[KS] Korean Tea Ceremony and other wonders

McCann, David dmccann at fas.harvard.edu
Mon Aug 13 07:07:24 EDT 2012

Seems relevant indeed, the poem by Song Sun.  Nature is outside, in that poem, and the speaker looks out from the hut and engages it.

The garden thread is fascinating, but seems to turn away from those places out in the countryside pictured in the scroll paintings where men would gather and drink, sing, write and recite.  Lots of wonderful sijo on the subject too, as in the example below by Song Sun that Young-Key posted, or others for example in the "Songs of Nature" section in Richard Rutt's The Bamboo Grove.

There's also a "Drinking Songs" section in Rutt's book.  They are not drinking tea, let me tell you!  For example, a sijo by Prince Yuch'ôn:

Yesterday I was dead drunk,
and today it's wine again.
Was I sober the day before yesterday?
The day before that I cannot recall.
Tomorrow I have asked a friend to West Lake:
Shall I be sober-- perhaps?

David McCann

On Aug 12, 2012, at 3:11 PM, Young-Key Kim-Renaud wrote:

Hi Frank, Werner, and others,

Thanks for this very interesting thread of discussion.

I am not sure if you will find this relevant to the conversation, but here is a poem by Song Sun (송순 宋純, 1493 ~ 1583) cited by a Korean architect, In-Souk Cho, in her presentation on traditional Korean architecture at the15th HMS Colloquium in the Korean Humanities at The George Washington University on November 3, 2007.

The poem was read to highlight the kind of understanding of the relationship between nature and human beings. The original poem, followed by my own translation, is shown below:

십년(十年)을 경영(經營)하야 초려삼간(草廬三間)지어내니
나 한 간, 달 한 간에 청풍(淸風) 한 간 맛져두고,
강산(江山)은 드릴 듸 업스니 둘너 두고 보리라

--Song Sun (송순 宋純, 1493 ~ 1583)

It took ten years to build
my little thatched hut.
One part is for me, the moon fills the second,
the third is reserved for the clear wind.
Rivers and mountains:  There is no room to invite you in!
Stay where you are—I’ll gaze at you surrounding me.

                                    --Tr. by Young-Key Kim-Renaud

With my best wishes,


On Sun, Aug 12, 2012 at 9:53 AM, Frank Hoffmann <hoffmann at koreaweb.ws<mailto:hoffmann at koreaweb.ws>> wrote:
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.


Frank Hoffmann

Young-Key Kim-Renaud, Ph.D.
Chair, Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures
Professor of Korean Language and Culture and International Affairs
The George Washington University
801 22nd Street, N.W. (Academic Center, Rome Hall 452)
Washington, DC 20052
kimrenau at gwu.edu<mailto:kimrenau at email.gwu.edu>
Tel: (O) 202-994-7107<tel:202-994-7107>
Fax: (O) 202-994-1512

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