[KS] Korean Tea Ceremony and other wonders

Best, Jonathan jbest at wesleyan.edu
Sat Aug 11 12:49:34 EDT 2012

Frank Hoffman, manse!

Although I find the tea ceremony, whether Japanese or putative Korean, always an uncomfortable topic because of all the cultural and commercial hype, I think your comments are "spot on." Although the Korean Koryŏ-early Chosŏn and the Japanese Kamakura-Muromachi-Momoyama periods are chronologically well beyond anything about which I can claim a personal research-based knowledge, I teach them all in undergraduate art history courses. Not only do Zen-ish manifestations of Japanese visual culture take on truly distinctive forms in garden architecture and in the aesthetics and arts associated with the tea ceremony, but also as I understand it Korean Sŏn is quite a different Buddhism than Japanese Zen. Apropos of the arts of the Japanese tea ceremony, I cannot think of many—perhaps any—Korean ceramic bowls, either of Koryŏ celadon or of early Chosŏn punch'ŏng, that were made in Korea for Korean use that have the perpendicular sides that are virtually essential for successful the whisking of the powdered green tea which is a core element of the Japanese tea ceremony as we know it today and as seemingly it was in the Momoyama period.

So again I say, Frank Hoffman, manse!

Jonathan Best

From: koreanstudies-bounces at koreaweb.ws [koreanstudies-bounces at koreaweb.ws] on behalf of Frank Hoffmann [hoffmann at koreaweb.ws]
Sent: Saturday, August 11, 2012 4:49 AM
To: Korean Studies Discussion List
Subject: [KS] Korean Tea Ceremony and other wonders

Dear Lauren, dear All:

Just a few notes about the topic tea ceremony in Korea. I had hoped
someone more into that subject would get out of the closet. Nobody felt
like doing so, except for Kenneth Robinson's interesting
response--well, summer time it is.

Tea ceremony AND/OR its absence in Korea is an immensely central issue
for Korean art history. More accurately said, it should be an immensely
central issue. I have not seen anyone addressing it, and that as such
is a little scary in my eyes. What I really mean is the theme "art
market and trade/exchange" in traditional times (in Japan that relates
directly to the theme tea ceremony, during Meiji times at least).

Let me explain: To start with, this being an email discussion list I
try to make it short and to the point, and a little 'rough' in order to
get the main argument out. Of course, I am open to discuss this in much
more detail, if you bring up any details.
Before the 1990s none of us, I suppose, will have heard of a "KOREAN
tea ceremony"--am I wrong? And have you heard about a "KOREAN garden
culture" before the 1990s? There are then three possible explanations
for this:

- ASSUMPTION (A): Cultures of tea ceremony and garden culture were
always there, but they had only recently (maybe since the colonial
period) been suppressed and were "rediscovered" in the 1990s.
- ASSUMPTION (B): Tea ceremony and garden culture were very vibrant and
important in Korea but these cultures pretty much disappeared during
the late Chosŏn period, and only from the 1990s onwards were they
- ASSUMPTION (C): There was nothing like a Korean "tea ceremony" or
something worth the term "garden culture" after the Koryŏ period. With
over five centuries of complete interruption still talking about a
Korean tea ceremony and about garden culture is not a revitalization
but an invention.

From a historical and art historical point of view I do argue for
ASSUMPTION (C), while the mainstream Korean media (and all kind of
government organizations, museums, etc.) seem very hard to propagate
ASSUMPTION (B). If we try to leave the microcosm of all the "influence
from Korea" arguments that were given in that quoted blog
(http://chanoyu-to-wa.tumblr.com/) and focus for a moment on the bigger
picture and trust our gut instinct a little more, then one thing
catches our attention immediately: Considering that Korea sticks out as
a culture that is recording all and everything considered "cultured"
and important (high culture) in written form, why would there be almost
nothing on tea ceremony and garden culture to be found? What we do have
does relate to the country's Buddhist period, to Silla and Koryŏ, not
to the Chosŏn period. Even during the Koryŏ period, when the Buddhist
aristocracy appreciated tea, was there an active resistance by peasants
against tea harvesting, because Korea simply did not have the climate
for the kind of green teas that (according to the Indian and Chinese
models) the Buddhist rulers wanted--this is East Asia, after all, and
not South East Asia. With the decline of the Buddhist power base, with
the dynastic change, green tea did disappear in Korea. At the very
hight of Korean 'high culture,' in the 18th century, there was hardly
any trace of it left. As we also know, during the follow-up times of
cultural decline, the entire 19th century, any output related to
Buddhist culture (painting, sculpture) then rather took the shape of
'low culture,' peasant culture, where even central pieces like Maitreya
sculptures look by any means of technical skill very poor (what we
might consider "folkloristic"--another problematic term).

What the author of the quoted blog confuses is the Japanese import of
Korean ceramic wares and how these were used in Korea itself. Also,
please note that drinking tea in monasteries is not equal to "tea
ceremony"--that already starts with the kind of tea that is being
consumed. Furthermore, chanoyu in Japan--in the sense we refer to it
today, in its union with calligraphy and poetry, flower arrangements,
and its relation to garden culture, all that is an innovation of the
early modern age! And here we come to another highly essential point,
and that is why I said earlier that tea ceremony (and its absence in
Korea) SHOULD BE such an essential point to look into for Korean art
history: power and market, and related to this art exchange and trade,
and of course the production of art and changes in 'taste' and
etiquette. When looking at the current news we see that "ceremony" is
always, in one way or another, directly related to power, religion, and
state--always to all three of these: see the mimicry of a ceremony by
the Russian punk group "Pussy Riot"
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LW-JbhBCouE). What will it be for them,
three years in prison? The state reacted, and the church followed up
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phTg0RB87M4). In Koryŏ, tea ceremony
was certainly one of the many ways the elite enacted its power by
showing its cultural superiority, this in line with Chinese and
Buddhist rituals. (I am sure Professors Robert Buswell and Ed Shultz
can tell us in much more eloquent ways.) And if we look at historical
Japan, tea ceremony served the new elite to demonstrate their
empowerment, a tool of representing power through culture also for
merchants and early modern industrialists, otherwise not the usual
suspects for cultured leaders, and in Korea that would also not be the
case in later times (which is already an important difference between
the two countries in early modern times). In a seminar on chanoyu and
art (thanks to Cherie Wendelken, wherever she is) I once read a book by
Christine Guth on that topic, _Art, Tea, and Industry: Masuda Takashi
and the Mitsui Circle_ (1993). Mitsui, for example, as you remember,
was and still is one of the biggest Japanese industrial dynasties,
comparable to e.g. the German Krupp family, since Edo active in weapons
production, war crimes, education, art collecting, banking, and tea
ceremony. [Small image excursion -->
http://www.neolook.com/archives/2001092202a.jpg  "Mitsui with his
industries," 1935, by Korean artist Pae Unsŏng] When we talk about art
collections, and the important issue of art production and art markets
during the Meiji period, tea ceremony then plays a central role in all
this. It all connects. We can well say that tea ceremony and garden
culture were directly responsible for 'creating' art and an art market
in Japan; it led to the taste we now usually consider as "typical
Japanese"--as what Japanese institutions like to propagate overseas as
typical Japanese also. None of that (!) happened in Korea, no art
market around tea ceremony. No tea! (Maybe the British had otherwise
occupied it and not the Japanese.) Green tea entered Korea again with
the colonial period and the Japanese. If you have other *verifiable*
information and arguments, please do post concrete info here. The most
obvious reason why there was no tea ceremony in Korea is of course that
Buddhism was on the hide ever since Koryŏ with its Buddhist elite
culture lost to the Yi rulers and their neo-Confucian value system.
What the Japanese imported from Korea, no doubt there, was ceramic
wares and tools, but not tea ceremony, UNLESS we talk about the
pre-14th century period, and then we talk about an entirely different
"tea ceremony" than the re-invented Japanese one in the early modern
period. Going back that far in history, and stating that there was an
uninterrupted tradition of tea would of course mean to accept
non-verifiable story-telling as history on both sides, Japan and Korea.
In Japan, at least, it seems people did have a continuous appreciation
for green tea (with or without ceremony)--not so in Korea.

We still know relatively little about art exchange and the art market
in 19th century Korea, and not even of it in the economically, socially
and culturally prosperous 18th century, a situation that is in *stark*
contrast to what we know about Japan, not to mention European countries
and city states, were we can fill entire libraries with publications on
this theme alone. That lack of basic information is also responsible
for the bombardment with all these junk books, articles, and Korean TV
reports about the beauty of this or that piece of traditional Korean
artwork. The money and political power to propagate national art is
there, the research lacks behind, got a very late start, and is
nowadays often handicapped by its own government's agitprop approach to
culture that is beyond good and bad, comical at best. (The many books
on Korean tea ceremony and garden culture--from what I saw often with
what looks to me like made-up archaeological 'evidence' is just one
example.) All the 1980s studies with a Minjung historiographical
approach--however clumsily and ideologically overstated they may have
been--at least attempted to produce a view of Korean culture, history,
and art production from a unique Korean and non-elite (minjung) view.
These attempts all stopped during the 1990s. The old mode,
understanding Korean culture in relation to and competing with its
former colonial power and the West, was reinstated. No? How else can
someone explain that exactly tea ceremony and garden culture, something
JAPAN is famous for, and something gone for 500 years in Korea, would
suddenly got such a weight? One of the exhibitions of the Korean
National Museum last year was on Peter Paul Rubens' so-called "Korean
Man" (around 1617) [and other portraits], outside of Korea known under
the more correct title "Man in Korean costume" (I had researched the
history of that drawing two decades ago). While all evidence indicates
that the actual model Rubens used was a Jesuit missionary to China,
same as for the other men in Chinese costume in the same series, here
possibly Nicolas Trigault (alias Kin Nige, 1577-1628), the National
Museum marks this as a KOREAN man in Korean costume, obviously to show
that there was an early contact between Korea and Europe. A detail that
has a huge propagandistic effect. (related article in Korean newspaper:
) Such historical misrepresentation DOES have its effects world-wide.
The Getty Museum has now revised its description accordingly, partially
at least, the title is still "Man in Korean costume" and not "Korean
Man": http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=58 ).
In that same line we now also find that Korea has now its very own
"Renaissance"--formerly being something we remember did occur in Italy
and thereafter elsewhere in Europe. Just a harmless little term?
Really? I find it pathetic beyond description--and trust me, I *do*
appreciate and love Korean art, am not trying to minimize Korean art
here whatsoever--to see an exhibition catalog from the Met on the _Art
of the KOREAN RENAISSANCE_ in the Uffizi in Florence, right next to
books on Lorenzo de' Medici and 150 meters away from Michelangelo's
David. (At the Met it is in the section on East Asia, next to _One
Thousand Years of Manga_.) What counts are the 'one thousand years,'
either way. Is that what's needed to be "equal"?

Greetings from Venice (believed to be an old Korean city in Italy),
Frank Hoffmann

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