[KS] Choson Dynasty Sexuality

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreaweb.ws
Mon Mar 3 08:27:53 EST 2008

In response to Scott Burgeson:
I was *only* referring to the kind of 
pornographic images Scott described in the other 
posting, not in any way to work by the same 
artists referred to in the "hot cats & erotic 
tree brunches" posting (hope you enjoy the tree 
brunches though -- they look like tree brunches 
to me). These kind of extremely explicit images 
by Sin Yun-bok and Kim Hong-do are, as stated, 
are copies of Manchu-Chinese works, with minor 
changes (as already pointed out). Your 
description ...

>Korean ch'unhwa are more naturalistic, understated and
>focused either on describing local customs

... sounds good, but these are still just copies, 
and a copy is a copy is a copy. Besides, showing 
how some girl gives an old man a bl*w j*b, in 
detail (your own description) -- that maybe 
"naturalistic" (although the term naturalistic is 
defined differently in art) but I would certainly 
would have a problem calling it "understated" ... 
and not really local either, as it seems to be 
done elsewhere too, someone suggested. If you 
have Photoshop on you computer, you can take 
scans of the Manchu originals, replace the hair 
style, hats, and few, just a few, other details, 
then you get your Sin Yun-bok or Kim Hong-do 
versions. Localization! Yes? As you know, 
traditionally, painters worked with painting 
manuals. That is one of the important keywords 
here. Looking at e.g. Korean or Chinese landscape 
paintings and then looking at painting manuals 
(one of the famous ones throughout East Asia is 
e.g. _The Mustard Seed Garden_, English transl. 
published under this title by Princeton UP, 
1956), you will discover that what painters did 
throughout the ages is basically just another 
version of "painting by numbers." They did not 
order their manuals from Amazon.com and did not 
pay by Visa or Mastercard, but otherwise -- 
what's new under the sun? There are ways to paint 
waterfalls, huts, trees, stones, humans, etc., 
and in very many cases you will see that, even in 
works by well known painters, the angle and exact 
point of view are the same as in the painting 
manuals -- making paintings often look like a 
cut-and-paste work *if* comparing the painting to 
the painting manuals. _Art in the Age of 
Mechanical Reproduction_ ... not quite 
mechanical, maybe (although in other areas that 
too), but this sure was nothing new in 1936. The 
reproduction, the copying, was a very integral 
part, well, a very essential part of the process 
of creation of art work. But in the modern period 
we got used to evaluate art by modern means, and 
that means, before anything, originality -- and 
we applied that same concept to East Asian art 
work, also art work from earlier periods. I am 
not saying that the "originality" concept is some 
sort of reversal of the traditional East Asian 
concept (please do not misunderstand my statement 
here, this should not be simplified, it is 
complicated), but it still is an entirely 
different concept. Coming back to Sin Yun-bok's 
or Kim Hong-do's copies of Manchu porn albums, 
and even those of Ch'oe U-sôk (who can't be 
compared with those great 18th century painters): 
I would warn to put all this into the same pot 
and mix it and then make a statement or 
description about the quality, style, etc. of the 
work. I would rather suggest to accept the fact 
(well, if indeed these works are authentic -- are 
they really?) that copying art work of other 
artists and from other periods (mostly from 
China, of course) was part of daily bread for 
Chosôn period painters, both for literati 
painters and professional court painters. We 
therefore do not need to either start to despise 
the two greatest Chosôn painters because they 
seemed to have (re)produced low quality erotic 
images, nor do we need to artificially try to 
describe those images as great art works 
"describing local customs" etc. etc. The kind of 
ambivalence we have to deal with here is mostly 
created by our modern concept of art, artist, and 
originality. Then again, as Scott already pointed 
out, the creation of such kind of images seems to 
have brought Sin Yun-bok into serious trouble at 
the time. We may also note that we talk about 
professional artists, not literati artists, and 
that most likely there was a commercial factor to 
the production of these works.


Frank Hoffmann

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