Lee O-young, former culture minister, is dead at 88
Former Culture Minister Lee O-young, a Korean literary giant, died Saturday at the age of 88.
He had been diagnosed with cancer in 2017 but refused treatment to continue writing.
Born in 1934 in Ansan, South Chungcheong, Lee penned piercing critiques, especially during his younger years.
After graduating from Seoul National University, Lee marked his debut as a critic in a piece titled "Destruction of an Idol" in 1956.
The article, which was published in the Hankook Ilbo, was about the complacency and the sense of authority among veteran writers.
At the age of 26, Lee began writing editorials for JoongAng Ilbo, Chosun Ilbo, Hankook Ilbo and Kyunghyan Shinmun. He had also acted as a standing advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of Korea JoongAng Daily, from 2001 to 2015.
Lee produced over 130 writings over the span of 60 years, including critiques, novels, poems and essays.
His works delve into a vast range of subjects. In "In this Earth and in that Wind" (1968), an essay, he deals with aspects of Korean culture. "A Cultural Theory of Rock, Paper and Scissors" (2005) a delves into the humanities. "Kimchi, a taste of a Thousand Years," written in 1998, deals with the subject of food.
Regarded as one of the most prominent "intellectuals of this era" in Korea, Lee also directed, worked for the government and taught.
Lee was in charge of the opening ceremony of the 1988 Seoul Olympics and directed various iconic moments, such as the "boy with the hoops."
The image of an eight-year-old boy rolling hoops in front of a huge crowd at the Olympic Stadium touched the hearts of many at the time as it delivered a message of hope for world peace and harmony.
After the Olympics, Lee was appointed as the country's first culture minister, from 1990 to 1991, under the Roh Tae-woo administration. In this position, Lee led the establishment of the National Institute of Korean Language, headquartered in Gangseo District, western Seoul.
Lee was also an educator.
He taught Korean literature at Ewha Womans University for some 30 years. He retired in 2011 and became professor emeritus at the school.
In his later years, Lee continued writing, even after he was diagnosed with cancer.
"You see the flowers only after you begin to wonder if you will be able to see them again next season or next year," Lee said during a phone interview with the JoongAng Ilbo in 2020.
"Likewise, ironically, it is after that I learn about my illness that I start to live life to the fullest."
Lee's latest series "The Korean Series" began in February 2020 with "Where Did You Come From."
Before his death, he was in the final stages of publishing "Chopsticks DNA," the second book of the 12-part series.
The second book "is slated to be published April, and rest of the manuscripts in the series are about 80 percent finished," said Jeong Hae-jong, CEO of the Param Book, a publishing house.
During the interview about his last series with the JoongAng llbo in 2020, Lee called himself a "story-teller."
"I am neither a university professor nor minister. I am a story-teller. It is like a child who has grown old, and is now telling stories that I heard from my grandfather to children."
In October last year, Lee was awarded an order of cultural merit by the government for his contribution to the advancement of Korean literature.
President Moon Jae-in paid the visit to Lee's memorial altar on Saturday at Seoul National University Hospital in Jongno District, central Seoul.
"Lee was a pioneer of Korean culture," wrote Moon on social media Saturday, "and he had the vision to make our traditions blossom in new ways."
Culture minister Hwang Hee, who led Lee's funeral proceedings, released a statement Saturday.
"As the first culture minister of Korea, Lee made great strides in our country's cultural policies," said Hwang.
The funeral ceremony is scheduled to take place at the National Library of Korea at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.
BY LEE JIAN [email@example.com]