Rich Man Pond
The legend of Jangjamot (Rich Man Pond) narrates the story of a rich man whose house was flooded in water and turned into a pond as a result of his ill treatment of a monk seeking donation, and of the rich man’s daughter-in-law, who turned into a rock for breaking a taboo imposed by the monk.
Rich Man Hwang of Gangwon Province, whose family for three generations owned enough land to harvest ten thousand sacks of rice each year, was known for his ill-treatment of monks that came by seeking donation, for example hanging the monk on his gate with a knapsack full of cow dung on his back. When the temple’s chief priest came in person to request a donation, Hwang treated him even worse for his advanced age. Hwang’s daughter-in- law, feeling sympathy for the elderly monk, sought forgiveness on his father-in-law’s behalf, offering a secret donation of rice. The chief priest told her if she wanted to live she should follow him, and never look back. The daughter-in-law set out after him, carrying her baby on her back, but when she heard a sudden roar of thunder, she looked back, which turned her into a rock right where she was standing. The rock still stands there today and the site of Hwang’s house has now become Hwangji (Hwang Pond), the crossbeam of the drowned house still visible.
This legend is transmitted around the country, in association with many ponds including Hwangji on Mt. Taebaek in Gangwon Province; the reservoir Uirimji in Jecheon, North Chungcheong Province; and Gyeongpo Lake in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. In the version about the reservoir Uirimji, the daughter-in-law who follows the monk, is pregnant and survives in the end. In the case of the story of Gyeongpo Lake, the kind-hearted donor is not the rich man’s daughter-in-law but his servant.
In other variations, as in the versions from the village Gwirae or from Uiryeong, the daughter- in-law who turned into a rock is worshipped as the village guardian deity Seonang or as gijaseok (conception prayer rock). In some versions, when the rich man’s house is flooded, the rich man turns into a serpent and lives in the pond, while in others, the part about the daughter-in-law is omitted. There is also a variation that uses traditional geomancy (pungsujiri) as a means of punishment, in which the monk or servants harassed by the miserly rich man lures him with a scheme to make him even richer, and persuades him to cut off an auspicious “lair (hyeol), ” the source of all his fortune, on the grounds of his house, which leads him to collapse.
The punishment of the rich man by flooding his house suggests that the elderly monk is a deity or a near-deity, while the rich man and his daughter- in-law, while representing evil and good, are of the human world.
There are myriad different interpretations about the tragic end brought to the daughter-in-law despite her goodwill. This fossilization of the daughter-in- law seems to demand a reading of the tale that goes beyond the simple “punishing evil and rewarding virtue (gwonseonjingak)” theme. Her breech of taboo is a simple turning of the head, a very natural and human act, which might be interpreted as the limitations of human mortality despite the pursuit of transcendence, or as human skepticism of or resistance against human destiny as deviced by the gods. Another interpretation is that the taboo imposed Legends Rich Man Pond Statue of mother and son at Jangja Pond.
Taebaek-si, Gangwon-do, 2011, National Folk Museum of Korea Hwangi Pond.
Taebaek-si, Gangwon-do, Korea Tourism Organization by the elderly monk is a divine revelation that opens a path for humans to cross over from this world to another, or from past life to a future life, which means that the daughter-in-law’s breaking of taboo and her fossilization can be seen as the consequence of her failure based on being trapped by her past life.
This narrative confirms the universality of the Korean folk tradition, its many rich variations reflecting the diverse layers of recognition about the transcendental order and the problems of human existence as experienced by common people.