Hwang Jini

The Honest Courtesan

Mountains are the same as in the old times,
But streams are never the same;
They keep flowing day and night,
So they can not be the same.
The men of fame are like the streams;
Once gone, they never return.
  –  Hwang Jini

My column on the kisaeng, theHwang Jin Yi movie poster Korean equivalent of geisha, opened with a sijo poem by Hwang Jini, the most famous and beloved of her profession.  In recent years, she has essentially become the archetypal kisaeng, and as in the case of Western courtesans her life has provided the inspiration for novels, a television show  and a movie; of course, these fictional treatments are considerably embellished and dramatized, and it’s difficult to tell history from folk legend from deliberate “improvement”.  In this case, the task is further complicated by the dearth of English-language sources on the subject, but there is still…

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