Painting: Kyŏngjikdo


Farmers' Life, Kim Seungjin, 19th century, Courtesy of the National Folk Museum

Kyŏngjikdo is a genre of painted screens that depict the life of the common people during the late Chosŏn Kingdom. They became popular during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Court officials placed these screens inside the palace as a way to educate the royal family about the commoners’ daily life. Each panel depicts a particular activity such as planting and harvesting rice. The panels also depict the four seasons. The first panel typically depicts early spring and the last panel winter.

1. Here farmers are beginning to prepare the fields for planting by fertilizing the soil. Farmers began fertilizing the fields in late winter and early spring. Narrow dikes divided the rice patties into small sections, to help better contain the standing water.

2. With the arrival of spring and warmer weather, farmers and workers set out to the fields to cultivate the soil. In this picture both animal and human powered tools make small furrows in the fertile soil.

3. In the third panel the scenery shifts to the inside of a home. A short wall separates the men working in the fields from the women working in the home. The two women in the small open shed are extracting silk from boiled larva. The two other women are carrying large loads of foodstuff.

4. This scene depicts the beginnings of harrowing and planting. The farmers in the foreground prepare the land for the transplantation of rice by harrowing the paddy into a level field so as to evenly distribute the water that will soon flood the field. The farmers in the background are just beginning the transplantation of rice.

5. In this fifth panel both men and women work at transplanting rice. The rice had previously been planted in another field where it grew into seedlings. These seedlings are then cut into pieces and brought to the field. The farmers and workers then take the small chunks of seedling and insert them into the flooded and muddy rice paddy. Towards the bottom of the panel a family brings food and drink to the farmers at work.

6. Between the fifth and sixth panels summer has passed, the rice has grown, ripened, and dried for the fall harvest. The farmers have begun the harvest and tied the rice stalks into neat bundles. In this painting they take time to rest and enjoy a meal on a path besides the field.

7. Now that the stalks have been cut, the farmers carry the sheaves on A-frame backpacks to be threshed. A group of farmers beat the bundled sheaves against a black trough to separate the rice grain from the stalk. They will collect the grains for food and save the stalks to be used as roofing or mat material.

8. With the harvest finished and food gathered, a group of scholars, women, and elderly gather beneath a full moon to celebrate Korean Thanksgiving or Ch’usŏk. Koreans celebrate Ch’usǒk on the eighth full moon of the year. During Ch’usŏk, families gather at the graves of their ancestors to perform sacred ancestral rites. They also gather for the three days to celebrate the harvest by preparing large quantities of food and drink.

9. In the ninth panel, autumn has passed and winter is setting on. A lone person in a home sits watching a scholar-official passing by with his two servants.

10. In the last panel a light snow covers the ground as passing travelers gather at a roadside vendor. The vendor looks to be selling rice wine or makkŏlli, a popular drink in Korea. This drink must have been a warm and much needed welcome to the passerby’s on their wintery journey.