One benefit of watching k-dramas is the chance to learn more about Korean history. Even if the dramas add a little fictionalized drama and romance, viewers can always do their homework after the dramas end to find out how true the portrayals are.
Here are just a few of the real-life women that have been the subject of k-dramas. The list includes two queens, a concubine, a calligrapher, a porcelain artist and a courtesan.
Hwang Jin Yi was a courtesan or gisaeng. She was one of the most famous gisaengs of the Joseon Dynasty and lived during the reign of King Jungjong. She was beautiful, witty, smart and independent. She was known for her skill at dancing, writing poetry and composing. Hwang inspired novels, operas, films and dramas, including the drama “Hwang Jin Yi,” starring Ha Ji Won, and the film “Hwang Jin Yi,” starring Song Hye Kyo.
Jang Ok Jung may be the woman most often portrayed in historical dramas. She was a royal concubine during the reign of King Sukjong and was mother to the Crown Prince.
Some say she poisoned Queen In Hyun and laughed about it. After seeing a vision of his dead queen the King found her laughing about the queen’s death. He killed her relatives and supporters. Altogether 1700 people were killed and after that he decreed that a concubine could never become a royal consort. Jang has been portrayed by Lee Mi Sook, Kim Hye Soo,Lee So Yeon, Choi Woo Ri and most recently Kim Tae Hee.
Queen Inhyun is the woman Jang Ok Jung allegedly poisoned. She was the second Queen consort of King Sukjong.
She may be one of the best known queens of the Joseon dynasty because she was unjustly accused of treason and exiled, then forgiven. Park Ha Sun played her in the drama ‘Dong Yi” Kim Hae In played her in “Queen Inhyun’s Man” and Yoo In Na played the actress who was playing her in a production.
Queen Seonduk ruled Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea from 632 to 647. She was the nation’s twenty-seventh ruler and its first queen, also the second female ruler in East Asian history.
Under her reign, literature and art were championed but her reign also included the usual political infighting and violence. The queen has been portrayed by Lee Yo Won and Nam Ji Hyun in “Queen Seonduk” and Park Joo Mi and Hong Eun Hee in “The King’s Dream.”
“Empress KI” was also a real woman although the drama starring Ha Ji Won took liberties with the story.
In real life, the empress, also known as Oljei Kutuk, was born into an aristocratic Korean family and became one of the primary empresses of the Mongol ruler Toghon Temur. She was the mother of Biligtu Khan Ayushiridara and he did eventually take the throne after much plotting and political maneuvering. After her son ascended the throne she went missing.
Some k-drama heroines were based on real-life women with impressive skills.
Baek Pa Sun, the 16th century potter and porcelain artist inspired the character that Moon Geun Young played in “Goddess of Fire: Jeonji.”
Her skills were so impressive she became the china maker for the royal family. But they also got her kidnapped by foreign invaders. She was taken to Japan where she was ordered to continue making pottery that would be considered Japanese works of art.
Shin Saimdang was a Korean artist, writer and calligrapher.
She was also the mother of a Confucian scholar. She is the first woman to have her image featured on a Korean banknote. The drama “Shin Saimdang: The Herstory,” currently in production will star Lee Young Ae and Song Seung Hoon.