Click here for Part 1 and Part 2. — Ed.

Last week’s column revealed Magistrate Yi Hyong-sang’s rough treatment of some of Jeju Island’s rural womenfolk during his “search and destroy” campaign of 1702. We can tentatively conclude from the evidence at hand that he was at minimum a cad. He not only searched out and sacked their places of worship but, if I have interpreted correctly Kim Nam-kil’s artistic rendering commemorating these events, he personally supervised over the violent interrogation of these women.

Yet, my guess is that Yi was not a misogynist. He did not hate women. I suspect that, like most of the early 18th century Neo-Confucian high-ranking males employed in the Joseon government bureaucracy, he loved the company of subservient women who knew their place and performed as expected. Jeju Castle, for example, had plenty of gisaeng entertainers at the ready to help government elites wind down after a hard day at the office spent riding herd over the island hoi polloi. Magistrate Yi and other rich and powerful muckety-mucks residing in Jeju Castle no doubt enjoyed the company of these women and patronized them. I learned this from watching Korean historical soap operas and not from any history books. Nevertheless, ruling patriarchal elites, past and present, far and near, are all born cut from the same lusty cloth; so I believe it to be true.

Magistrate Yi meanwhile had good reason to appreciate Jeju Island’s rural, village-dwelling, hard-working womenfolk – women divers, for example. The productive economy of the island and the comfy jobs of colonial magistrates there were intertwined. Yi, for example, depended on women divers under his supervision to meet his stiff quotas for producing selected tribute items favored by and bound for the Joseon King and his Court in Seoul: abalone, turtle, dried fish, octopi, seaweed, coral and more.

So, Magistrate Yi did not appear to hate Jeju womenfolk. Instead he appreciated their productive efforts and usefulness. There were many thousands of Jeju women divers in 1702. From Yi’s perspective the Jeju womenfolk under his colonial administration were in place when they were hard at work and in compliance with his strict production quotas for tribute goods. However, coastal village women were out of place (and not working) when they were worshiping in their Shamanist/Animist shrines and thus acting in defiance of his expectations and demands. Any downtime spent in pagan worship that diverted diving women from their productive work was disrespectful of the King’s needs for maximizing his share of the fruit of their labors. Magistrate Yi strived to make this distinction between women in place and out of place perfectly clear to the Jeju womenfolk in 1702.

In sum, Magistrate Yi perceived the Jeju women divers as out of place here:

Figure 1: Coastal village womenfolk as depicted by Kim Nam-kil cave shrine, 1702

Figure 1: Coastal village womenfolk as depicted by Kim Nam-kil cave shrine, 1702

And he perceived them as in place here:

Figure 2: Illustrated map highlighting Jeju women divers created by Kim Nam-kil, 1702

Figure 2: Illustrated map highlighting Jeju women divers created by Kim Nam-kil, 1702

Magistrate Yi’s inspection of the island during 1702 was not all “search and destroy.” His activities also included observing islanders at work throughout the entire island habitat, which consisted of coastal, inland and mountain zones. We have already listed some of the tribute goods produced for the King by the women divers. Tribute goods produced by island labor in the inland (jungsangan) and mountain zones included: horses, cattle (and especially black cows and black cow hides), felt, mushrooms, torreya nuts, tangerines, citrons, orange peel, persimmons, yams, garden seeds, assorted wood products and barks, roots, herbs, orchids, scents and insects. There was small if any demand in Seoul for Jeju millet, beans, buckwheat, barley and corn and these were the main subsistence food grains that helped keep the mass of the indigenous colonial workforce on the island alive, day after day, in the service of the King.

In the illustration above we discern some village women divers at work in a small cove just west of Jeju Castle, at famed Dragon Head Rock (Yongduam). Artisan Kim commemorates the existence of women divers on Jeju Island — but only marginally — on one of his illustrated maps. That small portion of the map is displayed and enlarged above. The scene features a small sea-going sailing vessel in the foreground as it enters from dramatic Yongyon Gorge at the mouth of Hanch’on ravine. Some village chogachibdul (grass-roofed houses) appear along the left margin and range away from the coast. A portion of an oreum (volcanic cone) is at the top left-hand corner. Top right features a beacon tower (bonghwadae). The entire right-hand side of the map depicts the rugged seashore facing the Jeju Straits. Central to the scene are five diving women hard at work. By zooming in on the map their diving floats, among other things, become obvious. Three of the divers appear to be paddling earnestly with their gear towards the left bank of the cove. The other two, under Dragon Head Rock, are in the act of diving. Artisan Kim does a fine job of depicting one diver well-submerged while the other diver is at or near the surface.

Which brings us to the topic of the long tent: My second-best guess is that Magistrate Yi while at leisure observes the divers at work from within the protective cover of this tent. However, why doesn’t artisan Kim depict him there more obviously, sitting along with some of the members of his bodyguard and entourage? My best guess is that this tent provides temporary changing rooms devised for the sake of modesty and Neo-Confucian decorum. The diving women enter the water from these rooms on the special occasion they are to perform in the presence of the Neo-Confucian Magistrate, who is officially representing the King of Joseon. This formal occasion provides the women with the opportunity to display their skills, not their nudity, to the Magistrate.

In any case, the women divers depicted by artisan Kim here are wearing bathing suits. They look much like these costumes:

Figure 3: “Sirens of the Deep” The iconic pose struck here features authentic(?) Jeju women divers at Dragon Head Rock.

Figure 3: “Sirens of the Deep” The iconic pose struck here features authentic(?) Jeju women divers at Dragon Head Rock.

Next week: The final part of “Search and Destroy” on Jeju Island, circa 1702

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