Question from reader:
When Choi Young kissed Eun Soo in Episode 17 how did it ensure that Eun Soo could now never marry Dhokhongun (whatever the spelling is)/ or quote “this marriage is now impossible” . Because it was Choi Young who kissed Eun Soo not the other way around! are there more significant Taboo reasons behind it?
“There is no other way,” said Choi Yong. Then he planted that kiss onto Eun Soo’s lips surprising her and shocking everyone.
I try to come up with an explanation that is based on the gender rules in China in the middle ages. Korea at the time was Goryeo, and it was under the heavy influence of the Yuan Dynasty of China.
Before you read my explanation, you may want to read my thoughts on Game of Thrones Season V titled “Fate of the Women”. (Warning: Game of Thrones is not suitable for children under 18 or anyone below the legal age on reaching adulthood in your country to watch.)
In doing so, Choi Yong marked Eun Soo as his woman. This was not just ‘his woman’, but ‘his’ because in those days, women were property of the males of her family. A woman could only have intimate contact such as a kiss with her husband, and only after the man had become her husband with all the proper customs and rituals performed with the consent of the parents of both but not before. Before the wedding, even the betrothed couple would be forbidden to have any intimate contact. To Prince Deokhyeung, Eun Soo was thus tainted by Choi Yong. To the rest of the court officials witnessing this, Eun Soo was violated by Choi Yong. Royalty could only marry an immaculate bride unless it was an exception. Here, Choi Yong performed an act in public that could only be done by a husband of a woman in private. He had violated Eun Soo, the royal bride, insulted Prince Deokhyeung, disgraced himself as a royal guard, shamed his family, putting his family in danger as this act of betrayal was punishable by death, not just the traitor who committed the act, but his family and friends to the 9th degree if the King or his court wished so. By the way, kissing or any intimate act between men and women in public were considered shameful and probably against the law.
The Prince could not marry a bride that was tainted and violated, already ‘used’ by another man. It would not make any difference even if she had resisted Choi Yong. Even nowadays, in some countries, a woman who is raped is punished, while the man goes free. In this case, both Choi Yong and Eun Soo would be punished. It would not make any difference that it was just a kiss and nothing more. There were no varying degrees as to how much one had violated the bride. A direct gaze upon her was already too much. (Remember that brides in general wear a veil in different cultures?) This was why Choi Yong had to be put in jail and remember that he willingly went with the soldiers? Because those were generally accepted rules at the time, Choi Yong was prepared to accept the consequences and so he went straight to jail. But then the drama had it that no prison could hold Choi Yong if he did not want to stay. Then again, that is because it is a drama.
There are exceptions to these rules of course. Choi Yong was much, much lower in rank and social class than the Prince. Men of a low social class could not marry a woman of a higher social class. Eun Soo was a royal bride and from the Heavens. Well, even if there wasn’t the prince, Choi Yong could not have her unless by royal decree that an exception be made. Exceptions would be if a poor noble family needed money, they marry their offsprings to wealthy families of a lower social class but that would mean shame to the family. This was considered a trade, selling noble name for money and buying into a higher social class.
Virgins from families of high social status designated to be selected as consorts of the King/Emperor but did not get chosen in the selection would not be able to marry another. She would be a reject, and it would be likely that she would become a court lady working as a servant in the palace. All the women in the palace belonged to the King.
In Goryeo as well as in China in those days, cultural rules that govern the proper behavior of men and women were such that a man could not have physical contact with a woman, and a woman could not be alone with a man other than her father, brother or husband. An unmarried woman could not be seen in public other than a few days of the year such as the Lantern Festival, etc. And even so, she would be chaperoned by an elder or servants. Don’t even think of speaking to a girl, much less hold her hand. It would be a violation of rules. Well, not unless the woman was poor and had to do menial work. Rules were stricter as you go up the social class and less strict as you go down the social class. Daughters of noblemen were more precious than daughters of farmers, so the latter could work in the field and sell produce in the markets. But there are exceptions. Women were often used in trades for property or to create ties between clans or kingdoms. The higher the status of the woman, the higher the return. For example, a princess could be married off to another kingdom in exchange for political bond, military alliance, wealth, or as a hostage to guarantee a cease war period. A princess could be married off several times as political situations change, and it would not be a problem, so rules of social class, gender and royalty marrying only virgins could be conveniently broken and overridden when benefits of politics and money outweigh the rules. No one would even blink an eye.
So what about general local customs? Customs and rules in history change as times change, from strict to relaxed back to strict, for example, during the time of the the Tang Dynasty, women’s fashion was more revealing and later after the Tang Dynasty, all covered up. But generally, if any part of the woman’s body was exposed and seen by another man, both would be in trouble. As little as seeing the bare foot would result in serious consequences. (And you know how Choi Yong gazed upon Eun Soo’s feet.) The foot was especially a problem because they were very private in these cultures, especially China. Noblewomen in China would have their feet covered and later, in the last 200 years or so, bound to become very small. Small, covered feet meant wealth and high status because only women who had to work the chores or the fields had big feet. Old Chinese tradition has it that in ancient times if a man were to see the feet of a woman, he would either have to marry her or she would have to commit suicide. But don’t you start thinking eligible bachelors could go around looking for women washing their feet splashing water at the river bank. If the man was of a lower social class, he could not marry a woman of a higher social class, so he would be punished, often by death because, well he had broken at least two rules. The careless woman who showed her feet would also be punished since she was careless and a woman. Usually, the woman would rather kill herself than be punished in public. If the man who caught a glimpse of the woman’s ankle or her feet were of a higher social class, then he could marry the woman if she was of equal social class or a lower social class. But if the wife or the parents of this man of a higher social class were to object or he himself refused to do so, the woman, regardless of class would have to kill herself because again, she was tainted and would not be able to marry another and would have shamed herself and her family. She would also have no other choice but to kill herself if she did not want to marry the man even if he was willing to do so or to avoid marrying as a shamed woman (her feet were exposed to a man) into the man’s family for she would not be respected after the marriage. She would be looked upon as a loose woman.
So it did not matter whether Choi Yong kissed Eun Soo first or Eun Soo kissed Choi Yong first or whether she kissed him back. Fans criticized the kiss as it was not passionate enough or that Eun Soo did not respond much to it. I think it was just right. Choi Yong was passionate as he wanted to kiss her and had cast all the rules aside. Eun Soo, though her modern day cultural background would mean a kiss was not that big a deal if it were someone whom she liked, was probably surprised. In addition, court officials were watching! Plus, even today, we don’t see people ignoring other people and kiss wherever and whenever they want like in the movies. Remember those are the movies. In reality, many countries have rules against being intimate in public because we need to be considerate to other people using the public space.
Different cultural rules apply at the same time and the woman or the lowly man would be damned one way or another. Marriages were highly disciplined by rules as marriage was sacred. These rules did not apply to courtesans, however.
Given that the palace was taken over by Gi Cheol and Prince Deokhyeung – the enemies, and that the King and the Queen were away, Choi Yong could only violate Eun Soo before she got ‘officially violated’ by the Prince so as to stop the wedding. Gi Cheol reminded the Prince of his social class, to back off, as it would be a scandal if:
- more people knew that the Prince was not able to stop Choi Yong, a guard much lower in class than the Prince from getting to his bride, or
- that a lower class Choi Yong dared to shame him, or
- if he went ahead with the wedding with a bride already tainted by another man.
And you would now appreciate the way Choi Yong cared for Eun Soo. He touched her, held her hand and dragged her around COEX. He carried her over his shoulder with her chest against his back. He had her in his embrace while she buried her head and chest into his chest when they time travelled. He swept her up into his arms after the rescue at the blacksmith’s shed. He saw her barefooted because she had lost her 14cm stilettos. He rode the horse with her in the front and him in the back, close together. And all this time, he obviously liked her eyes, her scent and her hair. So, you tell me, did Choi Yong think he could get away with all this and not marry her or quickly return her to the Heavens where Goryeo customs and traditions that he had to uphold as a respectable nobleman and warrior would end? And she had to walked around with naked thighs …
We find it hard to believe that Eun Soo would bare her legs and walk around amongst the men in the drama because she, like anyone else sharing the same culture, having had a few history lessons in school should know that it was wrong in those times to do so. She would not be ignorant to this extent. But we like this scene in the drama, so sometimes, while reading a story or watching a movie, we just enjoy and go with the flow unless it became too much of a conflict making the story ridiculous causing it to fall apart.
Boundaries crossed and rules broken: man-woman, high social class-low social class, public-private, ancient-modern, owner-servant, married-unmarried, etc…