Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Sim Chung, a Korean Fairy Tale Ballet

Sim Chung is probably one of the most famous pieces of Korean folk tales. The story is of the dutiful daughter of a blind peasant. Her mother dies, according to some versions, while giving birth to Sim Chung, and so her father raises Sim Chung by himself and together they have a meager subsistence. And yet, they are happy together and totally devoted to one another.

When Sim Chung is in the bloom of her youth, her blind father meets a Buddhist monk who tells him that in donating many pricey bags of rice to Buddha, his sight will be regained. The father tells Sim Chung and Sim Chung determines to help her father get the bags of rice, but in order to do so, the only way to get the money is to sell herself for ransom to a merchant who needs to make a sacrifice to the Dragon King.

Sim Chung, in her deepest filial piety, pledges herself as the sacrifice for the benefit of her father and leaves on the merchant ship. When out to sea, she willingly plunges herself into the sea and sinks to the bottom.

Sim Chung parting from her father after selling herself as a ransom. The sailors have to force the villagers away and tear weeping Sim Chung from the arms of her father. (Picture source)
On the ship and out to sea Sim Chung is told she must plunge herself into the sea as promised. The sailors and merchant are in great fear. A storm is raging. She must plunge herself as sacrifice to appear the god ... or they will die too. She jumps.
At the bottom of the sea the sea fairies gather and dance and she awakes in their midst. They dance around her and the Dragon King comes and dances also; he finds her most beauteous and also most virtuousness for sacrificing herself for her father. He proposes. She declines expressing her love and ache for her father, so the Dragon King takes pity on her and releases her, making it possible for her to return to the surface of the sea. He places her in an enchanted lotus blossom which grows to the surface of the water and is spotted by servants of the king of the land. The servants harvest the spectacular lotus blossom and transport it to the garden of the king, where the lotus blossom bursts open, releasing Sim Chung back among her people, but this time in the court.

The king is entranced also by her beauty and the great respect and filial love she willingly gives to her father. He also proposes marriage and Sim Chung accepts. Once married, she immediately prepares a great feast and orders all the blind men of the kingdom to attend with the hope of being reunited with her lost father.

The courtship dance of the king and Sim Chung.
The court exulting in the first feast by the new queen ... the feast in which the queen
in great filial piety desperately searches for her father.
The feast goes on for some time and Sim Chung is in despair about not being reunited with her father, but before the feast is over, her father comes groping in. Sim Chung flings herself in his arms, knowing that though she paid for his visual cure, he is still as blind as before. Her father initially refuses to believe that she is alive, but once he feels her face and hears her voice again and again, he is stunned and abruptly sits down. She flings her arms around him again and with his sudden belief that she is alive, "POP" his vision is restored.

The moment when the blind father regained his sight!
In this variation of the story, all of the blind old men even had their vision restored afterwards with the touch of Sim Chung ... for supposedly it was her filial piety that awakened the souls of the men and gave them vision beyond anything they had experienced before.

And thus ends the tale of Sim Chung
lauded as a great tale of Confucian values 
because of its rich thread of filial piety.

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