Buddha’s Birthday in Seoul

Jongno Buddhist shops

Walking from Jongno Tower to Jogye Temple, the streets are lined with shops selling all things Buddhist – grey monks robes and headwear, statues, 목탁 moktak wooden percussion instruments used for chanting, pictures, candles, Buddhist music CDs, sutras in notebooks sewn together with thread, beads, protection charms and bracelets, to name just some of what’s on sale! The Buddhist shops look busier than usual as crowds come to  visit Jogye Temple on Buddha’s Birthday. Continue reading “Buddha’s Birthday in Seoul” »

Jang Ok Jung: Living by Love SBS 2013 drama review


So this is the love story of a cold young king who falls in love with a beautiful commoner which causes all sorts of problems at the palace when she rises up the concubine ranks.

Jang Ok Jung (Hui Bin) was an infamous concubine in Joseon history. She was famous for her beauty and infamous for her ambition to be Queen and King Sukjong did end up dethroning his second Queen – Queen Inhyeon – and putting JOJ on the throne. But she was eventually demoted back to Hui Bin (the top level concubine in Joseon times). JOJ was suspected of several crimes including using black magic to put a curse on the ill Queen. Finally she was put to death for her crimes along with members of her family. Even though JOJ was only a concubine, her son still became King – King Gyeongjong (r.1720-1724).

But this drama’s version of events are far more sympathetic towards JOJ than other dramas. Here she is not the villain, she’s the (almost) innocent victim. Most of her crimes are shown to be set ups by her enemies and apart from one major mishap, she is only guilty of behaving rather arrogantly and feeling entitled because the king loves her. She’s young and naive. According to the drama King Sukjong always loved JOJ and she was not the villain she has been portrayed to be. She was the victim of politics and the Joseon social class system.

Continue reading “Jang Ok Jung: Living by Love SBS 2013 drama review” »

Book Review: The Confucian Kingship of Korea: Yongjo and the Politics of Sagacity

the confucian kingship of korea

Now I’m watching the drama Jang Ok Jung, Living in Love (SBS, 2013) about the romance between King Sukong (r.1674-1720) and his infamous concubine Hui Bin. Hui Bin’s son became King Gyeongjong (r.1720-1724) but he died young and his half brother became King Yeongjo (r.1724-1776). There were rumours that King Yeongjo killed his half brother to take the throne. Later he had his own son Crown Prince Sado suffocated to death in a rice chest …

So since I’m watching dramas set in the late Joseon period I recently read the book – The Confucian Kingship of Korea: Yeongjo and the Politics of Sagacity by Jahyun Kim Haboush, a Korean American scholar of Korean history and literature. (This is the 2001 paperback updated version of the book first published by Columbia in 1988)

(BTW In Sageuk historical dramas King Yeongjo appears as a child in Dong Yi MBC 2010, Crown Prince Sado dying in the rice chest appears in the drama Yi San, The Wind of the Palace MBC 2008, and in the upcoming 2015 film The Throne )

Continue reading “Book Review: The Confucian Kingship of Korea: Yongjo and the Politics of Sagacity” »

Mungyeong Tea Cup Festival and Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park

MungyeongIn Joseon dramas we often find characters travelling great distances across mountains to get to the capital – on foot if they are poor, by horse if they have money, or perhaps even on a palanquin if they are really posh. But they definitely don’t travel by car on nice expressways that go through mountain tunnels, so it was fascinating to go and see part of a mountain path that has been preserved just as it was during Joseon times – Mungyeong Saejae. Mungyeong Saejae is now a tourist attraction but in the Joseon period it was part of the route that travellers had to take to get from Busan in the south to Hanyang (now Seoul).

There’s plenty to see and do in Mungyeong as the Mungyeongsaejae KBS Drama Studio is also here – the largest historical film set in Korea where dramas such as Deep Rooted Tree (SBS), Horse Doctor (MBC), and Sungkyunkwan Scandal (KBS2) were filmed.

And the Mungyeong Chasabal Tea cup Festival is on this week too celebrating pottery making and tea culture in the area. So as it was a long weekend (today is Children’s Day and a national holiday) it was a perfect time to visit. Mungyeong is about 3 hours from Seoul in Gyeongsang Province. Continue reading “Mungyeong Tea Cup Festival and Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park” »

Dong Yi recaps episode 45-60 FINAL

dong yi 59

The fourth and final phase of the drama Dong Yi is all about who will become the future King. So the story centres around the two princes – Jang Ok Jung (JOJ)’s son who is the Crown Prince and Dong Yi’s son, Prince Youn Ing (the future King Yeongjo). JOJ has accepted that her relationship with the King is over and she must live with the humiliation of being demoted from Queen back to Hui Bin, a concubine. So she lives for her son to be King. But his position isn’t stable so JOJ is determined to destroy the competition – DY and her son. DY tries to make peace with JOJ who refuses to trust her and so in the end JOJ is the cause of her own tragic downfall. Continue reading “Dong Yi recaps episode 45-60 FINAL” »

Dong Yi recaps episode 30-44

dong yi

Dong Yi carries out ancestral rites for her father and brother

In the third part of Dong Yi, JOJ has lost the King’s love and trust but desperately tries to cling on to her title of Queen. To do that she needs to get rid of DY who has proof that JOJ is guilty of framing the dethroned Queen. JOJ seems to think that she can get away with anything and by the end of this part it looks as though she is right, because she manages to get DY arrested and then pushes to have her executed. Continue reading “Dong Yi recaps episode 30-44” »

Dong Yi recaps episode 19-29

Jang Ok Jung Coronation

Jang Ok Jung finally becomes Queen

Here are the recaps for the second part of Dong Yi (MBC 2010). see here for episodes 1-18 JOJ (Jang Ok Jung, the future Hui Bin) has changed from an ambitious but respectable lady to a vicious villain prepared to get rid of anyone standing in her way of becoming Queen. She does eventually become Queen but it’s not the complete triumph that she had hoped for as the King becomes aware of her ruthlessness and the crimes she has committed and she loses his trust and love. Continue reading “Dong Yi recaps episode 19-29” »