The Bare Facts of Joseon nudity?

There  is an article over on Live Journal that seems to have got some people riled up.  The article’s title is kind of cute “Joseon Girls Gone Wild” and was written a couple of years ago.   However, it is just recently that it has gained some attention – probably not so much for its historical content but for the way the writer conveys it and his apparent dislike for Korea.

He wrote:

Could this reformatory and revisionist reaction to Westerners evaluating gaze be the reason Korea skipped straight from this innocent primitivity to the repressiveness of today? At least I hear that Koreans are repressed. I do know they’re somewhat backward.

Anyway, when I first heard about this, I envisioned nubile young beauties with their perky little breasts peeking out from under their jeogori. Now I weep, because that fantasy is dead. Wasn’t there even onehot babe to photograph..?

I would suggest you go to the article and read it.  It is relatively short and does have several “nice” photographs from the past.  I am sure that some of you readers will be able to give their own thoughts.

If you would like my view on early nudity you can read it in my book “Korea Through Western Eyes” or you can read this short piece “The Bare Facts” in the KT.

(Hat Tip to CB – really guys, I don’t do Facebook – just send me an email)

  • bumfromkorea

    And apparently, Zenkatsuo is a she. Sounds like she had a stupid “Alexandra Wallace” moment that, let’s be honest, everyone has at least once in their life.

  • keyinjpop

    I’m sure someone will find those pictures ‘arousing’ but for me, I’ll stick to today’s prettier, more enhanced females and their minimal amount of modern clothing.

  • Cloudfive

    Hm. I’ll be the first to admit that the post leaves a lot to be desired
    (no pun intended). I especially regret writing that Koreans are
    repressed and backward. I don’t know many Koreans, but the ones I know
    definitely make me feel like a dinosaur. It’s been years, so who can
    really say what I was thinking at the time. A good friend of mine was
    living and working in Korea back then, so I had good access to what her
    community of native english teachers in Korea thought of Koreans. Mostly
    it made me gringe, because (and I myself am living testament to it)
    foreigners lacking fluent korean skills and adequate understanding of
    Korean history and culture aren’t the best people to impose their
    cultural or personal values on Korea. It’s probable that the attitudes I
    had witnessed in the writings of these NETs filtered into my own.- by author of blog re: recent interest in linked post via reddit

    Nicely done! After five years living in Korea, it’s become quite
    interesting to see how much the ‘official’ story diverges from the
    reality of the past. It’s not often down – especially in English – so
    kudos to the legwork. – Chris Backe re: linked post

    Chris Backe considers a blog post by a college student who used “an online korean to japanese translation software” to read the original articles as “reality”. What a joke!

  • que337

  • que337

    Confucianism is a rather convenient cultural frame of explanation for
    the pictures. Another theory is more practical: to cool off breast milk
    to prevent it from go bad in summer. Even lowborn “wild” Joseon women
    proud of being a mother of a son in Joseon would not dare expose their
    breasts in the nipping cold wintry season of Korea. As for Ms. Katsuo’s “primitive innocence” you could find “primitive images” of Japan. Mr. Neff keep deleting the link, so I would refrain.

  • que337

    What’s the rule here? You can link images that could be poking fun at Korean women, whilst linking counterpart images of Edo Japan be prohibited?

  • robert neff

    I have no problem with you posting something like that on this thread – to me it seems almost tit-for-tat.

  • robert neff

    First, I was going to say something snarky but then I decided to give you the benefit of the doubt. Do you really believe that I agree with any of that original article “Joseon Girls gone Wild”? I would have thought that the part where I noted that the writer obviously did not like Korea and then quoted him/her (Bum are you sure that the writer is a woman?) would have been an indication of how I felt about it.

    As for deleting your links – that is not on me. As long as it is within reason and has something to do with the original post and is not personally attacking one of the posters or their families – I couldn’t care. I have always appreciated your responses because you always come up with odd material – similar to mine – but from the opposite spectrum.

    You – and a couple of others – are the people that I was talking about who would be able to give us some thoughts on the subject. But don’t reserve it all for this blog – go to the original writer’s blog and post it there as well.

  • robert neff

    I thought the article was amusing but nothing more than trolling. Now I feel stupid because I didn’t go back and click on her name.

  • robert neff

    I admit that I did not go back and check the original author’s previous and latter postings but are you sure the author is a woman? Does this sound like a woman’s posting?

    “Anyway, when I first heard about this, I envisioned nubile young beauties with their perky little breasts peeking out from under their jeogori. Now I weep, because that fantasy is dead. Wasn’t there even one hot babe to photograph..?”

  • robert neff

    You were right Bum – she does give an explanation (click her name on the original article).

    We all say things we regret – unfortunately, the internet is not as forgiving as our friends or their memories.

  • bumfromkorea

    “This (passing as male) I think is singularly totes awesome, although I’m not sure what to think about the veiled implication that it would somehow be not as offensive to have written the exact same post if one were a biological female. Which I am.”

    I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt. She could easily be, you know, pretending to be a ‘her’, in which case he had been keeping up that front for over three years… which is extremely creepy. Not Peter Coffin creepy, but pretty damn close.

  • cactusmcharris

    Robert, I sure hope we don’t get a similar article about your Prince Albert (if you have one, that is). It’s a poor choice of article to post, IMHO, as you’ve done so much better in the past. Anyway, we’ve all posted things we’ve regretted later. Plus no one’s mentioned the almost-complete lack of titillation. I guess that Mr. Hodges is sawing logs.

  • robert neff

    Appreciate it Cactus – I think I need to tune my own sense of sarcasm as I was sure everyone else would feel the same way I did about the original article – amused with disbelief.

  • Cloudfive

    to cool off breast milk to prevent it from go bad (eg. mastitis) in summer

    Does that even make sense Q? Why would cooling off breast milk inside the body prevent it from going bad? There’s nothing wrong with the pictures, only how they are viewed. Bare breasts have been in and out of fashion for centuries all over the world, including Europe. Bare breasts are still in fashion in some cultures to this day.

    Your constant need to counter with Japanese or American examples whenever there is an article about Koreans that you view as negative – makes you seem insecure. Are you insecure Q? You need to relax, have a drink or take up yoga. Do you need a hug?

  • Cloudfive

    Historical pictures are always interesting. In my opinion the hanbok is one of the less flattering national costumes. The jeogori, in particular, does nothing to enhance the female body. The cropped jeogori baring boobs, like the cropped T-shirt, hopefully won’t come back into fashion anytime soon.

    PS – If you have ever been to a clothing optional beach in California, you may have seen men wearing T-shirts and nothing on the bottom. It’s called shirtcocking and is widely viewed as an unpleasant sight. Nude is okay, shorts and no shirt is okay, but please cover the bottom if you’re going to cover the top.

  • que337

    I should have to write “allegedly cool off.” I read the theory at a website suggesting the folklorish belief on the practice.

    Well, some of the pictures were staged in the process of colonizing Korea. This topic was recently televised at “역사 스페셜”:

  • robert neff

    Kind of selective with your quotes of Isabella Bird Bishop weren’t you Q? I don’t have time to go back and copy and paste for you so I will direct you to chapter 19 of the same book. I could probably go on and on – from her book – but, again, I am pressed for time. It is true that there were many many better accounts in which the Westerner claimed to have seen no women but there are also a lot of accounts in which the men (and women) did describe their encounters with Korea’s fairer sex.

    As to the staging of pictures. I agree – many were staged – but was it a devious national program by the Japanese government or was it a couple of individual photographers who took the photographs that they thought would sell?

  • Kuiwon

    I was under the impression that this practice was common among the lower classes of the Chosun dynasty and was a way to brag that they just had a son.

  • will.i.aint

    Or tit-for-tit . . . as it were. :-)

  • que337

    One of the photographers was Japanese diplomat Hayashi Takeichi(林武一):

    The Joseon photographs taken by Japanese were the same mode of propaganda tool as British Empire hired photographers to justify their colonization of “savage” people in the world:

  • Robert Neff

    Not sure where my comment went – but I will try again.  A lot of what you are saying Q sounds like what 권 혁희 wrote about in his book – 조선에서 온 사진엽서 (2005).  I love the book for the fantastic postcard collection but don’t necessarily agree with everything he wrote.  There is some truth to what you are saying but I still think it was probably more along the lines of what would sell when it came to these posed postcards and photographs.  Also, I would remind you that some of the early postcards were published by the Korean Postal Service and their French advisor in the late 1890s.

    I think Mr. Kwon’s book is out of print but if we ever have the opportunity to meet and share a coffee and insults with one another  I would be more than willing to allow you to make a copy of it.  I think you would enjoy it.

  • cactusmcharris

     Amused with disbelief were exactly my feelings, Robert.

  • cactusmcharris

     Q, stop the whinging and find some links to historically hot Nipponese silk weavers or the sexy sirens of Shimonoseki. I mean really, your victim card should be revoked for a few weeks.

  • que337

      I would remind you that some of the early postcards were published by
    the Korean Postal Service and their French advisor in the late 1890s.

    Not the bare breast women postcards.

  • Horace Jeffery Hodges

    Asleep? Me? Nah, but I can’t keep abreast of every post on the Marmot’s Hole. My apologies for supplying nothing to titter at.

    Adams-Awry, at least, can be relieved that I’ve left no comment this time to get a rise out of him . . .

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  • Nicked

    Before the bias sets in, I suggest a viewing of photos from U.S. Library of Congress.

    It would be fantastically inaccurate to portray every other Korean woman on the street as baring her breasts in the past, although calling it a “rare” phenomenon is probably not accurate either. But the scarcity of film and camera equipment will likely bring on a tendency to photograph that which is mainly perceived as oddity or new to the unaccustomed eye of the foreigner, particularly in rural areas of the country.

  • SomeguyinKorea

     I doubt the old ladies in the pictures at the link are still of age to be concerned with the freshness of their breast milk.