What Is Chunhyangga? The Pansori Sampled By TXT In Their Latest Title Track

The story relates to the song’s theme beautifully.

TXT’s latest title track, “Sugar Rush Ride,” is sweeping charts and into hearts with its hypnotizing melody and music video. But a specific element of the song has intrigued fans both in South Korea and internationally. The group revealed that the song samples a portion of Chunhyangga, Korea’s most beloved pansori. The line “Come here, more/ Let me give you a piggyback ride, more” is taken directly from the traditional song.

Pansori refers to a traditional genre of Korean music that involves storytelling with the musical accompaniment of drums. Chunhyangga is one of the five surviving stories of the Korean pansori musical storytelling tradition. The other stories are Simcheongga, Heungbuga, Jeokbyeokga, and Sugungga. There are no records confirming the exact time when Chunhyangga was written. The story can be found in Manwhajip, written by Yu Jin Han during the Joseon Dynasty, as well as in Mugeukhangrok of the same era, written by Juik Yang. Therefore, it is supposed that Chunhyangga has existed since before Sukjong of Joseon (1661–1720). The story originated as pansori and was probably passed down orally before being recorded as prose. It has evolved in its form through multiple retellings, sometimes as films and sometimes as dramas. Though there are various versions, the main plot remains the same.

Folk art depicting the story of Chunhyangga | korea.net

The story of Chunhyangga starts with Wolmae, a renowned kisaeng (female entertainer) of Namwon, Jeollabuk-do. Though gisaengs were usually refined and cultured, they were also at the bottom of the societal status quo. Wolmae was eager to escape her low social status, and she managed to become the second wife of a civil minister. Wolmae gave birth to a daughter and named her Chunhyang, meaning the “scent of spring.”

When Chunhyang was around 16 years old, she caught the eye of Yi Mong Ryong, the son of the district magistrate. He was out for a walk when he saw Chunhyang on a swing and immediately became mesmerized by her beauty. Mon Ryong decided to pursue his feelings and sent his servant to arrange a meeting with her. Though Chunhyang agreed to meet her suitor at the Gwanghallu Pavilion, she was initially aloof from the young man’s emotions. But Mong Ryong had already fallen so hard for her that he instantly decided to marry her.

Mong Ryong expressed his intentions to Wolmae, seeking her approval. Wolmae knew this marriage could significantly improve her daughter’s life, given the high social status of Mong Ryong’s family, and she gave her blessings. But according to the strict social customs of that time, the young man had to pass the civil service first to be able to marry Chunhyang. While Mong Ryong dedicated himself to studying for the civil service exam, love blossomed between him and Chunhyang, and the two lovers had a brief and peaceful courting period.

Cover “Chunhyangjeon,” a Korean romance novel published in the early 20 C, based on “Chunhyangga” | Wikipedia

But as fate would have it, Mong Ryong soon had to leave Namwon for Seoul as his father got promoted to a position there. Chunhyang was the daughter of a gisaeng, which ruled out any chances of Mong Ryong’s father allowing her to relocate with the family for all the risks involved. The two lovers bid each other a tearful farewell, promising to remain faithful until Mong Ryong passed the exams and came back to marry her with honor.

Mong Ryong’s father was replaced by a new magistrate in Namwon named Byeok Hak Do. Soon, his tyranny spread far and wide as he ignored his duties and exploited the local population for his lust. It was only a matter of time before his eyes fell on Chunghyang’s beauty. Hak Do decided to force Chunhyang to become his concubine, but she refused to bow down to his evil ways. Infuriated, Hak Do had her thrown into prison, where she suffered endlessly for months and was almost on the verge of her death.

Artwork based on “Chunhyangga” by Lee Suck Woo | mutualart.com

Before Chunhyang’s fate took another turn for the worse, Mong Ryong returned to Namwon with an honorable title after passing the civil service exam. The circumstances had changed, and he decided to test Chunhyang’s loyalty before taking any other actions. So, disguised as a homeless man, he approached Chunhyang to see how she treated him. She was polite and kind, but she also made it clear that Mong Ryong was the one true love of her life.

Mong Ryong, now sure of Chunhyang’s love, revealed himself to her, and the two lovers kissed and embraced each other. Empowered by his newly earned title, Mong Ryong ousted Hak Do for his corruption and freed his political prisoners. The two lovers got married, and Chunhyang went to Seoul with her husband, where the king rewarded his accomplishments with a promotion.

TXT’s song “Sugar Rush Ride” is all about temptation and surrendering to desire, a theme that Chunhyangga dabbles into quite extensively. On the surface, it might appear as a simple, fairy-tale love story, but at its core, it contains both historical and eternal themes of human desire and the spirit of resistance. The report also deals with some significant social commentary, such as the Confucian class system, the lack of female agency, and social mobility. Perhaps the reason it is still one of the most treasured pieces of Korean literature is how it weaves these complex concepts into a love story.

Source: Wikipedia, Google Arts & Culture and KOREA.net