Jeong Man-seo(郑万瑞)

Jeong Man-seo

Headword

정만서 ( 郑万瑞 , Jeong Man-seo )

Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Folk Literature > Folk tales > Legends

Writer NaSooho(那秀昊)

The legend of Jeong Man-seo tells the story of a loafer known for his tricks and wordplay.

Jeong Man-seo of Gyeongju in South Gyeongsang Province, was a man who enjoyed making money by tricking people. One of his most widely known tricks is the one about offering to get a zither for a courtesan and after taking her money, bringing back a wooden pestle painted black, calling it “geomeun-geo (black thing), ” a near homonym for the zither, “geomungo.” An even more preposterous example is the story of Jeong’s fake funeral. Having run out of money, he pretends his own death, making his wife hold a funeral to collect condolence money. Some versions of this story features a reversal in roles, in which Jeong performs a keening, saying his wife has died, to collect money from his friends.

Jeong not only deceives people to make money but also likes to make mischief. One day while passing the town belfry, he yelled, “Toll the curfew!” It was not time for curfew, but the alarmed bell ringer tolled the bell. The supervising official came after him, furious, and the bell ringer pleaded, pointing at Jeong Man-seo, that this man had told him to toll the bell. The official arrested Jeong and held an inquisition, at which Jeong answered innocently that he was looking for his son, whose name was In Gyeong-cheol, which sounds similar to “Ingyeong cheora (Toll the curfew).” The fact was, of course, that Jeong did not have a son named In Gyeong-cheol. Legend has it that Jeong had a son name Beom, and the anecdote related to this son demonstrates Jeong’s offbeat sense of humor. Jeong was drinking at a tavern when one of his servants came running with news of his son Beom’s death. Jeong showed no sign of grief, however, and made a joke, asking who the hunter was that had caught the tiger, also “beom” in Korean.

Jeong Man-seo is one of Korean folk culture’s tricksters, liminal characters who do not merely play tricks but transcend the boundaries or conventions of human society. He is also a loafer-type character, who wanders around without possession, no cares about making a living. He can also be called a scoundrel, since he makes money by tricking people, but Jeong’s actions suggest that he was not simply a scoundrel: He sometimes finds pleasure purely in making mischief, even if it does not bring him gain, and when he responds with a joke to the news of his son’s death, it seems like an attempt to use laughter to overcome painful reality, defying the perspective of ordinary people. Jeong’s competence as a trickster is clearly demonstrated in the anecdote about the fake funeral, for it is far more difficult to deceive close acquaintances in one’s hometown than strangers in an unfamiliar place—Jeong was able to pull it off only because he was an ace trickster unbound by social conventions or taboos.

Jeong Man-seo shares many similarities with other trickster characters from Korean culture including Kim Seon-dal and Bang Hak-jung, but possesses clear differences as well. Compared to Kim Seon-dal, who was a careful schemer, Jeong is more random and reckless. Another of Jeong’s distinct characteristic is his use of wordplay and his eloquence: verbal skills are found in other tricksters as well but Jeong’s clearly stand out, especially when it comes to puns.

There are various reasons behind the long life of the tale of Jeong Man-seo, which has been passed down for ages, the biggest being its element of fun and humor. In the many versions of this tale, courtesans are often featured as greedy women, and the story of these characters being hoaxed out of their money offers a cathartic experience.

Jeong Man-seo

Jeong Man-seo
Headword

정만서 ( 郑万瑞 , Jeong Man-seo )

Location of the encyclopedia

Korean Folk Literature > Folk tales > Legends

Writer NaSooho(那秀昊)

The legend of Jeong Man-seo tells the story of a loafer known for his tricks and wordplay.

Jeong Man-seo of Gyeongju in South Gyeongsang Province, was a man who enjoyed making money by tricking people. One of his most widely known tricks is the one about offering to get a zither for a courtesan and after taking her money, bringing back a wooden pestle painted black, calling it “geomeun-geo (black thing), ” a near homonym for the zither, “geomungo.” An even more preposterous example is the story of Jeong’s fake funeral. Having run out of money, he pretends his own death, making his wife hold a funeral to collect condolence money. Some versions of this story features a reversal in roles, in which Jeong performs a keening, saying his wife has died, to collect money from his friends.

Jeong not only deceives people to make money but also likes to make mischief. One day while passing the town belfry, he yelled, “Toll the curfew!” It was not time for curfew, but the alarmed bell ringer tolled the bell. The supervising official came after him, furious, and the bell ringer pleaded, pointing at Jeong Man-seo, that this man had told him to toll the bell. The official arrested Jeong and held an inquisition, at which Jeong answered innocently that he was looking for his son, whose name was In Gyeong-cheol, which sounds similar to “Ingyeong cheora (Toll the curfew).” The fact was, of course, that Jeong did not have a son named In Gyeong-cheol. Legend has it that Jeong had a son name Beom, and the anecdote related to this son demonstrates Jeong’s offbeat sense of humor. Jeong was drinking at a tavern when one of his servants came running with news of his son Beom’s death. Jeong showed no sign of grief, however, and made a joke, asking who the hunter was that had caught the tiger, also “beom” in Korean.

Jeong Man-seo is one of Korean folk culture’s tricksters, liminal characters who do not merely play tricks but transcend the boundaries or conventions of human society. He is also a loafer-type character, who wanders around without possession, no cares about making a living. He can also be called a scoundrel, since he makes money by tricking people, but Jeong’s actions suggest that he was not simply a scoundrel: He sometimes finds pleasure purely in making mischief, even if it does not bring him gain, and when he responds with a joke to the news of his son’s death, it seems like an attempt to use laughter to overcome painful reality, defying the perspective of ordinary people. Jeong’s competence as a trickster is clearly demonstrated in the anecdote about the fake funeral, for it is far more difficult to deceive close acquaintances in one’s hometown than strangers in an unfamiliar place—Jeong was able to pull it off only because he was an ace trickster unbound by social conventions or taboos.

Jeong Man-seo shares many similarities with other trickster characters from Korean culture including Kim Seon-dal and Bang Hak-jung, but possesses clear differences as well. Compared to Kim Seon-dal, who was a careful schemer, Jeong is more random and reckless. Another of Jeong’s distinct characteristic is his use of wordplay and his eloquence: verbal skills are found in other tricksters as well but Jeong’s clearly stand out, especially when it comes to puns.

There are various reasons behind the long life of the tale of Jeong Man-seo, which has been passed down for ages, the biggest being its element of fun and humor. In the many versions of this tale, courtesans are often featured as greedy women, and the story of these characters being hoaxed out of their money offers a cathartic experience.