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2009/09/07 18:44 KST
Korean-American professor publishes book on 'Arirang'

By Lee Haye-Ah
SEOUL, Sept. 7 (Yonhap) -- Melancholy yet powerful, the tune of the folk song "Arirang" carries the sorrows and struggles of the Korean people across generations and borders.

   Perhaps no one feels this more acutely than 85-year-old author Lee Chung-Myun, whose new book "Arirang: Song of Korea," introduces the origins, characteristics and dissemination of Arirang across the globe.

   In an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Monday, the professor emeritus, whose nostalgia for his homeland persisted during 50 years abroad in Malaysia, Japan and the United States, said he was moved to write the book because he was ashamed of his lack of knowledge about the most popular Korean folk song in the face of foreigners' interest.

"This may be the first book ever that introduces Arirang systematically in English," said Lee, who went to the U.S. to teach geography at California State University in Fresno in 1970 and moved to the University of Utah in 1972. He was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1979.

   The professor-turned-musicologist said Arirang originated 600 years ago in Jeongseon County of Gangwon Province, and spread throughout the peninsula in hundreds of variations.

   To study the song in detail, Lee retired five years ago and visited several Korean locations, including Jindo Island and the cities of Jeongsun and Milyang -- the homes of three of the most well-known versions.

   Although the song is ancient, it was not until the late 19th century that the Bonjo Arirang, today's most popular version, rose as a national symbol out Korea's turbulent modern history, which includes the 1910-1945 colonization of the peninsula by Japan.

   Lee's ambition to document the song's history was stretched even further after watching a TV broadcast showing the New York Philharmonic's performance of Arirang in Pyongyang in February last year.

   "The spirit of Arirang will play a pivotal role in the reunification of Korea and the movement towards world peace, as has been demonstrated throughout Korean history," Lee writes in the preface.

   "I feel that it is to be regretted deeply that I could not include the study of the song of Arirang in North Korea due to the political difficulties between South and North. However, I do hope we will be able to go to North Korea freely to study Arirang songs there in the near future," he added.

   Lee said he hopes Arirang's role as a source of vitality for Koreans living abroad and its potential to touch the hearts of global citizens will be widely recognized upon the publication of the book Tuesday.

   "I plan to sell this book at the U.S. bookstores and through amazon.com in a bid to promote this song internationally," he said.