Sunday, July 6, 2008

Selling Sex

Prof. Lankov has another wonderful column (doesn't he always?) in the Korea Times, which you can read here, talking about the direction of the international sex industry in Korea during the colonial period. It may not have been so much lusty Japanese men exploiting poor Korean maidens as much as some Yangban having their paid way with Japanese girls brought in to establish brothels.
However, I'm a bit suspicious of his contentions that "in old times* only the rich and famous could afford to buy expensive sexual services from gisaeng girls, while the ``low orders'' usually had no access to commercial sex whatsoever." I just can't see that Korea (or any nation) would have an economy where prostitution and the exchange of goods, services, and money for sex were restricted to the upper classes. If he's only counting established and recognized gisaeng houses then yes, I suppose he can successfully and accurately argue that the Japanese were running the biggest game in town, but can we really honestly accept only gisaeng as prostitutes?
Putting aside for now the equation of gisaeng with prostitution (I think it would be a bit of an uphill slog to make a very direct x=y argument there), can we really see anyplace without an informal economy involving prostitution? Even if Lankov just meant established, formal, recognized brothels I can't believe it. I'll have to take a look at the research on the subject before I say too much, but heck, I simply cannot imagine a place historically without some kind of sexualized economic trade. Will post more on this when I have more solid information about the sex trade in pre-modern Korea.
*what exactly does this mean? In old times? I'm assuming that Lankov means it like most Koreans seem to use it in the folkloric sense - some undefined time in the Joseon-era. If people mean 고려 they usually say that, same as with the 신라시대 or other specific historical periods. Even if the 조선 isn't what they really mean, it's what they're picturing in their heads.

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