Acclaimed South Korean Author Issues Apology Over Plagiarism Claim



A South Korean author who won the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize for her novel, Please Look After Mom, has acknowledged having plagiarized material for a short story published in 1996.

In an interview with a local South Korean newspaper Tuesday, Shin Kyung-sook, 52, apologized to readers and said her publisher, Changbi, will remove the short story, “Legend,” from future editions of her collection of short stories.

Shin’s remarks come a week after fellow South Korean novelist Lee Eung-jun wrote an online article for Huffington Post Korea, accusing Shin of lifting a passage from a 1983 Korean translation of “Patriotism,” a 1961 story by the late Japanese writer Yukio Mishima. Both passages describe a young couple’s sexual awakening.

A day after Lee’s article appeared, Shin denied any familiarity with the Japanese author or his work, but has since changed her tune, saying she could no longer be sure of her memory.

“I desperately tried to recall my memory only to find that I haven’t read ‘Patriotism,’ but now I’m in a situation where even I can’t believe my own memory,” Shin was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency in her interview with the Kyunghyang Shinmun.

This isn’t the first instance in which the acclaimed author—one of South Korea’s most widely read—has faced allegations of plagiarism. In 1999, according to a blog run by Melville House, an independent publishing house in Brooklyn, South Korean literary critic Park Cheol-hwa suggested that sections of Shin’s work, “Goodbye,” closely matched Kenji Maruyama’s “Water Family.” The dispute was never resolved.

According to the Korea Herald, furthermore, after it was revealed in 2000 that Shin’s short story, “The Strawberry Field,” was found to contain six paragraphs similar to those of another book, the author apologized for “not being open about her sources.”

Additionally, Yonhap reported Monday that the titles of two of Shin’s short stories, “Footprints of Heavy Bird” (1990) and “Away, on the Endless Road” (1992) are identical to those of two poems published in 1987 and 1989 by poet Yoon Hee-sang.

please look after mom

Shin’s acclaimed 2008 novel, Please Look After Momwhich has sold 2 million copies in South Korea and was the author’s first English-translated work, hitting the New York Times bestseller list in 2011—has also not been immune from scrutiny in recent days. According to Yonhap, a South Korean literature professor has filed a complaint with local prosecutors, accusing Shin of copying passages from the book, “The Middle of Life,” by German author Luise Rinser.

A column published Monday in the Dong-a Ilbo, South Korea’s leading newspaper, purports that controversies involving plagiarism by writers in South Korea are a reflection of “secrecy and cronyism” within the country’s publishing industry, and that past cases have involved such writers as Hwang Seok-young, Kwon Ji-ye and Cho Kyung-ran.

Kim Chan-dong, legal research head at the Korea Copyright Commission, told the paper that South Korean copyright law lacks any specific criteria for defining plagiarism: “There are no specific standards in provisions in Korean copyright acts that clarify ‘overlapping of a certain number of words or phrases [to] constitute plagiarism,” he said.

Lee’s article for Huffington Post Korea pointed out that the phrase, “[S]he became the body that knows pleasure,” occurs in both “Patriotism” and Shin’s “Legend.”

“This kind of linguistic expression, like ‘speed of memories,’ is a very poetic expression … and it’s not something that just comes up, unless someone consciously plagiarized it,” Lee wrote, according to the Korea Joongang Daily.

In the days leading up to Shin’s apology, publisher Changbi defended the author by pointing out that the two passages “do not make up a significant portion of the works.”

Shin said she will self-reflect for now, but that she has no plans to quit her writing career.


Featured image via Shin Kyung-sook’s Facebook page 

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