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From The Asian Reporter, V15, #37 (September 13, 2005), page 13 and 16.

Picture book gives insight into past and present Korean culture

Land of Morning Calm: Korean Culture Then and Now

By John Stickler

Illustrations by Soma Han

Shen’s Books, 2003

Hardcover, 32 pages, $16.95

By Edward J. Han

According to Korean lore, the peninsula nation was established 4,338 years ago. A divine being named Hwan-un descended from heaven to teach people the 360 basic skills needed to build a society. His son, Dan-gun, was born in 2,333 B.C.E. and grew up to become the land’s first human ruler. Dan-gun was so enchanted by the dawn’s peacefulness that he called his kingdom Chosun, the "Land of Morning Calm."

The myth of Dan-gun and other aspects of past and present Korean culture are beautifully told and illustrated in Land of Morning Calm: Korean Culture Then and Now. The former CBS radio correspondent in Seoul, John Stickler, has teamed up with his artistic wife, Soma Han, to create a wonderfully informative picture book about the Asian nation.

Wild tigers once roamed the forests of Korea. Farmers and villagers lived in constant fear of the ferocious horangi. Over the years, however, the tiger has become a symbol of protection and strength. Stickler uses a well-known folktale about a hungry tiger to segue into an explanation of the persimmon tree and its "seven excellences."

The Korean alphabet incorporates consonants and vowels, unlike Japanese and Chinese, which use characters. Land of Morning Calm recounts the history of Hangul and how King Sejong developed the written aspect of his people’s language in 1446.

Because of its location in eastern Asia, religion in Korea has many influences. Animism, Confucianism, and Buddhism existed simultaneously for many centuries until the late 1800s when Christian missionaries first arrived.

Traditional Korean holidays are based on the lunar calendar. Stickler touches on the games, rituals, dress, and decorations that help to celebrate the joyous events such as Chusok, the harvest festival. The author also explains the important celebrations that occur annually according to the Gregorian calendar.

Koreans love to eat. An introduction to the peninsula nation would not be complete without describing some of the various dishes. This book focuses on the well-known kimchi but neglects to showcases other aspects of the unique cuisine.

More than 30 million people around the world practice the Korean martial art of taekwondo. The discipline has been around for two millennia and became an official Olympic sport at the Sydney games in 2000.

There are ten symbols of long life in the Chosun culture — the sun, clouds, mountains, rocks, water, pine trees, turtles, deer, cranes, and a mythical "longevity plant." All of these objects from nature appear in different forms of art such as paintings, carvings, and embroidery.

Land of Morning Calm introduces the reader to these and other aspects of Korean culture. Although the book is primarily for children ages seven to 12, readers of all ages and backgrounds will benefit from the insightful explanations and colorful drawings.


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