Novelist Hwang accused of plagiarism

  • Published : Oct 27, 2010 - 17:54
  • Updated : Oct 27, 2010 - 17:54
Hwang Sok-yong, one of Korea’s most acclaimed authors of modern times, is accused of plagiarism with his latest published novel, “Gangnam-Mong.” Hwang has denied the accusations, while admitting he should have cited the referred sources.

Shin Dong-A, a monthly news magazine, accused Hwang in its November issue of plagiarizing many accounts of “Speaking of Fists in Korea,” a non-fiction book written by one of their reporters. The reporter, Cho Seong-sik, published the book last year, based on extensive interviews with noted gang and mafia figures in Korea ― including Kim Tae-chon, Cho Yang-eun and Cho Chang-jo.

Hwang’s novel “Gangnam-Mong” chronicles Seoul’s modern history of the last 15 years in fictional narrative form, starting with the notorious Sampoong Department Store collapse in 1995. One of its chapters, “The Time of Wolves and Dogs,” depicts the lives of Korea’s gang members in relevance to Seoul’s history. According to Shin Dong-A, many of the chapter’s fictional incidents are extremely similar to Cho’s non-fiction accounts in “Speaking of Fists in Korea.”

For the past month, Hwang reportedly has not responded to the magazine’s request for an interview. He sent a letter to Kyunghyang Daily News instead this week in denial of the accusations. The paper published the letter on Oct. 25. “Many novels that deal with history tend to rely on non-fiction sources,” wrote Hwang, who currently resides in China. “I’ve made references to reporter Cho’s articles on Shin Dong-A’s June issue of 2007, as well as other news stories online. Because the writing of this novel dealt with such an extensive amount of our modern history, I could not gather such countless sources for every account in the story.”

“It was my mistake that I did not cite Cho as one of the references,” Hwang admitted. “But what I’ve done is to apply fictional accounts to facts, which I think should be more precisely discussed to see whether or not it should be considered as plagiarism.”


Author Hwang Sok-yong’s latest novel “Gangnam-Mong” (up) has been accused of plagiarism by news magazine Shin-Dong-A. (Courtesy of Changbi Publishers)

Responding to Hwang’s denial, an official from Shin Dong-A, on condition of anonymity, said he does not understand why Hwang would not respond to the magazine directly. “I don’t know why he would write to another publication,” he said. “We are planning on publishing a follow-up story next month. We’ve talked to legal experts and they said this is a copyright violation.”

Park Shin-gyu, an official of Changbi, the publisher of “Gangnam-Mong,” said the new edition of the book, which will be printed in November, will include citations of Cho’s work. “But we are not admitting that Hwang has plagiarized Cho’s book,” Park said. “We are only adding the citation page because that’s what Hwang wants.”

“Gangnam-Mong” has sold over 180,000 copies and has been a best-seller since its release in June. Last month, another best-seller novel, “Princess Deokhye” by author Kwon Bi-young was accused of plagiarism by a Japanese scholar who had previously published a book about the princess.

By Claire Lee (