The Enlightenment of Anti-Confucian Thought During Late Choson: Study of genre paintings by Shin Yunbok and Kim Hongdo

Utthara Premanandan


This paper examines the intimate balance between art and political change during a formative period of the late Choson Dynasty, from the late 18th century to the early 19th century. For years Korea maintained a rigid Confucian based social stratification. Most importantly, this meant government administration was in the hands of the king and the ruling elite. However, during the 18th century, scholars began to modify traditional Korean Confucian morals to include ideas that accept human nature as desires rather than an innate quality and the importance of free will. Glimpses of such Anti-Confucian thought can be seen in the genre paintings found within this progressive period. The most recognized genre paintings of the time involved portrayals of daily activities of rural communities. Paintings were based on real observations and depicted mundane activities such as potters making pots, children attending school, and women sewing. Kim Hong-do (1745–1806) perfected this branch of genre paintings and elevated its position within the high court and even earned the acknowledgement of the king. Another major artist of genre painting is Shin Yunbok (1758–1800s). Both of the artists used their work not only as poetic expression but also as a form of satirical commentary on the corruption of the elite. The change in ideologies sprouting in Korea during the time encouraged these artists to portray Anti-Confucian ideals in their painting language. This paper aims to study how Shin Yunbok and Kim Hongdo’s paintings reflect the changing political mood during late Choson period.


Korea; Painting; Confucian


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