A Korean double contrastive narrative structure

The Hungbu and Nolbu tale type: a Korean double contrastive narrative structure

James Huntley Grayson


There is a large class of Korean folk tales composed of parallel sets of contrasting narratives showing how good actions are rewarded and evil actions punished. This type of narrative structure, which I have termed double contrastive narrative structure, can be found throughout East Asia and the world. “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu,” the best-known Korean example of this tale about a good younger brother and evil elder brother, is distinguished from similar tales in China and Japan by the Confucian “subtext” of its narrative which emphasises the moral power of the younger brother to influence his elder brother to reform his behaviour. The Korean tale is thus an illustration of the Confucian concept of moral suasion and not simply about rewards and punishments.


The story of the two brothers Hungbu and Nolbu is one of the most typical and popular of all Korean folk tales. The earliest known recorded versions of the tale occur in several traditional novella or kodae sosol and as the performance text for a Korean sung tale form called p’ansori. In handwritten and printed forms, the story of the two brothers is known by several different but similarly phrased titles, including Hungbo-jon (“The Story of Hungbo”) and Pak Hungbo-jon (“The Story of Mr Pak Hungbo”). Although we do not know the author or the recorder of these texts or the date for their composition or recording, it is thought that they are between two and three hundred years old (Han’guk minjok munhwa taebaekkwa sajon 1991, vol. 25, 755). At the end of the nineteenth century, the story had become such a widely known tale that Horace N. Allen (1858-1932), who compiled and translated the first Western-language collection of Korean folk tales, Korean Tales (1889), selected “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu” as one of six typically Korean folk tales. In the period since the end of the Korean War in the 1950s, this tale has become one of the most popular Korean stories, forming the basis of many stage and television dramas. Recognition of the tale’s “typicality” is further indicated by its selection as an example of folk culture on a set of stamps published by North Korea in 1963 and as one of four representative Korean folktales in the series of folktale postage stamps printed by the Republic of Korea in 1969/1970.

What is most striking about this story is the structure of its narrative. It is composed of two equal narrative sections or acts, each consisting of two scenes which balance each other with parallel narrative content but come to a different conclusion, or denouement. The first act makes a didactic moral point by emphasising the blessings which are the result of good motives, whilst the second act contrasts the narrative content of the previous act with an emphasis on the punishment which arises from bad motives. In the following section, I provide a translation into English of a recent recording of this story. The story will then be analysed and compared with similar tales from Korea as well as from China and Japan. All East Asian names given in the text of the stories or in the body of the article are given in East Asian order; that is, the surname precedes the personal name. The McCune-Reischauer system has been used to Romanise Korean terms, the Wade-Giles system for Chinese terms, and the modified Hepburn system for Japanese terms.

The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu

Long, long ago, there were two brothers. The older brother was called

Nolbu, and the younger brother was called Hungbu. The older brother,

despite being very rich, was an extremely greedy and vindictive man who

constantly caused trouble for his neighbours. On the other hand, his

brother was poor, but very kind-hearted. Hungbu was a very hard worker, but

for some reason he didn’t have much luck. His wife and children knew no

days but hungry ones. They led a very pitiable life.

One day, just after Hungbu had returned from work, a snake appeared and

began to attack a swallow’s nest. The swallow and almost all her young

were eaten alive. Only one young swallow escaped death. Even still, the

young swallow had been injured. When it was fleeing, its leg had got caught

in a bamboo blind and it had fallen to the ground. Seeing this, Hungbu

quickly brought some ointment and rubbed it on the swallow’s wounded leg.

Then, he carefully wrapped some string around it to give it some support.

Next, he carefully placed the young swallow back in the nest. In due

course, the day came for the swallows to fly south. The swallow at Hungbu’s

house, now fully recovered, flew off in fine spirits. In due course, winter

passed, spring came, and it was the third day of the third lunar month. The

swallow which Hungbu had helped also flew back chirping cheerfully. Hungbu

was delighted. Then the swallow dropped a gourd seed on the ground.

Thinking that this was strange, Hungbu picked up the seed and planted it in

the garden.

After a few days, the seed began to sprout. The plant began to grow at a

great rate. It pushed forth leaves and flowers, and eventually it bore five

large gourds. Realising that they were indeed wondrous gourds, Hungbu

consulted with his wife about what they should do. “Those gourds are many

times larger than normal ones. Maybe we should cut one open to see if there

might be something inside.” No sooner had they cut open the gourd when rice

began to flow out of the gourd. They filled five huge containers, but there

was still lots remaining. They then took another gourd and cut it open.

This time, it was gold which flowed out in large quantities. Hungbu and his

wife danced with glee. Taking a third gourd, they cut it open. This time a

beautiful nymph appeared. Looking at the two remaining gourds, she said,

“Come out! Come out red and blue bottles! Come out!” With that, one of the

gourds rolled over by itself and split in two. A red bottle appeared from

the centre of the gourd and announced, “Here I am!” Then in the same

fashion, the other gourd opened and a blue bottle appeared. Then the nymph

said, “Now you must build a large mansion here.” No sooner had she said

this, when out of the blue bottle came a number of carpenters. Then from

out of the red bottle came a large quantity of timber. In no time, the

carpenters had built a splendid house. Then everyone returned to their

places. The nymph disappeared in a puff of white smoke into the blue


After that, Hungbu became a man of wealth. He and his family lived

happily and wanted for nothing. However, when his elder brother Nolbu

heard the news, he came immediately to Hungbu’s house. He demanded to be

told how his younger brother had managed to become so rich in such a short

span of time. “Hey, you! How on earth did you do it? It’s a miracle. Tell

me now how you did it.” Hungbu told him all about the injured swallow and

what had happened afterwards.

Hearing that story, Nolbu went home and decided that he too would gain

great wealth. So, he immediately built a swallow’s nest and waited for a

swallow to come and make its home there. Then it happened that one

unfortunate swallow did come and hatched some baby swallows there. In due

course, Nolbu threw one of the swallows out of the nest and broke its leg.

Then he rubbed some ointment on the injured leg, wrapped it up with string,

and placed the bird back in its nest. Winter passed and Nolbu’s swallow

returned in the spring. The bird dropped a gourd seed in front of the

waiting Nolbu. Nolbu immediately planted the seed. Things continued to

happen just as Hungbu had described. Then, when the gourds appeared, Nolbu

immediately split open one gourd to see what was inside. However, out of

the gourd came many little imps wielding sticks. “We must punish you for

your greed,” they said and beat him mercilessly. Then the imps disappeared.

Convinced that the other gourds contained gold, Nolbu struggled and managed

to open another gourd. This time a number of debt collectors appeared.

“Give us money. Repay your loans or else we will take everything from you.”

Eventually, they took everything and left. Nolbu, thinking that everything

would be all right if he could just open up the other gourds, split open

the third gourd. This time a flood of dirty, smelly water poured from the

gourd and deluged the house.

Nolbu couldn’t take it any more and ran to Hungbu’s house for help. His

compassionate brother took pity on him and welcomed him warmly. The greedy

brother reflected on his deeds and was very sorry for everything that he

had done that was wrong. From then on, he became a very humble person.

Hungbu divided his fortune equally with his brother and both of them lived

happily ever after (Choi 1974, 193-7). [1]

“The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu”, Tale Type 457 in Choi In-hak’s A Type Index of Korean Folk Tales (1979), is composed of two parallel and balanced narrative acts, each composed of two scenes. In the first scene of the first act, the poor but virtuous younger brother comes to the aid of a swallow which had been attacked by a snake. In the second scene, we learn that the grateful swallow returns the favour by giving the poor younger brother seeds which produce gourds containing riches that make him a very wealthy man. In the first scene of the second act, the evil and greedy older brother demands to know how his younger brother came to be so rich so quickly. Upon learning the reasons for his wealth, the older brother then proceeds to break the leg of a young swallow and then tries to heal the injury. In the second scene of this act, we learn that the swallow brings to the older brother some seeds which grow into several large gourds. When opening them up, the older brother receives just punishment for his evil actions.

Analysing the narrative of the tale, its structural pattern may be stated in this form:

Act 1–The Younger Brother

Scene 1–The Good Actions of the Younger Brother

Scene 2–The Younger Brother’s Reward

Act 2–The Older Brother

Scene 1–The Evil Actions of the Older Brother

Scene 2–The Punishment of the Older Brother

The narrative of “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu is thus a perfectly balanced doublet, a narrative of the reward given to the good and the punishment which is meted out to the bad. To apply the ideas of William R. Bascom, this tale exemplifies three of the four functions which he discerned for folk narrative, namely, amusement, the validation of culture, and the maintenance of conformity to social and cultural norms (Bascom 1954, 342-6). By showing how the kind actions of the younger brother are rewarded, the tale affirms the cultural norms of social assistance whilst the punishment meted out to the elder brother who sought to obtain riches without having performed a meritorious act illustrates how seriously the violations of cultural norms are treated. To this serious element is added, however, a further element of amusement and entertainment when we learn that the elder brother is faced with bankruptcy when the debt collectors arrive and that he nearly drowns in “dirty” (i.e. polluted waste) water. However, the simple, overt meaning of this tale cannot be understood apart from the context of the highly Confucianised society of traditional Korea.

From the fifteenth century onward, the ruling elite of Korea worked to turn the nation into the most thoroughly Confucianised society in East Asia, a model Confucian culture (Grayson 1989, 128-41). Tales such as “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu” are not simply stories about good and evil. They reflect certain Confucian values which have become embedded in Korean society. This point becomes clearer when we observe the “subtext” of the tale’s narrative. To understand this “subtext,” we have to understand the nature of the relationship between the elder and younger brother. One of the core concepts taught by Confucius (551-479 B.C.) was the Wu-lun or the Five Relationships, the key universal social relationships in which all people participate. One of these five key relationships is that between elder and younger brothers. According to the Confucian socio-moral schema, the elder brother is in a morally superior relationship to his younger sibling, just as the ruler of a nation is superior to those over whom he exercises authority, and as a father is superior to the other members of his family. This superiority of ruler, father, and elder brother in Confucian thought, however, implies that these figures are in a position of immense moral responsibility with regard to a nation’s people, their family, and their younger siblings. In the Confucian view, the elder brother is meant to enable his younger brothers and sisters to cultivate their virtue by providing a moral example for them. [2]

In “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu,” however, we find that the anticipated role relationship has been reversed. In this folktale, the elder brother exemplifies none of the moral qualities one would expect of the ideal elder brother. He is greedy and abuses his younger brother and, moreover, uses evil means in order to satisfy his greed for wealth and possessions. The younger brother, on the other hand, exemplifies those qualities which one might expect from an ideal elder brother; he is patient, kind, and provides a moral example to his elder brother. This latter point is emphasised in the version of “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu” translated here by the fact that the younger brother both forgives his elder brother and divides his newly gained wealth equally with him. Because of the moral example given by his younger brother, the older brother repents of the error of his ways and becomes transformed. Thus, the conclusion of the tale forcefully illustrates a key Confucian concept, the power of moral suasion, moral example, to transform an otherwise reprehensible person. It has been the Confucian view since the time of the philosopher Mencius (371-289 BC) that although human nature is essentially good, individuals can become evil through circumstances. Thus, education in the Confucian view is moral education, education to help the person turn back onto the path of virtue. The purpose of “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu,” then, is not just to show that good is rewarded and evil punished, but to inculcate in the hearers of the tale the value of the power of moral suasion. However, in this story it is not the elder brother but the younger brother who is the moral teacher. It is this dramatic aspect of the story which is so shocking for the Korean listener and perhaps may account for its immense popularity there.

Double Contrastive Narratives

The narrative structure typical of “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu,” I call double contrastive narrative, a structure which is composed of two contrasting narrative sections or acts composed in turn of a parallel series of scenes. Overall, the acts and scenes comprising the narrative of folktales of this type are roughly equal in length. Of the 639 exempla tales given in the original outline of A Type Index of Korean Folktales by Choi In-hak (1979), including “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu,” 16, or 2.5 per cent, of them are of the double contrastive type. Of these tales, 8 of them–Tales 457 through 464–are similar in narrative content to “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu” in that they portray the kind and virtuous younger brother whose generous actions or kind life is rewarded while the greed and maliciousness of the older brother is severely punished. Five other tales–Tale 475, “The Golden Axe, the Jade Axe”; Tale 479, “Overhearing the Goblins’ Conversation”; Tale 481, “Swollen Cheek”; and Tales 689 and 690, both called “Tiger’s Skin”–make a similar point to “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu” in that good actions are rewarded and bad actions punished. However, the protagonist and the antagonist in this latter class of stories are not brothers but neighbours. We will now look at other examples of Korean tales with double contrastive narrative structures.

Tale Type 460–The Gold Mallet and the Silver Mallet

Long ago, there were two brothers. The younger brother was honest and kind

and was a Good son who looked after his parents, but the older brother

didn’t care for his parents and was really rather wild. One day, the

younger brother went into the mountains to gather firewood. When he had

gathered a bundle of firewood, he sat down at the foot of a tree to rest

for a while. Just at that moment, a walnut fell right in front of him. He

took it in his hands and said, “I’ll give this to my father.” Just then,

another walnut fell down, so he picked it up and said, “I’ll give this to

my mother.” Another walnut fell down and he said, “I’ll give this to my

older brother.” When a fourth walnut fell, he said, “I think that I can eat

this one” and popped them all into his pocket. With that, he put the basket

full of collected firewood on his back and set off home. But without

realising it, he had wandered deep into the heart of the forest. It started

to get dark and he could no longer find his way. There was nothing he could

do, so he decided to find a place to spend the night. When he looked

around, he spotted a decrepit shrine and went inside. Deciding to wait

there until daybreak, he climbed up onto the roof beams and lay down. It

was very late. Just then, the younger brother thought that he could hear

voices; a band of goblins walked into the shrine. He was very surprised,

but plucked up his courage, sat tight, and watched to see what the goblins

would do. They sat down on the floor, took out a mallet of silver and a

mallet of gold and striking the floor, they chanted, “Out comes silver,

tappity tap tap. Out comes gold, tappity tap tap.” Suddenly, lots of silver

and gold appeared. The younger brother, who was hiding in the beams, grew

more and more afraid and his teeth started to chatter. So he put a walnut

in his mouth and bit into it. The “crunch, crunch” sound made a great noise

and echoed throughout the still night air, giving the goblins a fright.

“The building’s collapsing! Oh no! Run for it!” they cried and in a panic,

they all ran away.

At daybreak, when the younger brother came down onto the floor to have a

look, he found the mallets and all the gold and silver which the goblins

had left behind. He carried them home. With so much gold and silver, all

his troubles were over. He was rich and happy. The magic mallets didn’t

just produce gold and silver. They could bring him anything that he wanted.

When the greedy older brother heard the news, he came to visit his

younger brother whom he so detested. He asked his younger brother how he

had become so rich. The younger brother answered his questions

straightforwardly and told his older brother everything that he wanted to

know. The greedy brother wanted to get his own hands on this wealth, so he

set off into the mountains. He found the spot that his younger brother had

told him about, gathered up a bundle of firewood and when he pretended to

rest, down fell a walnut. He picked it up and said, “I’ll eat this.” When

another fell, he said, “I suppose I’ll have to give this to my younger

brother.” He waited another moment and when another one fell, he wondered,

“Shall I give this to my father? Shall I give this to my mother?”

While he was there, it grew dark and just as his brother had told him,

when he looked around, he found the shrine. So he went inside and hid. He

waited for a while and sure enough the goblins appeared, brought out the

mallets and hitting the floor, said, “Out comes gold, tappity tap tap. Out

comes silver, tappity tap tap.” And so the fun began. The older brother

pulled out a walnut and put it in his mouth. He bit into it with all his

might and the noise echoed around. But for some reason, the goblins didn’t

run away. Instead, they looked around for the culprit. In the end, the

goblins found the older brother and captured him.

“This guy’s here again. The other day he tricked us and robbed us of our

gold and silver, but this time we’ll teach him a lesson.” As they spoke,

they started hitting the mallets and chanting, “Make his body fat, tappity

tap tap. Make his body thin, tappity tap tap.” The older brother’s body

grew fat and then thin like an eel. Because of this, the older brother

turned into an idiot and lived the rest of his life under the care of his

good-natured younger brother. The younger brother’s wealth grew even

greater and he became very famous. And so, together with his parents, he

lived happily ever after (Choi 1974, 128-31). [3]

As in “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu,” the tale of “The Gold Mallet and the Silver Mallet” narrates the story of a good younger brother and his malicious and greedy older brother and the rewards and punishments which are meted out to them both. The first two lines of the tale set the tone for the rest of the narrative when we are told that the younger brother was not only good and honest, but that he took care of his parents, and that his older brother was a bit “wild.” The key value which is stressed here is that of filial piety. That the older brother was thought to be wild meant that he was disobedient to his parents’ wishes and did what he wanted to do. This point is further emphasised by the two forest scenes in the tale. When the younger brother by chance catches fallen walnuts, he first thinks of his parents and his older brother. On the other hand, when the older brother catches walnuts, he first thinks of himself and then only grudgingly recalls his family. The younger brother’s honest character is emphasised not only in this incident but also in his guileless recounting of his adventures to his older brother, and in the care which he provides both for his parents and his insane brother.

The structure of the narrative follows the structure of “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu,” with the first act narrating the adventures of the younger brother and his reward, and the second act narrating the repeat adventures of the elder brother and his punishment. The same Confucian “subtext” is characteristic of this tale as in “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu”: role inversion of the protagonist and antagonist to stress the importance of the value of moral suasion. However, filial piety as a Confucian value is particularly stressed here compared with “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu.” One major distinction between this tale and “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu” is the first scene in each act. In “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu,” the younger brother and older brother act with intention, to do good or ill. In the tale of “The Gold Mallet and the Silver Mallet,” events appear to happen to the chief actors in the narrative. It is as if fate has rewarded the good younger son for his filial virtue and punished the older brother for his greed and lack of filial piety. The tale also stresses the danger of interfering with the spirit world. Injudicious attempts to trick even minor spirits such as goblins can have tragic results. Although this tale has a stronger emphasis on filial piety than does “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu,” there is a weaker link between rewards and benevolent actions.

Tale Type 461–The Third Son and the Monk’s Gift

Long ago, there were three brothers. On the day when their sick father

died, he left a will in which he told them to hold fast to their honour, to

be of good cheer to each other, and to divide the estate equally amongst

themselves. However, the two older brothers joined together, and drove the

youngest brother from the house saying, “You are still young, unmarried,

and can work hard to make a good fortune.” They gave him a small amount of

money to cover his travelling expenses and told him to be gone.

After a few days, the youngest brother had spent all his money and

became very hungry. Even so, he continued to wander around looking for

work. Soon, he came to a river and saw that a monk, who looked very unsure

on his feet, was trying to cross the river. He saw that if he did not do

something quickly, the monk would fall in and be swept away by the current.

He ran forward, firmly grasped the monk and led him to safety on the other

side of the river. The youngest brother said, “Do you know where you are

going? Would you like me to accompany you on your journey?” The monk,

delighted by the offer, replied, “Yes, that would please me. I am going to

a temple.” He went on to explain that this temple was very small and was

located in a very isolated place, deep in the mountains. Also, it had not

been used for a very long time and was in a quite bad state of repair.

However, the youngest brother said that the temple could be thoroughly

cleaned, and put back into good order. The monk noticed that the youngest

brother seemed to have nowhere to go, and asked if he would like to

accompany him. The brother answered that he would like to very much and

that he had decided that he would like to live with the monk.

Several years passed and one day, the youngest brother announced that he

would like to return to his home village and see how his older brothers

were getting on. The monk wished him well, and said that he regretted that

he had given him nothing in return for the long time that the youngest

brother had spent there, or given him anything for his hard work. The monk

asked him to accept three gifts to remember his stay. The monk gave the

youngest brother a woven straw mat, a drinking gourd, and a pair of

chopsticks. With these three presents from the monk, the youngest brother

started out for home.

On the way, there were times when there were no houses in which he could

stay when night fell. He would sleep in the fields on the straw mat which

the monk had given him. However, when the sun rose, the youngest brother

was amazed to find that the place where he had slept was not a field but a

room inside a palace. When he looked at the drinking gourd, he saw that it

was filled with the most succulent foods. This was all due to the monk’s

grace he thought. When he picked up the food with the chopsticks, from out

of nowhere beautiful maidens appeared and said, “You have suffered long and

hard, so we shall dance for you and soothe you.” However, the youngest

brother thought that this was not the time to watch dances, as he had to

hurry home. Suddenly, a palanquin and many manservants appeared and his

journey continued on in a splendid procession. Not wanting to give his

brothers a bad impression, when the youngest brother arrived near his

hometown, he made the servants go home.

He entered his home village on foot in tattered clothes. He greeted his

brothers warmly. However, when they saw his old clothes and that he was

almost starving, they once again sent him out of the house. He was once

again in unpleasant circumstances. However, he bore it stoically. After

crossing a small stream, he realised that it was becoming dark. As it was

dangerous to travel at night, and having no other alternative, the youngest

brother rolled out the straw mat and lay down. The next morning when the

older brothers opened their gate and went outside, on the other side of the

stream there was a large tile-roofed mansion. Unable to believe their eyes,

they thought that it was the work of goblins. They crossed the stream and

approached the mansion to have a look. They asked a manservant outside who

the owner was. They were exceedingly surprised when they were told that it

belonged to their youngest brother. On entering, they met their youngest

brother who greeted them affectionately and entertained them with fine

food, wine and dances. The eldest brother asked, “What extraordinary gift

do you have by which you can build such a fine house overnight?” The

youngest brother explained in detail everything which had befallen him.

On leaving the house, the older brothers decided that they too must give

their wealth to the poor and pay a visit on the monk. So, with no feelings

of mercy or of the joy of giving in their hearts, they gave their wealth to

the poor and went to visit the monk. The monk, however, had gone away, and

the temple was again in a state of disrepair. Starving, the two older

brothers arrived back in their village and were greeted by their youngest

brother and their families. The older brothers lived happily ever after

(Choi 1974, 190-3). [4]

This tale is different from the two tales recounted above in that the second narrative sequence is very much reduced in length and reads as if it were a single narrative rather a series of contrasting narratives. Nonetheless, the story narrates the rewards meted out to good intentions and behaviour and the punishment meted out to bad intentions and behaviour in the context of family relations. Here there are two older brothers rather than one, but the dual antagonists are used for the same purpose of role inversion to emphasise the value of moral suasion. Unlike the tale of “The Gold Mallet and the Silver Mallet,” the story of “The Third Brother and the Monk’s Gift” does not have a tragic ending for the antagonists. They are transformed because of their adventures and the example of their youngest brother and go on to live the rest of their lives happily.

An interesting aspect of this folktale is the use of a strong Buddhist motif when the goodness of the youngest brother is rewarded by the monk. This is curious because the ruling elite of the Confucian Choson dynasty (1392-1910) viewed Buddhism as a noxious superstition and had made strenuous efforts to suppress it–including two attempts to eradicate Buddhism altogether. [5] In fact, the Confucian element in this tale is less obvious than in the other tales which we have looked at, as the aspect of filial piety and parental support is displaced by the motif of kindness towards an old man who is Buddhist. There are certain magical elements in this tale, such as the mysterious appearance of assistants, the sudden creation of buildings, and the unexpected disappearance of the monk’s temple. Nonetheless, a Confucian moral point is made in this tale in that exemplary behaviour is shown to alter a person’s character. There is also the further implication that while the older brothers had been away in search of a fortune, the youngest brother had been taking care of their families. In spite of obvious differences, this tale expresses the same essential Confucian values as “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu.”

Doubled Doublet Tales

Of the tales which are parallel in structure, content, and narrative actors to “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu,” Tales 458, “Two Brothers and a Dog,” and 459, “A Speaking Tortoise,” are particularly interesting because the doublet narrative is doubled so that there is a repetition of the rewards and punishments given to the principal actors. This double doubling of the narrative occurs also in Tale 466, “Open the Door!” which is the Korean version of the tale of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.”

Tale Type 458–Two Brothers and a Dog

Long ago, two brothers lived in a small village. Their mother suddenly fell

ill and there seemed to be no end to her suffering. The younger brother

vowed that if he could only find a cure for her illness, he would bear any

hardship. So, with that purpose in mind, the younger brother went off in

search of some medicine. His efforts were, however, in vain, as eventually

his mother died. While the younger brother suffered an all-consuming grief,

the older brother seemed to be totally unaffected. After the funeral, the

younger brother frequently visited her grave. On one such day, a dog

suddenly appeared at the grave and seemed pleased to greet him. When the

younger brother made to go home, the dog tried to follow him. Not being

able to prevent the dog from following him, the younger brother took it

home with him. He raised it as a brother and the dog obeyed his every


One day, when he was in the back field sowing barley, the dog came and

helped him. Just then, a pedlar appeared carrying many wares for sale on

his back. The dog, upon seeing him, immediately started barking. The pedlar

became angry, picked up a stone, and was about to throw it at the dog when

the younger brother, seeing what was about to happen, went up to the pedlar

and said, “The dog is in the middle of helping me sow the barley.” He then

asked the pedlar to forget the incident. Unconvinced, the pedlar said that

the dog had threatened him. Dogs that bark at pedlars should be killed. The

younger brother replied, “Look how well the dog is helping me to do the

sowing.” The pedlar decided to offer the younger brother a wager and said,

“If the dog can really do all that, I’ll give you all the goods which I am

carrying. But, if you lose, what could you give me?” “I’ll wager this field

and that cow,” the younger brother replied and they sealed the wager.

The brother then started to sow the barley and the dog fell in behind

him and pressed down the earth over the sown seeds with its four paws.

It appeared to be exactly like the actions of a man. The pedlar lost the

wager and consequently lost all the goods which he had brought to sell. The

younger brother as a consequence became rich.

When the elder brother heard this news, he became exceedingly envious

and went to see his brother about borrowing the dog. One day, when he

was sowing barley, a pedlar appeared carrying a huge bundle of gold brocade

on his back. The elder brother yelled at the dog to make it bark, and when

the dog did so, the pedlar bent down to pick up a stone and was about to

throw it. Although the elder brother did exactly the same things as the

younger brother had done, the dog did not help him in the slightest. Having

made a wager, he had to honour it and accordingly surrendered a cow and a

field to the pedlar. In a fit of fury, the elder brother killed the dog.

The younger brother came and carried the dead dog home, and with

sincerity and devotion buried it in a grave. A bamboo shoot sprouted up

from the grave and before long had grown so tall that it touched the sky. A

fabulous treasure fell down the bamboo pole and showered the younger

brother who became even richer. The elder brother was once again consumed

with envy and dug up the grave of the dog and reburied it in the garden of

his own house. A bamboo shoot sprouted up from this grave and eventually

grew so tall that it touched the sky. However, this time it was pebbles and

earth which fell down the bamboo pole and showered the elder brother. The

pebbles and earth fell so quickly and forcefully that his house was

completely destroyed (Choi 1974, 182-4). [6]

“The Tale of the Two Brothers and a Dog” is interesting not only because the narrative structure is double that of “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu,” but because its narrative stresses the Confucian virtue of the younger brother’s character to an even greater extent. In this tale, the filial piety of the younger brother is marked out by the fact that it is he who seeks out the (herbal?) medicine which could cure his mother, and it is he who expresses grief at her death and remorse that he was so unfilial as to be unable to find the medicine which could have cured her. These narrative elements are in contrast to the elder brother, who appears to feel nothing when his mother dies. The younger brother’s filial character is stressed again in the narrative when it is noted that it is he who visits the mother’s grave to show his respect and grief. Filial piety is a fundamental ethic of Confucianism, and one would normally expect the older brother to take responsibility for tending his mother, taking the lead in the family to mourn his mother’s death, to outwardly express his lack of filiality for “allowing” her to die, and to lead the family in continuing to remember her after her death. Here again we see role inversion between the elder and younger brother.

It is at this point that a Buddhist element is introduced into the tale, the appearance of the dog at the mother’s graveside, which is clearly intended to represent the reincarnation of the soul of the deceased mother. This Buddhist element has been brought into this tale specifically to emphasise the filial virtue of the protagonist. The motif of a dog as the reincarnation of the spirit of a dead mother is a thematic element which is used in several Korean tales, most notably in Tale 318, “The Grave of a Faithful Dog.” The appearance of the dog in “The Tale of Two Brothers and a Dog” is meant to be a reward for the filial behaviour of the younger brother. This feature is further emphasised by the assistance which the dog renders to him. The older brother’s lack of filial virtue is stressed likewise by his unfilial attitude towards his mother’s death, and his killing of the dog, which, of course, is his mother in another guise. The filial character of the protagonist is stressed again in the second part of the tale when he mourns the dog’s death and gives her a proper burial, just as if she were a human and as he had done for his mother. The blessing bestowed on the protagonist for this act affirms a traditional folk belief that the ancestors look over and bless their descendants if they properly tend the ancestral graves and host the ancestral memorial rituals. Thus, this element of the tale’s storyline affirms both Confucian concepts of filiality and traditional Korean spiritual concepts. The tale emphasises the “hard” character of the elder brother because he does not learn from his first experience and is killed as a result. Because he does not follow the moral example of his younger brother, his punishment is very severe.

The structure of “The Tale of the Two Brothers and a Dog” is:

Act 1–The Younger Brother

Scene 1–His Filial Behaviour

Scene 2–His Reward

Act 2–The Older Brother

Scene 1–His Unfilial Behaviour

Scene 2–His Punishment

Act 3–The Younger Brother

Scene 1–His Filial Behaviour

Scene 2–His Reward

Act 4–The Older Brother

Scene 1–His Unfilial Behaviour

Scene 2–His Punishment

“The Tale of Two Brothers and a Dog” is a particularly Confucian tale in that it not only emphasises the rewards and punishments given to good and bad behaviour, but it stresses that blessings or punishments are meted out according to the filial behaviour of the protagonist and antagonist. Thus, tales of the “Hungbu and Nolbu” type affirm one of the key Confucian values–filial piety–by using the pattern of double reinforcement, and in the case of tales such as the one above by doubled double reinforcement.

Tale Type 459–The Speaking Tortoise

Long ago, there lived two brothers. As they were grown-up, they lived

separately with their own families. The younger brother was a kind-hearted

man but the older brother was bad-tempered and greedy. He kept all of his

wealth to himself, and gave his brother only a small field. Finally, he

drove him away. The older brother lived with his parents but the younger

brother had to come to visit them. The older brother demanded that each

time he came the younger brother must bring lots of presents.

The kind-hearted younger brother came many times, each time laden with

gifts until what little fortune he had was gone and he ended up

penniless. One day, the younger brother went off to chop firewood. When he

sat down in the shade of a tree for a rest, a chestnut fell down in front

of him. The younger brother picked it up and said to himself, “I’ll give

this to my father,” and from somewhere, in exactly the same voice, he

heard, “I’ll give this to my father.” In the middle of the mountains, where

there wasn’t anyone around, this was strange he thought. Then another

chestnut fell down. “I’ll give this to my mother,” he said, and again he

heard a voice mimicking him. He opened his eyes wide and looked around but

couldn’t see anyone. Another chestnut fell and he said, “I’ll give this to

my brother.” Someone repeated, “I’ll give this to my brother.”

The younger brother went over to the grass where the voice was coming

from and when he dug it up he found a little tortoise. “So, you’re the

one who’s been mimicking me,” he said and the tortoise, not answering,

repeated, “So, you’re the one who’s been mimicking me.” This is amazing

thought the younger brother, admiring the tortoise so much that he took it


When the rumour of the tortoise had spread, the villagers came to see

it. When they had heard how it mimicked things, everyone said that it

was incredible and gave money. The younger brother took the tortoise to the

village market. Lots of people came to see it, said it was really

interesting and gave him money. This went on until the brother made so much

money that he became rich. When the older brother saw this, he was jealous

and he shouted and wailed until he could bear it no longer. So, he went

along to his brother’s house.

“Hey!” he said, “Let me borrow that tortoise!” and the younger brother

handed it over. The older brother then went off to the market and shouted

in a loud voice until a large crowd had gathered. Then he ordered the

tortoise to say something. The tortoise didn’t say anything and just sat

there in silence. The people went home muttering. The older brother flew

into a rage and killed the tortoise.

Days went by and when the older brother didn’t bring back the tortoise,

the younger brother went to visit him. When he learned that the tortoise

had been killed, he was very upset. He wanted to bury the tortoise, so he

got its remains and buried them in the best spot in the middle of his

garden. Winter passed and spring came. Buds sprang up from the tortoise’s

grave and within no time at all they grew into a huge tree. The strange

thing about the tree was that whenever the younger brother thought about

sad or negative thoughts, the leaves on the tree shrank. Conversely, when

he was happy and he thought kind thoughts about people, the leaves

flourished. Suddenly, one day, there was an almighty noise. The younger

brother looked outside and all of a sudden, treasures of silver and gold

fell down from the very top of the tree. And so, once again, the younger

brother became rich.

When the older brother heard of this happening, he came over to his

younger brother’s house. “I want to have a go at growing that tree too,” he

said, and so the younger brother cut off a branch and gave it to him. The

older brother planted it in his own garden. Just as he’d hoped, within a

moment it grew into a large tree. When a noise like thunder sounded, he ran

outside shouting, “Hurry up and bring me my treasure boxes.” But what fell

down from the tree was not treasures of silver and gold but muddy water.

The stench from the water was unbearable. Faster and faster the water rose

and filled up the whole garden and then his fields until finally the older

brother took his family and fled to the younger brother’s house.

Even after everything that had happened, the younger brother welcomed

his brother and his family. After a while, when the older brother had

had time to reflect on the things he’d done in his life, he changed and

became a good person. The brothers became the best of friends, and together

with their families they all lived happily ever after (Choi 1974, 184-7).


Of the tales that we have been examining, “The Speaking Tortoise” is closest in the details of its narrative to “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu.” Here again we met the good younger brother and the greedy, malicious older brother. The tale indicates that although the older brother is living with his parents, he is now the head of the family, his father having “retired.” It is the older brother who requires his younger brother to leave the family courts, who then gives him a not very good piece of land to farm, and who demands gifts when the younger brother visits the family home. The latter’s goodness is indicated by the fact that he uncomplainingly brings presents to the family until such time as he becomes impoverished. His reward is the companionship of the speaking tortoise which brings him wealth.

This narrative act contrasts with the sequence about the older brother when he is unsuccessful in making his fortune with the tortoise and kills the companion animal, just as in the tale “Two Brothers and a Dog.” Likewise, the goodness of the younger brother is indicated by his care for the deceased tortoise by giving it a proper burial, the reward of which, as in the previous story and in “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu,” is a mysterious plant which dispenses treasure. The second parallel story then recounts the attempt of the older brother to yet again gain wealth, with the same disastrous results as in “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu.” As in that narrative, the punishments meted out to the older brother and the example of his younger brother lead to a transformation of character and a happy life. Even more than in the case of “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu,” the efficacy of moral suasion is stressed in this narrative.

The Confucian focus of these tales would appear to be a particularly Korean aspect of a more general tale type. The closest parallel to this in the Aarne-Thompson tale index is AT 480C*, “Transporting White Bread to Hell,” in which a poor brother and a wealthy brother are given their just rewards for their behaviour. The exact Chinese counterpart to “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu” is Tale 24 from Wolfram Eberhard’s Typen Chinesischer Volksmarchen (1937), “The Swallow’s Gratitude” (Der Dank der Schwalbe). Ting Nai-tung lists this tale in his A Type Index of Chinese Folktales (1978) as Tale 480F, “The Kind and Unkind Brothers (Women) and the Grateful Bird.” The structure and narrative content of the Chinese version are the same as “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu,” but the protagonist and antagonist are not usually depicted as being brothers or otherwise related to each other. This is also true for the Japanese equivalent of the tale, Tale 239a&b in Seki Keigo’s Types of Japanese Folktales (1966), “The Sparrow with the Cut Tongue (Broken Leg).” Here again, the protagonist and antagonist are simply a husband and a wife, or two women. In the Chinese and Japanese versions of this tale type, we do not find the strong Confucian “subtext” of “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu.”

For example, the Korean tale, “A Speaking Tortoise”(Tale 459), is paralleled by the Japanese tale, “A Tortoise at New Year’s Time” (Seki 1966, Tale 252). As in “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu,” the protagonist of the Korean tale is the younger brother and the antagonist is the elder brother, whereas in the otherwise identical Japanese tale, the protagonist is sometimes identified as a man and sometimes as a younger brother, the antagonist as a man or an elder brother. This distinction between Korean and Japanese tales is highlighted by Seki’s observation that only 1.15% of Japanese tales deal with conflict between younger and older siblings, whereas 9.14% deal with conflict amongst neighbours (ibid., 4). The percentage of Korean tales dealing with inter-sibling conflict, or indeed, family conflict, is very high. This fact is, perhaps, a reflection of the greater extent to which Confucianism shaped Korean social values over the past half-millennium in comparison with Korea’s nearest neighbours who shared the same general world view, China and Japan. The expectation of appropriate behaviour between siblings and between children and parents may have been that much greater in Korea, and consequently failure to conform to Confucian ideals may have been more intensely proscribed.

Tales of “Neighbourly” Conflict

Conflict between siblings is not the only theme portrayed in these Korean doublet tales. Conflict between neighbours is also a common thematic element of the narrative of Korean tales such as the story of “The Golden Axe, The Iron Axe” (Tale 475), which is given below.

Long ago, there was a land where young people were honest and kind to each

other. One day, a young man went up the mountain to cut firewood and

accidentally dropped his axe in the lake. He thought how vexing it was to

have come all this way to such a distant mountain and to have to go home

empty-handed. As he was staring at the lake bemoaning his bad fortune, a

white-haired old man appeared from the lake and said to him, “This is your

axe,” and tried to pass it over to him. The axe which the old man held out

was of pure gold and from it golden light flashed and shone in the young

man’s eyes. “You are mistaken. My axe is of iron,” he replied and did not

accept the golden axe. The old man held out his other hand which had been

hidden behind his back. He had an iron axe and asked, “Is this your axe?”

“Yes, that is it. Thank you,” said the young man, as he reached out and

took the axe. As soon as he took the axe, the old man once again

disappeared into the lake from which he had come. Having received his axe,

the young woodcutter started working, but an amazing thing happened.

Whenever his axe touched a tree, gold and silver in glistening, shining

drops showered down. He thought that this was very strange. When he hit the

tree once again with his axe, gold and silver again instantly rained down.

The woodcutter took the gold and silver home, sold it and became a very

rich man. The tale spread far and wide.

In another village, there lived a greedy young man who, also wanting to be

rich, went to the home of the now wealthy youth and asked him about his

adventure. As he was honest, the young woodcutter truthfully told the

greedy young man everything that had happened. The greedy man immediately

climbed the mountain and went to the lake which the woodcutter had told him

about, and dropped his axe into the water on purpose. In a short while a

white-haired old man, who was not so surprised this time, appeared in the

lake and while holding out the iron axe in front of him, asked, “Is this

your axe?” “You are mistaken. My axe is of gold,” the greedy young man

replied and was given the golden axe. The old man disappeared and the

greedy young man went down the mountain in excellent spirits knowing that

he had become a rich man. To everyone he encountered, he boasted, “Look! I

too have been given a golden axe and have become rich.” However, when

people looked at what he held in his hands, they didn’t see a golden axe,

but an iron one. In a fit of anger, the greedy young man shouted, “The old

man has fooled me!” and threw away his iron axe. Immediately, from the

place where he threw the axe, all kinds of vile insects came out and

attacked him (Choi, 1974, 113-14). [8]

Through the use of a double contrastive narrative structure, this tale emphasises the virtue of honesty in one’s dealings with others. Wealth and blessings are given to those who speak truthfully and without guile, whilst punishment is given to those who try to deceive others to gain material wealth. The tale makes this simple moral point without recourse to a Confucian subtext. There is no elder brother/younger brother conflict, nor any reference to issues of filial piety. This tale is paralleled by a similar Chinese tale, Tale 20, “The Woodcutter” (Der Holzsammler), in Wolfram Eberhard’s Index, and a similar Japanese tale, Tale 169a, “The Golden Axe,” in Seki’s Index. Like the Korean version, these tales have no obvious Confucian subtext. These East Asian tales are paralleled by Aarne-Thompson Tale 729, “The Axe Falls into the Stream,” in which the protagonist and antagonist are not brothers, but “typical” people. The European version of the tale is also like the Chinese and Japanese versions in that the dishonest antagonist gets neither his own axe nor the axe made of the precious metal. However, the Korean version of this tale type is distinct from parallel international tales in that the antagonist at first appears to receive his wish, but subsequently is punished for his dishonest character. The Korean tale, thus, has a stronger didactic and moral character than similar tales. Although lacking in an obvious Confucian subtext, the more dominant moral ethos of the Korean version may be due to the stronger Confucian moral atmosphere of late dynastic times compared with Korea’s neighbours.

There are seven other tales in the Korean index of tale types which have this double contrastive structure but contain no reference to sibling conflict–Tale 476, “The Old Man Who Tried to Get Rid of His Wen”; Tale 477, “Sweet Feces”; Tale 478, “The Well of Youth”; Tale 479, “Overhearing the Goblins’ Conversation”; Tale 481, “Swollen Cheek”; and Tales 689 and 690, “Tiger’s Skin.” They all follow the pattern of “The Golden Axe, The Iron Axe” with a narrative describing how a simple and honest protagonist gained wealth by performing an honest act while the wily antagonist is punished for attempting to gain wealth by dishonest means. There are Japanese parallels to these Korean tales which can be found either in the Seki Type Index (1966) or Seki’s folklore compendium, Nihon no mukashi-banashi shusei (Seki, 1950-8). Korean Tale 476 is paralleled by the Japanese tale, “The Old Man Who Had Tumors” (Seki 1966, Tale 241); Korean Tale 477 is paralleled by the Japanese tale, “The Old Man Who Breaks Wind” (Seki 1966, Tale 238); Korean Tale 478 is paralleled by the Japanese tale, “The Monkey and the Rich Man” (Seki 1950-8, Tale 197); Korean Tale 479 is paralleled by the Japanese tale, “Ubusuna’s Question” (Seki 1950-8, Tales 15lb and 151c); and Korean Tale 481 is paralleled by the Japanese tale, “The Forbidden Room” (Seki 1950-8, 196b). None of these Korean or Japanese tales, however, uses the contrast between the honest younger brother and greedy elder brother as a primary thematic motif, which we have seen in tales of the “Hungbu and Nolbu” type of folktale.

The Korean Ali Baba Tale

There is one remaining tale in the Korean index, which, while not a double contrastive narrative, does have the element of elder brother/younger brother conflict which we have seen in “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu,” Tale 466, “Open the Door? This is the Korean version of the tale of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” which is translated below.

Long ago, two brothers lived in a village; the elder brother lived

prosperously, but the younger brother sometimes had to skip meals.

However, the elder brother was very bad tempered and quite greedy. Once,

when the younger brother was without food and sought out [his older

brother], [the elder brother] said [to him], “You worthless thing, why have

you come here?” and threw him out. However, as he was so hungry, [the

younger brother] secretly went back into the house and pleaded with his

sister-in-law to give him some food. However, his sister-in-law picked up a

poker intending to hit him and drove him away. Being chased away, he

dragged his mangy, emaciated horse and fled away. He washed the horse in

the stream and every day went into the mountains to cut wood. One day, he

heard the loud clamour of horses’ hooves and hid in the woods. Just then a

gang of robbers carrying a load of treasure stopped in front of a large

rock. Saying, “Door, Open!,” the rock opened up.

Stashing away the treasure, [the thieves] left to go somewhere. The

younger brother quickly gathered up the treasure, put it on his horse,

and saying, “Door, Close!,” went home. He became a rich man.

The elder brother, who had seen his younger brother become a rich man

overnight, asked the reason for this. He took a horse and went away, but

did not return. The younger brother, who thought that this was strange,

went back to the rock and saw that his elder brother had been killed and

[his body] thrown up on top of a boulder. He took a hoard of treasure and

loaded it along with his brother’s body [on his horse]. With due propriety,

he held a funeral [for his elder brother] and looked after his

sister-in-law very well. One day, a man came and painted a cross on the

main gate of the [younger brother’s] home. Thinking that this was strange,

[the younger brother] changed the cross to a circle. On the next day, the

man came again and did the same thing. The younger brother called him over

and asked [who he was]. He was one of the chief robber’s men. The robbers

had staked a reward and were searching for [the younger brother]. The cross

was the symbol [of where the younger brother lived]. The younger brother

forgave [the robber], and saying that if he would just kill the leader, he

would share half of the spoils with him. [The robber] agreed to do this.

After the leader had drunk dozens of bottles of strong drink, he fell

down. The young robber put him in boiling oil which he had prepared

beforehand, killed him, and disposed [of the body]. He lived well with the

younger brother for the rest of his life (Ira 1972, 209-10). [9]

This Korean tale parallels very closely many of the key elements of the tale of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” although it does have a very different ending. In the “Arabian” tale, we find the following narrative elements: the ill treatment of the younger brother Ali Baba by his older brother Kasim; the dispossessed younger brother goes to the woods to cut wood and sees a robber band; Ali Baba retrieves the treasure after the thieves leave; he becomes wealthy; the older brother forces his younger sibling to reveal the source of his wealth; the older brother repeats the younger brother’s actions and is killed; the younger brother discovers his older brother’s body; the younger brother places the body and some treasure on a horse; the younger brother takes care of the wife of his older brother; the younger brother’s slave girl, Marjanal, conceives an audacious plan to bury the older brother Kasim; thieves attempt to mark out Ali Baba’s house for an attack but Marjanal thwarts their plans; Marjanal kills the remaining 37 thieves and their leader. [10]

All the narrative elements of the “Arabian” tale except the method of burying the elder brother and the final episode in which the thieves are vanquished are paralleled by the Korean version of the tale. In the concluding sequence of the “Arabian” tale, the initial protagonist is replaced by a new figure–the slave girl, Marjanal, whilst in the Korean tale, the younger brother remains the sole protagonist throughout. In the Korean version of the tale, he is portrayed as being a filial younger brother who gives his deceased elder brother an appropriate burial, and looks after his widowed sister-in-law. In the Korean tale, it is the protagonist’s wit which thwarts the plans of the robbers, and it is a forgiven and reformed robber who finally disposes of the robber chief, whilst in the “Arabian” tale it is the new, second protagonist who kills the murderous robbers. Even though the tale does not resolve the issue of sibling conflict, the Korean version of the tale concludes like tales of the Hungbu and Nolbu type often do–the evil antagonist recognises the evil of his ways, is reformed, and lives happily ever after with the protagonist. The way in which the original “Arabian” tale has been altered reflects a degree of localisation through the influence of a Confucian emphasis on filiality and the power of moral suasion.

Although Seki’s type index for Japanese tales does not include a tale similar to the tale of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” Wolfram Eberhard’s index for Chinese tales does provide an example of this tale which was told in Central China during the 1930s (Eberhard 1937, Tale 170, “Sesam Offne Dich”), of which he found six versions. The Chinese versions, however, would appear to lack the motif of the conflict between two brothers and the various Confucian elements which are characteristic of the Korean version of the tale. Likewise, AT 676, “Open Sesame,” does not show any of these Confucian characteristics.

Concluding Remarks

An examination of the famous Korean tale “The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu” and similar Korean folktales shows that the use of a double contrastive narrative structure, although not unique to Korean folklore, is a common feature of the structure of a significant number of Korean tales. As with similar tales from around the world, this class of Korean tales emphasises the rewards given to morally upright behaviour, and the punishments meted out to bad behaviour. What distinguishes these Korean tales from similar folk stories from East Asia and elsewhere is the greater didactic use made of these tales to reinforce, and in some cases to doubly reinforce, such Confucian virtues as the power of moral suasion and filial piety. This feature of Korean folk narrative can be shown to be stronger in Korean tales than in corresponding narrative material from China and Japan, even when the Chinese and Japanese tales are in effect identical tales. Tales which have been diffused from outside the Chinese cultural world, such as “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” can be shown to have been significantly more Confucianised in their Korean version than they are in the Chinese versions. As both the Korean and Chinese versions of the “Arabian” tale are probably a late import into their respective cultures, it may be surmised that the process of the significant Confucianisation of diffused tales continued until a late date in twentieth-century Korean culture. It is my opinion that the greater degree of Confucian influence which can be seen in Korean folklore is a reflection of the greater extent to which Confucian thought influenced the political, cultural and social spheres of Korean society.


[1] This story was recorded by the Korean folklorist, Choi In-hak, in the city of Kimch’on in south-eastern Korea in 1960 and first published in 1974. The raconteur was a fifty year-old woman, Im Pongsun.

[2] A discussion of Confucius’s philosophy and Mencius’s concept of the power of moral suasion may be found in H. G. Creel Chinese Thought (1953), 25-45 and 68-93. The locus classicus for the Five Relationships is found in chapter 20 of the Chung-yung (Doctrine of the Mean). See Wing-tsit Ch’an A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (1963), 105.

[3] This story was collected by Choi In-hak from Im Pongsun in 1968. The earliest published record of this tale was in 1910 in Takahashi Toru’s Chosen no monogatari-shu.

[4] This story was collected by Choi In-hak from an eighty year-old man, Om Yunsop, in the city of Anyang south of Soul in 1968. Although the motif of the three brothers receiving a legacy makes this tale superficially similar to AT 1650, “The Three Lucky Brothers,” the purpose and function of this Korean tale are strikingly different from AT 1650. The Korean parallel to AT 1650 is Tale 467, “The Three Brothers and the Father’s Legacy.” The earliest published version of this tale is from 1924 in the collection of tales, Chosen dohwa-shu, published by the Government-General of Chosen.

[5] A discussion of the Kingdom of Choson’s (1392-1910) policy of controlling or suppressing Buddhism may be found in Grayson Korea: A Religious History (1989), 151-5.

[6] Choi In-hak collected this version of the tale from his female informant, Im Pongsun, in Kimch’on in 1960. The earliest published record of this tale is from 1919 in Miwa Tamaki’s Tensetsu no Chosen.

[7] This version of the tale was collected by Choi In-hak from his elderly informant, Om Yunsop, in Anyang in 1968. The earliest published record of this tale is from 1910 in Takahashi Toru’s Chosen no monogatari-shu.

[8] This tale was also collected by Choi In-hak from his elderly informant in Anyang, Om Yunsop, in 1968. The earliest published record of this tale is from 1962 in Yi Sangno’s Han’guk chollae tonghwa tokpon.

[9] This tale was collected by the folklorist Im Tonggwon in Tap’yo Village, Paju County north of Soul in 1955 from an elderly man identified only as “Old Man Kim.” This is the earliest recorded version of the folktale.

[10] An English translation of this tale may be found in J. C. Mardrus The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night (1964) 4:100-23.

References Cited

Allen, Horace Newton. Korean Tales: Being a Collection of Stories Translated from the Korean Folk Lore. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1889.

Bascom, William R. “Four Functions of Folklore.” Journal of American Folklore 67 (1954):333-49.

Ch’an, Wing-tsit. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963.

Choi, In-hak. Chosen mukashi-banashi hyakusen [A collection of Korean folktales]. Tokyo: Nihon Hoso Shupan, 1974.

Choi, In-hak. A Type Index of Korean Folktales. Seoul: Myong Ji University Press, 1979.

Chosen dohwa-shu [A collection of Korean fairy tales]. Seoul: Government-General of Chosen, 1924.

Creel, Herrlee G. Chinese Thought from Confucius to Mao Tse-tung. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1953.

Eberhard, Wolfram. Typen Chinesischer Volksmarchen. F. F. Communications, no. 120. Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 1937.

Grayson, James Huntley. Korea: A Religious History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Han’guk minjok munhwa taebaekkwa sajon [Encyclopaedia of the culture of the Korean people]. 27 vols. Seoul: Academy of Korean Studies, 1991.

Im, Tonggwon. Han’gug-ui mindam [Korean folktales]. Seoul: Somun-dang, 1972.

Madrus, J. C. The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night. Translated from the French by Powys Mathers. 2nd edn. 4 vols. London: Routledge, 1964.

Miwa, Tamaki. Tensetsu no Chosen [Korea in legends]. Tokyo: Hakubunka, 1919.

Seki, Keigo, Nihon no mukashi-banashi shusei [A collection of Japanese folk tales]. 3 vols. Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1950-8.

Seki, Keigo. “Types of Japanese Folktales.” Asian Folklore Studies 25 (1966):1-220.

Takahashi, Toru. Chosen no monogatari-shu [A collection of Korean folk tales]. Seoul: Nikan shobo, 1910.

Thompson, Stith. The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and Bibliography: Antti Aarne’s “Verzeichuis der Marchentypen.” 2nd revision. F. F. Communications, no. 184. Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 1964.

Ting, Nai-tung. A Type Index of Chinese Folktales in the Oral Tradition and Major Works of Non-Religious Classical Literature. F. F. Communications, no. 223. Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 1978.

Yi, Sangno. Han’guk chollae tonghwa tokpon [A reader in traditional Korean folk tales]. Seoul: Uryu Publishing, 1962.

James H. Grayson is Reader in Modern Korean Studies in the School of East Asian Studies at the University of Sheffield, and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences. His research interests include Korean oral folklore, folk religion and contemporary religious practices. His book, Myths and Legends from Korea: An Annotated Compendium of Ancient and Modern Materials, was published this year by Curzon Press.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Folklore Society

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning