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Blood Bamboo

Attributed to Yang Gi-hun (artist name: Seokyeon) Korean

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 233

Bamboo’s long-standing association with integrity and perseverance attains deeper significance in this work made against the turbulent backdrop of the Korean Empire. The title alludes to events following the Eulsa Treaty (1905) that stripped Korea of diplomatic autonomy, making it a protectorate of Japan. After the Korean politician Min Young-hwan (1861–1905), who ardently opposed the treaty, died by suicide, bamboo shoots reportedly grew through the floorboards under his blood-stained clothes. Bearing forty-five leaves, echoing Min’s age, and believed to have been nurtured by his blood, the plant was christened hyeoljuk, or “blood bamboo.”

The Korean Daily News (Daehan maeil sinbo) commissioned a painting on the theme from Yang Gi-hun, published on July 17, 1906, that inspired additional versions. This example, with its vital and rooted plant against an unadorned backdrop, stands as a powerful statement of incorruptibility and resistance.

Blood Bamboo, Attributed to Yang Gi-hun (artist name: Seokyeon) (Korean, born 1843–?), Hanging scroll: ink and color on silk, Korea

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