Na Hyeseok

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Na Hye-seok
18-19 year-old Na Hye-seok, ca.1915
18-19 year-old Na Hye-seok, ca.1915
Born(1896-04-28)28 April 1896
Shinpyeong-ri (now Haenggung-dong), Suwon-myeon, Suwon County, Incheon-bu, Joseon
Died10 December 1948(1948-12-10) (aged 52)
Wonhyoro il-dong, Yongsan District, Seoul, South Korea
OccupationPoet, journalist, writer, painter
GenrePoetry, Novel, Art, Painting, Essay, Drama
SpouseKim Woo-yeong (m.1920; div.1930)
Korean name
Revised RomanizationNa Hyeseok
McCune–ReischauerNa Hye-sŏk
Pen name
Revised RomanizationJeongwol
Courtesy name
Revised RomanizationMyungsun

Na Hye-seok (Korean나혜석; Hanja羅蕙錫, 28 April 1896 – 10 December 1948) was a Korean feminist, poet, writer, painter, educator, and journalist.[1] Her pen name was Jeongwol (정월, 晶月).[2] She was a pioneering Korean feminist writer and painter. She was the first female professional painter and the first feminist writer in Korea.[3] She created some of the earliest Western-style paintings in Korea, and published feminist novels and short stories.[4][5] She became well known as a feminist because of her criticism of the marital institution in the early 20th century.

Early life[edit]

Na Hye-seok was born into the Naju Na clan (나주 나씨, 羅州 羅氏)[6], an aristocratic family, in 1896 in Suwon as the fourth child to Na Gi-jeong and Lady Choi Si-ui. She was called Na Ah-ji (나아지, 羅兒只) and Na Myeong-sun (나명순, 羅明順) in her childhood. Hyeseok is the name given to her when she started attending Jin Myeong Girl's High School. Na Hyeseok demonstrated her artistic talent from an early age and graduated at the top of her class at Jin Myeong Girl's High School in 1913.[7]


As a young woman, Na Hyeseok was known for her high spirits and outspokenness, making it clear she wanted to be a painter and an intellectual, rejecting the traditional "Good Wife, Wise Mother" archetype.[8] Her major written work, Kyonghui (Korean경희), published in 1918, concerns a woman's self-discovery and her subsequent search for meaning in life as a "new woman;" it is the first feminist short story in Korean literature.[5][9]

Marriage of Na Hye-seok and Kim Woo-young (1920)

After her graduation from Jinmyeong Girls' High School in 1913, Na Hyeseok majored in Western oil painting at Tokyo Arts College.[10] As a student, Na wrote several essays critiquing the standard "good wife, good mother" Korean archetype, saying she wanted a career as an artist.[11] In April 1915, Na became the main organizer of the Association of Korean Women Students in Japan. It was around this time that she fell in love with Choe Sung-gu, a student at Keio University and the then editor and publisher of the magazine Hakchigwang. The relationship between Na and Choe was highly publicized among Korean students in Japan, as was Na's close literary and personal association with Yi Gwangsu. In the spring of 1915, Na's father summoned her back home and pressured her to accept a marriage proposal from a well-established family. Na was able to escape this by accepting a teaching position in a primary school, according to her later account. After a year of teaching and saving money for tuition, Na returned to Tokyo toward the end of 1915 to resume her studies. In April 1916, however, Choe Sung-gu died of tuberculosis, and Na had to temporarily stop her studies while recovering from a mental breakdown.[9]

In a monastery on Inwangsan Mountain (1944)

In 1919, she participated in the March 1st Movement against Japanese rule. She was jailed for this, and the lawyer hired by her family to represent her soon became her husband.[12]

In 1920 Na Hyeseok, along with Kim Iryeop and ten men, established the literary magazine P-yeho.[13] Early in the 1920s, both Kim and Na contributed a series of articles to the first magazine for Korean women, called Sinyoja, or "New Woman", on the subject of improving Korean women's clothing. They argued for a more functional and practical outfit for Korean women to help improve their hygiene, health, and self-image, and denounced traditional Korean dresses which were designed with no consideration for women's physical comfort, protection, and convenience.[10]

On April 10, 1920, Na Hyeseok married Kim Woo-young, in Jeongdong wedding hall, Seoul. Theirs was a love marriage, rare at the time in Korea. On 18 March 1921, Na had her first exhibition of paintings and the first exhibition by a Korean woman painter ever in Seoul.[14] In 1923, Na attracted much attention for her essay "Thoughts on becoming a mother," in which she lashed out against her husband for leaving child-rearing entirely up to her.[11]

In 1927 Na Hyeseok and her husband went on a three-year tour of Europe sponsored by the Japanese government, making her the first Korean woman to travel to Europe and America. While traveling around Europe, Na created paintings from her observances of European culture by carefully examining customs, arts, and family life, as well as exploring how women portrayed themselves.[15] Following her return from abroad, Na continued to curate her art, holding an exhibition in her home town of Suwon in which she displayed both the art that completed in Europe as well as prints she had acquired throughout her travels.

Na studied painting in France while Kim had become a Japanese diplomat.[11] While in Paris, with her husband away, she is said to have engaged in an affair with Cheondo-gyo leader Choi Rin, which became fodder for gossip columnists. Na Hyeseok's husband divorced her on grounds of infidelity in 1931.[4][10] It is not known whether she truly was unfaithful; her diary shows that up to her late 30s she tried hard to remain loyal to traditional Korean marital and maternal roles in spite of the many humiliations and frustrations of her unhappy marriage. In any case, she came to be thought of and stigmatized as a woman who used her artistic pretensions as an excuse for sexual abandon. In 1931 Na sued Choi in a French court for "defamation of a woman's reputation" after he published a salacious article recounting their affair.[16]

Despite the divorce and disgraceful reputation, Na Hyeseok continued painting and won a special prize at the 10th Joseon Art Exhibition in 1931. She also published a piece called A Divorce Testimony in the magazine Samcheolli in 1934, raising issues with gender inequality endorsed by Korean morality and tradition. She challenged the patriarchal social system and male-oriented mentality of Korean society at the time. In A Divorce Testimony, Na criticized the repression of female sexuality; stated that her ex-husband had been unable to satisfy her sexually and refused to discuss the issue; and finally she advocated "test marriages" where a couple would live together before marrying to avoid a repeat of her unhappy marriage.[17] It wasA Divorce Testimony that ultimately ruined Na's career, as her views were regarded as scandalous and shocking, since traditional Korean Confucian culture considered premarital sex to be taboo and women were not to speak frankly of their sexuality.[16] Unable to sell her paintings, essays, or stories, Na Hyeseok was reduced to destitution and spent her last years living on the charity of Buddhist monasteries.[16] One consequence of this neglect has been that it is difficult today to verify what paintings are hers — although Na Hyeseok is now regarded as one of Korea's greatest painters, with her works selling for millions of won — and a number of fakes have appeared on the market.[16]

She died on December 10, 1948 at a charity hospital. Having had no one to care for her in the later days, the location of her grave is still unknown.[18] Her fate was often used to scold young Korean women who had literary or artistic ambitions; "Do you want to become another Na Hye-sok?" was a frequent reprimand to daughters and younger sisters.[4][19] However, she has recently been acknowledged in Korea for her artistic and literary accomplishments. For example, Seoul Arts Center opened a retrospective exhibition of her works in 2000.[4]


  • Father - Na Gi-jeong (나기정, 羅基貞) (1863 - 10 December 1915)[20]
    • Grandfather - Na Yeong-wan (나영완, 羅永完) (1825 - 1890)
    • Uncle - Na Gi-won (나기원, 羅基元)
      • Aunt - Lady Song of the Cheolwon Song clan (철원 송씨) (1848 - 1929)
        • Cousin - Na Jong-seok (나중석, 羅重錫) (1878 - 1970)
          • Cousin-in-law - Lady Ji of the Chungju Ji clan (충주 지씨)
            • First cousin - Na Se-gyun (나세균, 羅世均)
            • First cousin - Na Jae-gyun (나재균)
    • Uncle - Na Gi-hyeong (나기형, 羅基亨)
  • Mother - Choi Si-ui (최시의, 崔是議), Lady Choi of the Suwon Choi clan (? - 3 November 1919)
  • Siblings
    • Older half-sister - Na Gye-seok (나계석, 羅稽錫), Lady Na of the Naju Na clan[21]
      • Half brother-in-law - Choi Gi-hwan (최기환)
    • Unnamed older sister; died prematurely
    • Older brother - Na Hong-seok (나홍석, 羅弘錫)
      • Nephew - Na Sa-gyun (나사균, 羅姒均) (1914)
        • Niece-in-law - Yi Hui-jae (이희재)
          • Grandniece - Na Moon-hui (나문희, 羅文姬) (30 November 1941)
          • Grandniece - Na Ok-hui (나옥희)
          • Grandniece - Na Se-sun (나세순)
            • Grandnephew-in-law - Jeong Seung-ho (정승호) (27 December 1956)
              • Great-Grandnephew - Jeong Won-yeong (정원영) (25 January 1985)
    • Older brother - Na Gyeong-seok (나경석, 羅景錫) (27 September 1890 - 31 December 1959)
      • Sister-in-law - Bae Suk-gyeong (배숙경)
        • Niece - Na Yeong-gyun (나영균, 羅英均) (1 January 1929)
          • Nephew-in-law - Jeon Min-je (전민제, 全民濟) (15 March 1922 - 7 March 2020); had 1 son, 3 daughters
        • Niece - Na Hui-gyun (나희균) (1932)
          • Nephew-in-law - Ahn Sang-cheol (안상철) (1927 - 1993)
            • Grandnephew - Ahn Woo-seong (안우성) (1966)
        • Nephew - Na Sang-gyun (나상균) (1934)
        • Niece - Na Jeong-gyun (나정균)
    • Younger sister - Na Ji-seok (나지석, 羅芝錫), Lady Na of the Naju Na clan
  • Husband
    • Kim Woo-yeong (김우영, 金雨英) (26 October 1886 - 16 April 1958)
  • Issue
    • Daughter - Kim Na-yeol (김나열, 金羅悅), Lady Kim of the Samcheok Kim clan (29 April 1921)
    • Son - Kim Seon (김선, 金宣) (1924); died prematurely
    • Son - Kim Jin (김진, 金辰) (19 February 1926)
    • Son - Kim Geon (김건, 金健) (20 June 1929 - 17 April 2015)
      • Daughter-in-law - Yi Gwang-il (이광일, 李光日)
        • Grandson - Kim Jae-min (김재민)
        • Grandson - Kim Sang-min (김성민)
        • Grandson - Kim Hwang-min (김황민)


  • Divorce Testimony (이혼고백서, 離婚告白書)
  • Go on a Honeymoon: The Tomb of First Love (첫사랑의 무덤으로 신혼여행을 가다)
  • Gyunghee (경희)
  • Jeongsun (정순)
  • Na Hyeseok jeonjip (나혜석전집, 羅蕙錫全集)
  • Na Hyeseok's Collected Works (나혜석 작품집)


Na Hyeseok's novel Gyunghee (경희, 1918) is regarded as a work that shows her distinct femininity. Her novel work was a confession novel. It was also the trend of the novels of the 1920s-1930s. Similar confessionary novels by writers such as Yeom Sang-seop, Kim Dong-in, Kim Iryeop, and Kim Myeong-sun challenged the sexual taboo based on the traditional patriarchal family system.[22]

Works in translation[edit]

  • "Kyoung-hee" in Questioning Minds: Short Stories By Modern Korean Writers (p. 24)


A Google Doodle on 28 April 2019 commemorated the 123rd anniversary of Na Hyeseok’s birth.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Na Hye-sok" LTI Korea Datasheet available at LTI Korea Library or online at: Archived 2013-09-21 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ The bright moon
  3. ^ "Places at the Table - Institute of East Asian Studies, UC Berkeley". Archived from the original on 2017-09-24. Retrieved 2011-03-08.
  4. ^ a b c d Times Weekender; Na Hye-Sok Lived Flamboyant Life to Tragic End. - Korea Times (Seoul, Korea)[dead link]
  5. ^ a b Korean Studies, Volume 26 - Table of Contents
  6. ^ The clan was also known as the Naju Ra clan (나주 라씨, 羅州 羅氏)
  7. ^ Kim, H. J. (2002). The life and paintings of Rah, Hye-Suk. (Masters Thesis). Kyonggi University, South Korea.
  8. ^ Kyung Moon Hwang A History of Korea, London: Macmillan 2010 page 167.
  9. ^ a b Creating new paradigms of womanhood in modern Korean literature: Na Hye-sok's "Kyonghui".(Critical Essay) - Korean Studies | HighBeam Research - FREE trial
  10. ^ a b c "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-08. Retrieved 2011-03-08.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ a b c Kyung Moon Hwang A History of Korea, London: Macmillan 2010 page 168.
  12. ^ Hwang, Kyung Moon (2015-05-06). "Na Hye-seok advocated social changes". Koreatimes.
  13. ^ Chronology of women's history - Google Books
  14. ^ Kyung Moon Hwang A History of Korea, London: Macmillan 2010 page 161.
  15. ^ Yung-Hee Kim, Questioning Minds: Short Stories by Modern Korean Women Writers (March 10, 2020). "Kyŏnghŭi (1918)". Two Kyŏnghŭi (1918). University of Hawai'i Press. pp. 24–54. ISBN 9780824833954. JSTOR j.ctt6wqrm3.7.
  16. ^ a b c d Kyung Moon Hwang A History of Korea, London: Macmillan 2010 page 169.
  17. ^ Kyung Moon Hwang A History of Korea, London: Macmillan 2010 pages 168-169.
  18. ^ KBS World. "Koreans in History". Archived from the original on 2011-05-19. Retrieved 1 April 2011.
  19. ^ "Most Feminine and Feminist". Archived from the original on 2011-07-18. Retrieved 2011-03-08.
  20. ^ Had two concubines; one was a kisaeng who 1-2 years older than Na Hye-seok
  21. ^ A daughter from a concubine, she got married around the time Na Hye-seok was born
  22. ^ Hyeong Chan, Kim (2000-02-02). "[화제의 책]'신여성들은 무엇을 꿈꾸었는가'" [[Best book] 'What did the new women dream of']. 동아닷컴.
  23. ^ "Na Hye-sok's 123rd Birthday". Google. 28 April 2019.

External links[edit]