To wrap up Dae Jang Geum week, I thought I’d blog about the real Jang Geum. After the success of the series, I thought I’d find more information (maybe even a book) about the real Jang Geum, but really the information is limited. The most extensive information I found was a Wikipedia entry that includes the mentions of Jang Geum found in the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty.
The first mention occurs in the spring of 1515 when King Jungjong’s second wife, Queen Janggyeong, has died from complications of childbirth. Court officers tried to convince the king to punish the medical women, including Jang Geum, who had treated the queen. The king refused.
“Jang Geum deserves a big credit for her role in the safe childbirth of palace ladies, but I have never awarded her for her actions until now, because of other affairs. Now you (the court officers) are telling me to punish her because the Queen is dead, but I won’t do that as well as I won’t reward her. That’s enough.”
A few years later in 1524 the Annals stated, “Dae Jang Geum was better than any other medical women in the Palace. As a result, she was permitted to look after the King.”
Her position as the king’s physician continued and in 1533 the Annals included this comment by the king. “I have recovered from several month’s sickness. The Royal Doctors and Pharmacists deserve praise. Jang-geum and Kye-geum, the two medical women, also will be rewarded with 15 rice bags, 15 bean sacks, and 10 cloths, respectively.”
Again, on Jan. 29, 1544, The Annals included an order issued by the king stating that Jang Geum and the royal doctors should discuss a prescription for an illness the king was suffering from. A few days later, on Feb. 9, 1544, the king praised Jang Geum for his recovery.
In the fall of 1544, the king’s health is deteriorating. On Oct. 25, Jang Geum is quoted in the Annals giving an update on the king’s condition. Four days later, on Oct. 29, the Annals report that the King has recovered and gives all of the medial officers a holiday. That entry is the last to mention Jang Geum.
King Jungjong died 17 days later, on November 15, 1544.
However, Jang Geum is also mentioned in a book titled, Yi dynasty Medical Officer’s Journal. “Medical Lady Jang Geum, whose origins cannot be traced, received the right to be called ‘Dae Jang Geum” under an edict issued by the 11th King of Korea, Jungjong, in the 18th year of his reign [1524-1525]. At that time, there was no precedent of a Medical Lady treating a King, but the Emperor trusted in Jang Geum’s method of treating illness with food. Jang Geum, with the granting of the right to use ‘Dae’ in her name, is certainly an epic lady whose name will be recorded in the history books.”
The only other information about the real Jang Geum I’ve come upon is from a blog about Korean dramas. Much of the information is the same, but here’s the link in case you’d like to read it.
It seems from her accomplishments that Jang Geum was a remarkable woman. And that’s exactly how she’s portrayed in series, even if much of the story of her life has been fictionalized. The series is wonderful but wouldn’t it be great to know more about this woman who appears to be centuries before her time.