Category: Korean Artwork
For the best possible display, this portrait should be professionally framed.
A frame is not included with this artwork!
Painting: 85cm x 32cm ≈ 33½" x 12½"
Silk Border: 105cm x 42cm ≈ 41¼" x 16½"Information about how this Asian painting is mounted
This is the title "Taekwondo" written in modern Korean Hangul. This one was written by a fugitive North Korean near the border of North Korea and China. The artwork is not signed by the artist (for fear or retribution if his name appeared on the artwork).
In old Korea (about a generation or two before there was a North and South Korea), this title would have been written in old Hanja form (Hanja are actually Chinese characters that were used as the written form of Korean for over 1500 years). In that ancient form, this title would look like:
If you are interested in ordering custom Chinese / Japanese Kanji / Korean Hanja calligraphy, just check out our Taekwondo Calligraphy web page. This title is written the same in Chinese, Japanese Kanji, and old Korean Hanja, making it rather universal (pronunciation is different among these languages, but the written form is the same).
Note: I have left parts of this story a little vague. I can not mention names and exact locations, as must avoid jeopardizing the artists and those who helped me...
My last art-buying adventure took me to the border of North Korea. I wanted to find some ethnic Korean artists on the Chinese side of the border. I figured that I could find good artwork for a lower price than what I had found in South Korea previously. I didn't know that I was going to arrange for artwork to be smuggled out of North Korea, and that I was going to make contact with the secret "underground railroad" of North Korean fugitives.
Long ago, during the Tang Dynasty, China and Korea had a little war. China got the upper hand and in turn, took some land from the northern edge of Korea. This land had people on it, and those people happened to be Koreans. Suddenly those "Koreans" became "Chinese". Well, at least they became Chinese by citizenship.
Today, this region (known as Yanji) is full of ethnic Koreans. They live a stone's throw away from the border between China and what is now North Korea.
The Chinese Government actually refers to the area as a "Korean administrated region". Meaning that ethnic Koreans with Chinese citizenship run the whole place, and everything is cool, as long as they don't break any rules or do something to annoy the Chinese Government.
All signs in the region are written in Korean (Hangul) first, and Chinese second. Of course, there was a time when Koreans and Chinese used the same Chinese characters as their system of writing, so both written languages have meaning in the Korean culture.
There is a "well-known secret" in this area: If you are North Korean, and you escape across the border to China, your Korean brothers and sisters on the Chinese side will take care of you.
North Koreans that escape (there is no DMZ on the north border, so you just have to swim across a frigid river, and not get shot by a North Korean guard) become the maids, nannies, and day laborers of Korean-Chinese people in China. But they have to stay in the underground network, as Chinese and North Korean spies are often trying to find the fugitives (you might call them "illegal aliens" or "undocumented workers" if you are from the USA - the North Korean Government has much worse names for them).
Punishment is severe. The first offense will get your hand pierced by an iron rod. The second offense could mean iron rods through the hands of your family members in North Korea. At least this is the common story told by Korean-Chinese in Yanji.
It took several days to make contact with "The Chinese-Korean underground". Once I did, the man I made contact would not do any business with me until I got completely drunk with him (apparently a Korean custom for building trust). The next day, when I woke up at "the crack of noon", I visited my contact again. I told him what I was looking for (in Chinese), and he got on the phone, and relayed my request to someone (in Korean). He then told me that artwork would come across the border that night. But that I would have to get drunk with him again if I wanted to see any of it.
I suddenly realized that either Korean drinking culture is really extreme, or this guy really likes his alcohol (I think the later is more true). I tried to say that I was still recovering from the night before, but that just prompted him to drag me to the massage parlor for a foot and back massage to prepare me for the night's drinking binge.
A full selection of artwork was presented to me the next morning - or was it afternoon? - not sure when I woke up that day. I looked at every piece, and commented on the styles that I liked most. More messages were dispatched to the North Korean side of the Border, and more art was on the way.
It seems that the trust-building was paying off, as I was then introduced to several fugitive North Korean artists. They apparently all lived at my contact's home. Some of their landscapes were really great, and another was working on some interesting oil paintings. I thought it was a little odd, but these artists asked to be paid in U.S. Dollars. Apparently it's easier to funnel U.S. currency back to their family in North Korea. I am still puzzled by that fact. But then, these were fugitive North Koreans who live their lives "off the grid" in sort of an underground network of ethnically Koreans who happen to be citizens of China. I didn't want to ask too many questions.
In short, I arranged to have many pieces of artwork smuggled across the border into China and purchase several more from fugitive Koreans.
For the smuggling, it's kind of an odd situation, as the very Communist regime of North Korea does not want it's people to make money on their own. So the artwork itself is not contraband, but rather the fact that artists are being paid directly for their work is seen as cheating out the government.
Some of the artwork was rolled up very tightly together, and put in a plastic bag, and strapped to the back of a hearty North Korean who braved the icy water and armed North Korean guards to swim across the river that separates China from North Korea. That same North Korean will warm up on the Chinese side for a day or two, and then swim back to North Korea before he is missed.
Much of this Korean artwork is not signed, in fear of reprisals against the artists or their families.
But in a small way, we are supporting a tiny glimpse of capitalism for some underground North Korean artists.
For the security of the artists, I will not tell you who they are, which ones I met, or other details - though I really wish that I could.
For many years, the U.S. Government felt that the best way to bring North Korea to its knees was to place a trade embargo on North Korean goods. Apparently, the logic was that if we refuse to buy things from people who are starving to death, their government would eventually give up.
These embargoes and sanctions were placed on North Korea at the end of hostilities in 1953, and partially rescinded during the Clinton Administration. There are now great restrictions on what can be sold to North Korea, but harmless goods such as artwork can be imported into the USA without penalty.
This easing of restrictions may not last, as President Bush forced North Korea's hand by breaking most of the promises made by the USA during the Clinton administration.
There may be a time in the future when I can no longer offer this artwork legally.
See this article for more information: Washington violates agreement, forces North Korea's hand
This item was listed or modified
Dec 30th, 2011
Gary's random little things about China:
When crossing a street, or merely making your way down the road, there is a certain law of physics that comes into play: When two forces meet, one must yield.
Here is the general yielding scheme in China:
Cars yield to big buses and trucks.
Bicycles and cars mingle and narrowly avoid each other. When push comes to shove, the bicyclist knows he will lose the fight. But the car driver knows that the bicycle will scratch his car when he runs it over, and will only yield on that premise.
Cars will not yield to, but are required to avoid pedestrians. When you hit a pedestrian at low speed, it does very little damage, and unlike a bicycle, will almost never scratch your car. Therefore pedestrians are given a smaller margin.
Note: Regardless of green or red stop lights, it is against the law to come to a complete stop when making a right hand turn in China (no matter how many pedestrians are in the way). The rule is "honk and avoid, then continue on your way".
Motor scooters yield to no one, not even when they are being driven on a pedestrian-filled sidewalk. Motor scooters zip around like they have nothing to lose - this may be true, as smaller motor scooters require no license of any kind and are very cheap.
If you are driving on the wrong side of the road, or going the wrong way on a one-way street, you do not have to yield to anyone, no matter what kind of vehicle you are operating.
Cars will yield (not by choice) to pedestrians crossing the street in numbers greater than 10 (it is best in China to invite 9 of your friends for an outing if you plan to cross a lot of streets).
In lieu of yielding, drivers are required to honk at pedestrians. I swear to God, this is the law! It's a safety issue: If you are passing a pedestrian that is walking on the side of the road, you are required by law to honk at them to let them know you are there.
Note: All streets in Chinese cities, sound like a New York traffic jam 24 hours per day with all this "safety honking".
I have not been able to find a traffic law that states you must yield to ambulances. And in practice, very few drivers do.
When two large vehicles come face to face on a narrow roadway, and neither can pass, neither will yield. They will sit there, honking at each other for a while. After several cars are lined up behind them, they will decide that they should have yielded earlier, and start to back up. This is to the great dismay of all the cars behind them who will honk in unison. This could go on for an hour or more. It ends when a police officer arrives, tells both drivers what idiots they are, issues tickets to both of them, and then systematically makes the situation worse by insisting that all the smaller cars turn around (rather than back up) by making 162-point turns in the small roadway. Eventually, two of the cars will hit each other, for which both drivers will be cited and fined on the spot.