Jumong: A Window into Korean and Unification Culture

Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 10, 2009 - Pages 51-72

Jumong (2006-07) is an extraordinarily popular Korean tele-drama which in DVD and online formats penetrated beyond Korea to broader Asian and select global markets. It is a recent manifestation of the so-called "Korean wave" (Hallyu), which refers to "the surge in popularity of South Korean culture around the world since the first decade of the 21st century especially among the Generation Y."[1] While strongest in China, Japan and Southeast Asia, its influence has spread to India, the Middle East, Central Asia, Iran, Israel, Turkey, and Russia, even the Americas and Europe. Matched by "growing economic power and the rise of global multinationals such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai-Kia," South Korea is now "one of the world's top ten cultural exporters."[2] At the center of the Korean wave is the export of massively popular TV dramas such as Hur Jun (2000), Winter Sonata (2002) and Jewel in the Palace (2003). A major appeal of these dramas is the way in which they fuse competing claims of tradition and modernity. In other words, they typically deal with "traditional issues such as family, love, and filial piety in an age of changing technology and values," filtering contemporary sensibilities and "making them more palatable to Chinese and other Asians."[3]

Jumong stands squarely in the tradition of Korean "fusion" dramas.[4] Ostensibly, it is a grand historical epic-81 episodes in all, about the founding of Koguryo[5] (Goguryeo, 37 b.c.e. - 668 c.e.), the northernmost of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. Koguryo is a successor kingdom to Ancient Josun (Gojoseon or Choson), the first proper nation of the Korean people, said to be founded in 2333 b.c.e. by the legendary Dangun, grandson of Heaven. In 108 b.c.e. the Han Chinese defeated Ancient Josun and installed four commanderies which exerted oppressive control over the conquered peoples or "migrants," as they are called in the series. During Korea's Proto-Three Kingdom Period (108-57 b.c.e.), surviving Korean statelets created defen­sive alliances, jockeyed for position among themselves, and cooperated to greater or lesser degrees with the Han. The chief of these surviving city-states and the scene for much of the action in Jumong is Puyo (Buyeo), which asserted its control over lesser nations and tribes. The main action of the drama centers on the efforts of Jumong, Koguryo's founder, to liberate the suffering migrants, drive out the Han, and restore ancient Josun.

Though it is ostensibly about the founding of Koguryo, the series provides a platform for grappling with a host of modern issues related to religion, politics, economy, and culture. Protagonists deal with shamanism, Judeo-Christian motifs, a powerful and oppressive foreign power, clandestine weapon production, Machiavellian-style political in-fighting, nation-build­ing, arbitrary rule, graft, arranged marriages, romantic love, court formalism, revenge, violence, varying child-rearing patterns, ethnocentrism, and the possibilities of personal and communal transformation. The contemporary relevance of these matters helps explain Jumong's extraordi­nary popular­ity in Korea and elsewhere since its 2006-07 launch.[6] Many of these themes are also directly relevant to the Unification move­ment, which regards Korea as its fatherland and continues to be deeply penetrated by patterns of Korean culture.

The intent of this article is to examine core themes of Jumong as a way of opening up dimen­sions of Korean and Unification culture both in terms of where they converge and where they diverge. The first thematic section will cover spirituality and religion, the second politics and economy, and the third culture. A concluding section will assess the hero's quest and transforma­tional journey, which lies at the heart of Jumong and how that resonates with contemporary Korean and Unification consciousness.


Spirituality and Religion

Spirituality and religion are core elements in Jumong, notably the practices of court sorceresses and tensions between the shrine and palace. Here, the drama addresses deeply ambivalent feelings of contemporary Koreans toward shamanism (still widely practiced in Korean society) and the role of religion in public life. Not surprisingly, given Korean Christianity's dynamic growth, the series also engages Judeo-Christian motifs. It does not do so explicitly, since the action of the drama predates the advent of Christ or direct encounter with biblical sources. Nevertheless, unmistakable references to Hebrew Bible and New Testament are embedded within the series. These themes are also directly relevant to the Unification movement.

Shamanism, or spirit-worship (sinkyo), exerted historically and continues to exert a pervasive influence in Korean life.[7] The persistence of "primitive folk belief or superstition," as Maarten Meijer points out in What's So Good about Korea, Maarten? (2005), is something of an embarrassment to modern Koreans. He states, "The government-sponsored Handbook of Korea, designed for foreign consumption... dismisses the practice of shamanism by asserting that 'this system of belief still persists in obscure corners of Korea today'." However, Meijer maintains, "though Korean society is highly modernized and industrialized, shamanistic rituals are widely practiced ... [and] even on the increase." He notes, "The government officially registers practicing shamans, and they number in the tens of thousands." He cites a Korean scholar who "thinks... the total number of active shamans of various types could be as high as 300,000."[8]

Jumong shares in this ambivalence but makes a distinction between court sorceresses, who appear to possess genuine spiritual powers, and "local" or "common" shamans who exploit the masses for profit. For the latter the drama expresses nothing but contempt. Yeomieul, Puyo's sorceress, expresses disdain for "common" shamans who deliver "false prophecy." A corrupt merchant Dochi, although a questionable source himself, calls them "all imposters" with "no powers," just "after the money." Similarly, Jumong, the series' hero, criticizes shamans in the street for "taking advantage of confusion in society," terming it a "new trend" and saying they are "only making money bewildering people." Puyo's Queen Wonhu, when attempting to undermine the king, hires shamans to spread falsehoods and bad omens. Another court sorceress terms them wretches, "confusing the people and shaming the gods." Lady Yuhwa, Jumong's mother, threatens to behead several of them, accusing them of speaking "nonsense to people, confusing them."

However, even court sorceresses, who in the series possess supernatural gifts, are capable of faulty judgments and serious, even fatal, mistakes. The most obvious example is Yeomieul. Years before, she had "seen" a "3-legged crow" (the eventual symbol for Jumong's Koguryo nation) obstructing Puyo's sun. She interprets the crow as Haemosu, Jumong's father, whose efforts to liberate the migrants and restore Ancient Josun, she says, will have one of two negative outcomes: they will either invite Han reprisals or he will become a new hero drawing the people away from Puyo and establishing a rival power. As a consequence, Yeomieul became a key player in betraying Haemosu to the Han Chinese, who imprisoned him in a cave for twenty years. She later repents of her actions, admitting "I made an error and misread God's will. I committed a great sin and must be punished." In atoning for her sin, she becomes a key support for Jumong until she is slain by the very prime minister with whom she had plotted Haemosu's downfall.

Here the drama conveys a cautionary message about the role of religion in public life. It acknowledges that certain individuals-mainly women-have genuine spiritual power. Bruzilla, Yeomieul's young protégé, for example, consistently delivers accurate pronouncements and a legendary oracle at Mt. Shijo that is unwaveringly on target. Nevertheless, the series adopts a critical stance toward the involvement of tribal or national shrines in matters of state. Puyo's King Kumwa, Haemosu's erstwhile comrade, is embittered by Yeomieul's betrayal and imprisonment of his friend, all behind his back. He mounts an unrelenting offensive against the shrine, telling Yeomieul that he will no longer discuss political matters with her and ignoring her rituals. His son Daeso adopts a similar stance, telling the Queen that sorceresses "say they act through revelation, but they abuse their power. When I am king, I will make sure they stay out of national affairs. " Koguryo, Jumong's new nation, adopts a similar position. Several of those commissioned to develop Koguryo's constitution conclude that "the monarch must also be able to act as high priest. Puyo is a mess because the sorceress and king keep fighting. We must limit sorceresses' rights."

There is no evidence in Korea's recent history of shamans exerting undue influence on government or of there being a palace cult. However, some of the action in Jumong recalls Queen Min (1851-95), Korea's last empress, who "raised Shamanism as a cult to the highest place of prestige it has ever enjoyed, for she was greatly devoted to it, and brought mudang [female shamans] into the palace itself."[9] Unfortunately, her plots and conspiracies helped bring down the nation.[10] In modern Korea shamanism has been largely privatized, though politicians are said to seek out fortune-tellers as much or more than professional pollsters.[11]

All this is relevant to the Unification movement. Rev. Moon has been depicted as a shaman,[12] and the movement has a longstanding tradition of "spirit ladies" contacting or channeling of discarnate spirits, and even spirit "embodiments."[13] Much of this was below the surface, at least for many Western members, until the 1990s when it went mainstream in the form of an international revival centered on a Korean woman claiming to be the twenty-four hour-a-day embodiment of Mrs. Moon's deceased mother and authorized messages from the spirit world conveyed by a another Korean medium.[14] Most members acknowledge their authenticity. However, some are ambivalent about monetary demands and spiritual intrusions into the public square.[15] At present, the Korean shamanistic tradition plays a more central and public role in the Unification Movement than in contemporary Korean culture, and one which corresponds more directly to the official or court shamanism of Jumong. It is uncertain how these manifestations will play out or in what ways the UM will define itself as a pre-modern, modern, or post-modern religious movement.

Besides shamanism, Jumong also engages Judeo-Christian motifs. Christ symbolism and themes of death and resurrection are the most obvious. Haemosu and Jumong are fairly transparent Christ figures. Both give up peaceful lives for the sake of saving the migrants. Puyo's prime minister betrays Haemosu to the Han in the manner of high priests turning Christ over to the Romans because, as he notes, it is better to sacrifice one man than see the nation destroyed. Once captured and blinded, Haemosu is exhibited and mocked, his arms outstretched Christ-like on a cross-beam. Presumed dead after being pierced in the side by arrows and falling from a cliff into a river, Haemosu mira­culously reap­pears twenty years later, emerging from a prison cave in a death-and-resurrection motif. He appears, descending from a hill in a white robe, back-lit, to meet Lady Yuhwa, reminiscent of Jesus' Easter morning encounter with Mary Magdalene. The series depicts Jumong in much the same way, though more as Christus Victor than crucified Lord. Jumong likewise disappears, is presumed dead, and miraculously reappears, though in his case it is to fulfill Haemosu's dream. Jumong resists the temptations of King Kumwa, his adoptive father, who offers him Puyo's earthly throne and all power in an effort to dissuade him from establishing a new nation. In addition, Jumong's three chief followers, Mari, Hyupho, and Oyi, act in the manner of Jesus' disciples, continually misunderstanding him and having to apologize time and again for their "narrow-mindedness," especially their preoccupation with "short-term gains."

The series also contains unmistakable references to the Hebrew Bible. The Han Chinese in their relationship with Ancient Josun's migrants, whom they treat as slaves, are functional equivalents of the ancient Egyptians. They are depicted throughout as harsh, cruel taskmasters. Puyo's palace, to the extent it compromises with the Han and opposes Jumong, is a second pharaoh's palace. Jumong could have had a peaceful life there, but Moses-like, he chooses to identify with the migrants and go into exile. In one episode Jumong fools Puyo's leadership, leading them to believe he is returning migrants to the Han only to undertake a flight to freedom. The migrants, with Jumong at their head, dramatically cross Puyo's border river-read Red Sea-with Puyo forces in hot pursuit. Meanwhile, Lady Yuhwa and Jumong's wife Yesoya, left behind at the palace, continually petition Kumwa (read Pharaoh) to let them go. To switch metaphors, Jumong parallels David, pursued by Kunwa-read Saul, forced to become a brigand, and determined to defeat the Han-read Goliath. Later, Jumong and his band find works of history and records of ancient Josun which serve as a basis for constructing Koguryo-reminiscent of the ancient Israelites who when liberated from Babylon recovered their foundational documents as a basis for constructing the Second Temple.

In utilizing the Judeo-Christian framework, Jumong echoes distinctive Unification interpretive themes. The most important of these is the notion of Korea as the "Third Israel." Unification core texts identify all manner of parallels between the First Israel and Second Israel (Christianity) and that of Korea, notably slavery in Egypt and persecution by the Roman Empire, which it equates with Korea's suffering under foreign oppressors, especially imperial Japan.[16] According to Divine Principle, the movement's primary theological text, "The historical course of untold misery, which the Korean people have gone through, was the necessary way for them to walk as the people of God's elect." It claims that Korean domination under the Japanese was "not less severe than what the 'First Israel' and 'Second Israel' suffered respectively in Egypt and the Roman Empire," and that the partitioning of the peninsula into the communist North and democratic South was "an offering of sacrifice as a nation placed on the line for universal salvation."[17] This of course goes well beyond the claims of Jumong, though it resonates with a certain substratum of Korean messianic thought.[18]


Politics and Economy

While religion provides an important backdrop, the drama's overriding concerns are political and economic. In terms of politics, Jumong engages a range of foreign and domestic issues relevant not only to the founding of Koguryo but to contemporary Korea, both North and South. The key foreign affairs concern is the loss of national sovereignty to the Han Chinese. Here, the drama works through complex feelings of the Korean people toward foreign oppressors. Though clearly standing on the side of patriots and freedom fighters, the drama makes a point of condemning recklessness and emotionalism which it depicts as undermining patriots and appeasers alike. Domestically the overriding issue is internal disunity, which is said to have played a major role in Ancient Josun's downfall and threatens the establishment of Koguryo. Here in thinly veiled ways the series addresses contemporary Korean attitudes toward politics, specifically authoritarianism, democracy and the transfer of power. Jumong treats economy as a subset of politics, highlighting its importance as a base for political independence and stability but also addressing a cultural penchant for gambling, issues of deceit, bribery, the black market, and long-term versus quick-profit thinking. No less than for politics, the series provides a platform for reflection about economic practices in contemporary Korea.

The single circumstance which underlines all the action of Jumong is the loss of sovereignty to the Han Chinese. With few if any exceptions they are depicted as cruel, exploitative oppressors. They don't hesitate to butcher migrants or even whole tribes, such as Lady Yuhwa's Haebek tribe, as examples of the fate awaiting those who oppose their rule. They impose forced labor on the migrants, confining them in camps, and exact excessive tribute as well as compulsory military service from subject tribes and states such as Puyo. The Han maintain their authority solely by the force of arms, in partcular their "Iron Army," which due to advanced smelting techniques appears to possess inpenetrable armor and unbreakable swords. Giving voice to those suffering under the Han yoke, Lady Yuhwa bitterly questions how the Chinese emperor can dare call himself the "son of heaven."

As a buffer state bordered by powerful neighbors, Korea has a long history of foreign invasions and oppression. For centuries, beginning from the period depicted in Jumong, Chinese dynasties treated Korea as a vassal, tributary state. The Mongols invaded Korea from 1231-70 and the Japanese from 1592-98, neither of which succeeded in subjugating Korea but both of which resulted in a tremendous loss of lives and property. Following its defeat of China (1895) and Russia (1904), Japan occupied Korea for forty years (1905-45), during which it made efforts to eradicate Korean national identity and incorporate Korea into its empire. Following World War II the United States and the Soviet Union occupied the peninsula, dividing it into bellicose states that have remained in a state of war since 1950. These national traumas have fostered varying degrees of collective resentment among Korean people. This in turn has resulted in hyper-sensitivity toward real or perceived national insults, especially with respect to Japan. From the 1990s China has been actively engaged in a "North-East Revisionist" project, attempting to define Koguryo as a regional government of ancient China rather than an independent kingdom. This has spilled over into controversies over Jumong and other Korean historical dramas which Chinese authorities and internet users have called chauvinistic and anti-Chinese.[19]

As is commonly the case in situations of oppression, Han dominance polarized Koreans into uncompromising and compromising camps. Jumong's heroes are uncompromising in their refusal to cooperate with the Han Chinese. They are willing to sacrifice comfort, position, and even their lives in the effort to drive them from Korean soil. Haemosu leads the Damul Army (Damulgun), a band of fighters who conduct guerilla-syle forays into Han territory. Jumong takes up his fallen father's cause, provokes larger-scale warfare against the Han, overruns their commanderies, and succeeds in establishing Koguryo as a successor state to Ancient Josun. Compromisers, who make up most of Puyo's ruling elite, despise the Han and are willing to trade insults but finally are unwilling to risk their positions or their nation's well-being in ill-advised rebellion. Another category of compromisers consists of Korean collaborators, who go entirely over to the Han side and, in effect, become Han Chinese. The best example in Jumong is Yangjang, former prince of Goma, who is taken captive by by Han, rises through their ranks, and returns as governor of Hyunto, one of the Han commandries. Much of the drama revolves around the contending positions and interactions of these parties.

Again this has a great deal of relevance to contemporary Korea, which still struggles with its legacy of resistance and capitulation to imperial Japan. Over against the humiliation of being annexed, Koreans point with pride to the March 1, 1919 Independence Movement protests, which began in Seoul and spread throughout the country. However, these were violently repressed, and the Japanese proceeded to impose their language, surnames, and, humiliatingly, Shinto shrine worship upon Koreans. Some resisted violently, assassinating Japanese officials. Some fled, mostly to Manchuria. Some joined or supported the provisional Korean government-in-exile based in Shanghai. With the outbreak of World War II, others like the future North Korean leader Kim Il Sung led or joined guerilla bands allied with the Chinese. Some remained within Korea, refused to cooperate, and were imprisoned. However, the overwhelming majority gave in to Japanese demands, spoke Japanese, took Japanese surnames and performed Shinto shrine worship. Some of these joined the Japanese Imperial Army or became active collaborators, seemingly forsaking their Korean identity. These various positions created significant strain as Korea sought to reconstitute itself as a nation, or two nations, following liberation.[20]

To its credit, Jumong is more nuanced than a simple uncompromising-compromising-collaborating configuration might suggest. A number of the characters vacillate between positions, sometimes as a result of genuine soul-searching, other times due to circumstances. Kumwa, Puyo's king, is the best example. As a young crown prince he was a patriotic though secret comrade of Haemosu, supplying arms and engaging in covert operations. Following Haemosu's capture and presumed death, the drama fast-forwards twenty years. The Damul army is a distant memory, and Kumwa, now king of Puyo, is caught up in the affairs of state. He still hates the Han, and one of his consuming goals is to discover the secret of fashioning steel weaponry rivaling the Han's "Iron Army." To this end, he maintains a clandestine and illegal iron works. Nevertheless, Kumwa's basic motivation is to preserve Puyo and his own position. Therefore, when confronted by Jumong's efforts to confront the Chinese he struggles mightily, sometimes aligning with Jumong and even committing Puyo forces to battle, other times opposing his actions and declaring him a traitor.

Jumong, like Kumwa, dedicates himself to discovering the secret of Han weapon production techniques. Also like Kumwa, he engages in a cat-and-mouse game, covertly producing arms and utilizing technological espionage as opportunities present themselves. This is another example of Jumong providing a venue to process contemporary circumstances, in this case North Korea's clandestine nuclear program. On balance, the series seems to concede the right of smaller nations to protect themselves and develop advanced weaponry. The drama throughout places a premium on technology, viewing it as the key to evening the playing field. This resonates with Unification culture, which emphasizes the equalization of technology and hasn't shied away from weapons production. Tongil Industries, the movement's first industrial enterprise, produced a variety of weapon parts for the ROK government. During the Cold War the movement was outspoken in its support for U.S. troops and atomic weaponry in South Korea and for cruise missiles in Europe. More recently, Rev. Moon's fourth son obtained patents and started a company that produces handguns.[21] In this respect, Unificationism, no less than Jumong and Korean culture generally, seems to embrace political realism when it comes to matters of defense.

As stated, the overriding domestic political issue is disunity, which is understood to have played a major role in Ancient Josun's downfall and threatens the establishment of Koguryo. Several characters comment that Ancient Josun fell to the Han Chinese not only because of the Han's superior military force but primarily due to Josun's "internal discord." The same tendency toward discord and factionalization works to undermine Puyo. In addition to the struggle between the shrine and palace, a more consequential dispute erupts between Jumong and Kumwa's two sons, Daeso and Youngpo, over who will be appointed crown prince. Following Haemosu's presumed death, Kumwa returns to Puyo with Lady Yuhwa who is pregnant with Haemosu's child. However, Kumwa has fallen desperately in love with Yuhwa and installs her as his royal concubine, or second wife, agreeing to maintain the fiction that the child she conceived with Haemosu, whom she named "Jumong," is his own. This precipitates significant jealousy and conflict between the Queen, her relatives, and Lady Yuhwa, and between the Queen's two prince sons and Jumong, as Kumwa favors his concubine and adoptive son. Kumwa aggravates the situation by breaking with tradition and announcing open competition among his three sons for the position of successor. Betrayals, assassination attempts, temporary usurpations of the crown, public confusion and general instability result.

Korean politics is famously factional and fractious. Michael Breen, in The Koreans, notes, "There is a joke among political scientists that if you put two Koreans on a desert island, they would form three political parties: one each and a coalition." According to Breen, political parties "represent neither a social class nor a particular philosophy" but "are built around powerful factional leaders."[22] Maarten Meijer reports, "The word 'compromise' does not exist in the political vocabulary. Opposition parties do not provide balanced leverage on government decisions but seem bent on annihilating those in power." Most embarrassing, he says, "are the scenes from the National Assembly, broadcast on national television, where ruling and opposition parliamentarians hurl pieces of taxpayer-paid furniture at each other."[23] Both Breen and Meijer point out that intense regionalism (rooted in the Korean clan system), social relations, family connections, and alumni or hometown networks characterize Korean political culture.

All of these themes play out in Jumong. With few exceptions, protagonists pursue their objectives with Machiavellian ruthlessness, switching sides as it suits their interests and seeking to eliminate any would-be stumbling blocks. The level of violence in the series is appalling. The Han Chinese are not the only ones guilty of massacres. In fact, as Puyo descends into a maelstrom of famine and internal conflict, its repressive actions begin to resemble those of North Korea. Those seeking to escape are killed. Kumwa, Puyo's king, is said to have a swelling on the back of his neck, a seeming transparent reference to North Korean President Kim Il Sung's famous growth. However, Jumong and his compatriots are also ferocious, accumulating Rambo-like kill-totals in virtually every episode of the series. Bodyguards are omnipresent, not only in the palace but for merchant troops and even sorceresses. If anything, the drama has the feel of something out of the American Wild West, though with swords rather than six-shooters.

The implications of this are potentially troublesome for a Korea-based new religious and social movement whose overriding theme is unification. For the present, Rev. Moon's commanding presence has served to hold in check infighting among top leaders, factionalism among departments, historic national enmities, and distrust between leaders and members. However, the disappearance of a charismatic leader in whom authority has been so fully vested inevitably raises the problem of succession, no less than it did in ancient Puyo. Jumong also raises issues relevant to Unification theology, specifically certain of its messianic passages which define Korea as "the object of God's heart" and "a people good in his sight." Unification texts maintain, "Korea only repelled aggressive foreign powers and never once invaded other countries," an orientation which is understood to be the opposite of "Satan's first nature" which "is his aggressive arrogance."[24] This is hard to square with Jumong, which seems to indicate that Korea never invaded other nations only because her sons and daughters were too busy fighting among themselves.

As suggested, Jumong treats economy as a subset of politics. There is a subplot embedded in the series which revolves around the fortune of tribal merchant troop. Yuntabal, the merchant leader and tribal chief of Keryu and head of a contentious tribal confederation in the area of Jolban, harbors Haemosu, Jumong's father, while he was a fugitive. Yuntabal's daughter Sosuhno subsequently becomes a key player in the drama and the love-interest of Jumong. She inherits leadership of her father's troop, supports Jumong's efforts, and through a series of remarkable adventures accumulates great wealth. She constructs a magnificent palace and invites Jumong's New Damul Army to settle in Jolban, thereby establishing the material foundation for Koguryo. She reigns as empress with Jumong for fifteen years before departing with her two sons by a previous marriage to set up a new kingdom, Paekche (Baekje), in the South.[25]

The series utilizes the subplot to explore a number of themes related to business and economy. Yuntabal for much of the drama serves as a mouthpiece, articulating key traits of the superior merchant. They would run the risk of degenerating into set pieces on Confucian virtue were it not for Yuntabal's nuanced realism and his colorful character. He, for example, is an inveterate gambler, betting on everything from whether his wife will give birth to a boy or girl to whether he should risk all in supporting Jumong. He freely acknowledges that as a merchant, he is "guilty" before the gods. That is, to "gain others' hearts," he "sometimes must lie." He also employs all manner of trade agents (spies) and strategists to aide him in outmaneuvering his rivals. On the other hand, Yuntabal strongly rejects a preoccupation with short-term profits, which he characterizes as the concern of the inferior merchant. He directs much of his commentary to his spirited and head-strong daughter Sosuhno, who gradually learns the lessons of patience and calculation.

Korea's remarkable "transition from an agricultural backwater to a modern industrialized state in one generation" and it's more precipitous monetary collapse in 1998 which led to the largest IMF national bailout in history, exemplify many of the economic motifs developed in Jumong.[26] Yuntabal is an ancient type of the modern chaebol (or jaebol) leader, i.e., the founders of Hyundai or LG who built conglomerates spanning the country, flexed their corporate muscles in the political arena, and kept business in the family. Moreover, like the modern chaebol types, Yuntabal puts a premium on personal relationships and exhibits a minimal amount of transparency with respect to his operation, telling his chief strategist Sayong that for merchants, "even deceit is a tool of the trade." This prompts a lively debate as Sayong, likely a representative of reformist elements within Korean manage­ment culture, objects to involvement with "fraudulent cases." Here, as in so many other areas, Jumong dramatizes the engagement between traditional and modern practices.

The Unification Movement exemplifies a similar dynamic. It has run its far-flung corporate enterprises along the chaebol model with interlocking directorates, seemingly lavish expenditures and questionable transparency, if not legality.[27] Recently, Justin (Kook Jin) Moon, Rev. Moon's fourth son, has expressed the determination to remake UM corporate culture and began implementing reforms by emphasizing "five rules of management": results over status, accountability over popularity, clarity over certainty, productive conflict over harmony, and trust over invulnerability.[28] In this respect, the confrontations played out between Yuntabal and Sayong, as well as between Korean management and the IMF, are also being played out in the Unification Movement. At the same time, as Meijer points out, it is by no means certain that "the presumed openness of management in the capitalist West" will be a "guarantor of legality and success either, as has been illustrated by the Enron and Worldcom scandals in the United States."[29] It seems more likely that a variant of economic realism combining traditional and modern patterns will win out in both Korean and Unification contexts.



The dominant cultural theme addressed in Jumong relates to the family, specifically marriage and child-rearing. There is a pervasive tension within the series between romantic love, of which there is plenty, and arranged marriages. It seems that nearly every significant protagonist has a special love with whom, due to fate or circumstance, they must live without. The heroes and heroines of the drama accept this as the will of the gods or a necessary sacrifice for the welfare of the larger whole. The less admirable characters stubbornly cling to their romantic obsessions and generally make life miserable for those around them. The series also explores variations of indulgent and strict patterns of child-rearing. The tension here is between parents or relatives who will stop at nothing to obtain preferential treatment or positions for their progeny and those who, in effect, "throw their tiger cub off the cliff," hoping for them to make their own way. The dynamics of child-rearing, in turn, play into the broader issues of social development and cultural identity.

The traditional public virtues of loyalty, filial piety and obedience have come under increasing strain in Korean society. Breen introduces the term han to describe the collective pain, rage, helplessness, and resentment of the Korean people in the face of oppression and deprivation. Psychologically, it implies a "prohibition of one's instinctive urges." Breen cites a Korean psychologist who states, "Tradi­tion­al­ly... if a man loved a woman, but his parents ordered him to marry another, he would obey, and live with han." How­ever, the same psychologist sug­gests what had been static han has been superseded by "dynamic han" in contemporary Korean society: "The id impulse is no longer suppressed. Instinctive demands surface. Koreans want it all now." This, he says, is "behind the drive for economic growth and political freedom."[30] It also factors into "soft" areas of marriage and family life.

The tension between static and dynamic han is apparent throughout Jumong. Interestingly, the two main heroines, Yuhwa (Jumong's mother) and Sosuhno (his empress), both reject arranged marriages. Yuhwa as a young girl refused a match, telling her father that "he looks like a pig" and that she would "drop dead" if he continued to insist. Sosuhno, likewise, told her father to "find another daughter" if he persisted in marrying her to one she refused. Nevertheless, in the course of the drama both Yuhwa and Sosuhno accept circumstances where they must let go of "the love of their lives." This is something that the series' less admirable characters cannot do. King Kumwa, trapped in a loveless political marriage, is obsessed with Lady Yuhwa. He refuses to let her join Jumong, finally slaying her in a fit of passion rather than letting her go. His son Daeso is similarly smitten by Sosuhno. Though accepting an arranged marriage, he claims it is "only politics" and that as king he will be able to do as he likes. Based on these and other instances, the drama appears to take a nuanced position favoring romantic love but acknowledging that its potent energies can do serious damage unless pursued within an acceptable ethical or religious framework.

Jumong's relatively liberal approach toward romantic attachments contrasts with what to this point has been the Unification movement's practice. Rev. Moon, acting in the position of "True Parent," arranged virtually all marriages of the movement's core membership, and it is intended that Unification parents will act in the same capacity for their offspring. In addition, the movement discourages any romantic involvement prior to or outside of marriage-"don't look, don't touch, don't taste." However, the movement does encourage romance within marriage, and Rev. Moon's sermons contain a great deal of content celebrating "absolute sex."[31] In this respect, the movement fuses traditional and modern elements but in a way that is decidedly more conservative than Jumong and also probably more so than contemporary Korean society. This perhaps is most apparent in the series' depiction of a homosexual relationship between the merchant Yuntabal's chief strategist Sayong and Jumong's lieutenant Hyupbo. Though subject to a good deal of comic relief and joking early on, their liaison is finally not only tolerated but openly acknowledged. Here Jumong may or may not be at odds with popular Korean culture, but certainly it is so with the Unification movement. The Unification position on homosexuality, though sympathetic to persons, is unyielding in its opposition to homosexual practices.

Jumong also explores variations of indulgent and strict patterns of child-rearing. The drama's sharpest contrast is between Queen Wonhu and Lady Yuhwa. Queen Wonhu and her relatives go to whatever lengths necessary to secure the privileges, benefits and positions for her two sons. They cover up the young princes' lapses of judgment, attempt to eliminate rivals, and go to the extent of fomenting rebellion and usurping the crown. By way of contrast Lady Yuhwa, after realizing her mistake in indulging Jumong, cuts him off and consents to his exile from the palace for irresponsible behavior. She declares that she had been meaning to "drive him off the cliff" and states, "He must climb up alone if he wants to fulfill his mission." Other parents or surrogate parents in the drama fall in between these extremes. Yuntabal gives Sosuhno an extraordinarily long leash in sending her out to lead dangerous trade expeditions. He maintains that he "can't expect her to take over without experience," that he "can't protect her forever," and that "she needs to go on to a greater world." In this respect the indulgent model of child-rearing, what recently has been referred to in the United States as hovering or "helicopter" parenting, is criticized for limiting development. The drama suggests that the stricter or at least more accountable pattern, by forcing self-reliance, enhances development.

It is here that child-rearing practices connect to broader issues of societal development and cultural identity. The tension between indulgent and disciplined, accountable child-rearing relates directly to transitions in Korean society. Though trampled upon by formidable outsiders, or because it was trampled upon by formidable outsiders, Korean culture tended to insulate itself and put up a parochial, ethnocentric façade. Ironically, Korean identity became a privileged identity hedged in by homogeneous blood-ties, Confucian formalism, and rabid nationalism. Yet this masked a deep insecurity or even self-loathing in the face of Korea's tragic past. Such structures of closure may have had some utility in preserving Korean identity under conditions of oppression, but they are less meaningful, even problematic, as Korea has emerged onto the world stage. Breen states, "It is apparent from the volume of stories you hear about Koreans abroad that they are giving their country a name for coarse selfishness."[32] In this respect, the tension in Jumong between child-rearing practices and cultural identities that facilitate self-absorption and self-promotion and those that facilitate legitimate engagement with others, or what Yuntabal terms the "greater world," is a live question in contemporary Korea.

It also is a live question for contemporary Unificationism. The Unification Movement, to a large extent, magnifies Korean exceptionalism. Unification ideology promotes Korea as the Third Israel, stating that "all aspects of culture and civilization" will "bear fruit in this nation" and that "Korean will become the mother tongue for all humanity."[33] Korean leadership, as well, dominates the movement. This has led to complaints about tribalization, the universalization of Korean cultural norms and "Koreanization" of the movement. The movement's East Asian leadership relies on Western adherents to interface with public officials, and leadership of its major cultural affiliates is largely vested in Western intellectuals and professionals. However, these are regarded as strategic concessions that the movement's leadership will not have to make once the center of global civilization shifts to the Korean peninsula. Under these circumstances, some have concluded that the movement was too deviant, too Korean. Alien standards, in their estimation, contributed to a loss or stagnancy in membership, financial problems, and a loss of moral authority.[34] Though not a culture war, internal debate as to the cultural identity of the Unification Movement and how that identity is fostered will play a significant role in defining the movement's future.


The Hero's Quest and Transformational Journey

Spirituality and religion, politics and economy, and culture are important themes in Jumong. However, Jumong's heroic quest and transformational journey lie at the heart of the drama and are the main source of its appeal. Jumong is far from a hero at the start of the series. In fact he is pathetic and incompetent, given to harassing palace maids, and utterly incapable of protecting himself or anyone else. In the early portions of the drama he shakes off his indolence, disciplines himself, masters the military arts-notably swordsmanship and archery, discovers his true identity as the son of Haemosu, and commits himself to liberating the suffering migrants, driving out the Han and restoring Ancient Josun. In the later episodes he expands his leadership capacity, develops powerful bonds of heart with his men, forgives their shortcomings, wins over would-be enemies, and, in the end, promotes non-violence as an essential component of national unification. These themes, as well as the motif of personal and communal transformation, resonate strongly with contemporary Korean and Unification consciousness.

As stated, Jumong is far from a hero at the beginning of the series. However there are extenuating circumstances. Both he and his mother, Lady Yuhwa, have been forced to lie low to survive the wrath of Queen Wonhu and her prince sons who are jealous of them. Jumong's particular survival strategy was to play the incompetent in order not to be perceived as a threat. His strategy unravels when Haemosu, his true father, re-surfaces after twenty years of confinement and precipitates a chain of events that leads to Jumong's awakening. Exiled from the palace, Jumong encounters Haemosu whom he regards as his teacher, serves an apprenticeship under him, and discovers his inherent gifts in the military arts. After Haemosu's death at the hands of his prince half-brothers, Jumong learns his true identity and embarks on a quest to find out what his father did and why. He travels to Hyunto, one of the Han's major commanderies, where he witnesses the suffering of the migrants first-hand and determines to take up his father's mission.

The remainder of the drama follows Jumong's ups and downs as he works toward and finally accomplishes the "great mission" of liberating the migrants, driving out the Han and restoring ancient Josun (in the form of Koguryo). One of his key attributes is his ability to draw a clear line between the "determination to fight to the death" and recklessness. Perhaps mindful of a Korean penchant for brinkmanship-witness the current standoff on North Korean nuclear weapons, the drama is unrelenting in its criticism of impulsiveness, especially retaliation against others for perceived sleights. Jumong provides a counter-weight to the culture of revenge which otherwise permeates the series. He advises a boy soldier who lost his parents to the Han to "let go of the hatred inside," saying that a grudge "can be both a strength and a weakness," and that revenge can only come "when we feel and know why we must beat the Han." He holds back his soldiers from revenge following a massacre, telling them to "make their deaths worthwhile by building a nation." Upon taking the Hyunto commandery, he acknowledges the migrants' desire to kill prisoners, especially the Han governor, but counsels that they can either satisfy their fury or save additional fellow migrants through prisoner exchanges. The migrants admit they were short-sighted and tell Jumong they will follow his will. In one of the series' most striking reversals, given its seeming celebration of militarism, Jumong determines to unite the disparate and feuding Korean tribes and statelets by non-violent means. Inspired by a mountain oracle that this is "Heaven's will," Jumong allows himself to be put in compromised, even humiliating circumstances to win the natural submission of others including his half-brother Puyo princes. Jumong's heroic quest and transformational journey finally leads him to become a peacemaker and unifier.

Jumong delivers all of this in highly dramatic fashion, which itself signals an important shift in the Korean historical drama or Sageuk genre. These were a staple of the Korean film and television industry but slumped during the 1990s. One reason for this was that the later Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) was mostly mined-out. A second reason was that the dramas had become overly captive to official documents. As one critic put it, "With countless trendy dramas boasting pretty young faces and easily digestible stories, who would sit down to watch old men with fake beards regurgitate lines from complicated historical records?"[35] The solution, which helped fuel the "Korean wave," was the "fusion" drama. These allowed for considerably more dramatic license in wrestling with the competing claims of tradition and modern culture relevant to people outside of Korea. They also emphasize more attractive characterization and character development. Hur Jun (2000) followed the hero from humble beginnings to success as the king of Korean traditional medicine. The Jewel in the Palace (2003) dispenses with previous patriarchal models in depicting the inspiring story of Jang Geum, a commoner who became Joseon's first female royal physician. Jumong is only the latest in a line of Sageuk dramas that utilize the genre to deal with contemporary themes. Its focus on personal and communal transformation reflects changes within Korean society more generally.

Personal and communal transformation obviously resonates with the Unification Movement, which has been typed as a "world-transforming social movement."[36] The movement itself has undergone and continues to undergo change; one might even say trials by fire. These are typical of new religious movements (NRMs) and include "such inexorable factors as the death of charismatic founders, the aging of first generation (converted) membership, the emergence of a 'birthed' (unconverted) second generation, the seductions of upward mobility and higher education, failed [or delayed] prophecies, and shifts in macrocultural, political, or demographic patters over which a new movement has limited, if any, control."[37] No less than Jumong, the Unification Movement has been considered pathetic and incompetent by some. Others have considered the movement a threat. For its own part, the movement followed a pattern of heroic rather than conventional religiosity, undertaking projects worthy of groups many times its size and creating a formidable institutional infrastructure in a single generation. The movement also cultivated an array of allies and supporters, established federations for world peace, and developed programs which fostered forgiveness and reconciliation between former enemies. It was pointed out that the Unification movement is not pacifistic when it comes to defense. Nevertheless, its philosophy of "unification" resembles that of Jumong in its emphasis on the "voluntary submission" of enemies by non-violent means.[38] Whether, like Jumong, Unificationism will be able to parley that philosophy into a viable socio-political entity or the transformation of existing entities, of course, is yet to be seen.

Jumong is an extraordinarily rich drama of epic proportion which provides a platform for considering a host of modern issues related to religion, politics, economy, and culture. It resonates with a number of themes in Korean and Unification culture; but finally it must be judged on its own merits. The fact that it reached a global audience suggests that it deals with topics of broad significance, or at least broad appeal. Nevertheless, whatever universality the series possesses is likely less due to any specific theme or even the interplay between tradition and modernity than it is to its core message of personal and communal transformation.



[1] On the Korean Wave, see Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_wave). Generation Y "is a cohort which consists of those people born between about 1980 and 1994... primarily of the offspring of the Generation Jones, Baby Boomers, and Generation X cohorts." Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Y)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. See also Norimitsu Onishi, "Chinese Youth Look to Seoul for Inspiration," New York Times International, January 2, 2006. (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/02/

[4] The term "fusion" is normally applied to Korean historical dramas (saguek). Standard or traditional historical dramas, which have a history going back 80 years in Korean cinema, are based on strict replications taken from historical chronicles.,Fusion dramas incorpor­ate modern aspects of society, develop characters, and take more license with sources.

[5] There is no uniformly accepted system for rendering Korean words into English. This article utilizes the translations from the series' English subtitled DVD.

[6]Jumong had the highest rating of all Korean dramas in 2006. At its peak, it had a viewer rating of 52.7 percent in Seoul and 51.9 percent nationwide. Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines paid substantial amounts for broadcast rights to show the drama on their local airways. There are lively fan sites online and subtitled DVDs available in English. Financially, the series is on track to be the most profitable in Korean history.

[7] George Chryssides in The Advent of Sun Myung Moon (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991, p. 4) cites sources offering "conservative" estimates that "there is one shaman for every 1500 members of the South Korean population, while other authorities indicate that the same statistic could be as high as one in 316."

[8] Maarten Meijer, What's So Good about Korea, Maarten? (Seoul: Hyeonamsa, 2005), 163-65.

[9] Spencer Palmer, Korea and Christianity (Seoul: Royal Asiatic Society, 1967), p. 16.

[10] For a Unification reading, see Tatsuo Sasaki. "Forty years Japanese Colonization of Korea and the Foundation for the Messiah: God's Will or Human Error," Divinity Thesis, Unification Theological Seminary, 1994.

[11] See Michael Breen. The Koreans (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2004), p. 48.

[12] Warren Lewis, "Hero with the Thousand and First Face," in M. Darrol Bryant and Herbert Richardson, A Time for Consideration: A Scholarly Appraisal of the Unification Church (New York: Edwin Mellen, 1978), pp. 275-89; Rainer Flasche. "The Unification Church in the Context of East-Asian Religious Traditions." Acta Comparanda II (Antwerp: Faculteit voor vergleijkende Godsdienstwetenschappen, 1987), p. 38; George Chryssides, The Advent of Sun Myung Moon, pp. 49-50; Kirsti Nevalainen, Shamanistic Origin of the Unification Church (Jeonsuu University [Finland], 2005).

[13] Rev. Moon assigned Korean "prayer ladies" to the Unification movement in America at various points. There practices bore a distinct resemblance to those of Korean female shamans or mudangs. Following the death of Rev. Moon's second son, Heung Jin, in 1984, numerous members around the world channeled messages from him and other personages from the spirit world. In 1987 a Zimbabwean, the so-called "Black Heung Jin Nim" (Nim being a Korean honorific), claimed to be Heung Jin's "returning resurrection" or embodiment. He led an intense but short-lived and ultimately erratic worldwide revival within the movement (see Michael L. Mickler, Forty Years in America: An Intimate History of the Unification Movement, 1959-1999 (NY: HSA-UWC, 2000), pp. 386-401.

[14] The 1990s spiritualist revival within the UM was much more controlled that of the 1980s and is more enduring. The more charismatic side centered on the personage of Soon Ae Hong (1913-89), Mrs. Moon's mother, given the title "Great Mother" (Dae Mo Nim) after her passing by Rev. Moon. In 1995, Mrs. Hyo Nam Kim claimed and gained recognition of being Dae Mo Nim's embodiment. She proceeded to develop an international pilgrimage site at Chungpyung Lake, Korea, for Unification members. Spirit and ancestor liberations and healing have been the focus of her activity. The other 1990s manifestation, more intellectual and literary, centered on "messages from the spirit world" conveyed from Dr. Sang Hun Lee, a leading movement thinker, through Mrs. Young Soon Kim, a separate Korean medium. His messages were accepted as authentic by Rev. Moon and became part of the movement's official canon.

[15] Reportedly, more than a billion dollars was spent on a heavenly palace at Chungpyung Lake. There are requirements and set fees for "ancestor liberation" which some members compare to the selling of indulgences by the medieval Catholic Church. Mrs. Young Soon Kim channeled messages from deceased American presidents testifying to Rev. Moon which were published as paid aids in major U.S. newspapers.

[16]Divine Principle (NY: HSA-UWC, 1973), the Unification Movement's chief theological text, asserts, "the Korean nation, during the 40 years after the 'Eul-sa Treaty of protection' in 1905 until their liberation in 1945, went through persecution [under Japan], not less severe than that which the 'First Israel' and 'second Israel' suffered respectively in Egypt and in the Roman Empire." (p. 523).

[17]Divine Principle, pp. 523-26.

[18]Divine Prinicple refers to the Korean prophetic book Chung Gam Nok, which prophesized during the Yi or New Choson dynasty (1392-1905) the coming of a King of Righteousness to Korea. George Chryssides, in The Advent of Sun Myung Moon (pp. 93-107), covers a number of messianic precursors of Unificationism.

[19] Hong Kong Asia TV changed the word "nation" (in reference to Koguryo) to "tribe," and the translation of the Han Dynasty to the "Heavenly Dynasty." Chinese internet users have attacked Jumong as being chauvinistic and anti-Chinese.

[20] The Unification movement draws a distinction between "Cain-like" Christians who compromised with the Japanese and participated in Shinto shrine worship, and "Abel-type" Christians who resisted. Rev. Moon notes that he tried to launch his ministry after World War II among Abel-type Christians but that Cain-type collaborators assumed most positions of authority to the detriment of the Korean nation and his work. See Sun Myung Moon, "The History of the Korean Providence," Blessing Quarterly, 15-16.

[21] See Massad Ayoob, "The Rise of the House of Kahr - Interview with Kook Jin "Justin" Moon," American Handgunner, November/December 2001, 58-67.

[22] Breen, The Koreans, p. 194.

[23] Meijer, What's So Good about Korea, Maarten, p.183.

[24]Divine Principle, p. 526.

[25] Sosuhno's departure from Koguryo involved a complex set of circumstances and plot twists. Following Jumong's presumed death she married her troop's chief bodyguard to escape the advances of Prince Daeso. Later Jumong married Yesoya, the daughter of a tribal chief, whom he met in a manner similar to his father Haemosu's meeting with Yuhwa. Subsequently Sosuhno's husband is killed and Yesoya and Jumong's child Yuri are presumed dead following their escape attempt from Puyo. At this point, Soshuno and Jumong, described in the series as "star-crossed lovers," reunite. However, Yesoya and Yuri survived, and after leading deperate lives for fifteen years reveal themselves. Rather than see her two sons and Jumong's son compete for the crown, as had been the case in Puyo with Kumwa's sons and Jumong, Sosuhno elects to depart for the South.

[26] See Breen, The Koreans, pp. 133-83 for a general discussion of the contemporary Korean economy.

[27] Rev. Moon was convicted of tax evasion in 1982 and served nearly 12 months in Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, Connecticut. UM enterprises in Japan have been subject to ongoing litigation.

[28] See Kook Jin Moon, "On Business... And on Life." http://www.tparents.org/Moon-Talks/KookJinMoon/KookJinMoon-080500.htm

[29] Meijer, What's so Good About Korea, Maarten, p.159.

[30] Breen, The Koreans, pp. 38-39. He cites Paik Sang-chang, chairman of the Korea Social Pathology Institute.

[31] The best single compilation of Rev. Moon's teachings on this topic is Yoshihiko Masuda's True Love, Sex, and Health as Guided by the Words of True Parents (Korea: CheongShim GST University Press, 2009).

[32] Breen, The Koreans, p. 21.

[33]Divine Principle, p. 530. Exposition of the Divine Principle (NY: HSA-UWC, 1996), p. 410.

[34] See Michael L. Mickler, "The Unification Church/Movement in the United States," in Eugene V. Gallagher and W. Michael Ashcroft, eds. Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America (Westport: Greenwood press, 2006), p. 177. See also Mickler, 40 Years in America, pp. 532, 536-37, 589-91.

[35] "Sageuk, Korea's 80-Year-Long Love for History," YumCha! Asian Entertainment Reviews and Features, May 14, 2007. http://www.yesasia.com/us/yumcha/sageuk-koreas-80-year-long-love-for-history/0-0-0-arid.125-en/featured-article.html

[36] See David G. Bromley and Anson D. Shupe, Jr., "Moonies" in America: Cult, Church, and Crusade (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1970), p. 22. Yoshihiko Masuda, in "A Reappraisal of Typologies of New religious Movements and Characteristics of the Unification Church," Journal of Unification Studies 2 (1998), takes issue with their classification, stating, "Bromley and Shupe underestimated the UC's efforts for total transformation if individuals... the UM attempts to bring about a total change of individuals and subsequent to or almost simultaneously with a total change of supra-individuals (culture and social structures)."

[37] Michael L. Mickler. "Future Prospects of the Unification Church," in David G. Bromley and Phillip E. Hammond, eds. The Future of New Religious Movements (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1987), p. 175.

[38] The paradigmatic example within Unificationism is that of the Biblical patriarch Jacob, who overcomes his brother Esau's murderous rage. See Divine Principle, pp. 276-79. Rev. Moon commonly refers to "voluntary submission" and "natural subjugation." For example, in a speech on January 1, 1987 he stated, "Sometimes classroom teachers have said negative things about the Unification Church and have asked church members, "How did you ever become a Moonie?" trying to ridicule them. Now, however, such teachers are realizing that they made a dreadful mistake and they are apologizing to our members. Likewise, brothers, sisters and parents are coming and apologizing to you. This is exactly what I have talked about: natural subjugation, not by force or violence." See http://www.tparents.org/Moon-Talks/sunmyungmoon87/870101b.htm.