“Kisaeng” is a word transliterated from Korean, meaning “entertaining girl or girls,” who were professionally trained to sing, dance or play ancient instruments in old world Korea. Some wrote classic Korean poetry called, “Sijo,” and recited them to the haunting melody of kayagum sound. Despite their high artistry and elegance, however, they belonged to a lower-class in social strata, who served as entertainers in banquets and ceremonial dinners for aristocrats and high officials. Hwang, Jini (1506-1560) is known to be one of the most legendary Kisaeng girls and an acclaimed poet of her time. She was featured in the Korean movie titled by her name.
In the changing ethos of time, however, especially following the tragic Korean War and her rapid growth as an industrialized nation, the classic sight of Kisaeng girls in Korea has long been eclipsed by modern social mores of the country. Nonetheless, it may not be a mere coincidence if one finds the footprints of their beauty and haunting legacy still alive in various forms of the Korean traditional performing arts today.
Following are the three images of Kisaeng girls in classic Hanbok (traditional Korean dress), courtesy of Hyunam Publishing Co. in Seoul, Korea. In the far left stands a Kisaeng girl in her outdoor mode in her hat (called Jonmo), made of bamboo and oiled paper that were worn by lower class women. In the middle in all white is a dancing girl, and in the right she is wearing her formal Hanbok dress.
The above images were selected from the book:
“Korean Costumes during the Chosun Dynasty”
Written and Illustrated by Kwon,Oh-Chang
Hyunam Publishing Co.
Written and compiled by Therese Young Kim
Author of Nayoung’s Journey
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