Shin Saimdang (?, December 5, 1504 - June 20, 1551) was a Korean artist, writer, calligraphist, and poet. She was born in Gangwondo Gangneungbu jugheonli bugpyeongchon ( ) on 29 October 1504. Her birth home, Ojukheon, which is also her mother's side home, is well-preserved to this day. She was the mother of the Korean Confucian scholar Yi I. Often held up as a model of Confucian ideals, her respectful nickname was Eojin Eomeoni ( ; "Wise Mother"). Her real name was Shin In Seon(). Her pen names were Saim, Saimdang, Inimdang, and Imsajae. She was a contemporary of the poet Heo Nansseolheon, and the two women were considered rivals.
Shin Saimdang was born and raised in Gangneung at the home of her maternal grandparents. Her father, Shin Myeonghwa () was a government official and a friend of the scholar Jo Gwangjo, but he was not politically active. Her mother was Lady Yi, the daughter of Yi Saon (). Saimdang was the second of five daughters. Her father initially lived in Hansung(), so lived largely apart from the family for 16 years. He continued his imperial examination preparation with his wife's side family's assistance, and visited home several times a year. Saimdang's mother assisted his studies. However, Shin Myeonghwa did not go beyond jinsa test(), an elementary test for yangban, and gave up the daegwa() test due to the massacre of scholars at kimyo year(?). He moved to Gangneung.
Lady Yi had continued living with her parents after her marriage, which gave her greater autonomy in how she chose to educate Saimdang and her other daughters. Saimdang's grandfather's beliefs also greatly influenced Saimdang. Her maternal grandfather taught her as he would have taught a grandson.
Although she was a woman, Saimdang developed an abundant knowledge of Neo-Confucianism, history, and literature, which surprised her father's visitors. Saimdang and her sisters learned Thousand Character Classic, Dongmongseonseub(?), Mingxin baojian, and confucianism from Shin Myeonghwa. Saimdang was especially talented, earning her father's favor. Having no brothers, she received an education that would have been bequeathed only to a son, and this background greatly influenced the way she later educated her own children.
Shin Saimdang received an education that was not common for women of that era. Besides literature and poetry, she was adept at calligraphy, embroidery, and painting. She was also gifted at writing and drawing, earning praise from Isuggwon().
Shin Myeonghwa chose Commander Yi Wonsu () to become Saimdang's husband. Many people felt that this showed poor judgement, because although Yi Wonsu's ancestors included Yeonguijeong and Jwauijeong, the family was poor. At that time, Yi Wonsu was also unemployed, and his father had died. However, Shin Myeonghwa prioritised marrying Saimdang to a man who would allow her to continue with her artwork, and Wonsu had no objections to this.
On 20 August 1522 (aged 19) Saimdang married Yi Wonsu, and with his consent she continued to spend time at her parents' home in Gangneung. Yi Wonsu's house was at Paju but her father died in the same year that they got married, so she moved back and forth between the two homes in order to care for her mother. She later accompanied her husband to his official posts in Seoul and in rural towns. She moved to several places including Hansungbu and Pyeongchang.
The couple had eight children: five boys and three girls. At the age of 33, she went back to Gangneung to give birth to her third son, Yi I. At 1537, on her return to Hansungbu with her baby, she stood on top of a hill at Daegwallyeong and looked back at a village she had just passed. She expressed her love for her mother through a new poem. Aged 38, she managed a new house in Hansungbu and lived with her mother.
In this era, obedience was considered an important mark of a good wife, but Saimdang did not listen to her husband Yi Wonsu easily. Promising 10 years of separation for his study, she sent her husband to a good mountain. When he came back yearning for his wife, she reprimanded him, threatening to cut off her hair if he didn't study hard. In spite of her efforts, Yi Wonsu quit studying after 3 years.
She noticed that her husband, Yi Wonsu, loved a kisaeng named Kwon. When Yi Wonsu began living with Kwon, Saimdang strongly disapproved of it and the couple's relationship cooled. Shin Saimdang, who foresaw her death, asked her husband not to marry another woman after she died. Yi Wonsu argued that Confucius, Zengzi, and Zhou Dunyi had broken their marriages, but Shin Saimdang contradicted him by telling him that none of those people had remarried. Kwon was considered to be a rash girl who acted unpredictably, the opposite of Shin Saimdang. When Shin Saimdang discovered the presence of Kwon, she once again asked her husband not to invite Kwon to their home. Quoting the Confucian scriptures, she tried to convince him not to marry Kwon. Yi Wonsu and Shin Saimdang's bad relationship also affected their children. Since his parent's marital relations were not good, Yi I wanted a peaceful family life.
Yi I loved his mother dearly, so when Shin Saimdang got sick, he went to the shrine where his maternal grandfather's spirit tablet was, and prayed for his mother for one hour every day. The family members who were searching for missing Yi I were moved when they found the young child sincerely praying in hopes of his mother recovering. Despite his efforts, her illness got worse. Sin Saimdang died suddenly after moving to the Pyongan region. Shin Saimdang died on May 17, 1551, at the age of 48. As a result of her death, her son Yi I wandered about with questions about the cause of life and death.
After her death, Yi wonsu married Kwon, causing conflict with Yi I. Unlike Shin Saimdang who was a gentle and caring mother, Kwon liked to drink. Shin Saimdang's children suffered because of Kwon, and Yi I ran away from home.
In Joseon, women were discouraged from broadcasting their gifts and talents to the world after marriage. However, Saimdang was able to develop her talents in part because she had no brothers, so was able to live at her home instead of her husband's; and because her father sought to select a son-in-law who would let Saimdang develop her skills as much as possible.
Shin Saimdang's artwork is known for its delicate beauty; insects, flowers, butterflies, orchids, grapes, fish, and landscapes were some of her favorite themes. Approximately 40 paintings of ink and stonepaint colors remain, although it is believed that many others exist.
Unfortunately, not much of her calligraphy remains, but her style was greatly praised in her time, with high-ranking officials and connoisseurs writing records of her work. The scholar Eo Sukgwon of Myeongjong mentioned in his book Paegwan Japgi (Hangul:?, hanja:?, "The Storyteller's Miscellany") that Saimdang's paintings of grapes and landscapes compared to those of the notable artist Ahn Gyeon. In 1868, upon admiring the work of Saimdang, the governor of Gangneung remarked that "Saimdang's calligraphy is thoughtfully written, with nobility and elegance, serenity and purity, filled with the lady's virtue".
Her children also possessed artistic talent. For example, Yi U was so talented in the art that there is an anecdote that "He drew insects using muk, and then the chickens were chasing after it since it looked like real insects." Yi U was also talented in poetry. His brother Yi I said: "If Yi U concentrated in scholarship, he would be better than me." Shin Saimdung's eldest daughter, Mae Chang, was also good at poetry and therefore known as "little Shin Saimdang".
Sin Saimdang is the first woman to appear on a South Korean banknote. The Bank of Korea (BOK; Hangul), the 50,000 won note, first issued in June 2009. The design of the 50,000 won was released on February 25, 2009. A portrait of Shin Saimdang and her drawings, Mook Grapes (Hangul) and Chochungdosubyeong (Hangul?,South Korean National Treasure No. 595) were illustrated on the front. Paintings ('wolmaedo' and 'pungjugdo') of the Joseon dynasty were illustrated on the back side. Unlike other bills, the illustrations on the back of this bill were illustrated vertically. On May 5, The Bank of Korea announced that they selected Shin Saimdang main character of 50000won because she is "a representative female artist in the middle of the Joseon period" and "a person who has accomplished a remarkable achievement in gifted education by fulfilling his wife's role". The reason for the selection is that it is expected to contribute to raising awareness of gender equality in Korean society and to raise the importance of education and family. (Other candidate characters of 50,000 won were Kim Koo, Gwanggaeto the Great, Ahn Changho, Jang Yeong-sil, and Ryu Gwansun.)
Kim-Renand, Young-Key. Creative Women of Korea: the Fifteenth Through the Twentieth Centuries. M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2004.