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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Fairy Tales in Different Cultures--Kongi and Potgi: a Korean Cinderella



After having my parents visiting for Grandparents Day at Hazel's school, I am catching up with things like my blog. Today I am sharing a Korean Cinderella. On Tuesday I will be sharing our post for Around the World in 12 Dishes for Korea, so I thought it was a good time. We are doing our fairy tale today since Monday is the Virtual Book Club for Kids blog hop day. Before we get into the story, let's look at Korea a bit.

Korea is surrounded by water since rivers divide it from China and Russia and the Yellow Sea, Korea Strait and East Sea are on three sides. Korea is divided into two distinct sovereign states: North Korea and South Korea. The division of two separate governments happened at the end of World War II. North Korea was under the supervision of the Soviet Union, and South Korea was under the supervision/support of the United States and its Allies. North Korea is a communist republic and South Korea is a democracy. In 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea with Soviet backing causing the Korean War. The result was more than one million people dead in the three years of fighting with neither state gaining much land.
Map of korea en
Source: By Map_of_korea.png: User:Yonghokimderivative work: Valentim
(Map_of_korea.png) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
Korea itself has a rich history with habitation going back to prehistory times. Hominid fossils have been found there dating to 100,000 BC or perhaps as far as 300,000 BC. In the 2nd century BC they adopted the Chinese alphabet, Hanja (in Korean), and in 1443 they developed their own alphabet, Hangul. This had a profound effect on Korea. Hangul is the official language of both North Korea and South Korea.  Their new alphabet was easier to learn and write. In the 4th century AD Buddhism was adopted.  Now there are several religions in South Korea, however the traditional beliefs of Korean Shamanism, Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism remain the underlying religion for most Koreans.


Korean royal palace
Korean Palace Source: I, Skanky [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5],
via Wikimedia Commons
Throughout the centuries Korea was known for its silk and pottery. Their pottery made with blue green celadon was sought by even Arabian merchants since it was of the highest quality. One of the best known artifacts is the Cheomseongdae. It is the oldest surviving observatory in East Asia. It was built in 634. (Source)
Korea-Gyeongju-Cheomseongdae-02
Cheomseongdae Source: By Matt and Nayoung Wilson from Atlanta and surrounding, 
US (S1050317Uploaded by Caspian blue) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Now onto our story. I found three versions of this story. Two are picture books and one is a graphic novel. We will be using the version Kongi and Potgi by Oki S. Han for our summary, but all three were very similar.
In this story a couple have a daughter named Kongi. Kongi's mother gets ill and dies. Kongi's father fears his daughter not having a woman to help her as she gets older, so he remarries a woman who has a daughter Kongi's age named Potgi. He imagines Kongi and Potgi will become best friends. However this is not the case. The stepmother makes Kongi do all the chores while she and Potgi go to the market or relax. The father tries to stop this mistreatment, but realizes that his asking is not enough and goes along with it for the sake of his marriage. Then when there are events, she tells Kongi she cannot go unless she does near impossible jobs. However talking animals always come to her aid. 
Korean Doll I made last year

The first task is to hoe one of the fields. The stepmother gives Potgi the field near the river which is easy to hoe and give Kongi the one on the hillside which is much harder. Kongi breaks her wooden hoe trying to get the rocks out and finally ends up crying and a large ox comes to her aid and tells her he will clear and gives her an apple to eat. The stepmother and Potgi are at the market and see Kongi carrying a basket of apples. They are shocked she could be done already and she tells them about the ox, but they do not believe her. 

Before Kongi may go to the May Festival she must fill a jar with water, but the stepmother knows the jar has a hole in it near the bottom. A frog comes to help and stops the hole with his body. As Kongi and Potgi grew to be young women, they became excited to have the prince invite all the single young women to a great party is his honor so he could find a bride. This time the stepmother told Kongi she had to take bundles of grain to dry and remove each kernel of rice from the outer shell and she could not go to the palace until the jar was full. Sparrows came and helped her do this task. (This is similar to the Cinderella story from Vietnam.) After the jar is full, she realizes she has nothing to wear. Kongi looks at the sky and a beautiful rainbow appears with angels that dress her in the finest silks. Then four men with a sedan chair appear to carry her to the palace. 

When she walks in she gets everyone's attention. The prince comes right over to meet her. Kongi becomes flustered and runs away leaving behind one of the beautiful slippers the angels had put on her feet. The prince finds the slipper and vows to marry the woman who wore it. They search for the young woman by going to village to village and having women try it. The slipper always looks like it will fit, but never does until they get to Kongi. It fits her perfectly and she pulls out the matching one. Her stepmother and Potgi are amazed and later beg for her forgiveness for how they treated Kongi all these years. She forgives them and they begin doing things for others.

This is a lovely version since the stepmother and stepsister see their errors and Kongi forgives them. They all become better people and it is such a nice lesson to see at the end.