The Huh Nansolhon Memorial Festival was organized by the Korea Women's Hot Line and held in July 2004 at her house of birth near Gangneung, a coastal city in Gangwon province. The festival closed successfully after arousing significant attention and interest. The participants were mourning the tragic death of this dynamic Chosun lady, whose wings had been broken at the very young age of 27.
Nansolhon was born during a time when the Confucian scholar nobility was gaining control of government. A women's free spirit and her ability to lead an uninhibited life were strictly prohibited. In such a closed society, where total segregation of the sexes was becoming a universal norm, the division of gender roles restricted a woman's social activities.
Under such constraints, there were two acceptable female role models. The first was a woman named Shin Saimdang. She was considered to be the ideal model of a virtuous wife and a wise mother, two roles particularly important in patriarchal Chosun society. The second role model was Hwang Jini, a woman with whom the upper-class men could relax, while eating and drinking, and enjoy poems, music and nature. Nansolhon, however, as a literary poet followed neither of these role models.
Learning the Chinese classics and writing poetry was regarded as the exclusive privilege of upper-class men. Nansolhon's literary works, therefore, encroached upon their territory.
Her poems spread like wildfire and quickly became a major point of gossip among urban society. Even the more progressive and practical scientists thought it not proper for a woman to chant poems. The condescendingly generous would say that Nansolhon's poems were refined but that her demeanor couldn't quite keep up with her works. Any expression of talent seems to have become an object of ridicule for women of the Chosun era.
Another reason she wasn't welcome in the mainstream of society was that she didn't raise a son. As the wife of Kim Sung-Rip, she produced no male family heir. Having no son satisfied one of the seven situations in which a husband could expel a wife.
In contrast, Shin Saimdang raised Yulgok, who would grow up to be a great Confucian scholar and statesman. Saimdang was revered as the role model for all women of Chosun, even though she enjoyed writing poems as well.
Even though her life was short, Nansolhon sowed the seeds of the feminist movement throughout Korean history. It is therefore no excess to refer to her as a pioneer of Korean feminism.
Kyung Nan-Soo, member,
Women's Hot Line, Gangneung