Lee Evie Diary: What I’ve been reading, researching and thinking about this week!

Here is a random collection of thoughts from this week – 22 Feb 2021. 🙂

‘Women and Confucianism in Choson Korea’

I finished reading ‘Women and Confucianism in Choson Korea’ this month and found it both fascinating and totally difficult to read, haha.⁠

Review of Korean history book, Women and Confucianism in Choson Korea: New Perspectives.

So … for my book research (and my own obsession, haha!) I have been trying to learn a bit more about Joseon as a society based on Neo-Confucianism and how women fit into that framework. I got a book (which is a little dry and academic and over my head, because I am no scholar! eeek!) about women and how they worked with, and against, Confucianism to create a place for themselves in what was essentially a patriarchal state ideology.⁠
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So I learned that Neo-Confucianism was adopted by the Joseon government as a new state ideology during the founding of Joseon in the late 1300s (after the fall of Goryeo).⁠
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Prior to this founding of Joseon, Buddhism and Shamanism were very popular among the people. But even after the new dynasty was founded, Confucianist policies and frameworks for daily life apparently didn’t really filter down to the general people until the second half of the Joseon period. Most ordinary people up until then were still practicing Buddhism or Shamanism.⁠
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Some of the essays in this book were easy to understand and accessible for an amateur history buff like me, but others were VERY academic and took me forever to get through. They made my brain hurt!⁠
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I am still really really glad I read it though, as I learned SO MUCH! ⁠
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Topics touched on in the book included female Neo-Confucianist scholars, widows, slaves, the ideal virtuous woman of the time and what was expected of her, information on educational texts to teach women Confucianist ideals and also a fascinating essay on how the Imjin War (a devastating invasion of Joseon Korea in 1592, which lasted years) and the subsequent Manchu invasions (of which I know much less!) really changed the way society engaged with Confucianism in the latter half of the Joseon dynasty.⁠
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This was also my very first introduction to Neo-Confucianism in Joseon Korea and … I still don’t fully understand this very difficult topic, haha! But I’ll keep trying!

Writing update – Working on the second book in my Joseon Detective Series

As a writer and author, I am actually fairly new to plotting! I have always considered myself a ‘discovery writer’, which is a fancy way of saying I make it up as I go along.⁠
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Lately though, as I start to work on more twisty mystery books, I have really changed my whole approach to writing a first draft. ⁠

Researching and plotting Korean historical fiction set in Joseon.

This picture is of the notebook I used to write my most recently finished manuscript, which is the second book in my ongoing JOSEON DETECTIVE SERIES, called An Ode to Hungry Ghosts. This book is a very dark murder mystery, set during a real (and very tumultuous!) time in Joseon Korean history.⁠
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To get the time period right, I had to do a LOAD of research (more than I’ve ever done before, as my other series isn’t set in an exact period of history, just generally the Joseon dynasty, which gives me a lot of space to make up the world events). ⁠
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So for An Ode to Hungry Ghosts, I had to figure out how to meld my own fictional murder case and investigation mystery plot, into a real timeline of events that took place in the Korean city of Pyongyang in 1592. Basically, a samurai army was advancing on the city…
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So I decided I needed to plot my manuscript out this time. It was a very new experience for me, but I feel like it worked out really well, and I don’t think I could have tackled a plot like this without working everything out before hand. I feel like my version of plotting is probably still pretty loose compared to some writers, but I feel like this is working for me :)⁠
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I filled this notebook (which my past Korean language teacher gave me when she last visited) almost to the end with notes!⁠
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I am waiting on my second round of feedback on this manuscript at the moment. Then it will be more edits. Then another round of reading, and more edits, before going off to my editor, (who also does a Korean cultural edit for me). Then it will be proofreading time! Then it will be published in late July 2021!⁠
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Writing a book is a big mission! But I do really love the process!

Learning about Death Poems

Do you know much about Death Poems?⁠
I must admit … I did not.⁠
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While researching Joseon history for a novel I am working on set in old Korea (in the 1590s), I came across a mention of Death Poems and looked it up (I even managed to include a little bit of one into my manuscript!).⁠

Researching Death Poems in Korean history

So I read the following (and am slightly embarrassed to admit that this is from Wikipedia and not some far more snooty source!):⁠
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‘The death poem is a genre of poetry that developed in the literary traditions of East Asian cultures—most prominently in Japan as well as certain periods of Chinese history and Joseon Korea. They tend to offer a reflection on death—both in general and concerning the imminent death of the author—that is often coupled with a meaningful observation on life.’⁠
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So … that is interesting. The excerpt shown in my picture is a very famous death poem written by a Korean scholar called Seong Sam-mun. He apparently recited those words while on his way to his execution, where his limbs were tied to oxen and torn apart. He died in 1456 and was one of six executed men known as the six martyred ministers.⁠
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What is fascinating to me, is that the author of this poem was executed for attempting to assassinate a Korean king called Sejo (who had previously usurped the throne from his young nephew Danjong) … which is literally the plot I am currently watching in the Korean historical drama THE GRAND PRINCE (starring the very faked-bearded Yoon Si Yoon and the very beautiful Jin Se Yeon). ⁠
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One of my favourite things is reading a piece of history and connecting it to a drama, or vice versa! It also adds a lot of context to the Joseon set dramas I watch, which I love. I always feel differently when I realise these were real people, and not only characters on a show!

Here is the Death Poem (taken from Wikipedia):

이 몸이 죽어 가서 무어시 될고 하니,
봉래산(蓬萊山) 제일봉(第一峯)에 낙락장송(落落長松) 되야 이셔,
백설(白雪)이 만건곤(滿乾坤)할 제 독야청청(獨也靑靑) 하리라.

What shall I become when this body is dead and gone?
A tall, thick pine tree on the highest peak of Bongraesan,
Evergreen alone when white snow covers the whole world.

擊鼓催人命 (격고최인명) -둥둥 북소리는 내 생명을 재촉하고,
回頭日欲斜 (회두일욕사) -머리를 돌여 보니 해는 서산으로 넘어 가려고 하는구나
黃泉無客店 (황천무객점) -황천으로 가는 길에는 주막조차 없다는데,
今夜宿誰家 (금야숙수가) -오늘밤은 뉘 집에서 잠을 자고 갈거나

As the sound of drum calls for my life,
I turn my head where sun is about to set.
There is no inn on the way to underworld.
At whose house shall I sleep tonight?

Dreaming about travelling the World!

I’ve been thinking about travelling a lot lately, mostly because if the world hasn’t changed so much in 2020, I would have just gotten back from my second ever trip to Korea! ⁠

Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul (the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty)

Obviously the trip was cancelled, and I know that is nothing to complain about, as many folks out there are in much tougher situations than just a cancelled trip … but I still dream a little bit about what it would have been like to go back and visit Korea again.⁠
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This photo is from Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul (the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty) and is from my last (and only! Boo hoo!) trip. ⁠
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I had the most amazing time and loved everything about Korea … HOWEVER … back then I was not into Joseon history like I am now. I walked through Gyeongbokgung Palace and thought … ‘How pretty!’ and ‘Oh cool, those girls are dressed in hanbok!’ and ‘Gosh, imagine if I saw Lee Jun Ki just strolling around here!’… but now I feel like I would have a very different experience. I think I would be imagining the people who had walked that place before me and the immense amount of important history that occurred right beneath my feet. ⁠
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It is why I am so looking forward to a time when I can hopefully travel back to Korea and do a lot of history and cultural sightseeing. I want to see EVERYTHING I can relating to the Joseon dynasty and Hanyang’s history and also the Imjin War. The next time I go to the museum, I want to actually understand what I am looking at!⁠
I can’t wait!⁠
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But in the meantime, like everyone else, I’ll just enjoy looking at my old travel photos, haha! 🙂

Learning about Queen SoHye and the Naehun in Korean History!

Lately, I always seem to have a non-fiction book (related to Joseon Korean history of course!) as well as a fiction novel on the go at the same time! ⁠
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I like to read fiction just before bed and then squeeze in my history reading whenever I can throughout the day, even if it is only for ten minutes.⁠

Learning about Queen SoHye and the Naehun in Korean History!

Right now I am (slowly) reading this book, which is about the creativity of women throughout Korean history, but focusing on mainly women from the Joseon dynasty, which is my favourite period of history ever!⁠
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So far, I have only read the introduction and half of the first essay, but gosh, this book is GOOD! It has been quite accessible so far too, which isn’t always the case for essay collections perhaps meant more for an academic audience than an average amateur history buff like myself!⁠
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Right now I am reading about Queen Sohye, who lived in the 1400s, was literate in classic Chinese (not so common for women of Joseon, who generally used the ‘women’s script’ of hangul) and who created an educational text called the Naehun (translated as ‘Instructions for Women).⁠
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The idea is that the text was meant to prepare women for living a virtuous and good life, in line with the Neo-Confucian values of the day, and be basically a morality handbook. ⁠
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I read that, with the exception of a few pieces of poetry, the Naehun is the oldest known surviving work by a woman writer in Korea! ⁠
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The original version of the text is thought to be lost, and the oldest known surviving copy was actually taken during the Imjin War (during Hideyoshi’s invasions more than 100 years after the Naehun was written) and is still in Japan to this day.⁠
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Here is an excerpt from the book:⁠
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‘The order and disorder, the rise and fall of a country are related to the wisdom and ignorance of men, but are also closely tied to the goodness and badness of women, so women must be taught.’⁠
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Although the Naehun’s focus on virtuous womanly behaviour may not exactly appeal to our modern sensibilities, Queen Sohye still advocated strongly for girls to be educated and created educational texts for them, which is quite incredible!

I hope you enjoyed my random thoughts from this week! I will try documenting my reading, researching and writing progress here each week when I can, so if you enjoyed this post, keep an eye out for more. Or, I am also posting this stuff to my Instagram as well 🙂

Have a lovely week! 🙂

Lee Evie.


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