Shim Chung, published in 2003, was adapted from a pansori, the traditional Korean mono-opera, based on an old Taoism tale.
Here is what Hwang Sok-yong says about the novel: “I wrote about prostitution and the change of East Asia in the 19th century seen at a market in modern times. In the pansori Shim Chung-ga, Chung is sold to Chinese merchants at the expense of making her blind widowed father open his eyes. She is offered as a sacrifice for the sake of the safe voyage by being thrown deep into the sea… Here I decided to remove the factor of the laudable virtue of Loyalty to Kind and Commitment to Parents, the fundamental ideology that upheld the social system in those times. I think it was a gadget to maintain the feudal social system. We can easily imagine what happened to those young girls after they were sold for a large sum of money to foreign merchants from the nature of worldly affairs to pursue interest. I found out that there are many stories about the girls who were sold abroad across the sea. In most places, their names have been handed down in their memorial tablets in the temple. They never came back home. More historical backups can be found in Japan. I sought some similarity between these girls and women workers of South Korea who went up to Seoul to seek jobs in factories to end up eventually ruining themselves during the period of modernization in the 1970s. Their parents and siblings might have enshrined the tablets for their sisters who didn't come back even long after they sent money to them for the last time.
The modernization of East Asia is represented by free trade and market share. Modern cities and streets were built and labor products in every country evolved into new types: wage labor and prostitution. I did not examine this trend in a historical context in the novel. Rather, I try to focus on how the body and soul of a woman change in such an environment. It was like the life of a lotus flower that opens its bud with the morning dew, gets troubled with the scorching sun and the storm, meets and sends away passersby, and spends day and night throughout the year.”