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The Journey for Gonjang – Korean Historical Punishment

Gonjang, the popular punishment often depicted in Korean historical dramas, involving strapping victimus face down on a cross-like structure and vigorously hitting their buttocks with a large paddle, creating a visually striking scene.

This time, let’s dig deeper into this historical Korean punishment using several primary sources such as “Kyungshinduksok” and “Annals of the Joseon Dynasty”, etc.

Kaede

Hey guys,

Since Yoshikawa-san hasn’t returned from the coffee break, I’ll facilitate on my own this time. She’s definitely slacking off…

TOC

The spanking of “The Servant” (2010)


There are many good spanking scenes in Korean period dramas. But personally, the top-ranked work for me is this one.

“The Servant”(2010 방자전, 18+)

It’s a film adaptation that boldly reimagines a Korean tale that is known as “Chunhyangjeon (春香伝)”, featuring a girl named Chunhyang (春香) as the protagonist.

The Servant (2010)

This punishment scene is set in a unique way rarely seen elsewhere. Chunhyang, bound to a platform, and the official standing in front of her, collaborate in acting to create a heroic tale to sell to the central government for their own advancement. It means it’s…

“staged public punishment.

Hey,Chunhyang. Isn’t that taking it too far?

The actress playing the spankee heroine is Yeo jeong Cho , who recently portrayed the beautiful wife of the Park family in the groundbreaking Korean film Parasite”, which won the Academy Award.

“The Servant” wrapped up filming on January 10, 2010. So, we can enjoy the juicy butt of the then 28-year-old actress, which is bouncing back a paddle with elasticity.

Kaede

It’s not just “juicy”, it’s actually “wet”

Yes, wetting clothes is a method used to punish women.

The fact that she’s wet is also a highlight of this scene, isn’t it? Since her underwear is a loincloth, the wet cloth clings to the skin, making it almost as if her butt is exposed.

By the way, this movie has multiple sex scenes, and you can see raw butts and full nudity as well.

In addition, just a little before this scene, Chunhyang got caught by yet another official (she calls him “an idiot with a stupid face and an even stupider personality”). And then, while being tied up and sitting, she’s repeatedly spanked on the buttocks, with him saying, “I heard you like being slapped!”

Kaede

… Men’s one-sided misunderstanding is always annoying

The way he spanked was so unappealing that it reaffirmed he’s just a stupid official as Chunhyang said. Maybe they should include spanking techniques in the government official recruitment exams…

So, let’s leave it at that for now regarding “The Servant”.

About this punishment scene, in terms of historical accuracy, it seems that “gonjang” may not be the most appropriate term in some aspects (like the implements used). There are Korean websites that describe it as “taehyung (caning)”. However, I think that using “gonjang” as a general term could still be acceptable.

So, what exactly is “gonjang” then?

Birth of Gonjang


“Gonjang” is written in Chinese characters as 棍杖, which refers to a large wooden paddle-like implements. From there, it evolved to also denote the corporal punishment itself involving the use of a “gonjang.”

Kaede

When discussing this topic, we come across the system of “Five Punishments 五刑” established in ancient China and adopted by neighboring countries.

It includes the punishments of

1. caning
2. beating with rod
3. penal servitude
4. exile
5. capital punishment

In ancient Japan as well, criminal laws were established based on these principles.

This concept of the Five Punishments is important as a foundational idea.

While Korean punishments have also been influenced similarly by Chinese system, “gonjang” itself is an original Korean punishment introduced in the legal code “The Seogdaejeon 續大典” (1746). Since it’s from the 18th century, it’s quite recent in the history of the Joseon Dynasty.

(I’m talking about the time when the punishment called “gonjang” appeared. I believe there were similar punishments before that…)

In “The Seogdaejeon”, the terms

  • tae 笞
  • jang 杖
  • gon 棍

refer to different implements, thus corresponding punishment such as

  • taehyung 笞刑
  • janghyung 杖刑
  • gonjang 棍刑

are specified for each.

The severity progresses in the order of taehyung → janghyung → dohyung.

Chinese
Character
Hangulimplementdescription
笞刑태형 taehitting with a cane
(10-50)
杖刑장형 janghitting with a thick cane
(60-100)
棍刑곤형棍杖 gonjang hitting with a gonjang

Sometimes, I saw Korean viewers’ observations pointing out that the distinction between “gonjang” and other punishment often gets blurred due to the lax historical accuracy in period dramas.

On the other hand, there are also comments suggesting that the distinction between them was hazy even back then.

Kaede

Well, dramas are just entertainment, so they often diverge significantly from actual historical facts.

Types of Gonjang

The implements used for gonjang include the following (in order of size):

  • sogon (소곤、小棍)
  • joonggon(중곤、中棍)
  • daegon(대곤、大棍)
  • joonggon(중곤、重棍)
  • chidogon(치도곤、治盜棍)
흠휼전칙(欽恤典則)
“欽恤典則(Kinseok Deokchul)”(1778)


If you can read Chinese characters, their meaning is clear. Also their size is completely different from canes for taehyung.

笞刑用杖刑用の笞と杖
“欽恤典則(Kinseok Deokchul)”(1778)

Tae and Jang are both thin lashes with a diameter of less than 1cm (legally), but gonjang is significantly larger by orders of magnitude.

Kaede

“Kinseok Deokchul” is a legal code established by the command of King Jeongjo, the 22nd monarch of the Joseon Dynasty. It organizes and enacts the implements and systems of punishment, including gonjang.

From the image above, you can see that they’re all basically the same paddle-shaped, just different sizes. Also, I think this shape is commonly seen in Korean historical dramas. They’re all made of willow.


So “chidogon,” which is about the size of a person and has a name that sounds like a powerful monster, means a rod to subdue robbers.

It’s not so much about the size; rather, the power comes from the weight. It’s quite a task for the one doing the hitting…

Kaede

it’s not about the buttocks or anything like that, it’s more like pelvis gets completely wrecked!

Ondal’s film set

Fiction versus reality

As mentioned earlier, the first official rules regarding gonjang appeared in 1746. Then, in “The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty”, which covers 500 years of history during the Joseon Dynasty, the first recorded instance of using gonjang for punishment dates back to 1599. It’s the end of the 16th century, indeed.

The reason for mentioning the time frame is… it’s to emphasize that gonjang appeared during the mid-Joseon Dynasty period.

For example, let’ see much earlier than the Joseon Dynasty.


In Kim Su-ro, The Iron King, set in Goguryeo (ancient Korea), there’s a scene where a lady gets spanked with a paddle-shaped gonjang while tied up in a cross position. It’s a bit of a stretch considering the historical context.

Kaede

It’s a story set around 200 AD, so…

Furthermore, in “Seogdaejeon”, where gonjang was codified, its use was limited to military-related punishments for soldiers. Later, its application expanded to include serious offenses by civilians, but it was not intended for disciplining court ladies or similar individuals.

Well, it’s flashy as a movie scene, so I think it’s fine that way.

Ultimately, rules are merely words on paper. In a historical world where the concept of compliance doesn’t even exist. Especially in regions beyond the reach of the central government, unsanctioned torture and private punishment, which were not prescribed by law, were likely employed.

Kaede

Just like Hong-shim from drama “100 Days My Prince”, who was punished with a spanking for refusing to marry.


If it’s not a punishment prescribed by law, then there’s no definition or meaning to the word at that point. And thus, the meaning indicated by “gonjang” becomes ambiguous.

Execution of spanking against women

For male recipients of punishment, it’s typically administered on bare skin. Then, for women…

Let’s move to the ancient China then.

In ancient China before the Song Dynasty (around the 5th century), corporal punishment was carried out by making people take off their clothes, regardless of gender.

However, in the Yuan dynasty (13-14C), there emerges a punishment rule “Dan Yi Jue Fa 單衣決罰” ( single-layered garment punishment execution ) where individuals can wear a single layer of underwear.

During the Ming Dynasty, except for the crime of adultery, which was explicitly stated, women were officially punished while wearing only a single layer of underwear according to “the Great Ming Code 大明律” Korea also incorporated the Great Ming Code, its system became integrated.

In the image below (depicting taehyung, not gonjang), the woman’s clothes are lifted, revealing one layer of undergarments remaining.

“刑政圖帖(Keisei Tsuchi)”
Kaede

“Keisei Tsuchi” is a collection of illustrations depicting various forms of punishment from the Joseon Dynasty.

It provides visual representations of different types of penalties and their execution methods.

Also, “Annals of the Joseon Dynasty” that was mentioned earlier, records stories like this one.

In 1501, during the reign of King Yeonsangun, three courtesans were sentenced to caning for disrupting the king’s schedule during a drinking party. One of them, Naihanganmei, bribed the officials and concealed fur under her clothes. However, the scheme was eventually uncovered, and she was subjected to even harsher punishment.

Kaede

Ah, so she knew she wouldn’t get her butt bared at least, and tried to cheat… What a dumb move!


By the way, King Yeonsangun (燕山君 연산군) is known as the most tyrannical ruler in Korean history. He is said to have surrounded himself with 3,000 courtesans and would punish them with caning for minor offenses such as not wearing makeup or having dirty clothes. There is no shortage of cruel episodes about him.

Speaking of Yeonsangun, I recommend the movie “The Treacherous (2015, 18+).


There is no gonjang in the movie. Spanking scene is just one where a girl is spanked while doing training for floor cleaning, but it’s still interesting even without that (a bit graphic warning).

Above all, the scene where court ladies lines up the courtesans and make them bend over, push Yeonsan-gun’s dildo into them, and press evaluation stamps onto their bare buttocks is amazing.

背徳の王宮_尻
“The Treacherous (2015)
Kaede

What’s so amazing! Let’s get back to the main topic

Wet bottom VS Bared bottom

If the punishment is to be carried out while wearing underwear, they cannot assess the current condition of the buttocks, and the exact location to hit becomes uncertain.

So the officials splash water onto the underwear to make the fabric adhere to the butt skin before hitting. They do this in “The Servant” as well, which I mentioned earlier.

Hendrick Hamel, a Dutchman who shipwrecked on his way to Dejima in Nagasaki and drifted to Korea, also describes the punishment of the time in his book, “Hamel’s Journal of a Voyage to the Island of Korea”.

They make them pull down their pants and either face dowm on the ground or tie them to a platform. Women are allowed to wear only one piece of underwear to avoid embarrassment, but it is first wetted to make the punishment more effective.

“Hamel’s Journal of a Voyage to the Island of Korea” (Hendrick Hamel, 17C)
Kaede

I remember, in cases of adultery, women alsohave to expose their butt

Furthermore, in the aforementioned “Journal of a Voyage to the Island of Korea”, Hamel explains as follows:

A married woman who commits adultery or elopes with another man is stripped naked, sometimes with only thin undergarments on, her face smeared with lime as a public humiliation. Both parties have their ears tied together with a bow, and a small gong is tied to their backs.

People drag them around the town banging the gong and loudly proclaiming that they are adulterers, and then punish them by beating them 50 or 60 times on the buttocks.

“Hamel’s Journal of a Voyage to the Island of Korea” (Hendrick Hamel, 17C)
Kaede

Hey! Is there a law that sets out such a complex punishment procedure?

I think it’s just lynch…


Yurina

Hey, Kaede. Where were you?

Kaede

Oh! Yoshikawa-san!
Where did you go leaving me all by myself?

Yurina

Come on, I was in the regular meeting. What were you up to during the meeting?

Kaede

Huh!? Oh, I totally forgot

Chika

Hey, Izumi-san, what were you doing?! Punishment time!

Well, I have a good idea. How about parading around with a gong tied to your back, stark naked? This should make up for your mistake, don’t you think?

Ami

I wanna bang the gong !!!

Chika

We don’t have a budget for lime, so you’ll have to use flour for your face, okay?

Kaede

These guys framed me, damn it

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