Let’s read about real history through historical drama. The drama of this week is tvN “Under the Queen’s Umbrella.”
In the second episode of tvN’s historical drama “Under the Queen’s Umbrella,” which deals with royal education during the Joseon Dynasty, there was a scene where Queen Lim Hwa Ryeong (played by Kim Hye-soo) was surprised after sneaking a peek at her son, Grand Prince Gye Seong (played by Yoo Seon-ho), who entered a secluded room in the corner of a deserted palace alone. Subsequently, she witnessed a shocking scene that made her cover her mouth with both hands.
Grand Prince Gye Seong was making cosmetics and stamping them on his face, pounding the ingredients with a small mortar. Looking into the mirror, he was also adding color to his face by putting red lip makeup on and powdering his face with familiar hand movements. A red female hanbok top hung neatly on the wall. It is the daily life of Grand Prince Gye Seong to enjoy his life as a woman in such a place where no one can see before returning to his living space.
A noble concubine (Gwi-in Ko, Woo Jung-won), who is jealous of the Queen and Crown Prince’s mother-son relationship, also secretly witnessed this scene. In the third episode on Oct 22nd, Gwi-in Ko reported this fact to the Queen Dowager (played by Kim Hae-sook) and was yelled at. She came to report because she knew that Queen Dowager didn’t like the Queen, but Queen Dowager was rather upset and told Gwi-in Ko to forget about it.
The stories of men dressed as women in Korea’s historical record
This story of a man dressed up as a woman like in “Under The Queen’s Umbrella” appears much less in historical records than the story of a woman dressed up as a man. There are often stories of women wearing men’s clothes and going a long way, but there are relatively few records of men doing so.
Although this is not a case of a man dressing up as a woman, a man who exuded feminity is introduced in the “Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms”. This book states that King Hye Gong, who succeeded King Gyeong Deok in 765 at the age of seven, “always liked to play women’s games and kick silk bags.”
“Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms” explains that King Hye Gong became like that because he was originally a woman. “The young king became a man as a woman,” it said. This does not mean that King Hye Gong hid his female identity and became a monarch. The book said this in the sense of a person who should have been born as a woman.
Unlike the case of King Hye Gong, there have been records of men dressing their entire bodies as women at official events during the end of Goryeo Dynasty. According to the stories published in Volume 9 of Dasan Poems Collection, which collected the writings of Jeong Yak-yong (1762-1836), such an event took place when the king announced the successful candidates of the past examination in Alseong-si, where he attended in person. At this event called Bangbang, a male dancer appeared to perform in female attire.
Contrary to Jeong Yak-yong’s prediction, which insisted that such event should be abolished because it would be a laughing stock for future generations, modern people are not too surprised to see a man dressed as a woman. His reaction to crossdressing is similar to that shown by the Queen and the noble concubine in the second and third episodes of “Under The Queen’s Umbrella.”
The hatred towards men dressed as women can also be confirmed in the “Seongho Saseol” of the Silhak philosopher and Korean Neo-Confucian scholar Yi Ik. Like Jeong Yak-yong, Lee Ik was also a practical scholar who also maintained the attitude of a Confucian scholar rather than a practical scholar in this issue. His firm position was that man should never crossdress.
One of the examples cited by Yi Ik is the story of the Ming Dynasty. He stressed that men in the Ming Dynasty, who shaved their eyebrows, makeup, and dressed up as women, often did inappropriate things after approaching women, and stressed that they had been put to death. In other words, he emphasized his perspective that men crossdressing as women should be punished to death by dismemberment.
It can be said that while women dressed as men were relatively seen under a softer viewpoint in history, the rejection of men dressing as women was quite extreme. Although there was a tradition of a man dressed as a woman at official events in Alseong, Neo-Confucious scholars such as Jeong Yak-yong also expressed their considerable rejection of men dressing as women.