Sejong Essay Competition 2021

2021 Essay Competition Rules and Information

Deadline: April 30, 2021 (11:59pm CDT)

Adult division (age 30 and younger)

Topic:"The Wings" by Yi Sang

Please note that the adult division age limit has been increased to age 30.

Prompts: Yi Sang’s “Wings” (1936) is often classified in the same category as the Russian classics, Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman” (1835) and Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground (1864) as well as Lu Xun’s “A Madman’s Diary” (1918), which is considered by many critics to be China’s first “modern” short story. So it is no surprise that “Wings” was selected as the best Korean short story of the 20th Century by literary critics on several occasions. The story is often read as an extended suicide note, or an allegory of Korea under Japanese occupation depicting the predicament of a frustrated intellectual deprived of autonomy, or the first-person account of a mentally challenged individual who is out of step with his reality. All of the readings involve an interpretation of the psychology of the narrator in a parcitular historical context, and it is only by addressing these combined issues that the other aspects of the story can make sense—especially the ending, which explicitly introduces the wings of the title. Provide your interpretation of the story, explaining how we should read the events and the symbolism of ending, given what you have learned above.

Senior division (grade 12 and younger)

Topic: "The Poplar Tree" by Choi Inho and "The Old Hatter" by Yi Munyol

Prompts: “The Poplar Tree” and “The Old Hatter,” though they are in different genres, are both stories about perseverance, endurance, and stubbornness told through a narrator who is witness to the life of an old man. Both stories are also allegorical. “The Poplar Tree” reads as a fantastical tale related to folklore (and the creation of legends), but it is no accident that the old man “was a blacksmith, a maker of sickles, axes, and such.” That association with the poplar tree of the title points at the infamous “axe murder incident” at Panmunjom in 1976 when two American soldiers were killed by North Korean who were trimming a poplar tree.  In “The Old Hatter,” the conflict between the young boys and old Top’yeog (whose horsehair hats are an important part of traditional men’s clothing) is clearly a depiction of the conflict between modernization/westernization and the decline of traditional Confucianism in Korea.
Read the two stories carefully and compare the authors’ approaches to their themes. Where do they overlap and where do they differ? Why do the authors choose those forms of allegory to engage their themes? What do the stories say about Korea’s culture and national character? (You may want to do some biographical research on the authors to help your understanding of the stories.)

Junior essay division (grade 8 and younger)

Folktales index

Korea has a rich tradition of storytelling, and its folktales reflect important aspects of its history and culture. Many of the old historical texts are full of local legends and myths. Folk tales can be entertaining and educational, but they can also strike a deep chord in our personal lives, and many Korean folktales demonstrate the universal tragedies and triumphs of daily life in the family.

Topics (choose one): Each topic refers to the list of Korean folktales found on our 2021 folktales index pagePlease make sure to select a folktale under the "2021 Essay Competition" list. When writing your essay, please be sure to include specific references to the tale you chose to write about. In your analysis or interpretation of the stories, you may also want to make references to your own life experiences.

  1. Select one folktale from the list and explain your interpretation of the story. What is its importance? Why do you think it was created? Which Korean folktale character do you relate to best and why? Would you make the same decisions as that character?
  2. If you could change one of these folktales, what would you change and why? Do you disagree with something the tale is trying to convey?


Divisions: adult (age 30 and younger), senior (grade 12 and younger), and junior (grade 8 and younger)

  • Essays must not exceed 1,000 words in length.
  • Junior division students should refer to our folktales index when choosing a folktale to write about and select one of the stories listed there. Please choose only one topic and folktale to write about.
  • Entries must be submitted through our website.
  • One entry per category per contestant is permitted. (Contestants are permitted one essay and one sijo entry.)
  • Essay division age limits do not have a lower limit, but the sijo adult division is limited to age 19 and older. If a pre-college student would like to compete in the adult essay division and pre-college sijo division, s/he must create two separate application accounts.
  • All entries must be written in English.
  • Contestants' names cannot be written in their entries.
  • We reserve the right to use all submitted pieces in future publications of the Sejong Cultural Society with no compensation to the authors.
  • We reserve the right to not award any prizes.
  • Winners are generally announced by early June. This estimate is subject to change depending on the number of total entries received; a more accurate estimate will be posted on our website soon after the competition deadline.
  • Adult division: First ($1,000), Second ($750), Third ($500)
  • Senior division: First ($500), Second ($400), Third ($300)
  • Junior division: First ($300), Second ($200), Third ($100)
  • Honorable mention (for all divisions listed above): Friends of Pacific Rim Awards ($50 each)
  • Winners' works may be published in the Korea Times Chicago or the Korean Quarterly.