[KS] cultural object circulation in the late Choson Dynasty query

Sunjoo Kim sunjookim1 at hotmail.com
Thu Sep 30 10:10:09 EDT 2010

Dear Gari (and all),
Thanks again for your authoritative essay on this topic. I agree with you that it was primarily Japanese who "rediscovered" Koryo celadon in the very late nineteenth and early twentieth century. 
As you mentioned, the wares drawn in ch'aekkori screens are probably Chinese origin or inspiration. Many objects in the painting, I've heard, are something that nineteenth century Choson elites desired to possess, but not necessarily that they owned.
A convenient tool for textual search is here:  
Search results might be misleading because not all Choson/Koryo primary sources are available through this site, but it is pretty comprehensive. Out of curiosity, I ran search by following five words and found that these ceramic wares were not popular topics to Choson writers at all;
ch'ongja 靑瓷 or 靑磁 : a few relevant hits but all related to China (a miraculous ch'ongja plate, ch'ongja paper, etc.)
paekcha 白瓷 or 白磁 : several hits, mentioned in the context of a poem, as ritual vessels, Chinese envoy demanding certain type of paekcha, etc.
punch'ong 粉靑: only a few hits. Here is one interesting one (a Koryo punch'ong flower branch along with a golden hairpin accidentally found in Manwol-dae in Kaesong, Koryo's old palace site) by Sin Wi (1769-1845), one of the well known literati painter and poet. 


Sun Joo Kim

> Date: Wed, 29 Sep 2010 23:56:27 -0400
> From: gkl1 at columbia.edu
> To: koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
> Subject: Re: [KS] cultural object circulation in the late Choson Dynasty query
> In regard to Andre’s question, I have no particular knowledge of the 
> antiquarian market during the later Choson dynasty, but I would guess 
> that there would have been very few specimens of Koryo celadon 
> available to be sold in it. In early Choson, the aristocracy would 
> have continued to enjoy the ceramic wares that survived to the end of 
> Koryo. Such objects would have passed from generation to generation 
> for about 200 years, or until the Imjin Wars, during which most of 
> them would end up looted and transported to Japan. Most such items 
> would probably have been the later Koryo wares, which nowadays are 
> considered to be of lower artistic value than the great Koryo celadons 
> of the 11th and 12th centuries. To the extent that such items 
> survived, most would probably have come down through inheritance or as 
> gifts. But whatever the genre of such wares, the losses of Imjin times 
> would have meant that only a rather small percentage of them survived 
> into the 17th century. Even allowing for informal archaeological 
> findings by farmers or others, and considering the anti-commercial 
> values of the Confucian aristocracy, there probabaly would not have 
> been much of a market.
> However that situation would have changed with the economic 
> trends of the 17th and 18th centuries. Hopefully other responders will 
> be able to post some information from written Choson sources on the 
> art and cultural objects market that Andre wonders about. But I would 
> expect that most of that market activity would have involved paintings 
> and decorative screens. And although such screens themselves depict 
> beautiful vases and other ceramic objects, most of them seem to be of 
> Chinese origin or inspiration. This is based on a survey of 
> illustrations of these screens provided me by my friend Kay Black, who 
> for many years has studied the so-called ch’aekkori 冊거리screens 
> depicting books and other cultural objects of the scholar’s studio. 
> These screens were created by professional painters that were either 
> commissioned by individuals or destined for those who would want to 
> have one in their home.
> When did such markets come into existence? I once went through 
> the biographies of Korean painters and calligraphers in the well-known 
> 韓國書畵人名辭書 compiled by Kim Yong’yun 金榮胤 (1959). I tried, on the basis of 
> a regular chronological sampling of the 1,335 Choson 
> painters/calligraphers for whom he provided biographical details, to 
> establish the class status of each painter-calligrapher. Of the 1,335 
> individuals, the overwhelming majority (957) were exclusively 
> calligraphers according to his categorization, while 378, or 21%, were 
> active as artists who combined painting with calligraphy. I concluded 
> that from 1400 to about 1725, the overwhelming proportion of these 
> were sadaebu or yangban in class status. Given their cultural values, 
> we may suspect that they painted for themselves or their friends, 
> taking pride in painting for their aesthetic pleasure and not for 
> profit while avoiding the market place as a matter of class pride. But 
> from 1725 to 1900, the saedaebu/yangban painters thinned out 
> considerably, while the numbers of professional class (chung’in 中人, 
> hwawon 畵員) or commoners exceeded the sadaebu/yangban group by a 
> considerable margin. They were active in the market place in those 
> years and are known to have made a substantial part of their living 
> there. I don't have any idea where that market was physically located, 
> or even if there existed such a physical location. But there must have 
> been sellers and buyers of cultural objects. Given that there were 
> sufficient numbers of artists and consumers for paintings, we might 
> conclude that ceramic art was also included in that market.
> But whether the ceramic art for sale included many specimens of 
> Koryo ceramics is problematic. It is important to note that prior to 
> the late 19th and early 20th century, relatively little was known 
> about Koryo ceramics. They are not mentioned much in Koryo sources; 
> indeed, the best information on the splendid vases, bowls, plates, 
> cups of the 11th and 12th centuries comes from a Chinese work, the 
> Xuanhe fengshi Gaoli tujing 宣和奉使高麗圖經, written by Xu Jing 徐兢 in 1124. 
> He visited the Koryo court as Chinese ambassador in 1123. Surely 
> Choson sources must contain references to Koryo ceramics, and I would 
> be surprised if the art historians in Korea have not discovered them 
> by now; there is a sizeable literature of cultural observation, 
> especially in the second half of the dynasty. It was not until the 
> late 19th century that Koryo celadon was widely noticed and praised.
> Why so late? Because almost all, if not absolutely all of the now 
> known Koryo celadon specimens was discovered in that period in tombs 
> in the general Kaesong area where Koryo’s capital had been. Many of 
> these diggings were illegal and criminal acts, and much valuable 
> archeological information was lost in the rush to find the beautiful 
> ceramics. The chief buyers, and in some cases the commissioners of the 
> plunder, were Japanese who found them to be both beautiful art and 
> nice souvenirs of their time in Korea. But rich Koreans and other 
> foreigners also coveted the examples that survive in museums arounf 
> the world today. The transmission of Koryo celadon from the time of 
> its manufacture to the time of its revelation might be called an 
> “underground operation": it was placed in the tombs of Koryo 
> aristocrats at the time of its creation and unearthed in the plunder 
> of Kaesong cemetaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We 
> have much reason to be grateful for Koryo’s burial custioms.
> Andre asks a stimulating question about the late Choson art 
> market. More research on the subject is definitely needed. But it’s 
> not likely that that market saw much Koryo celadon before the end of 
> the 19th century. Such antique ceramic ware as it contained would have 
> been mainly Choson wares and imports from Beijing's antiquities shops.
> Silla wares, which were also buried in tombs but over a much 
> larger area and a much longer period, survived the same way. They can 
> still pop out of the ground today. When I was a student in Korea in 
> the mid 1960s, farmers in Kyongsang province had tables full of it for 
> sale to anyone who passed by. The authorities have better control of 
> that situation now.
> Gari Ledyard
> Andre Schmid <andre.schmid at utoronto.ca> wrote:
> > A few of us in Toronto were discussing the circulation of cultural
> > objects in the late Choson dynasty when the following question arose:
> > If you were a family of means in the 18th century, where might you use
> > your money to purchase a celadon from the Koryo dynasty? Was this even
> > possible? Our discussion of this topic was based on pure conjecture and
> > not supported by any specific empirical or textual knowledge (easy to
> > do!), so I thought I would post a query to see if anyone had any
> > specific textual sources from this period that would shed light on our
> > question. Thanks in advance for your suggestions and ideas.
> >
> > Andre Schmid
> > University of Toronto
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