The Power of the Brush
Epistolary Practices in Chosŏn Korea
- PUBLISHED: December 2020
- SUBJECT LISTING: Asian Studies / Korea, History
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 290 Pages, 6 x 9 in, 28 b&w illus., 3 tables
- SERIES: Korean Studies of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies
- ISBN: 9780295747811
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
The invention of an easily learned Korean alphabet in the mid-fifteenth century sparked an “epistolary revolution” in the following century as letter writing became an indispensable daily practice for elite men and women alike. The amount of correspondence increased exponentially as new epistolary networks were built among scholars and within families, and written culture created room for appropriation and subversion by those who joined epistolary practices.
Focusing on the ways that written culture interacts with philosophical, social, and political changes, The Power of the Brush examines the social effects of these changes and adds a Korean perspective to the evolving international discourse on the materiality of texts. It demonstrates how innovative uses of letters and the appropriation of letter-writing practices empowered elite cultural, social, and political minority groups: Confucians who did not have access to the advanced scholarship of China; women who were excluded from the male-dominated literary culture, which used Chinese script; and provincial literati, who were marginalized from court politics. New modes of reading and writing that were developed in letter writing precipitated changes in scholarly methodology, social interactions, and political mobilization. Even today, remnants of these traditional epistolary practices endure in media and political culture, reverberating in new communications technologies.
The Power of the Brush is freely available in an open access edition thanks to TOME (Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem) and the generous support of Emory University and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Authors & Contributors
Hwisang Cho is assistant professor of Korean studies at Emory University.
Through the lens of epistolary practice, The Power of the Brush revisits many important issues required for a critical understanding of late Choson society.- The Seoul Journal of Korean Studies
Well illustrated with relevant examples of letters, and including helpful tabulations, this study covers an enormous range of historical and political experience, bravely attempting to compare Korean and other societies’ letter writers, as well as the persistence of letter petitions in modern South Korea.- Journal of Asian Studies
Hwisang Cho's book is a welcome addition to a nascent body of English-language scholarship on the study of Korean letters and provides vital insight into how epistolary practice in sixteenth-century Chosŏn spurred sociocultural and political change.- Acta Koreana
An entirely original contribution that demonstrates that what seems to us moderns a seemingly marginal or trivial topic (letters) was actually central to much of political and intellectual life in Chosŏn Korea, distinguishing the Korean Neo-Confucian tradition from that of China.- Ross King, University of British Columbia
Assembles a broad spectrum of political acts and situations in which letters, in the broadest sense of the word, were employed by the ‘powerless’—mostly women, Confucian scholars, and provincial scholars—to advocate certain political goals.- Antje Richter, University of Colorado, Boulder