Body and Ki in GiCheon: Practices of Self-Cultivation in Contemporary Korea

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Abstract:

Industrial growth and the development of the new middle class in South Korea of the 1980s went together with increased consumption and leisure culture, causing growing concerns with health and personal self-cultivation. Accordingly, sŏngin undong (sports for adults), mountain hiking and ki suryŏn were on the rise.

People of older generations have lived through Korea’s dramatic transformation from a mostly rural society to an industrial one. Their yearning for the past, in which the “past” is idealized and imagined anew, is directly connected to old Korean mountain culture of immortality, a touchstone of cultural authenticity.

Together with an image of rural “old Korea” in the minds of contemporary people, it becomes a source of inspiration in re-inventing tradition in the spirit of nationalism. This tendency is expressed in new religious and spiritual movements that matured toward the 1980s. Ki suryŏn is an important part of these spiritual-social phenomena. The author Victoria Ten (Jeon Yeon Hwa) is a teacher of GiCheon, one of these ki suryŏn disciplines, which she researches at academia, combining this with the profession of a lawyer.

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