Speaking Flowers

The gisaeng of Korea were female entertainers. Accomplished in fine arts, poetry and prose, they laid the foundation for Korean female literature and medicine, even as they occupied the lowest class of society. This intimate portrait by Gloria Chang unravels the legacy of these "skilled women", the Flower That Understands Words.

speaking-flowers-Kisaeng-01.jpgIn 16th century Korea, when women couldn't be seen, let alone speak in public, there lived a group of women - poets, musicians, dancers - whose freedoms equaled that of men.
Their wit matched the brightest and most powerful minds of the day. Their songs, music and dances gave them entry to the most cultured life among society's elite. And yet, they were women of illegitimate status, official slaves of the state. They were the Gisaeng of Old Korea.

Who were these women? Why do they have such a hold on the country's imagination even though their tradition no longer exists?

Vancouver writer and broadcaster Gloria Chang paints an intimate portrait of the Korean gisaeng through their poetry and music.

Image: A gisaeng girl, circa 1910

Special Thanks

Special thanks to Steven Seung-Soon Chang and Julie Kim for help with translations and providing voices in the Korean language.

speaking-flowers.jpgImage: Resounding Geomungo praiseworthy lotus by Korean painter Shin Yun-bok


Songs of the Kisaeng. Translated and Introduced by Constantine Contogenis and Wolhee Choe.

Women of the Yi Dynasty. Edited by Park, Young-hai. Studies on Korean Women Series 1. Seoul: Research Center for Asian Women Sookmyung Women's University, 1986.

Speaking Flowers is Part 3 of 3 stories on the cultural icons of Korea by Vancouver writer and broadcaster Gloria Chang.  Listen to her other Ideas documentaries here:

Listen to Ten Thousand Spirits

Listen to The Sea Women

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