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Korean mask dance-Talchum-03.jpg
Korean name
Hangul 탈춤
Revised Romanization talchum
McCune–Reischauer t'alch'um

Talchum or t'alch'um could be characterized as a Korean dance performed while wearing a mask, mimicry ,miming, speaking and even sometimes singing. Although the term talchum is usually taken to mean all mask dance dramas by most Koreans, it is strictly speaking a regional term originally only properly applied to dances of Hwanghae Province in present-day North Korea. Dances from the Seoul or Gyeonggi Province region are known as sandae noli, whereas the dances from the southern coast are known as yayu which means field play or Obangsinjang which means dance of five gods. However, Talchum is nowadays accepted as a general term for mask dance drama.[1]

Korean mask dance dramas are not just dances performed by masked dancers but also include significant dramatic content with masked characters portraying people, animals and sometimes supernatural beings. These folk dramas reflect the frustrations felt by the lower classes towards the Confucian literati Yangban, due to the latter's treatment of the commoners, show the life of the common man and process social problems such as monks who ignore their precepts and men who cast off their old wives.


Talchum originated in Korean villages as part of shamanic rituals that had evolved to cleanse houses and villages, offer protection and good harvest. It then became a form of popular entertainment. It was once performed at the court – during the Koryo dynasty, the Office of Masked-Dance Drama (Sandae Togam) supervised such dances, and these dances may be performed at royal banquets. The office however was abolished during the Choson dynasty.[2]

Themes and characteristics[edit]

Mask dance dramas share fundamental characteristics, even though they vary considerably according to region and performer. Their basic themes are exorcism rites, ritual dances, biting satire, parody of human weaknesses, social evils and the privileged class. They appeal to the audiences by ridiculing apostate Buddhist monks, decadent upper classmen, and shamans. Another popular theme is the conflict between an old wife and a seductive concubine. With regional variations, the mask dance drama was generally performed on the First Full Moon, Buddha's Birthday on the Eighth of the Fourth Moon, Dano Festival and Chuseok. Variations may have been performed at festive state occasions or at rituals to supplicate for rain. The enthusiastic participation of the audience is the most remarkable feature of Korean mask dance drama. There is little distinction between the actors and the audience toward the end of a performance, as they join together in robust dance and bring it to a finale.[3]


Mask dance dramas have been transmitted from all parts of the country. There are about thirteen different types of mask dance drama in Korea ― Hwanghaedo province's Haeseo style, such as Bongsan Talchum, Gangnyeong Talchum, Eunyul Talchum; Gyeonggi-do province's Yangju Byeolsandae, Songpa Sandae Noli Mask Dances; Gyeongsangnam-do province's Suyeong Yayu, Dongnae Yayu, Gasan Ogwangdae, Tongyeong Ogwangdae, Goseong Ogwangdae; Gyeongsangbukdo province's Hahoe byeolsingut talnori; Gangwon province's Gangneung Gwanno Gamyeon'guk Mask Dance; and the Namsadang (Male Itinerant Entertaining Troupe of the Northern Line) Deotboegichum Mask Dance. Among those, Bongsan Talchum and Hahoe byeolsingut talnori are best known today.

Imaginary Creatures in Talchum[edit]

Yeongno (영노):

A monster that eats bad Yangbans. In some plays, if this type of creature eats 100 Yangban, they can go up to Heaven.[4]

Bibi (비비):

Kind of Yeongno, makes 'Bi-bi' sound. They have monster's head but a human body.[5]

Jangjamari (장마리):

Water spirits. They are very fat, play instruments, have seaweed all over their bodies. They may also be associated with fertility.[4]

In Gangneung Gwanno Gamyeon’geuk, they are associated with fertility and the summer transplanting season, dancing, wearing clothes the color of tilled earth, and decorated in rice seedlings as well as seaweed. [4]

Juji (주지):

Juji are strange beings. They look like a birds with very small heads or can be lions.[4] Two couples jump all around. The dances between the couples may symbolize fertility.[4] However, dance between two lions could also indicate scaring away evil spirits.[4]



  1. ^ National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage (25 December 2015). Tal and Talchum. Gil-Job-Ie Media. p. 67. ISBN 9788963257358.
  2. ^ Judy Van Zile (11 December 2001). Perspectives on Korean Dance. Wesleyan University Press. p. 9–10. ISBN 978-0819564948.
  3. ^ Eckersley, M. ed. 2009. Drama from the Rim: Asian Pacific Drama Book (2nd ed.). Drama Victoria. Melbourne. p46.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Saeji, CedarBough (September 2012). "The Bawdy, Brawling, Boisterous World of Korean Mask Dance Dramas: A Brief Essay to Accompany Photographs" (PDF). Berkeley.edu. Berkeley University. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  5. ^ "◎ Hahoe-Dong Mask Museum ◎". www.mask.kr. Retrieved 2016-04-23.


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