A Journey of Life Towards the Dream Land: Space and Identity for Women on Cheju Island

Title: 1234 | A Journey of Life Towards the Dream Land: Space and Identity for Women on Cheju Island
Area: Northeast Asia
Stream: Literature
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Michael Pettid, Binghamton University (SUNY), United States (presenter)
Hyangsoon Yi, University of Georgia, United States (organizer, chair, presenter)
Hyesong Jeon, Konan University, Japan (presenter)
Noriko Ijichi, Osaka City University, Japan (presenter)
Jung-Eun Hong, Ritsumeikan University, Japan (discussant)


This panel investigates the complex relationship between space and identity for women on Cheju Island, Korea as it manifests itself in their real and imaginary lives. Women in Cheju have been far more restricted in their geographical movement compared with those on the peninsula. The Chosŏn government even banned Cheju women from leaving the island from 1629 to 1825. Ironically, however, women in Cheju have been relatively more exposed to outsiders due to the island’s trade relationships with other countries and to their constant contact with political exiles from the mainland. Thus, journey has an especially rich and poignant meaning for women in Cheju.
Michael Pettid examines various travel narratives from Koryŏ and Chosŏn that involve Cheju Island, focusing on the portrayals of female islanders in them. Hyangsoon Yi’s paper addresses the lives of kisaeng in Cheju in the premodern era. By analyzing historical records and folklore on Mandŏk and other native Cheju kisaeng women, Yi explores how their selfhood is tightly linked with their sedentary condition and their vision of movement. Jeon Hyesong presents on Pongnyŏgwan, a bhiksuni credited with the revival of Buddhism in Cheju in the early twentieth century. Pongnyŏgwan’s first trip to the mainland was aimed at her ordination, demonstrating the symbolic value of journey in achieving legitimacy for her monastic identity. Noriko Ijichi analyzes the migration of Cheju women to Japan in the modern period and discusses their sense of home as it is reflected in their life (hi)stories that she has extensively collected.

Panel Abstracts:
Shamanic Travel Narratives on Cheju Island
This paper will investigate the theme of travel both within and without Cheju Island by using shamanic narratives from the late Koryŏ dynasty (918-1392) through the Chosŏn dynasty (1392-1910). Travel narratives are often found within island culture, and Cheju is no different in that regard. Within these oral narratives, we find both encounters with outsiders and also movement within the island. The narratives tell of difficulties caused by outsiders and the response of the natives of Cheju. We also find inter-island movements that demonstrate the spread of shamanic folkways throughout the island. In all, given the importance of protecting the island’s folk beliefs, travel narratives demonstrate the belief in supernatural force’s ability to protect the island people. The central focus of my discussion will be on the role of island women in these narratives.

The Fragrance of Ten Thousand Virtues: The Lives of Cheju Kisaeng in the Premodern Period
My article investigates the lives of kisaeng (courtesan hereafter) on Cheju Island in the pre-modern period as they are described in historical documents and oral traditions. The thoughts and deeds of courtesans can only be glimpsed through their literary works and the writings of their male patrons. Despite the lack of written records on their lives, courtesans left an indelible mark on the history of Cheju. A prominent case is Mandŏk who rose from the lowly status to a highly respected entrepreneur by relieving the starving masses with her wealth when a great famine hit Cheju. Her philanthropy made its way into Chosŏn wangjo sillok (Veritable Records of the Chosŏn Dynasty) and Ch’ae Jegong’s “Mandŏkchŏn” (Tale of Mandŏk). Although far less known today, the notable activities of other courtesans in Cheju also became the subject of literature and folklore. In my presentation, I will first sketch the lives of courtesans in pre-modern Cheju, highlighting the distinct aspects of their work that are not found in the mainland. The second part of my article will analyze the “Tale of Mandŏk” and Sin Kwangsu’s poems on courtesans. Critical attention will be paid on a sense of space held by courtesans in Cheju using Mandŏk as a prime example. I will discuss the significance of her travel to the Diamond Mountains as the ultimate manifestation of an emancipatory imagination and a fierce spirit of independence that lie at the core of many Cheju women’s lives.

Bhiksuni Pongnyŏgwan’s Revival of Buddhism on Cheju Island during the Japanese Colonial Period
Bhiksuni Pongnyŏgwan contributed immensely to reinstating Buddhism on Cheju Island in the early twentieth century after the Buddhist institution had disappeared from the island for nearly two centuries. In 1908, she founded Kwanŭm Temple in Cheju, which served as the center for her active propagation of the Buddhist faith. Many documents from the Japanese colonial period show that various Japanese Buddhist sects helped retrieve Buddhism throughout Korea. In reality, however, the successful revival of Buddhism in Korea was considerably indebted to the efforts made by Korean monastics, including Pongnyŏgwan.Pongnyŏgwan’s ordination took place at Taehŭng Monastery in 1917 for which she made her first trip to the mainland. As the first nun in modern Cheju, Pongnyŏgwan’s role in the Buddhist history of the island is an important subject in the field of modern Korean religion, but it has hardly been investigated. This unfortunate situation seems to be all the more problematic given all sorts of hurdles she overcame as a nun. I will address two major reasons for this problem. Firstly, miracle stories involved in Pongnyŏgwan’s propagation activities are perceived as shamanic by mainstream Korean Buddhist society which advocates an anti-shamanic enlightenment ideology and anti-Japanese historiography. Secondly, many dharma meetings that she held in cooperation with the Japanese colonial authorities resulted in a deep prejudice against her political stance. In my article, I will examine Pongnyŏgwan’s role as well as the importance of Kwanŭm Temple from a more balanced perspective in light of Cheju islanders’ spiritual needs under Japanese rule.

Post-liberation Migration to Japan and the Lifeworlds of Korean Women From Cheju Island, South Korea
This presentation focuses on the movement of women prompted by macro social changes in 20th-century Asia, namely colonization, the Cold War structure, and globalization. I consider the transition and reorganization of women's lifeworlds, as well as coping methods that developed in response to the international politics surrounding Japan and the Korean Peninsula. To these women, migration between Cheju Island and Japan was a lifestyle route often selected by their forebears prior to liberation from Japanese colonial rule. Despite such historical conditions, however, travel between these two nations was outlawed following Japan's defeat and Korea's subsequent emancipation. Stowaway voyages to Japan continued irrespective of this and were not uncommon even up to the liberalization of overseas travel in South Korea in 1989. I interpret women who migrated within such generational exigencies as dynamic cases, whose lived experiences reveal modern East Asian history through the relationship between Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Further, I analyze the meaning of home place to mobile women in the national, ethnic, and individual contexts. Home place is naturally subjective, referring to locations, groups, and/or relationships wherein one feels a certain sense of connection. Here, it is expressed within the overlapping complexity of the permanent domicile, the home villages of maternal relatives, long-term residence, administrative districts, nations, ethnicity, and concepts such as "birthplace" and "mother country." As such, I explore the home place as it exists for women from Cheju Island living in post-war Japan by surveying their life histories

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