Ho-Am Prize & 백규고전학술상 (Baek-Gyu Award)

NOTE: this post is the second part of the three-post series. see here to learn about the Ho-Am Prize in Engineering I just was just awarded with.

  1. Ho-Am Prize & Scholarship for Macademia at Aalto University
  2. Ho-Am Prize & 백규고전학술상 (Baek-Gyu Scholarly Award for Classics)
  3. Ho-Am Prize & Lim Mi-Sook Scholarship (임미숙 장학금) at KAIST

My Father and Korean Classical Literature and Art

i’ve rarely mentioned my father in this blog without any particular reason, but perhaps it’s a good time to talk about him briefly in this post.

his name is Kyu-Ick Cho (조규익),and he’s a professor of Korean Language and Literature at Soong-sil University in Seoul, Korea. perhaps unsurprisingly, i don’t know much of Korean language nor literature, not to mention Korean classical literature and art in which he is one of the world-wide experts. i only know a few things i picked up here and there about his research as i grew up. unfortunately i’m way out of my depth & breadth even list up what he’s worked on, done and continues to work on, although i can point you to his homepage (http://kicho.pe.kr/), where you can find the ever-growing list of books and papers he authors (warning: all in Korean).

one thing i can talk about is that it’s helped me see the stark difference between how things work in engineering/science and in humanity, just seeing my father from the side. when it comes to Korean classical literature and art research, the intellectual curiosity and perhaps intellectual responsibility truly matters. you do not build anything new that may change the world. you do not discover something that may change the world. you do not learn skills that may make you valuable to for-profit organizations. your research is probably not supported by deep pocketed industry and if by federal government, at the level that barely keeps you alive. it’s pretty much all about fulfilling your intellectual curiosity and carrying our your duty and responsibility as an academic.

although economy in korea has grown tremendously, this doesn’t necessarily translate to increased investment in humanities research, especially for those areas in humanities that do not translate immediately to economic value. korean classical literature and art is clearly one such area where no one expects any return on investment at any time. after all, it is literature and art, and perhaps worse yet, it is classic.

there are many negative consequences from such plateaued or shrinking investment, that i’d love to talk a lot about. in this post however let me stick to just one particular consequence. that is, such lack of investment discourages (if not outright prevents) researchers from pursuing their intellectual curiosity and responsibility, thereby effectively serving as a death sentence to the field. to understand what i mean here immediately, imagine how you’d react when your kid announces they’ll pursue PhD in Korean Literature 😱.

perhaps surprisingly, i find it quite disturbing that we may be looking at a serious chance that there won’t be anyone who’ll study and research korean classical literature and art at some point not too far in the future. out of a few things that set us (humans) apart from other intelligent species, literature and art, which are closely related to each other with their boundary becoming fuzzier as we go back further in time, are clearly at the forefront of these unique features of us, and if we can’t afford to spare our effort & time in creating, enjoying and preserving these artifacts ourselves, what are we really doing here?

of course, despite this shrinking investment in korean classical literature & art research, researchers in this field have not given up, including my father. in order to build an environment to accommodate more junior and less established researchers in the field of korean classical literature & art, he founded a research center at Soong-Sil University, named the Center for Korean Literature & Art, in 2006 and has continued to run it so far. this research center has its own journal that publishes 3-4 issues each year. it hosts annual conferences to gather a small number of researchers who are dedicated to korean literature & art. it publishes many books each year. as far as i can tell, the center is not growing in terms of the number of people, but its activities as well as the coverage of research areas within Korean classical literature and art have steadily grown over the past decades.

so, yes, he is really trying hard together with a small number of his colleagues and peers. in fact, he’s been doing so ever since his career as a professor of korean language and literature in mid-80’s, although from what i’ve scantly seen from the side this has been an uphill battle. and, now with his retirement in 1 year, the future of korean classical literature and art does not look particularly brighter.

백규고전학술상 (Baek-Gyu Award in the field of Korean Classical Literature and Art)

when i was a kid, i recall one year (1996) when my father received two highly respected awards. one was Do-Nam Award for Korean Literature Research (도남국문학상), and the other was Seong-San Award for Korean Classical Poetary Research (성산시조학술상). obviously i wasn’t aware of how big deals these awards were back then, not do i know how big deals these were even now. i could however feel that these must be big deals because i could sense the pride in my father’s eyes when he broke the news. i even remember attending the ceremony for one of these awards (not sure if i attended both, though. my memory is failing me here.)

that was 25 years ago, when my father was still considered junior (i mean… it’s the field of Korean classical literature and art, where everyone’s supposed to be junior ever.) these prizes must’ve meant quite a bit in that they recognize his own research but also encourage him to advance his research further. noticing that these two awards always mentioned in his bio’s as well as CV’s, i presume i’m not too wrong in this.

unfortunately, it doesn’t look like either of these awards exists anymore. i could trace Do-Name award up to 2008, but i couldn’t find any information about it. in fact, i couldn’t even find the list of awardees from a few minutes of Googling (and Navering). the same goes with Seong-San award. i could trace it up to 2003 or so, but i again can’t find anything substantial about this award. it’s quite shame. two prominent ways to recognize and encourage researchers in this relatively narrow field of korean classical literature and art seem to have been lost over time (, although these awards were not only for the classical literature & art but recognize achievements in a broader field of korean literature.)

no individual will be able to save the whole field of korean classical literature and art. it’ll have to be the whole society’s effort to save this field and along the way our soul as well. my father has contributed his entire career to this cause and will continue to do so even after his retirement, although his forecast becomes gloomier each time i talk with him. to this end, i’ve decided to contribute just a little myself to this effort to saving and perhaps even growing research in Korean classical literature and art by donating ₩100,000,000 (approx. $90,000 USD) to the Center for Korean Literature and Art with the stipulation that this is used to create an award for Korean classical literature and art.

this award will be given to 1-2 researchers each year with approximately $2,000-5,000 each (to be determined by the Center’s Board each year) until the fund runs out, with a hope that this award can be used to recognize the achievements of and encourage future endeavors of researchers in the field of Korean classical literature and art, just like what those two awards above did to my father and what Ho-Am Prize is doing to me.

oh, right, i almost forgot to mention: i’ve also put one small condition that this award be named after my father’s pen name* 백규 (Baek-Gyu, 白圭). so, this award, which will hopefully start to be awarded starting next year (2022), will be called the Baek-Gyu Award in the field of Korean Classical Literature and Art (백규고전학술상).


* 호; i’m not sure what’s the right translation of this in English. it’s a kind of a nick name given by another, often a teacher or fatherly figure.

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