The kisaengs were highly educated performing artists that contradicted the historical view that Korean women should be chaste, quiet, and inconspicuous. Beginning in the twentieth century, kisaengs declined in popularity as sexual services became widely available, and despite the abiding insistence on chastity, millions of Koreans became involved in the prostitution industry. Although the traditional kisaengs have disappeared, the sexual and social oppression that has pervaded throughout Korean history has resulted in the enduring dominance of the prostitution industry. This paper accordingly traces the historical foundation of Korean kisaengs, analyzing the contradictions they posed to traditional values and accounting for the dominance of contemporary Korean prostitution and sexuality.

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