Thursday, March 11, 2010

"The Girl-Son"

A True Story of Tradition Turned on Its Tail

Park Im-duk was born at about the turn of the 20th century (1896) to a Confucian scholar and his wife. Unfortunately, Im-duk was a girl-child and not the much-desired male offspring that would be the inheritor of both property and ritual rites. Even more unfortunately her 사주 - birth year, month, day and hour - were particularly strong. Strength was valued in men but a woman was to be meek and mild and subservient. Women were not to "wear the pants" as evident in the proverb "a hen must not crow". Imduk was born in the hour of the tiger, the day of the dragon, the month of the rooster, and the year of the monkey. In addition, she was born near mountains known as the tiger's lair in a village location believed as a home of a dragon, and so being born in such a place on the day of the dragon was a powerful sign. To combat the power of her 사주 for she was destined to be clever like the monkey, loud as the rooster, powerful as the dragon and raging like the tiger, her father carefully selected her name, Im-duk, which translated means "virtuous woman".

Im-duk's mother, Onyu, meant "meek" and Im-duk's name-meaning was also of a meek nature reflecting her gender. However, Im-duk's Confucian father died in a cholera outbreak when she was six, and Onyu, though an illiterate woman, was determined to give her daughter the education that Confucian society had denied herself and would also deny Im-duk. So mother and daughter moved to another village where Onyu disguised Im-duk as a boy, changed her daughter's name to In-duk meaning "benevolence" to reflect a new image and character to be tapped into, and sent her girl-son to school for a whole year as a boy.

In-duk never returned to her feminine name. She ended up attending Samsung Methodist Mission School for Girls, Ewha High School and Ewha College. She was one of the first women to graduate from college, during the Japanese colonial period too, which was shocking behavior for women to do at the time. She showed strength of mind throughout her life - from imprisonment after the March 1 Movement, 1919, to further education in the US to starting her own self-supporting school in 1964, Induk Vocational School for Boys which in 1980 divided into two institutions - the Induk Technical High School with over 2,000 male and female students and Induk Institute of Design with over 3,000 male and female students. If her father feared strength in his daughter due to beliefs in her birth hour, Park Im-duk a.k.a. In-duk certainly showed that strength during her extraordinary 84 years of unconventional life as the girl-son to her equally undaunted mother.

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