Saturday, March 23, 2013

Choon Hyang and Namwon

To all those who would try to disturb
the sanctity of Gwanghallu: Beware the tiger!

Have you heard the story of Choon Hyang? It's a story about a young woman, the daughter of a prostitute, who resisted the near fatal beatings of a corrupt politician while waiting for her love to arrive.

        In order to know this story well, you should do two things: learn about the class structure of Korea that persisted until recent times, and go to Gwanghallu Park in Namwon, City of Love. 


        Unfortunately, I can't walk you past the guardian tigers and through the beautiful mist-blanketed garden, or over the Ojakyo bridge and into the Choon Hyang pavilion. Not right now, anyway. What I can do is tell you about the class system.


        Choon Hyang's mother, Wolmae, was a kisaeng (기생) or ginyeo (기녀), which means prostitute, and thus she belonged to the lowest class, either Yangmin (양민) or  Cheonmin (천민). This did not mean that she was poor, and it is rumored that her daughter was well-educated and wise.



Oh, the beautiful bridges of Gwanghallu.
There you can find Ojakyo, bridge of crows and magpies.


        Now, Inspector Lee belonged to the yangban (양반) or aristocratic class. He saw Choon Hyang swinging in the park. He made vows unheard of in that time: He wanted Choon Hyang to be his first wife. Now, it's alright to have a yangmin as your mistress, but as a first wife? Scandalous!

        After Inspector Lee departed his fiancee to seek higher education in Seoul,  a new satto, a kind of governor, came to town. He was struck by Choon Hyang's beauty, and he demanded she give him bed service, a right assumed by Yangbans over the Yangmin class. She refused, and he imprisoned and tortured her. She never gave in. Inspector Lee returned and prosecuted the satto. The lovers were reunited.


        But it's not good enough just to see my pictures and hear my tale. I recommend you visit this beautiful park. 


Korean caste titles:

천민- Cheonmin (lowest caste of commoners) 
양민- Yangmin, or more commonly, "Sangmin"- commoner class.
중인-Chungin (middle class)
양반- Yangban (aristocracy)


        
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