Nansŏrhŏn

Nansŏrhŏn – meaning “White Orchid” – is the penname of Hŏ Ch’ŏhŭi (1563–1589), a Korean noblewoman, writes Ian Haight. Writing in the sixteenth century, Nansŏrhŏn faced tremendous obstacles. Noblewomen in the time of Nansŏrhŏn were generally not given a classical education on a par with noblemen; it was socially unacceptable for them to paint, sing, learn music, or write poetry because learning such arts would have equated them with courtesans, who learned such things so that they could entertain noblemen. A noblewoman who wrote poetry had to do so privately and share her writing with only a select few. As a child, Nansŏrhŏn was an exception to these social norms because she was a prodigy, her family placed a high value on literary learning, and her father was broad-minded. Despite her liberal upbringing, Nansŏrhŏn was sequestered from the world and moved far from her family when she had an arranged marriage at the age of twelve. A soothsayer said the marriage would help Nansŏrhŏn overcome health problems and live a long life. Nansŏrhŏn died at the age of twenty-seven, possibly by suicide.