The Servant Who Once Painted Buddhist Images – Land, Vol.1, Part 3


This year’s literati corner book is the first story arc of Kyeongni Park’s Land series (박경리의《토지》), and this is the last post for my winter installment. We’ll pick up with volume 2 in the summer.

The story shifts in chapter 6, “A Seoul Yangban,” back to the Choi Champan estate where Wife Yoon greets a guest from Seoul. Cho Jungu, a relative of the Chois who has fallen onto hard times from his former yangban status, last came to the estate 6 years ago before Seohui was born. Before he retires to the men’s quarters, they talk about how long it has been. Cho Jungu has had his topknot cut off, and now his hairstyle is unbecomingly short.  His clothes are like the Japanese, and he wears a western-style hat and shoes that are all the rage in Seoul.

Choi Chisu wonders why his distant relative has come to stay with him. He is not happy to see him, but he does acknowledge the 1894 Kabo reforms that freed the slaves had a directive for them to cut their topknots. It is also mentioned here that the Donghak army also wants to kill yangban. Later in the chapter, Choi Chisu goes for a stroll with Cho Jungu.

In the next chapter, “The Shaman’s Daughter,” Wolseon rides on a ferry across the river on a cold, moonless night, thinking of her late mother and wondering why she came back to the village. She ponders whether her mother would think she is crazy because she is going to Yong’s house and acknowledges that she really wants to see Yong. She regrets that she was born the daughter of a shaman.

After she gets off the ferry, she finds Yong’s house.  In the lamplight, she sees Yong sitting on the floor smoking a cigarette. He looks up, calling out “Who’s there?” a few times. When he sees her, she explains she was just passing through and came to visit. She says she has to take the ferry back in the morning and lights more candles. They talk a bit, then he tells her to go to sleep, which she feigns. After midnight, Yong sits for a long time listening to the sound of Wolseon’s breathing.

The next morning at daybreak before the sun is up, Wolseon travels along the village road.  Running into someone in the dark, she screams – it is Imineo, who wonders why Wolseon is there at that time since she doesn’t live in the area. She thinks it is strange and improper. This chapter I think was particularly well-paced and had a nice overall effect.

Chapter 8, “Hoodlums and Witches,” starts the storyline of Kim Pyeongsan, who is out walking along the village road the next morning. After some banter with village woman Makttalneo, the chapter introduces his family, moves on to a scene with Kim Pyeongsan and Guinyeo at a tavern, which gets back into the story about Choi Chisu and his runaway wife. An interesting detail here is that Guinyeo tells him that she has a set of two gold rings and the genitals of a fox which have properties that allow a woman to bewitch a man she likes. Kim Pyeongsan guesses that she wants to bewitch Choi Chisu and maybe have a child with him!

Land v.1 p.68

Guinyeo and Pyeongsan, Interior Painting p. 68

The next chapter returns to Cho Jungu at the Choi Champan estate. A month has passed, and Cho Jungu has returned from a trip to Pusan. When Choi Chisu feels well enough, Cho Jungu plays baduk with him or they go to the archery ground to shoot bows. Later in the chapter, Cho Jungu is out in bad weather and decides he should to visit Kim Hunjang, who has just celebrated his 60th birthday. When he reaches Kim Hunjang’s manor, he calls out until Kim Hunjang appears at the door, asking what he wants. Cho says he wants to just shoot the breeze with him. He goes in, and they drink together, talking a little about regional politics.

In “Surprise Attack,” Kang Cheongtaek discovers Wolseon came to see Yong and is very angry about it. Yong is sitting in the yard smoking when the chapter begins but disappears as his wife takes over center stage, and Kang Cheongtaek gets into a conversation with village women Tumanneo, Makttalneo and Imineo when Chilseong stops by.

They admonish Kang Cheongtaek to not be jealous, but the women launch into a discussion of lovesickness and its cures, such as having a shaman use her gong and perform an exorcism to diminish its hold. At the mention of Wolseonneo, Kang Cheongtaek goes on another tirade against the “shamen bitches.” The women suggest she go to Wolseon’s house and see if she is there. She travels the 30 li road to the tavern and yells for someone to come out. When Wolseon answers, she tries to calm Kang Cheongtaek and reassure her that Yong isn’t there with her. Kang Cheongtaek expects peers into the house and doesn’t seem him there as she expected and just calls Wolseon more nasty names.

The next chapter begins with the women talking together again but gradually shifts to focus on Chilseon and Kim Pyeongsan. The men chat then go to a gambling den, staying out all night. At daybreak, they go to Wolseon’s tavern to sleep until noon.

The chapter “Seohui and Gilsang” takes an enchanting turn as it introduces the character Gilsang, who is an eager artist, carving some unspecified substance with his pocket knife and rubbing it smooth. Gilsang used to work in the Buddhist temple Yeonguksa painting Buddhist images. The novel mentions a couple of monks in this context, one of which is Monk Wugwan. Ultimately, Gilsang was sent to the Choi Champan estate to serve Choi Chisu, and he taught the slave Kucheon to write.

Now, Gilsang has made a mask, and when the paint dries, he takes it to the kitchen to show Bongsunneo. She is very moved by the mask and tells him where to find Bongsun, whom he goes to see at the detached house. Bongsun is sitting with Seohui in the yard by the lotus pond, watching a water strider and ant moving around there. The bugs become their main topic of conversation.

The second part of this volume is a bit shorter than part 1 and is titled, “Pursuit and Conspiracy.” In the first chapter, “Missing Woman,” Wife Yoon sends Gilsang to see Yong, and Bongsun tags along. The kids have heard stories that Guinyeo has run off to the mountains at night like Kucheon, perhaps possessed by a ghost, thought they wonder if her trip there could have a more mundane reason, such as going to the mountains to bathe.

When they arrive at Yong’s, Kang Cheongtaek launches into another round of abuse toward Wolseon as she grinds barley. She tells them Yong is in the rice paddy, so they wait until he returns after lunch to relay the request from Bongsunneo that he pick up two bolts of Wolseon’s ramie cloth on market day, which is two days way. When market day arrives, however, he finds the door doesn’t open and Wolseon isn’t there. He asks an old woman passing by her whereabouts and is on the verge of tears.

The next chapter shows a conversation between Wife Yoon and Choi Chisu along with a flashback to shaman Wolseonneo dancing crazily to a drum and gong during an exorcism. I’m not sure when this took place, only that this section uses only Chisu’s first name and it talks about how gloomy and solitary his childhood was, but Wolseonneo tells Wife Yoon to go to the temple because she can’t get rid of the ghosts attached to her.

Wife Yoon rides in a palanquin to the temple, but something dramatic is happening there with gunfire in the mountains and crowds of the Tonghak there five years earlier. When Wife Yoon is at the temple, she meets Kim Kaeju, though again I’m not certain of the timeline, but it seems like she already had their child together after he raped her at the time of this flashback.

In the present, Samwol comes in while Wife Yoon and Choi Chisu are talking together to bring Wife Yoon a letter that has arrived. It is from Monk Wugwan, who is inquiring about Kucheon.

After Yong has been back home for a few days after market day when he discovered Wolseon’s disappearance, word spreads about it among the women. The story then turns back to Kim Pyeongsan talking with Cho Jungu about the yangban. Later, Pyeongsan goes out and stays in an embankment near a water mill until the early evening when he meets Cho again. Cho hangs around to see why Pyeongsan is there and eventually notices a woman disappear into the mill. By the end of this chapter, they talk about parents and children and how a man who doesn’t have children with his wife thinks of finding another woman to take as a concubine to have a child with.

In the next chapter, “A Yangban’s Violence,” Imineo and Chilseong go to Hamantaek’s threshing ground. While the village women are there talking, Pyeongsan shows up, insults fly, then they get into a fisticuffs. Pyeongsan hits Makttalneo, whose nose starts to bleed. The others watching the fight says it’s the usual yangban misbehavior and discuss expelling Pyeongsang from the village.

Meanwhile, Kang Cheongtaek is in her kitchen chopping garlic to make kimchi. She spends some time reflecting on her rivalry with Wolseon for Yong’s affections.

The plot twist in chapter 6, “A Gold Rainbow,” came as a surprise. After Pyeongsan’s expulsion from the village, he sneaks around gambling dens and drinks, but then he meets Guinyeo again at the water mill. He asks her if she is still after Choi Chisu, and they discuss how if she has Choi Chisu’s baby, that alone will improve her social status. They decide to meet Chilseong that night, and maybe I missed them talk about the reason, but it turns out to not be what I would have expected.

When Chilseong arrives at the mill, Guinyeo is already there, but they don’t say anything until Pyeongsan gets there.  When they go into the place, they put candles before the three gods of childbirth, and Guinyeo makes her request there before the Buddha then conducts a ceremonial bath before she is united with Chilseong. It seems to imply some sort of wedding ceremony between them, but perhaps I’m misunderstanding that. They meet there regularly to try to have a child together, and Pyeongsan keeps their secret.

In the next to the last chapter, Imineo and Hamantaek come to Bongsunneo’s room at the estate to help her sew clothes for Chuseok, which indicates a year has passed since the opening chapter. Later, Bongsun joins them.

The final chapter is a little long. Choi Chisu goes hunting with Kang Posu. A lot of the chapter has Choi Chisu thinking about the incident with Byeoldangasshi running off with Kucheon and his mother’s stay at the temple back at the time she met Kim Kaeju. Days pass and he hears rumors before meeting up with Monk Wugwan. The men chat at the Buddhist temple, where Chisu says he’s looking for someone. A boy brings tea in for them, and they talk a little about Gilsang’s parentage, but Wugwan is evasive, saying he is the child of heaven and earth. Chisu stays at the temple a few nights and finally has a brief encounter with Kucheon before he goes to find Wugwan to say goodbye. The last lines of the volume describes the main hall of the Buddhist temple with the sounds of a wooden bell and chanting of sutras.

Part three of a nine part series.

Next time: we turn to the Hugo Award-winning Chinese sci-fi novel by Cixin Liu, Remembrance of Earth: Three Body Problem, with an intermission series featuring Gonma’s Joseon Zombie Annals.

About Lady Xiansa

Lady Xiansa is a writer, linguist, artist, and dancer. She has been a core volunteer for the Silk Screen Asian Arts Organization from 2007 to 2018 and has provided content for Pitt JCS anime events since 2011. She has taught both ESL and Beginning Korean. Her gothic horror novel, The Haunting at Ice Pine Peak, won the Bronze Award for Young Adult Fiction E-book in the 2016 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards and earned the 2018 Story Monsters Approved Seal in the Tween Category.
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