[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]A hostess, a hard-liner and a haircut

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[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]A hostess, a hard-liner and a haircut

Nov. 14, 1999

Life as a gisaeng, or Korean geisha, was not easy for Kim Yeong-han, who passed away on this date at 83. Kim was brought up in a well-off family, but had to support them after her father went bankrupt. She entered a special institute for gisaeng, and then won a reputation as a master of traditional singing and dancing.

As a celebrated gisaeng in Hamheung, North Korea, during the Japanese colonial rule, she also fell in love with a lyric poet, Baek Seok. The poet was forced to marry three times by his parents, but always ran back to her. After Korea regained independence in 1945, Mr. Baek asked her to join him in the North, but she stayed in Seoul.

Since 1951, Ms. Kim ran a special restaurant where gisaeng did more than just serve food. With the country divided into North and South Koreas, she would never hear from her sweetheart again. After reading a essay book by a monk, the Reverend Beopjeong, "No Possession," she donated her restaurant, at that time worth 10 billion won ($9 million) to the holy man to make it a temple for the poor. Ten days before her death, she said, "Ten billion won is nothing compared to a line from my dear's poems. I want to be a poet in my next life."

Nov. 14, 1917

Park Chung Hee, the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th president of Korea, was born. After taking over the government by coup d'etat in 1961, he took a hard-line attitude in maintaining his military regime; he is also considered to have enhanced the country's economy. Park had his last supper on Oct. 26, 1979, when he was shot by his subordinate, Kim Jae-gyu.

Nov. 15, 1895

Influenced by so-called modernity, the second-to- last emperor of the Joseon Dynasty, Gojong, ordered all his subjects to cut their hair and wear Western hairstyles. This stirred up enormous resistance, with some saying that they would rather have their hands and feet cut than their hair. Confucian belief stated that true filial duty began with taking good care of the body, which comes from one's parents -- even down to a strand of hair. Koreans in the past did not cut their hair their entire lives.

"This Week in History" appears Mondays in the JoongAng Daily.

by Chun Su-jin

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