Sin Saimdang

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Shin Saimdang
Shin Saimdang.jpg
Born(1504-12-05)December 5, 1504
DiedJune 20, 1551(1551-06-20) (aged 46)
OccupationArtist, calligraphist, poet
Children5 sons including Yi I, and 3 daughters
Sin Saimdang
Revised R.Shin Saimdang
McCune–R.Shin Saimdang
Birth name
Revised R.Shin In-seon
McCune–R.Sin In-sŏn

Shin Saimdang (사임당 신씨, 申師任堂) (29 October 1504 – 17 May 1551) was a Korean artist, writer, calligraphist, and poet. She was born in Gangwondo Gangneung-bu Jukheon-li Bukpyeong-chon (강원도 강릉부 죽헌리 북평촌). Her birth home, Ojukheon, which is also her mother's side home, is well-preserved to this day. She was the mother of the Korean Confucian scholar Yi I. Often held up as a model of Confucian ideals, her respectful nickname was Eojin Eomeoni (어진 어머니; "Wise Mother").[1][2] Her real name was Shin In-seon (Hangul: 신인선, Hanja: 申仁善). Her pen names were Saim, Saimdang, Inimdang, and Imsajae. She was a contemporary of the poet Heo Nansseolheon, and the two women were considered rivals.


Childhood and education[edit]

Shin Saimdang was born and raised in Gangneung at the home of her maternal grandparents. Her father, Shin Myeong-hwa (신명화, 申命和), from the Pyeongsan Shin clan (평산 신씨, 平山 申氏), was a government official and a friend of the scholar Jo Gwangjo, but he was not politically active. Her mother was Lady Yi of the Yongin Yi clan, the daughter of Yi Saon (이사온, 李思溫). Saimdang was the second[3] of five daughters. Her father initially lived in Hansung (한성부) (modern day Seoul), and lived largely apart from the family for 16 years. He continued his imperial examination preparation with his wife's family's assistance, and visited home several times a year. Saimdang's mother assisted his studies. However, Shin Myeonghwa did not go beyond jinsa test (진사), an elementary test for yangban, and gave up the daegwa (대과) test due to the massacre of scholars in the year of Kimyo (기묘사화, 1519 CE). He moved to Gangneung.

Lady Yi had continued living with her parents after her marriage, which gave her greater autonomy in how she chose to educate Saimdang and her other daughters. Saimdang's grandfather's beliefs also greatly influenced Saimdang. Her maternal grandfather taught her as he would have taught a grandson.

Although she was a woman, Saimdang developed an abundant knowledge of Neo-Confucianism, history, and literature, which surprised her father's visitors. Saimdang and her sisters learned Thousand Character Classic, Dongmongseonseup (동몽선습), Mingxin baojian, and confucianism from Shin Myeonghwa. Saimdang was especially talented, earning her father's favor. Having no brothers, she received an education that would have been bequeathed only to a son, and this background greatly influenced the way she later educated her own children.

Shin Saimdang received an education that was not common for women of that era. Besides literature and poetry, she was adept at calligraphy, embroidery, and painting. She was also gifted at writing and drawing, earning praise from Lee Suk-kwon (이숙권).


Shin Myeonghwa chose Commander Yi Wonsu (李元秀) to become Saimdang's husband. Many people felt that this showed poor judgement, because although Yi Wonsu's ancestors included Yeonguijeong and Jwauijeong, the family was poor. At that time, Yi Wonsu was also unemployed, and his father had died. However, Shin Myeonghwa prioritised marrying Saimdang to a man who would allow her to continue with her artwork, and Wonsu had no objections to this.

On 20 August 1522 (aged 19) Saimdang married Yi Wonsu, and with his consent she continued to spend time at her parents' home in Gangneung. Yi Wonsu's house was at Paju but her father died in the same year that they got married, so she moved back and forth between the two homes in order to care for her mother. She later accompanied her husband to his official posts in Seoul and in rural towns. She moved to several places including Hansung and Pyeongchang.

The couple had eight children: five boys and three girls. At the age of 33, she went back to Gangneung to give birth to her third son, Yi I. In 1537, on her return to Hansung with her baby, she stood on top of a hill at Daegwallyeong and looked back at a village she had just passed. She expressed her love for her mother through a new poem. Aged 38, she managed a new house in Hansung and lived with her mother.

In this era, obedience was considered an important mark of a good wife, but Saimdang did not listen to her husband Yi Wonsu easily. Promising 10 years of separation for his study, she sent her husband to a good mountain. When he came back yearning for his wife, she reprimanded him, threatening to cut off her hair if he didn't study hard. In spite of her efforts, Yi Wonsu quit studying after 3 years.

Conflict with her husband[edit]

She noticed that her husband, Yi Wonsu, loved a kisaeng named Kwon. When Yi Wonsu began living with Kwon, Saimdang strongly disapproved of it and the couple's relationship cooled. Shin Saimdang, who foresaw her death, asked her husband not to marry another woman after she died. Yi Wonsu argued that Confucius, Zengzi, and Zhou Dunyi had broken their marriages, but Shin Saimdang contradicted him by telling him that none of those people had remarried. Kwon was considered to be a rash girl who acted unpredictably, the opposite of Shin Saimdang, and it was also said that she was the same age as her eldest son, Yi Seon. When Shin Saimdang discovered the presence of Kwon, she once again asked her husband not to invite Kwon to their home. Quoting the Confucian scriptures, she tried to convince him not to marry Kwon, and to promise not to bring her into their home. Yi Wonsu and Shin Saimdang's bad relationship also affected their children. Since his parent's marital relations were not good, Yi I wanted a peaceful family life.


Yi I loved his mother dearly, so when Shin Saimdang got sick, he went to the shrine where his maternal grandfather's spirit tablet was, and prayed for his mother for one hour every day. The family members who were searching for the missing Yi I were moved when they found the young child sincerely praying in hopes of his mother recovering. Despite his efforts, her illness got worse. Sin Saimdang died suddenly after moving to the Pyongan region.[2] Shin Saimdang died on May 17, 1551, at the age of 46. As a result of her death, her son Yi I wandered about with questions about the cause of life and death.

After her death, Yi Wonsu didn't marry Kwon but broke his wife’s promise by bringing her to live with him and his children, causing conflict with Yi I. Unlike Shin Saimdang who was a gentle and caring mother, Kwon liked to drink. Shin Saimdang's children suffered because of Kwon, and Yi I ran away from home. It is unclear why Yi Won-su made the unreasonable move to bring in Kwon, but it is also believed that it was caused by jealousy and inferiority towards his wife, Shin Saimdang.


  • Father
    • Shin Myeong-hwa (신명화, 申命和)
  • Mother
    • Lady Yi of the Yongin Yi clan (용인 이씨, 龍仁 李氏)
      • Maternal Grandfather: Yi Sa-on (이사온, 李思溫)
  • Sisters
    • Older sister: Lady Shin of the Pyeongsan Shin clan (평산 신씨, 平山 申氏)
    • Younger sister: Lady Shin of the Pyeongsan Shin clan (평산 신씨, 平山 申氏)
    • Younger sister: Lady Shin of the Pyeongsan Shin clan (평산 신씨, 平山 申氏)
    • Younger sister: Lady Shin of the Pyeongsan Shin clan (평산 신씨, 平山 申氏)
      • Nephew: Kwon Cheo-gyun (권처균, 權處均)
  • Husband
    • Yi Won-su (이원수, 李元秀) of the Deoksu Yi clan (덕수 이씨, 德水 李氏) (1501 - 1561)
      • Father-in-law: Yi Cheon (이천)
  • Children
    • Son: Yi Seon (이선)
    • Daughter: Yi Mae-chang (이매창, 李梅窓)
    • Son: Yi Byeon (이번)
    • Daughter: Lady Yi of the Deoksu Yi clan (덕수 이씨, 德水 李氏)
    • Son: Yi I (이이, 李珥) (7 January 1537 - 27 February 1584)
      • Daughter-in-law: Lady No of the Goksan No clan (곡산 노씨, 谷山 盧氏) (? - 1595); daughter of No Gyeong-rin (노경린, 盧慶麟)
        • Half-granddaughter: Lady Yi of the Deoksu Yi clan (덕수 이씨, 德水 李氏); Kim Jip’s second wife
          • Half-grandson-in-law: Kim Jip (김집, 金集) (1574 - 1656)[4]
            • Half-great grandson: Kim Ik-hyeong (김익형, 金益炯)
            • Half-great grandson: Kim Ik-ryeon (김익련, 金益煉)
    • Daughter: Lady Yi of the Deoksu Yi clan (덕수 이씨, 德水 李氏)
    • Son: Yi U (이우, 李瑀) (1542 - 1609)


In Joseon, women were discouraged from broadcasting their gifts and talents to the world after marriage. However, Saimdang was able to develop her talents in part because she had no brothers, so she was able to live at her home instead of her husband's; and because her father sought to select a son-in-law who would let Saimdang develop her skills as much as possible.

Shin Saimdang's artwork is known for its delicate beauty; insects, flowers, butterflies, orchids, grapes, fish, and landscapes were some of her favorite themes. Approximately 40 paintings of ink and stonepaint colors remain, although it is believed that many others exist.[2]

Unfortunately, not much of her calligraphy remains, but her style was greatly praised in her time, with high-ranking officials and connoisseurs writing records of her work. The scholar Eo Sukgwon of Myeongjong mentioned in his book Paegwan Japgi (Hangul:패관잡기, hanja:稗官雜記, "The Storyteller's Miscellany") that Saimdang's paintings of grapes and landscapes compared to those of the notable artist Ahn Gyeon. In 1868, upon admiring the work of Saimdang, the governor of Gangneung remarked that "Saimdang's calligraphy is thoughtfully written, with nobility and elegance, serenity and purity, filled with the lady's virtue".[2]

Her children also possessed artistic talent. For example, Yi U was so talented in the art that there is an anecdote that "He drew insects using muk, and then the chickens were chasing after it since it looked like real insects." Yi U was also talented in poetry. His brother Yi I said: "If Yi U concentrated in scholarship, he would be better than me." Shin Saimdung's eldest daughter, Yi Mae-chang, was also good at poetry and therefore known as "Little Shin Saimdang".


  • Looking Back at my Parents' Home while Going Over Daegwallyeong Pass(Hangul:유대관령망친정, hanja:踰大關嶺望親庭) - Poem written while leaving her parents' house, grief-stricken from leaving her mother alone
  • Thinking of Parents (Hangul:사친, hanja:思親) - A poem about filial devotion to her mother


  • Landscape (Hangul:자리도, hanja:紫鯉圖)
  • Mountains and rivers (Hangul:산수도, hanja:山水圖)
  • Grass and insect painting(Hangul:초충도, hanja:草蟲圖)
  • Geese among reeds (Hangul:노안도, hanja:蘆雁圖)


50,000 KRW note
50,000 KRW note

Shin Saimdang is the first woman to appear on a South Korean banknote. The Bank of Korea (BOK; Hangul: 한국은행), the 50,000 won note, first issued in June 2009. The design of the 50,000 won was released on February 25, 2009. A portrait of Shin Saimdang and her drawings, Mook Grapes (Hangul: 묵포도도) and Chochungdosubyeong (Hangul: 초충도수병,South Korean National Treasure No. 595) were illustrated on the front. Paintings ('wolmaedo' and 'pungjugdo') of the Joseon dynasty were illustrated on the back side. Unlike other bills, the illustrations on the back of this bill were illustrated vertically. On May 5, The Bank of Korea announced that they selected Shin Saimdang main character of 50000 won because she is "a representative female artist in the middle of the Joseon period" and "a person who has accomplished a remarkable achievement in gifted education by fulfilling his wife's role". The reason for the selection is that it is expected to contribute to raising awareness of gender equality in Korean society and to raise the importance of education and family.[5] (Other candidate characters of 50,000 won were Kim Koo, Gwanggaeto the Great, Ahn Changho, Jang Yeong-sil, and Ryu Gwansun.)

Feminist critics, however, have criticized this selection as reinforcing sexist stereotypes about women's roles.[6]

In modern culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (in Korean) Sin Saimdang at Doosan Encyclopedia
  2. ^ a b c d (in Korean) Sin Saimdang at The Academy of Korean Studies
  3. ^ Kim-Renaud, Young-Key (2015-02-24). Creative Women of Korea: The Fifteenth Through the Twentieth Centuries. Taylor & Francis Group. p. 59. ISBN 9781315705378.
  4. ^ He later became the teacher to Song Jun-gil (the maternal grandfather to the future Queen Inhyeon)
  5. ^ "황당한 한은의 '화폐인물' 선정이유 "어진 아내에 영재교육에 남다른 성과" (Korean)". The Hankyoreh. Oct 4, 2017.
  6. ^ "'Best mom' chosen as face of currency". Reuters. Nov 6, 2007.

Further reading[edit]

Kim-Renand, Young-Key. Creative Women of Korea: the Fifteenth Through the Twentieth Centuries. M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2004.

External links[edit]