Hwang Jin-i (Hangul: 황진이; c. 1506 – c. 1560), also known by her gisaeng name Myeongwol (literally “bright moon”, 명월), was one of the most famous gisaeng of the Joseon Dynasty. She lived during the reign of King Jungjong. She was noted for her exceptional beauty, charming quick wit, extraordinary intellect, and her assertive and independent nature. Hwang was highly skilled in the arts of conversation, dance, song and poetry. Defying the accepted social conventions surrounding the lower-class kisaeng, she associated freely with scholars, artists and aristocrats. Few facts are actually known of her life, but anecdotes and legends abound concerning her early life, her reason for becoming a kisaeng, and her relationships with various men in the upper reaches of society and government.
Though Hwang’s literary reputation today is based almost solely on six sijo—chiefly concerning love—that have come down to us, she is still highly respected, and her poems continue to be among the most popular classical favorites. Hwang’s sijo often describe the beauty and sites of Gaeseong (such as the palace of Manwoldae and the Pakyon Falls), the personal tragedy of her lost loves and responses to famous classic Chinese poems and literature (the majority of them reflecting on lost love). It’s noteworthy that she was tutored by the great scholar So Kyongdok and produced poetry in both her native Korean script (Hanguel) and in Hanmun (Chinese).
In the late 20th century, Hwang Jin-i’s story began to attract attention from both sides of the Korean divide and feature in a variety of novels, operas, films and television series. Novelizations of her life include a 2002 treatment by North Korean writer Hong Sok-chung (which became the first North Korean novel to win an award in the South) and a 2004 bestseller by South Korean writer Jeon Gyeong-rin. In late 2006, KBS released a TV series entitled Hwang Jin-i starring Ha Ji-won in the title role. A film starring Song Hye Kyo was released on June 6, 2007.
Oh that I might capture the essence of this deep midwinter night
And fold it softly into the waft of a spring-moon quilt,
Then fondly uncoil it the night my beloved returns.
Hwang Chin’i’s pen name was Myongwol, meaning Bright (or Full) Moon. Hwang’s reference to a spring moon is most likely a reference to herself.
Oh, what have I done, I should have known what he meant to me.
If I had asked him to stay, I know he would never have gone.
Stubborn, I sent him away, so now I must pay the penalty.
This verse is sometimes attributed to King Songjong (r. 1470-1494). in which case it might be an expression of regret over the dismissal of one of his ministers.