South Korea has reconsidered a ban on the Marquis de Sade novel 120 Days of Sodom, one month after it was translated into Korean.


120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, translated into Korean. (Dongsuh Press)

It’s been more than 220 years since de Sade published his tale of four French libertines engaged in orgies, pedophilia and rape. However, his writing still sparks moral debate. The graphic descriptions of sexual perversion and murder in 120 Days of Sodom were penned while de Sade was in prison in 1785. The book remained unpublished in any language until 1904.

When a Korean version of the novel was released in August, Seoul residents signed a petition protesting the book.

The Korea Publication Ethics Commission, a state review board, banned the book on Sept. 6 and ordered its Korean publisher to destroy all copies, saying the book was "extremely obscene and cruel."

It was the second time the novel had been banned in Korea: an earlier translation in 2000 could not be distributed.

But publisher Dongsuh Press appealed the decision and has been able to convince the commission that the book has significant literary value. Commission officials met with academics and writers concerned about freedom of expression before reversing the month-long ban.

"The commission auditors, after reviewing related documents submitted by the publisher, concluded that the book was written to delve into the dark side of human nature rather than simply trigger sexual or violent excitement," said senior board official Jang Tag-Hwan.

Although the ban has been lifted, the book is still considered a "harmful publication for minors" and must be sold in a sealed plastic cover and only to those aged 19 or older.

The Marquis de Sade, who lived 1740 to 1814, was a French aristocrat famed for his libertine lifestyle. He combined philosophy with graphic descriptions of sexual acts in his writing. Imprisoned several times for his work, de Sade spent the final years of his life in an insane asylum where he was allowed to stay as an alternative to prison. His writing remains frequently subject to bans or censorship.