Venery and the sin of transgression in Joseon Korea

Well, this posting of prostitution and disease during the Joseon era has something to do with giving but it is definitely not something I want for Christmas:

Gonorrhea was very common – so common, in fact, that it had no social stigma attached to it.  Allen claimed that syphilis – known as the “Chinese disease” – was “common and every present” and found not only in men, women and children, but even amongst the eunuchs.  It was a chief culprit in the large number of miscarriages experienced by Korean women and those pregnancies that went full-term often bore children with “ugly, notched teeth and strumous affections.”

Korea doctors had several methods of dealing with these diseases including arsenic and a mixture made from mercury.  One Western doctor speculated that Korean doctors did successfully treat the disease but at times when overboard with their treatment resulting in “severe salivation, ulceration of gums, loss of teeth, and so forth.”  It was, according to him, “bringing a good thing into dispute and emphasizing the truth that sin is transgression or going beyond.”

May Korean sufferers went to Western doctors only after traditional Korean medicine failed.  Allen reported that “victims of sexual excess” often presented themselves only to alleviate their symptoms of painful urination.

The Korean  sufferers “seemed to know that their troubles were due to their own irregularities, yet they would not acknowledge that their imprudence amounted to what would be considered over-indulgence from a European standpoint.”

All in all a nasty subject but….for those with interest….you can read the rest of the article here – at Korea Times

  • Anonymous_Joe

    “Allen claimed that syphilis – known as the ‘Chinese disease’ ….”

    The English called it the “French Disease”, the French called it the “Italian Disease”, the Muslims called it the “Christian Disease”, and the Koreans called it the “Chinese Disease”. I figured they would have called it the “Japanese Disease”.

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    You are very much mistaken.
    Koreans might have rivalry-driven anti-feeling for the Japanese, espcially from the recent historic events.

    However, for the Chinese, then and now, they have always held a far more disdainful view, especially about their standard of hygiene, well before the Westerners became aware of it.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    The epithet is not so much about perceptions of cleanliness as it is about enmity.

  • Liz

    So what you’re saying is…

    The white man saved us from syphilis?

  • SomeguyinKorea

    I read a while back something written by a French doctor who worked in Korea during the late Joseon. He attributed the high rate of syphilis to prostitution, including child prostitution.

  • SomeguyinKorea

    No, I think the point being made is that people shouldn’t look at the past through rose-coloured glasses.

  • que337

    Until the advent of standard penicillin treatment in 1940s and the notorious Tuskegee syphilis experimentation (1932-1972), Western world also depended on primitive treatment: mercury. I doubt Dr. Allen would be an exception.

  • Craash beck

    The Black plague originally came from China – syphilis probably did too!

    China was always a HOLE on the earth for all scum to dwell and still is.

  • Robert Neff

    Q – the mistake is mine – I should have made it clearer.  He wasn’t saying that mercury was so much a primitive cure but that sometimes it was overdosed.  I don’t have my notes with me but it wasn’t Allen who made that comment – I believe it was an English doctor in the early 1890s.

  • cactusmcharris

     That’s absolutely the interpretation you’d be expected to have, Liz. Snark doesn’t work all of the time as a literary device, so maybe your interpretation is wrong.

  • wangkon936

    Errr… that’s not what the Native Americans would say, with all those contaminated blankets and all.

  • wangkon936

    Most flus come from China.

  • silver surfer

    Aware of what?

  • silver surfer

    The more I read Robert Neff’s historical pieces, the more like a hellhole late Choseon seems to be.

  • DC Musicfreak

    No, but I think that is the message received by you and pawi and you two alone.