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Homosexuality in the Korean Historical Record

There is very little mention of homosexuality in Korean literature or in traditional historical accounts. However, some members of royal families have been described in ways that suggest that they were gay or bisexual. The earliest example is Hyekong, the 36th king of the Shilla dynasty (BC 57 - AD 918), who was crowned in August 765 at the age of 8 upon the death of his father. His behavior was thought to be girlish, and historians described him as a man by appearance but a woman by nature. He was killed in April 780 by his subordinates because they could not accept his 'femininity'.

There are stories about Myojung, a very young Buddhist monk who lived during the reign of Wonsung (AD 785-798), the 38th king of the Shilla dynasty. It is said that he was loved and sought after by several male Shilla aristocrats, and even by a Chinese Emperor from the Tang dynasty (AD 618-907). This story has been chronicled as a myth, but we may surmise from it that sexual attraction between males was known to occur.

Kongmin, the 31st king of the Koryo dynasty (AD 918-1392, his reign, 1352-1374), was famous for his predilection for falling in love with young boys. He had not shown any interest in boys until his wife, a Chinese princess, died in childbirth in 1365. After her death, Kongmin ceased attending to matters of state, and spent all of his time pursuing boys and Buddhism. A few years later he even established an organization for seeking out and recruiting handsome young boys.

The palace chronicles from the Choson dynasty (1392-1910) reveal an instance of lesbianism. Sejong, the 4th Choson ruler, convened a meeting of his Cabinet on October 24, 1436, to discuss the rumors that his daughter-in-law had been sleeping with her maidservant. These rumors had been somehow confirmed, so the ministers advised the king to strip his daughter-in-law of her noble status, to preserve the honor and dignity of the royal family. To contain the rumors, some pretext for her expulsion would have to be fabricated, as the truth might tarnish the image of the throne. The prime minister was allocated the task, and he proclaimed that the king's daughter-in-law would have to be expelled from the palace due to her deficiencies of character, such as frequent lying, extreme jealousy, and so on.

The historical record contains no mention of homosexuality among the lower classes, but in the oral tradition of Korean folklore, there are many stories about anal intercourse between men.


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