Learn a little about the history behind Neungsohwa Over the Walls.
Neungsohwa takes place during the latter part of Joseon, Korea's final reigning dynasty. Ruled by the Jeonju Yi family from 1392 to the turn of the 20th century, Joseon largely defines modern perceptions of premodern Korean life, society, and culture.
Founded along principles of Neo-Confucianism, there was an emphasis on the importance of learning and education, with schools set up throughout the country and civil office predicated on meritocratic exams. Value was placed on frugality, with even the king conspicuously fasting and living simply during times of need. Joseon hosted a conspicuous number of scientific accomplishments, from a genuisly designed script to the world's first water gauges. Finally, there was an emphasis on mutually supportive, but strictly defined hierarchical relationships; parent and child, ruler and subject, and, sadly, woman and man.
This wasn't always the case; during the preceding dynasty, Goryeo, women and men had a degree of equality. Bit by bit though, the status and rights of Korean women were stripped away, and by the time of Neungsohwa this process was largely over. Women's rights to property, divorce, and among nobles even to freely venture in public had all been lost.
It's in this world, and this phase of Joseon Korean history, that our story takes place.
Female servants of the royal palace, the term gungnyeo derives from a term for "female officer of the royal court" (궁중 여관), but more generally is used as a catch-all for all the women in the service of the royal palace. Handmaidens, cooks, seamstresses, water-bearers, and more; in Neungsohwa's era these nearly 700 women, together with around 150 eunuchs, worked tirelessly to ensure that the palace kept working smoothly in every way.
For their efforts, Gungnyeo received little appreciation. We have but a handful of their names recorded in history, and in their lives they reside in the palace from childhood until old age, forever forbidden from liasons with any other than the king and princes. They could suffer capriciously at the hands of the royal family with little recourse, yet if they slighted the royals themselves, justice could be swift and brutal. The bitterness of the Gungnyeo for these hardships was well known, and in times of trouble, the state might feel urged to release some of them from their burdens. The rest of the time though, they were tied to the palace forever.
Check back soon for information about Changdeokgung Palace and Daejojeon Hall, as well as recommended readings!