of touching romance

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Letter reaches across the centuries to relate a tale of touching romance

A letter more than four centuries old has touched the hearts of Koreans and inspired works of both art and commerce. The letter was found inside a coffin in North Gyeongsang province in April 1998, while it was being moved to another burial site. The letter, which starts “To Won’s Father,” was addressed to Lee Ung-tae (1556 - 1586) and placed inside his coffin in Jeongsang-dong, Andong city, North Gyeongsang province.

The letter touched many people with its moving words of a woman’s love for her recently-deceased husband. Although she wrote that she had tried all remedies, including weaving sandals with her hair and hemp bark, her husband died at only 30 years of age. One excerpt reads, “You always said that you wanted to live with me until we were old and grey and then die together. How can you pass away without me? I can not live without you in my life.”
With the letter, a total of 130 artifacts including blankets, shoes and clothing were found. All are now at the Andong National University museum.
Almost 450 years later, 500 people got to experience this love story at the Posco building art hall in Hyoja-dong, Pohang city, on the evening of Sept. 23, when it was told through dance and narration. The performance, titled “Seeing the Light after 450 Years,” was a contemporary dance performance choreographed and organized by Jung Sook-hee, 47, a professor in the dance department at Andong National University.
In 2000, a Korean literature professor at the same university, Kim Jang-dong, wrote a novel of the same name (published by Taehaksa publishing company) based on the letter found in 1998. Ms. Jung took inspiration from that novel and decided to relate the story as a contemporary dance piece.
Another novel based on the letter, titled “A Trumpet Creeper” (“Neungsohwa” in Korean) was published last month by Yeidam publishing company and has been gaining popularity. The plot features a woman named Yeoni who meets Mr. Lee on a beautiful day, when trumpet creepers are in full bloom. Mr. Lee dies from a disease at the end of the novel.
“I wanted to tell this tragic love story to a modern-day audience,” said author Cho Doo-jin, 39.
Park Chang-geun, 53, a music professor at Andong National University has plans to make “A Trumpet Creeper” into an opera and have it on stage by next autumn.
Last November, a musical composition titled “To Won’s Father” was released.
The letter is also being used as a marketing tool for many companies. Andong Hanjee, a company which makes traditional Korean paper, has been selling copies of the letter printed on traditional Korean paper for 1,000 won ($1) since 2000. The company announced that they have sold around 20,000 copies so far.
Andong Sky, a company which sells mackerel, has also been giving copies of the letter to customers who buy their products online.
“The artifacts, such as the original letter and clothing from the 16th century, are important items for future research on the Korean language and hanbok [Korean traditional clothing],” said Cho Gyu-bok, 45, a researcher at Andong National University museum. “We are looking at plans to have the artifacts designated as national cultural assets,” he added.

by Hong Gweon-sam
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