Hwang Jini

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Hwang Jini
Revised RomanizationHwang Jini
McCune–ReischauerHwang Chini
Gisaeng name
Revised RomanizationMyeong-wol

Hwang Jini or Hwang Jin-Yi (Korean황진이; c. 1506 – c. 1560), also known by her gisaeng name Myeongwol ("bright moon", 명월), was one of the most famous gisaeng of the Joseon Dynasty. She lived during the reign of King Jungjong. She was noted for her exceptional beauty, charming quick wit, extraordinary intellect, and her assertive and independent nature.[1][2][3] She has become an almost myth-like figure in modern Korea, inspiring novels, operas, films, and television series.


She was born to the daughter of a scribe called Jeon Hyun Geum and a politician’s son who went by the name Hwang. The story goes that her parents met while her mother was doing laundry, but the two could not get married and she became the illegitimate daughter of Hwang.

She was known for her beauty and her bold personality. As Hwang Jini grew older, many men wanted to marry her. According to legend, one day a coffin was passing in front of her house, but the coffin stopped and refused to move from her house just listening to her read her poetry. She then ran out and stripped off her outer skirt from her hanbok to cover the coffin, and only then did the coffin started to move again. The coffin was said to have carried the body of her lover who was born of a higher class, but due to her lower status the two could not wed and the man died of a broken heart. She then decides to become a gisaeng after losing her lover at the age of 15. [4]

Women during the Joseon dynasty were restricted inside the houses and were considered property. They could not marry whoever they wanted and a daughter born out of wedlock was considered an untouchable. Hwang Jini chose to become a gisaeng in order to escape the strict rules that women had to follow during the Joseon Dynasty. Hwang Jini refused to follow strict social norms for women and chose the life of a gisaeng giving her the freedom to learn not only dance and music, but also art, literature, and poetry - topics that were not normally taught to young women during the time.

Hwang Jini’s beauty was famous throughout the Korean peninsula. It is said that her beauty shined even if she was bare faced and had her hair pulled back out of her face. She was clever, witty, and artistic. Many men of the upper class and lower classes alike came all over just to see her and her performances. She, like many other gisaengs, at the time asked a riddle to the men who came to visit her and only those who passed could interact and talk with her. The riddle would be later known as the “Jeomiligu Idubulchool” (점일이구 이두불출/點 一 二 口 牛 頭 不出). Legend has it that she gave such difficult riddles in order to meet a man that was just as intellectual as her so that she may one day also get a husband, and the only man who solved it was a yangban by the name of Seo Gyung Deok.[5]


Hwang Jini’s Riddle:[edit]

Hwang Jini was known for her intellect and wit. Her most famous written work was the Jeomiligu Idubulchool” (점일이구 이두불출/點 一 二 口 牛 頭 不出). She gave the riddle to any man who wanted to be her lover and she waited for many years until one man came and solved the riddle. The answer to the riddle; however, was in the title. “When combining the variations in the title the first part “Jeomiligu” (점일이구/點 一 二 口 ) created the Chinese character meaning spoken word (言) and the second part Idubulchoo; (이두불출/  牛 頭 不出) created the Chinese character meaning day (午). When you combine both words together it creates the Chinese character meaning consent (許). The reason being that whoever solved her riddle she would allow him to come into her house and share a bed with him.” This being one of her most famous written works shows her wit and intellect that most women during the time were not able to share with the rest of the world.[5]

Only a handful of sijo (Korean verse form) and geomungo pieces exist today. They show skilled craftsmanship of words and of musical arrangement. Hwang's sijo often describe the beauty and sites of Gaeseong (such as the palace of Manwoldae and the Pakyon Falls in the Ahobiryong Mountains), the personal tragedy of her lost loves and responses to famous classic Chinese poems and literature (the majority of them reflecting on lost love).

Hwang appears to have been of noble birth. Her sijo are considered the most beautiful ever written. In the following poem, the term Hwang uses for her beloved (어론님) has two meanings, alluding to both her sweetheart and a person who has been frozen by the winter cold. The English phrase “frozen love” may help to illustrate this double entendre in translation.

冬至 섯달 기나긴 밤을 한 허리를 잘라 내어
春風 이불 아래 서리서리 넣었다가
어론님 오신 날 밤이여든 구뷔구뷔 펴리라.

I will divide this long November night
  and coil by coil
  lay it under a warm spring blanket
  and roll by roll
when my frozen love returns
  I will unfold it to the night.[6]

In this next poem, “Full Moon” is a play on Hwang’s pen name, Myeongwol (literally, “Bright Moon”; 명월 ). The poem was written to a man famed for his virtue, Byok Kye Su, whom Hwang infamously seduced. “Green water” is a pun on Byok’s name (벽계수 碧溪水).

청산리 벽계수(靑山裏 碧溪水)야 수이 감을 자랑 마라.
일도창해(一到滄海)하면 다시 오기 어려워라.
명월(明月)이 만공산(滿空山)할 제 쉬어간들 어떠리.

Green water, do not boast
  of your rapid flow from the blue mountains.
  It is hard to return
  when you’ve reached the blue sea.
A full moon graces these peaceful hills:
  Won’t you rest a while?[6]

In popular culture[edit]


In the late 20th century, Hwang Jini's story began to attract attention from both sides of the Korean divide and feature in a variety of novels, operas, films and television series. Novelizations of her life include a 2002 treatment by North Korean writer Hong Sok-jung (which became the first North Korean novel to win a literary award, the Manhae Prize, in the South) and a 2004 bestseller by South Korean writer Jeon Gyeong-rin.[7]

Film and television[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Osváth Gábor. "Hvang Dzsini sidzso versei (eredeti szövegek, nyers- és műfordítások)" (pdf) (in Hungarian). Konfuciusz Intézet. Retrieved 2012-11-14.
  2. ^ Lee, Hai-soon; Yi, Hye-Sun (2005). Spirit of Korean Cultural Roots 9 : Poetic World of Classic Korean Women Writers. Ewha Womans University Press. pp. 13–18. ISBN 8973006029.
  3. ^ "Best Female Poet in Korean Literature, Hwang Jini". KBS World. 2010-12-24. Retrieved 2012-11-14.
  4. ^ "만능소녀의 귓속말 : 네이버 블로그". blog.naver.com. Retrieved 2018-12-19.
  5. ^ a b "三千甲者 東方朔以 : 네이버 블로그". blog.naver.com. Retrieved 2018-12-19.
  6. ^ a b David Bannon, “Sijo Poetry of Korean Kisaeng,” Hangul Herald, Fall 2008: 10-13. Excerpted and used with permission.
  7. ^ "A Literary Thaw in Korea". Time. 2004-06-21. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  8. ^ "Korean drama about Hwang Jin-yi to air in Japan". Korea.net. 2008-08-21. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  9. ^ "Hwang Jin Yi". Koreanfilm.org. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
  10. ^ "Filming Locations". Korea Tourism Organisation. Retrieved 2012-11-15.


  1. 청산은 내 뜻이오. terms.naver.com (in Korean). Retrieved 2018-12-19.
  2. "조선의 최고의 기생 황진이". https://blog.naver.com/fnf079/221298162307. Summer 2018 – via Naver Blog. External link in |journal= (help)
  3. JINI, HWANG (2016-12-01). Songs of the Kisaeng: courtesan poetry of the last Korean dynasty. Literature Translation Institute of Korea. ISBN 9788993360417.

External links[edit]