Go to contents

Book review: `Entertainers of the Joseon Dynasty`

Posted November. 21, 2015 10:38,   


One television singing audition program produces a slew of potential stars every year despite public concern that the pool of aspiring singers could dry up because of a series of similar programs that are mushrooming across TV channels. Many other talented people can frequently be found on social media sites. Despite the small landmass, Korea has many talented people.

What about in the Joseon Dynasty period? Couldn`t there be people who were extraordinarily talented in spite of the strict social class system? "Entertainers of the Joseon Dynasty" written by Jeong Myeong-seop answers such questions. The five-chapter book tells the stories of 32 people who lived extraordinary lives during the dynasty.

The book features all sorts of people, including a comedian who took advantage of his ugly face to make people laugh and a private tutor who pinpointed questions expected to appear on state-administered exams for recruiting new bureaucrats. Some of them were identified only by their surnames or nicknames. It is only after hundreds of years later they passed away that new lights are shed on their lives as "entertainers." Jeong has had interest in stories of the back alleys of history, writing books on stories of common people`s lives and detectives in Joseon.

The author, who took inspirations from poems by Jo Su-sam, a late Joseon poet, completed the book "Entertainers of the Joseon Dynasty" based on various academic theses and papers. The book also deals with the story of Shin Jae-hyo, a Joseon musician who trained the dynasty`s first woman singer, Jin Chae-seon. "The Sound of a Flower," a Korean film set to be released next week, evolves around the two Joseon musicians.

Jeong`s book is very interesting but, at the same time, is tragicomedic because it tells the stories of people who would have enjoyed huge popularity today but were born in the wrong times. Perhaps, today`s global popularity of Korean pop culture owes its success to those who lived their lives as entertainers despite social disregard in their times.