Abstract

Men's references to women's writing in vernacular Korean script never term this practice “calligraphy,” and yet articles of women's intricate brushwork reveal that in late Chosŏn Korea (1392–1910) this was a highly aestheticized practice with recognized social importance and a meticulous training process. This article captures the moment when vernacular Korean scriptural practices ascended the elite canon, which resulted in the emergence of high vernacular culture. It historicizes the gendered logic of representation in a male-authored historical archive to uncover the contours of a women-centered vernacular aesthetic canon that assumed a status of prestige alongside male culture in literary Chinese. The article unravels the meaning of the term “calligraphy” when it is applied to women's vernacular handwriting and ponders the connection between women's bodily discipline, productive work, and exquisite vernacular brushwork. This opens an alternative perspective not only on the gender politics of the Chosŏn society but also on the culture of the time, which is hitherto seen as dominated by a male-centered literary Chinese canon.

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