Hwang Jin Yi or Jini 황진이 (also known by her giseang name of Myeongwol 명월 which means “Bright moon”)
Born: 1506 (speculative)
Died: speculative dates range from 1546 – 1567
As Seen On TV: Hwang Jin Yi was Joseon dynasty’s most legendary women. The story of her life is retold in the 2006 drama titled Hwang Jin Yi and the 2007 film version with the same name.
Hwang Jini is widely regarded as one of the leading Sijo poets. Her works focused on love and longing and are known as some of the best example of romantic and sensual Sijo poems. Sijo poetry is a style of poetry that is unique to Korea. It has always been written in Korean rather than classical Chinese, which was the standard for all written work. Sijo was originally intended to be sung, and therefore the writers thought their audience would be more of a listening audience, rather than a reading one. Before the Korean alphabet was invented sijo was mainly a performing art. More information about this is at the bottom of the page.
Joseon’s Best Known Giseang Poet
The following was written by KBS World.
December 22 is the shortest day of the year. In Korea, this day is known as “dongji.” One ancient Korean poem subtly describes the long night of December 22.
I want to wrap this dark winter night
With the spring breeze
And uncoil it the night my lover returns to me
The poem compares long winter nights of waiting for one’s lover with short spring nights
spent with him. It was written by the renowned Korean female poet Hwang Jini. She lived during the reign of the 11th king of Joseon, Jungjong, who ruled in the 16th century, and was a renowned gisaeng, or entertainer. According to historic records, she was born in an aristocratic family in Gaesong but her mother came from a lower class.
Hwang Jini enjoyed reading classical books and was a talented poet, but according to Joseon’s law at the time she had to become a concubine of a nobleman. When a young man from her neighborhood fell in love with her but later died from lovesickness, she decided to become an entertainer.
Unlike other gisaeng, Hwang Jini wrote poems and stories in addition to using her charms. Hwang Jini chose freedom over social status. She enchanted men with her poetic skills and beauty. Even the highranking nobleman Byeok Gyesoo and the famous Buddhist monk Jijok Seonsa were mesmerized by her beauty and alluring poems. Hwang Jini became famous when Monk Jijok Seonsa renounced Buddhism because of her influence. She even attempted to seduce the renowned scholar Seo Gyeongdeok to test his nobility and morality. But despite her irresistible charm, the great scholar didn’t budge, and later Hwang Jini became his student.
Hwang Jini spent her life traveling around the country and writing beautiful poems about scenic landscapes. She died at the age of 40 and was buried on a roadside in Gaeseong, which was her last wish. Her grave was discovered later by her former lover and poet Lim Baekho. Despite her low social status, Hwang Jini was an object of admiration among scholars for her beauty, intelligence and artistic talent. She was a devoted lover and made the best of her life. She is known as the most beautiful woman of the Joseon era and an outstanding poet. Movies, novels and TV dramas about her extraordinary life are produced to this day.
*The above article was written by KBS World in article published on February 4, 2011. It is no longer there. Fortunately I printed it out several articles while I had the chance. I would like to ensure that articles written in English, especially on more obscure historical figures, have a place to reside. For a full article, I recommend reading the following paper titled: Hwang Jini- An Examination of Life as a Joseon Kisaeng
Poetry of Hwang Jini
Oh that I might capture the essence of this deep midwinter night
And fold it softly into the waft of a spring-moon* quilt,
Then fondly uncoil it the night my beloved returns.
동짓달 기나긴 밤을 한 허리를 버혀 내어
춘풍 니불 아래 서리서리 넣었다가
어론님 오신 날 밤이어든 굽이굽이 펴리라
*Hwang’s reference to a spring moon is most likely a reference to herself.
Honorable Byuk Kye Soo
Do not boast of leaving so early
When you venture out to the sea
It will be difficult to return
The full bright moon* above the empty mountain
How about staying here to rest
수이 감을 자랑 마라
다시 오기 어려우니
할 제 쉬어간들 어떠리
* The full bright moon was referencing herself. This poem was a subtle seduction asking him to stay the night with her.
- Im Ggyuk Jung 《임꺽정》 (SBS 1995년, Actor: 최주현)
- Hwang JinYi 《황진이》 (2006년 , KBS2 2006, Actor: Ha Ji Won 하지원)
- The Legendary Courtesan Hwang Jin Yi 《황진이》 (2007 Film; Actor: 송혜교)