Faculty Spotlight: ACMRS Affiliate Dr. Sookja Cho

Dr. Sookja Cho is an Assistant Professor of Korean at Arizona State University’s School of International Letters and Cultures. She earned a doctorate in Chinese and Korean Comparative Literature from Washington University in St. Louis, as well as master’s and doctoral degrees in Chinese Language and Literature from Seoul National University in Korea.

From earliest childhood, Dr. Cho learned to value Korea’s traditional literature and culture highly. Her undergraduate studies at Ewha Womans University broadened this interest into a passion for exploring the ancient literary and cultural traditions of Korea and China. During her junior year, she was chosen to be a fellow of the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies. The position earned her a three-year intensive training in reading and interpreting classical Chinese and Korean texts, giving her an invaluable foundation for her later research projects.

Dr. Cho’s research covers a broad range of topics related to premodern Korean and Chinese literature and culture. She has focused particularly on subjects that will increase the scholarly visibility of premodern Korea, underrepresented so far, by presenting it within the tangled history of Chinese and East Asian literature. She uses her extensive knowledge of comparative and world literature to make Korean literature more accessible to both academic and general readers. Her two recent book projects embody these goals.

Dr. Cho’s Transforming Gender and Emotion: The Butterfly Lovers Story in China and Korea (forthcoming from University of Michigan Press) explores the evolution of the Butterfly Lovers Story, a Chinese folktale with themes of gender, love, and religion that are revealed through the dilemmas, pathos, and tragedy of human relationships. The book demonstrates how this one tale serves as a cumulative living record of the evolving cultures of China and Korea, and of their cultural-literary relationship in premodern times.

Dr. Cho’s A Romance of Vengeance and Loyalty in Chosŏn Korea (under review for publication) is an annotated translation of The Tale of Cho Ung, the best-selling fictional narrative of Late Chosŏn Korea (17th–19th centuries). The tale concerns a devoted young boy’s long and painful journey to avenge the death of his father while gaining military prowess in the process and emerging as a powerful subject who brings justice to the state. In unfolding this complex tapestry of loyalty, honor, and retribution, laced with elements of romance and fantasy, Dr. Cho enables an academic exploration of the narrative, presenting a wide-ranging examination not only of the development of Korean literature and culture but also, on a broader level, of East Asian and comparative literature.

Dr. Cho’s current research and translation projects address themes of mobility and the cross-pollination of cultures between Korea, China, Japan, and beyond, focusing on seventeenth-century narratives of war and travel. Dr. Cho hopes that these projects will contribute to a more inclusive and nuanced literary history of premodern Korea and East Asia.