Hwang Jini, a famous Joseon Dynasty kisaeng (artists who worked to entertain others, such as the aristocrats and kings) who lived from 1506 to 1560, is an eternal name in Korean literary history as one of the most celebrated female poetry writers. Although she wrote extensively during her life, her remaining works are limited to six shijo, an indigenous Korean poetry form, and seven hanshi, or poems written in Chinese. Hwang Jinis poetry mirrors that of many other kisaeng poets of the Joseon Dynasty: expressing a longing for an absent lover, powerful lament for a lost love, or nostalgia for days of splendor and youthful innocence; however, Hwang Jinis poems evince an ethos with a refined sensibility and unmatched rhetorical talent, presenting her as an unyielding force.
Hwang Jinis poems paint a complex picture of a strong, playful, confident, decisive, forthright individual: one in control of her emotions, one who aspires for perfection, and one who can laugh at her own shortcomings as well as the foibles of others.
Hwang Jinis poems conjure traditional Korean and East Asian literary traditions; however, her rhetorical prowess of expressing the lyrical language of her true feelings, while dissociating herself from them by utilizing contrasting imagery and irony is unique.
Current scholarship surrounding Hwang Jinis poetry is almost entirely limited to Korean academia. Although the feminist echoes in her works have been written about extensively in Korea, her name is only granted one or two paragraphs in Western works. By juxtaposing her works with the beliefs and values of Confucianism, I plan to evaluate Hwang Jinis poetry through the lenses of rhetorical feminist criticism.
Through the analysis of the rhetoric of love, memory, and nature in Hwang Jinis poetry, I aspire to initiate a conversation discussing feminist voices in early East Asian literature, especially South Korea.
In order to avoid the colonialist concern with importing Western rhetorical methodologies on Asian literary cultures, I have analyzed and incorporated the works of current academic authorities in Asian Rhetoric, specifically the work of Bo Wang. Wang, who has been working on Asian women writers rhetorical practices, exemplifies the use of new methodologies when examining non-Western texts, resulting in different renderings of rhetorical language. Such research helps reshape Western knowledge and perception of non-Western rhetorical traditions. As the political and academic power structure still lies within the West, the primary goal of my research is to foster further not knowledge, not perpetuate rhetorical oppression. Wangs A Survey of Research in Asian Rhetoric, allows us to better contextualize the poems not in terms of Western texts, but through the lens of contemporary Asian rhetorical discourse (172). Based on the current research in Asian Rhetoric, I argue for a broader definition of what constitutes rhetoric. The work of Bo Wang, Luming Mao, and others gives hope that, just as Aristotle has become subject of feminist readings, someday soon he may be interpreted through a Confucian tradition. This notion is summed up the most extensive work in the English language of Asian rhetorical studies entitled, Representations: Doing Asian American Rhetoric:
We compare rhetorics so that we may understand the limits of the term and our own conceptual frame of it. As we denationalize and denormalize our notions of rhetoric, we search for understanding the power of communication in an era defined by new communication technologies, increased mobility, displacements of people, and cultural clashes. To that end, comparative rhetoric is a vital enterprise, but it can only be such if it offers more than a repeat of colonial tendencies. (88)
We often hear it said that today is the era of rhetoric, but we do not yet have a rhetoric general enough to include both Western and Asian rhetoric. Though this essay, I will show how the rhetoric of communication could operate as such a framework with special reference to the history of Korean rhetoric. First, I will investigate the history of the term susa, present milestones in the history of Korean rhetoric, and use as illustration several cases of the rhetoric of munja. Next, I will attempt to establish a notion of Korean feminism, one stemming from Korean values and culture. Lastly, I will provide an in-depth analysis of the rhetoric of love, memory, and nature present in the poetry of Hwang Jini. Through the construction of this paper, I will separate the historical, real Hwang Jini from the purported mythical Hwang Jini in the notion that a demythologizing methodology is fundamental in attaining a proper, academic evaluation of the poems. Although the legend of Hwang Jini lives on in the Korea psyche, a defiant, proud woman, who also sought perfection in her works, the poems do not require the lore, standing firmly independent of it.
The Joseon Dynasty of Korea, the longest-lived dynasty in Korean history, experienced an incredible wealth gap between the rich and the poor, as well as male and female. A society steeped in Confucianism, the ideology was a moral code that dictated all areas of life. Thus, in accordance to Confucian values and ideals, a womans place was in the home, while the mans duty was to be out engaging and participating in society. Unsurprisingly, the supporters of this type of societal norm were the members for aristocracy, called yangban, who rose in power of the founding of the dynasty. Privileged with the pursuit of knowledge, the yangban held themselves in high intellectual regard, and they were granted extensive funding by the government. Their extravagant lifestyles necessitated a new class of women: Kisaeng. Typically born into the lowest class, kisaeng were generally considered unqualified to become primary wives of men of wealth or attain any real power, despite being often taken as concubines. However, if a kisaeng were to achieve any sort of recognizable influence or fame, it was simply assumed a product of her conniving capacity to manipulate the hearts and minds of the men she entertained. In traditional Korean thinking, this was an afront to the moral codes that controlled womens lives, as women were simply expected to cook, clean, and their bodies function as sex receptacles for mens enjoyment. Many kisaeng, lacking any forward mobility in society, felt a sense of liberty masquerading behind a white, intricately painted fa?ade; Hwang Jini was an exception to this idea, for she often appeared at courtly gatherings with no makeup, barefaced for the world to see. Why she was so confident and free from societal constrictions is subject to much conversation and debate. In general, this is thought to be a product of a combination of her unique situation at birth and her interactions with many progressive-thinking yangban at the time; however, her true unabashed sureness came from her innate ability to acknowledge and utilize her artistic prowess and beauty (Cho 566).
Following her exodus from home, Jini would have gone to a gyobang, a training institution for kisaeng. There, she would have refined her musical and poetic abilities, learning to play classical instruments like the geomungo. Most importantly, Jini would learn to write shijo. She proved to be very talented in this field, becoming one of the most well-known female poets to every come out of Korea. She then would have been assigned to a hojang, a sort of village headman in charge of keeping record of occupations and general activity. Once registered as a kisaeng (for it was a government sanctioned job), she was free to make use of her training. The job of a kisaeng, to put it succinctly, was to entertain. This meant going to parties hosted by the yangban and dancing, singing, and mingling for the pure entertainment of the men present. In some ways this could be seen as a demoralizing job, but when done right, it could provide far more freedom of expression than any other opportunity of the time (Cho 570).
The extensive education of kisaeng distinguished them from most Korean women who existed during the Joseon Dynasty, as limited schooling was offered to non-males. A strenuous and intellectually demanding process that initiated from the ages of six and ten and continued throughout their careers, kisaengs were subjected to extensive training in conversation, rhetoric, etiquette, poetry, music, dance, and, of course, prostitution. Emulating the learning processes of the upper-class, kisaengs offered a unique type of company that neither filial wives nor common prostitutes could provide (Mccan 41).
Joseon literary sources often feature kisaeng using rhetorical arts to spar wittily with the most educated men of their time (Kim-Renaud 49). The courtesan culture of the early Joseon dynasty provided an environment atypical in allowing men and women from different social structures (yangban and kisaeng) to socialize freely with one another, one in which poetry served as the primary mode of communication between kisaeng and their patrons in an otherwise restrictive society. Such situations were often celebrated artistically as part of the courtesan’s way of establishing her place in a larger network of exchange. As Hwang Jini eloquently articulates, showcasing her own talents, states, “Together we feast deep into the night. / After I’ve softly tuned the lute, / we sit and tie a lover’s knot, / inviting the moon into the room (Kim-Renaud 57).
Many things influenced Hwang Jinis shijo, but she was especially influenced by her life as a professional entertainer, and by the natural world around her. She would have been well versed with Joseon court culture because of her position as a kisaeng, and the royal palaces of the Joseon Dynasty would have been familiar to her, providing her with a wealth of inspiration. This urban culture would have been a change from her home in Gaesong (the old capital of the Goryeo Dynasty), where natural beauty abounded. Jini is known to have listed the three wonders of Gaesong as herself, Seo Kyung Duk (an ex-lover), and the Bakyeon Waterfall (ORourke 75).
When discussing rhetoric from the point of view of communication, it is important to pay careful attention to its varying conceptions in the West, where the art of speaking well has long been well respected, and in North-East Asia where, under the in?uence of Buddhism and Confucianism, language was rather discredited, and where people have long since been fully aware of the limits of language. If, in Korean traditional society, the writing culture was highly regarded and very developed, the speaking culture never had the success it had in the West. Jon Sung-gi notes that Korean traditional society paid more attention to the negative function of speech rather than to its positive function (314). Insuk Lee, who observes the Korean conception of communication from the point of view of proverbs and sayings, notes that Korean society held in higher place silent communication or hints through implicit communication (74). Expressions such as nooneuro malhada (??? ???), which literally translates to to say through the eyes and isim jeonsim (?? ??), which can be interpreted as to be in spiritual communion with someone, show that the language of silence played a signi?cant role in everyday life. Jon Sung-gi even states that Koreans during the Three Kingdoms Period held as an ideal speech, owing to the in?uence of Lao-zi and Chuang-zis thoughts (two famous Chinese philosophers during the Warring States Period), not oratorical speech or eloquence(??), but the rather clumsy speech, or nulbyeon (??), which contents itself with brief and humble expression (316).
When analyzing rhetoric through a Korean lens, it is impossible to avoid terms such as susa ?? (rhetoric) and susahak ??? (rhetoric or rhetorical studies); however, it is important to consider the history and the implications of these speci?c translations of rhetorical terms. The word susa is held as an equivalent word for rhetoric in North-East Asian countries, but it is not a mere translation of the term rhetoric: it has its own history and contexts. It is therefore important to observe the meanings of the word susa before the Opening Period (1876-1910), to understand them before the terminological use of the word. Interestingly, according to Insuk Lee, in the beginning, Koreans hesitated for quite a long time between susa ?? and misa??(beautiful language), which demonstrates, at least in a roundabout way, that Western rhetoric in that period was mainly thought of as an ornamental rhetoric (75).
Unlike Western rhetorical traditions, the rhetoric of munja is key to culturally rooted Korean rhetoric. This rhetoric of munja can be included in the rhetoric of communication. In the concept of munja (?), we can distinguish two main definitions: a munja as creation, and another one as elaboration. For an example of the first concept, we can evoke the creation of the Korean alphabet for the peoples use, what became known as Hangeul (??), by king Sejong (??) (1418 1450) assisted by his subjects; as for the second tendency, the two best examples would be the two major problems of writing: the problem of classical Chinese times and the problem linked to the experimentation of other writings during the Opening Period (especially the gukhanmunche (????), or Sino-Korean writing (a mix of Chinese characters and the Korean alphabet), and the gukmunche (???), or Hangeul writing) (Kim 45). The rhetoric of munja aims, among other things, at demonstrating the importance of an individual, a group of people, or even a whole societys intense and serious efforts put into creating a new alphabet or into elaborating speeches or writings by various means. The problem of experimenting and elaborating writings and, subsequently, the problem of renovating and reforming modern Korean language are at the very heart of the rhetoric of munja, because they deal with the development of a writing system or a means of writing when there was no valid frame for an ef?cient communication with the people, the same way that they deal with the selection of a writing system according to the public and/or the content. The experimentation with writing systems was highly motivated by the will to introduce properly the modern thoughts of Western culture and civilization under the aegis of Korean nationalism, whose watchwords were enlightening the masses and love of ones country and fellow citizens (Cummings 101). The re?ection on the de?nition and translation of the term rhetoric has inspired me, as well as other individuals in academia, to catch a glimpse of the continuity that exists between two questions that had been considered separately until now: writing in classical Chinese and the writing systems of the Opening Period. In both cases, writing, be it a quest seeking the reunion of written language with the dao (doctrine), or be it a search for the unity of written and spoken language is at the core of rhetoric of munja (Kim 56).
In order to be able to illustrate a Korean rhetorical map of knowledge meticulously and closer to reality, we need to analyze a wider and deeper range of synchronic and diachronic documents. Beside literary rhetoric, Korean rhetoric, whose studies are yet at their early stages, does not seem to equal Chinese or Japanese rhetoric. Yet I think that, through close cooperation with North-East Asian rhetoricians, we should be able to contribute to a better understanding of global Korean rhetoric, specifically its feminist possibilities.