[KS] FW: Korean Tea Ceremony and other wonders

Werner Sasse werner_sasse at hotmail.com
Mon Aug 13 07:02:55 EDT 2012

 From: werner_sasse at hotmail.com
To: hoffmann at koreaweb.ws
Subject: RE: [KS] Korean Tea Ceremony and other wonders
Date: Mon, 13 Aug 2012 11:02:15 +0000

Dear Frank, thanks for your comments.
One thing at the beginning. When you remarked 
>" Sounds somehow mystic and very "Oriental" to my ears, and of course, we 
> see this being repeated over and over in lots of Korean magazines, but 
> was that so? In short, I think this is not the case,"
I think you should be a bit careful. I swallowed the "Oriental" and it tasted a bit foul..., But really: You are implying that I was blinded by pre-something, but believe me, I did have to have a second look. And that fact that other people have said the same does not invalidate somebody's experience.
You are, of course, right in pointing out the danger of jumping the band waggon of discourse about the Japanese tea stuff and garden stuff, and I agree that we see too much of it. Tea culture seems to be such a case; at least it corresponds to my almost 50 years of experience.  But I still believe that in connection with Korean garden culture  Peter Bartholomew was correct to put his finger on the difference between garden culture in practice and garden culture in essays and treatises. Let the Japanese write as much as they want about their gardens, I go into the Korean garden and open eyes and mind. I was talking about how I discovered garden culture by going to gardens, strolling around pretty unprepared and naive, looking at it, and then later tried to find out what the designer had in mind and how other people reacted on experiencing the garden. Consulting any writings about garden culture was the second step for me.  Now to my favorit garden and some written stuff about it:  

1548   Forty-eight
Chants on Soswaewon, by Kim Inhu (1511-1560) 김인후 金麟厚  <瀟灑園 四十八詠>1574        Record
of Roaming Auspicious Rocks (= Mudeung Mountain  Travelogue), by Go Gyeongmyeong (1533~1592) 고경명 高敬命 < 유서석록 遊瑞石錄>

1696        Thirty
Chants on Soswaewon, by Pangam Yang Gyeongji  ( - )(5th
generation descendent} 방암 양경지 方菴 梁敬之 < 소쇄원삼십영 瀟灑園三十詠> 

1731        The
Facts of Soswaewon < 소쇄원사실  瀟灑園事實>; collected works of  Yang Sanbo
and his descendents.

1755        Map
of Soswaewon [woodblock] < 소쇄원도 瀟灑園圖>; unknown artist; some claim it was carved by
Song Siyeol (송시열 宋時烈) but  that is unlikely, because
his lifetime was 1607-1689.  A very good starting point is the map with the quotes I mentioned in my first posting, I am attaching a copy of it to this mail. The fun is in the double structure of natural beauty and scholarly symbolism connected with it. And the realisations of the symbols, sorry to repeat myself, are in part artificial and in part not. And sometimes it is difficult to .... oh, well. Another point: (but I have to warn you that this is really not my pet subject, so I may have missed the best articles)Scholars working about geomancy have up to now been too occupied with graves, cities, palaces, and houses, and have not payed enough attention to how geomancy worked on garden culture. Likewise those writing about garden culture do not pay enough attention to the inner structure, but see only the surrounding landscape. Some examples for influences on the design:1. small artificial hills or simply piles of stone were erected to correct geomantically seen insufficiencies of the place. The one reason I like best is the shape of a phoenix mountain which signals the bird wants to fly away. Since birds do not fly away when they are hatching, erecting mud or stone piles as eggs in their direction will correct the problem... I love that one.2. correcting the flow of brooks is important, also adding ponds in the correct direction3. lots of prescriptions like "a peach tree is forbidden to plant near a well", "a plum tree is o.k. in the east of the house but not in the W,S,or N", "planting a pomegranate in the front garden will give you a good son", " a gingko is bad in the E-SE of a house but good in the N", and so on4. peach trees and weeping willow in the east are a substitute for a missing Azure Dragon, and so on(Cf. Hong-key Yoon's writings for a start) These and similar rules shape gardens. Now some re to your posting:"There are always explanations for cultural and stylistic and all other choices.' -->well, I think I gave you a couple of hints... "When we discuss traditional Korean landscape architecture and gardening, we should of course look to and compare that to China (and Japan), as we do with all otherwise also.  For a Sino-centric country like Korea that is a must."--> Definitely. But the point is what are the different applications of influences? What did Korea adopt and how did it change them. And what did they simply apply without writing about it.  "Why would we suddenly make some sort of exclusion from the rule when it comes to garden culture? "--> Who does that? I have pointed at the influence of Chinese scholarship and today added geomancy, which also was adopted/adapted from Chinese models. "And if we do this, then we will see that there is no explanation for a possible absence of a bulk of textual sources, major 
 sources, if there ever was anything like garden culture in Korea. "--> Are you asking for an explanation why there is no blue in the red rose? "Absence of textual sources", well there are very few sources on Kimtchi culture, but it has been a very lively culture for 1000 years... Is "garden culture" really only a phrase you can use when there are treatises about it? The reality of garden culture for me are the gardens which are there and the principles behind their design, the "about stuff" of philosophers and other writers is secondary and has only secondary bearing on the real garden culture. It is actually secondary "garden culture" for those who like to keep sitting at their desk rather than collect soil under their fingernails. Should you now say that designed gardens are too few to speak of garden culture and private ones were mostly build by Yangban, well so are gardens in the West (nobility)  Turning to tea culture I think you have a point. I still remember how I frowned when the first Tea Culture people showed up in my office in Hamburg asking for help in their plan to enlighten the German-Korean Society. And they had a lot of money to throw around. Anyway, so much for today. I will now turn to the fridge to pay respect to the German beer culture. By the way, are there many treatises about beer culture...? Looking forward to your next reply, I do enjoy this discussion and I think it has to do with more than a few gardensBestWerner   


> Date: Sun, 12 Aug 2012 06:53:36 -0700
> From: hoffmann at koreaweb.ws
> To: koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws
> Subject: Re: [KS] Korean Tea Ceremony and other wonders
> Dear Werner, dear All:
> Thank you Werner for taking the time and effort to respond in detail.
> While some themes and issues can just be discussed by stating facts 
> with additional interpretation (see e.g. Kenneth Robinson's reply to 
> Lauren's request), I think this "garden culture" issue does require a 
> different approach in replying. We otherwise just end up in some A says 
> YES and B says NO thread that might not be all too educational.
> I think that all Werner wrote in his posting is correct, and I really 
> do not have to stretch myself to say so. While all these observations 
> are very likely to the point, this still does not change anything with 
> the problem I have as regards to "garden culture" in Korea. Allow me 
> therefore to explain what the problem is, as short as I can. 
> The starting point **for me** in looking at such themes is always what 
> we may call the "discourse situation" (or simply the existing 
> discourse). The discourse can never be ignored, and whatever arguments 
> are made are always within an existing discourse, are always reacting 
> to an existing discourse. Someone can certainly claim not to care about 
> the existing discourse, but that would then just be another tactic of 
> reacting to the existing discourse (e.g. to provoke in order to 
> stimulate new approaches), or it is done out of pure ignorance. By the 
> 1990s we were in a situation were the discourse on Japanese tea 
> ceremony and garden culture had reached a highly sophisticated stage. I 
> would say that the 1990s up until the early 2000s were all over the 
> most important time for theoretical approaches on East Asian art, a 
> time where just everything came finally together. [I could explain this 
> in much detail, but not now, it would mean to side-track, and it would 
> take several pages.] In this situation, with the continuous discussion 
> and research activities on Japanese garden culture, that was by then on 
> a really sophisticated stage (I already mentioned the book by Guth as 
> one example), with a lot of available textual sources and textual 
> analysis done, and with an amazing number of publications--yes, indeed 
> a 'hype' already in that area, within this discourse situation I now 
> saw KOREA suddenly raising its middle finger to say "oh well, never 
> mind, we have all this as well. We have almost no textual evidence, we 
> have almost no gardens, hardly anyone has a green finger in Korea and 
> knows what to do around the house, there are no sort of traditional 
> aesthetic treatises by Korean scholars on gardening and on the 
> relationship of garden and philosophy (Buddhist or otherwise), but 
> never mind, we have what you have anyway." Okay, yes, this is somewhat 
> ironic. The problem there is that all these people, media, publications 
> do not just try to say, "see, we also have gardens" but that from the 
> very beginning the talk was about "garden culture"--AND there is a very 
> vibrant discourse and a hype going on about this in neighboring Japan, 
> and as for Japan, garden culture played without doubt a very central 
> role for art and aesthetics. And OF COURSE does that discourse matter 
> to Korea AND for anyone else seeing a book on Korean garden culture, 
> and of course was everyone in Korea quite aware (but possibly not well 
> informed) about that discourse. (NOTE: To be perfectly clear about 
> this, I personally do not at all like Japanese gardens with their 
> miniature landscapes, sense of artificiality, and the philosophy that 
> they relate to.)
> Now, nobody please get me any naiivité flash card as a response at 
> this point, I urge you. We do talk high up cultural politics and 
> well-crafted, government-sponsored manipulation beyond believe here. 
> Garden culture is a big one, and my example of Rubens' "Man in Korean 
> cloth" that becomes a "Korean man in Korean costume" in the National 
> Museum's exhibit is a smaller example of this. Factual evidence and 
> historical truth is secondary, is shaped in whatever way seems 
> opportune to propagate national culture--for what, with what aim? Now, 
> I sure do not want to make this a finger-pointing statement. As 
> Professor Best might or might not agree with, Japanese organizations 
> and scholars followed very similar tactics, and much earlier than 
> Korea, and also with and about e.g. tea ceremony and garden 
> culture--which makes it really a complex topic to discuss. Basically, 
> what I am saying is that Korea is taking a bath in its neighbor's pond 
> while it has its own, but that is not called garden culture; it is, 
> intentionally so, hopping onto an existing discourse by simply 
> replacing a country name: these are tested corporate marketing 
> strategies applied to culture--Honda becomes Hyundai, and other 
> corner-cutting approaches to sell. 
> The 'hype' about Korean garden culture is thus build upon the 
> pre-existing discourse on Japanese garden culture, there is no doubt 
> about that. But now that we have it, can we actually fill that easily 
> achieved 'hype' with some real historical, material and textual 
> contents? (Zero points from me if you reply that this is a question of 
> having the same "right" than Japan has to this. What I want to know is 
> what there actually existed in historic times.) THAT is my question, 
> and that is where I do have various doubts. I have a lot of doubts 
> about the archaeological "evidence"--at least what I have seen in 
> Korean journals a few years ago in Korea ….I copied two such articles 
> exactly because they looked so traumatizingly odd to me, but 
> unfortunately I do not have those at hand here in Italy. I also noted 
> (and sorry, I have again to pass when it comes to references, nothing 
> is here with me) that some the book publications seemed to fill in for 
> the absence of concrete, verifiable historic information and textual or 
> material evidence with what I consider weird and abstruse, completely 
> made-up aesthetic theories. Such wide-spread and in Korean officially 
> propagated explanations are also reflected in Werner's description
> below (referring to the part "build in a way that they looked natural"):
> > Studying Soswaewon it sometimes was not easy to 
> > distinguish between some feature which has been added and features 
> > which were simply cleaned spots left in the original state but in 
> > connection with other areas given aesthetic meaning. And some of the 
> > walls building terrasses were build in a way that they looked 
> > natural, and you had to give a second look to see they were man made. 
> Sounds somehow mystic and very "Oriental" to my ears, and of course, we 
> see this being repeated over and over in lots of Korean magazines, but 
> was that so? In short, I think this is not the case. We really should 
> be awake and careful not to confuse today's journalistic explanations 
> with historic reality. When Rapunzel lets her hair down, then that 
> indicates that key to the tower is unavailable. But we do not have to 
> climb up. We can instead search for the key. If people have no clue how 
> to explain a certain artistic object, as they miss sufficient 
> historical information that allows them to make connections explaining 
> how the object was used, how it was made, who owned it, and so forth, 
> then we do often end up hearing these made-up "appreciation of nature" 
> aesthetics as a simple replacement for actual information. (Korea and 
> Korean garden culture is by far not the only such example. In the 70s, 
> for example, whatever book you read about South American culture, Inka 
> etc., you would always read about this "appreciation or nature" 
> aesthetics--by now, with much more information at our hands, that has 
> disappeared, now we have much better information on how objects were 
> used, how gardens were utilized, and for what purposes by whom, etc. 
> "Appreciation of nature" is nothing but an emergency place-holder.) A 
> much simpler explanation could be that Koreans were not concerned about 
> gardens and garden culture, that the emphasis was on quite different 
> issues. Why, for example, do Germans care so much about perfectly well 
> build double-glass windows in their houses, and why is this by no means 
> one of the top priorities for Americans, even on the cold East coast, 
> how tightly their windows close? Well, Germans stay (at least until 
> recently) a life time in one place and Americans move on after two 
> three years, on average. There are always explanations for cultural and 
> stylistic and all other choices. When we discuss traditional Korean 
> landscape architecture and gardening, we should of course look to and 
> compare that to China (and Japan), as we do with all otherwise also. 
> For a Sino-centric country like Korea that is a must. Why would we 
> suddenly make some sort of exclusion from the rule when it comes to 
> garden culture? And if we do this, then we will see that there is no 
> explanation for a possible absence of a bulk of textual sources, major 
> sources, if there ever was anything like garden culture in Korea. 
> Garden culture is high culture, we do not talk about "shaman" practices 
> in the countryside here. If there was a vibrant garden culture in Korea 
> (same applies to tea culture) we would find plenty (!) of texts about 
> it and all the details, same as we have on e.g. traditional painting, 
> both Korean and imported Chinese texts. We would see the usual 
> patterns, the variations, discussions, schools of opinions, etc. And 
> *if* indeed there would have been anything like an "appreciation of 
> nature" approach that would have been strong enough to cause a garden 
> culture with all that belongs to it (being expressed the way you 
> describe it in above quoted passage), then we sure would find 
> *extensive* sources about exactly this--letters between scholars 
> discussing gardens, proof of exchanges of art objects that relate to 
> garden culture, extended philosophical treatises in gardens, etc. 
> However, the only more scholastic and in-depth philosophic-aesthetic 
> approaches into that direction (quite apart from garden culture, just 
> to an "appreciation of nature" approach alone), the only schools of 
> thought that followed such path--sorry if that sounds once again like 
> 'Korea-bashing'--come from early 20th century Japan, and there also 
> with KOREA as its 'object' here, as a kind of experimental sample case. 
> As you see we are right back on track to the theme pre-existing 
> discourse: key phrase "Yanagi Muneyoshi and colonial aesthetics (Korean 
> porcelain for Japanese tea ceremony, etc.)" Anyway, Harry Harootunian 
> and others have in recent years written a lot about such nature 
> aesthetics/philosophies, how that relates to Fascism, and more. I am 
> not aware of any such (historical) Korean approach, not before the late 
> colonial period at least, and there it was again directly influenced by 
> contemporary Japanese models.
> I have no doubts that everything else you say and describe in the 
> posting is right on. That, however, does by no means constitute proof 
> of the existence of a "garden culture" in the way the term "garden 
> culture" is otherwise used. It means Koreans had gardens, yes, at least 
> the aristocracy had. It does not mean gardens played any sort of 
> central, important role in overall traditional Korean culture. 
> Still, some of what you describe, e.g. ….
>   > Lots of prose literature and poems about it, too, including 
>   > a map with references (middle 18th c.)
> makes me curious. Could you describe in more detail? I am not yet 
> understanding what poetry you are referring to.
> Best,
> Frank
> --------------------------------------
> Frank Hoffmann
> http://koreaweb.ws

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