The government courtesan: Status, gender, and performance in late Chocson Korea /

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Bibliographic Details
Author / Creator:Park, Hyun Suk, author.
Ann Arbor : ProQuest Dissertations & Theses, 2015
Description:1 electronic resource (269 pages)
Format: E-Resource Dissertations
Local Note:School code: 0330
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Other authors / contributors:University of Chicago. degree granting institution.
Notes:Advisors: Kyeong-Hee Choi; Judith T. Zeitlin Committee members: Norma Field; Sun Joo Kim.
Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 77-02(E), Section: A.
Summary:This dissertation investigates the performance of music and dance by government courtesans (kwan'gi) in public and political venues in Choson Korea from the mid-seventeenth through the nineteenth century. The system of government courtesans in Choson entailed manifold contradictions: Courtesans were of the most degraded status, equivalent to that of slaves, but helped to enact state power through their performances in official venues. Government officials condemned courtesans for disturbing the boundary of gender, yet appropriated them to enhance their social and cultural privileges. Finally, courtesan performance, which constituted corvee labor, was nevertheless a venue for the courtesans to exercise their expressive capability. In revisiting the domains of cultural production for the most dominant groups in Choson society by tracing the footsteps of the government courtesans, this dissertation explores the material and symbolic power relations between the state, government officials, and government courtesans of the late Choson period.
This dissertation is organized as a series of visits to the venues in which the government courtesans officially performed. These include the rituals at the royal palace in Seoul, the official banquets for diplomatic envoys held at the provincial government offices in Pyongan Province, and the small-scale banquets for visiting officials at the provincial offices in Hamgyong Province. The first chapter analyzes the debates concerning the abolition of the courtesan system and a particular case of the royal ritual held in honor of Lady Hyegyong's sixtieth birthday in 1795. It examines why and how courtesan performance was not thoroughly legitimized in official discourse. The case study reveals that courtesan performance constituted an integral part of state ritual, but at the same time, contained many points of equivocation, contradiction, and disjuncture that did not necessarily conform to prescribed protocol.
The second chapter examines courtesan performance in the context of Choson officials' diplomatic visits to the Qing court. Following the itinerary described in the records of the visit of 1712 as a prototype, the chapter analyzes the semantic and structural features of the particular pieces of courtesan performance presented at government offices in Pyongan Province. It argues that the courtesan performance in this venue served to affirm the status quo on the surface, but at the same time incorporated potentially code-breaking and subversive dimensions in the combination of cross-dressing and martial arts.
The third chapter analyzes both historical and literary documents produced during the government officials' journeys to Hamgyong Province. It explores how courtesans were circulated as illicit gifts within the society of government officials, and how the illegitimacy of the transaction worked to strengthen the personal bonds between officials. The analysis of poems by officials who traveled to Hamgyong Province confirms that writing a poem about, for, and to a courtesan constituted a practice through which government officials built intimate connections with one another. The chapter argues that the courtesan, a woman entirely marginalized within the social hierarchy of Choson, nonetheless served as a critical point of mediation in the production of the social and cultural capital of dominant elite males.