Culture and Sexuality

It seems somewhat paradoxical how culture immensely affects sexuality when romance is usually between just two individuals. Since people’s perspectives are shaped by environments, at least to certain degrees, the two people in a relationship cannot be free from societies and prejudices. The situation Yun Ch’i-ho was facing in his relationship with Miss Tommie would be an example where he struggles between his instinctive attraction to the American woman, and rationality that gives him reasons not to continue the affair.

His mention, “if there are some things in America that I envy more than others, they are, its beautiful women”[1]  clearly shows his attraction to American women, but his self-consciousness of being a Korean discourages him as written in his diary, “no American girl of social standing, of education and of beauty would condescend to marry me”.

In another diary entry, he wrote, on a day in December 1892, he cut and pasted an article that describes China as “thousand years behind in the race of national progress” [2]. Korea, in its 4000-year long history, was constantly invaded by the superpowers around it, but China was the only country that Korea recognized as superior and considered deserving Korea’s submissive approach. Understanding his country’s history and what its people thought in that time, Yun’s exposure to perspectives like this article in the United States, must had contributed much to his self-consciousness that made him write “Yes, humiliations, mortifications, insult and despair are the conditions or fees for being a Corean!”.

Another factor that probably made Yun Ch’i-ho more self-conscious was probably his own culture, which was, if not more, as discriminative as that of America then. Traditionally Korean people viewed interracial marriages, or ‘blood mixings’ as ‘shame of family’, which is strongly against Yun’s affection for Tommie. Although he was educated in the western world and was attracted to an American woman, he most likely was aware of what his relatives would feel for him to have a foreign wife. Though he wrote “The question is not whether I like or dislike to marry”, it seems Yun was the one who ended the relationship when he “was surprised at [his] own indifference to the girl”, and he “couldn’t possibly persuade [himself] to love her”.

Continuing the relationship with Tommie would had also meant that either Yun or Tommie had to leave his or her country. We do not know whether Yun had any intention of staying in the United States, but he saw the chance of an American woman “leav[ing] happy America to live in the dirty habitations of Corea”, “impossibility”. Yun’s ethnicity and the vast cultural difference between Korea and America of the time probably made his decision unavoidable.

According to the book, ‘A Walk of Modern Korean History’ by Kang Joon Man, Yun Ch’i-ho, before coming to America, was drunk in sixty seven nights and slept with women eleven times between 1885 and 1887 [3]. Kang also wrote that Yun had an obsession of recording his daily lives. Now, it seems lucky for us that Emory had the ‘right’ student who had passion for women and left detailed records of it in foreigner’s eyes.

[1] Romance and Race in the Jim Crow South: Yun Ch’i-ho and the Personal Politics of Christian Reform by Andrew Urban

[2] Yun Ch’i-ho’s personal diaries, 1892



[3] A Walk of Modern Korean History (한국 근대사 산책) (2007) by Kang Joon Man

2 thoughts on “Culture and Sexuality

  1. Humint:
    First, some housekeeping: if you are quoting directly from a work and want to “footnote” it, please put the number AFTER the lines you are quoting. Also, can you include images of the diary entries you refer to (especially the December 1892 references you make above).

    On to the analysis: I think you make a great point about how Yun not only struggled with his own internalized racism (when hearing the derogatory things Americans said about Koreans) but also had to contend with white Americans racism against African Americans and many other people of color (including Asians and perhaps Asian Americans). At the same time, there were racial hierarchies he internalized in Korea and brought with him to Georgia. That is a lot to work through. Lastly, thanks for sharing with us Kang Joon Man’s work about Yun and his wantonly ways.

  2. Alright. I normally put the number after the lines too, but I strangely thought the example of a post you sent through e-mails, had numbers in front of the didn’t.

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