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[Opinion] Nongae’s Portrait

Posted May. 11, 2005 23:29,   


Holy anger

Deeper than religion it is

Flaming passion

Stronger than love it is

Ah! Greener than a haricot flower

On top of that wave

Redder than an poppy flower

Will that heart flow

This is how poet Byun Young-roh described the patriotism and loyalty of Nongae, a patriotic kisaeng (entertaining girl). The heroic and sorrowful history of the woman - who seduced the Japanese commander who had lead the Japanese to trample the Jinju Castle in 1593, and she jumped into the Nam River holding the commander – is well alive in this poem.

It was around 1620 that Nongae’s patriotic act, which was passed by word of mouth, began to appear in writings. It is known that Yoo Mong-in first wrote about it in his “Eoyuyadam” (a book about historical tales). It is also said that the people of Jinju carved the letters Euiam (justice rock) on the rock from which Nongae jumped. Afterwards in 1739, Nongae’s shrine, Euigisa, was built in Jinju Castle, and in 1868, a memorial event called Euiambyulje was held and continues until now. This year, the Euiambyulje’s successor Jinju Nongae Commemoration will be held for four days starting on May 27.

In the face of a meaningful event, some members of a civic group flocked to Euigisa and regardless of the management personnel’s objection, they tore down her picture. Their argument was that the painter of the picture was Leedang Kim Eun-ho, a pro-Japanese painter, and they could not leave traces of pro-Japanese inside Jinju Castle, the Mecca of Korea’s patriotism. Not long ago, for a similar logic, Maeheon Yoon Bong-gil shrine’s plaque also suffered a resembling fate.

Leedang is one the great peaks of Korea’s early modern painting circles. He is also considered as an artist having taught his pupils in a true manner. His pupils, Baek Yoon-moon, Kim Ki-chang, Jang Woo-sung, Lee Yoo-tae, Han Yoo-dong, just to name a few, are a great part of Korea’s paintings. It is true that Leedang had difficulty in freeing himself from the bondage of pro-Japanese painters. During the Japanese rule, he participated in pro-Japanese art groups and left pieces that sympathized with Japan’s militarism. Nevertheless, cleaning up the past should be a “constructive activity for the future” that learns lessons from the past. What should we gain if we just destroy and trample everything? Nowadays, China’s Cultural Revolution keeps coming to my mind.

Song Dae-keun, Editorialist, dksong@donga.com