Ainu, Anthropomorphism, China, Confucianism, Feminity, Fox, Fox Spirit, Genital Retraction Syndrome, Huli Jing, immortality, Japan, Ji Yun, Joseph Campbell, King of the Nine Mountains, Kitsune, Korea, Koro, Kumiho, Kuo Po, Liao Tsai Chi Yi, Masculinity, Michel Foucault, Nihonkoku Genpō Zen'aku Ryōiki, Notebook from the Thatched Cottage of Close Scrutiny, parasitism, Qing Dynasty, sexuality, Shinto, Trickster, Vampirism, Wu Lun
The fox is a curious mythological figure, almost universally representing sexual desire, cunning, and trickery, and while fox status in relation to humans ranges from benign to malevolent, Far Eastern myths of the fox spirit are peculiarly tinged with eroticism. For European mythological traditions, “in pre-Christian times the fox was seen as a symbol of gods, for example, as a symbol of the god of vegetation or as a symbol of forest and mountain spirits. This changed in Christian times, where after the fox was seen as a demonic creature. The fox is a very famous figure in fables and usually is described as greedy, dishonest and tricky. At the same time, of all the helpful animals in fairy tales, the fox is said to be the most helpful one. Most fables tell about how the fox tricks other animals to get food, but no legends or fairy tales have been found telling about the fox attacking humans” (Wallner, 1998, p.31). Native American mythology places the fox firmly in the category of the trickster spirit. Scholars disagree as to whether the fox spirit arose sui generis in China, Japan, and Korea as unique cultural symbols within each folk corpus, or whether there was significant symbolic cross-fertilization, but the amorous yearning of fox spirits are a central feature of all three cultural traditions. Curiously, where the fox spirit of China (Huli Jing, literally “exquisite fox”, is modern Mandarin/Cantonese profanity for a woman who seduces another woman’s romantic partner) is the most distinctly integrated into human society (your neighbor could be a fox spirit and you might play cards and have drinks with them), the Japanese fox spirit called Kitsune is more clearly deified, and its stance towards humans is more ambivalent (although fox erotic seduction of humans still figures prominently), and the Korean fox spirit called Kumiho, also busy seducing humans, is decidedly malign and demonic.
In order to better understand the amorous Asian fox spirit in its Chinese, Japanese, and Korean incarnations, we must first examine the structural function of mytho-eroticism. Foucault in rejection of the Freudian conception that maintained that the major motivator in the development of civilization was the balance of Eros with man’s aggressive instincts, and a yearning for a mythological unity, wrote, “Sexuality must not be described as a stubborn drive, by nature alien and of necessity disobedient to a power which exhausts itself trying to subdue it and often fails to control it entirely. It appears instead as an especially dense transfer point for the relations of power: between men and women, young people and old people, parents and offspring, teachers and students, priests and laity, an administration and a population. Sexuality is not the most intractable element in power relations, but rather one of those endowed with the greatest instrumentality: useful for the greatest number of maneuvers and capable of serving as a point of support, as a linchpin, for the most varied strategies” (Foucault, 1978, p.103). If in addition, we assume that Joseph Campbell’s four suggested purposes of mythology for humanity are reasonable, if overgeneralized – that is, mythology gives us the feeling of something transcendent and divine in our everyday lives, renders an image of the universe, validates and maintain an established order, and psychologically centers and harmonizes an individual, then mytho-eroticism expresses both our desires as well as our perceived boundaries. This is not an argument for the social construction of sexuality, rather that when our myths involve erotic components (and it is exceedingly trite, analytically unproductive, and inaccurate to dismiss this by simply observing that sex and violence were more prevalent for ancient man), the eroticism references justifications, explanations, mitigating factors, and consequence of transgression of cultural norms at a given time, and a given place. Thus, when a myth’s origin can be situated in a particular era, it is very illuminating in regards to what was considered transgressive. What is infinitely more interesting to me is the variation across time and culture in a given symbol for sexual transgression. Even more fascinating is the relationship between sexual transgression and the “sacred horror” of mythological monsters, particularly when the monsters are so similar across three cultures, except in regards to their moral character, as in the Huli Jing, Kitsune, and Kumiho.
Before deeper examinations of the Huli Jing, Kitsune, and Kumiho, a few observations on historical relations between the fox symbol in China, Korea, and Japan. Some scholars have maintained that the Kitsune is a wholly an import of the Huli Jing into Chinese culture, as the conceptions are remarkably similar, but this reflects more on a tendency to want to see connections where they may not exist. Foxes are native species in both China and Japan, and tracing the fox-spirit myths to the arrival of Buddhism from China in Japan is unnecessary, as Ainu (aboriginal Japanese) myths with foxes as central characters existed long before the appearance of Buddhism (Johnson, 1974, p.35). Korean traditions are more problematic, as the fox spirit tales we have were largely oral traditions, compiled in a literary form at a much later date, but there is no reason to necessarily assume that cultural overlays imported from China or Japan were the source of the fox-spirit myths, as in all three cases, the oral traditions for the fox are exceedingly ancient. Additionally, since foxes are almost universally regarded as cunning tricksters and seducers wherever they are a native species (and a fox or fox-like species is present on nearly every continent), the impetus behind the signification would seem to be rooted in the ecological niche of the fox, rather than a global diffusion of symbolism. The fox is an exceedingly quick, curious, intelligent (smarter than dogs and wolves), and adaptable animal which no doubt led to its importance as a symbol of cleverness in most cultures. Look at a picture of a fox and if we were to apply an anthropomorphic appellation to its expression, most people would say that the fox looks like its grinning at us, which explains the cross-cultural association with trickster mythology. The role of the seducer (appearing in the Christianized symbolism through association with the Devil) in Europe is a late addition, whereas, the amorous fox is evident in very early renditions of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean folklore.
The Chinese Huli Jing is analogous in its cultural representation to European fairies. It is neither good, nor bad, manifesting both examples of extreme kindness, as well as enormous cruelty. The Huli Jing are thought to be immortal (which they achieve by stealing human life force through sex, released during orgasm), magical shape-shifters, particularly enjoying morphing into human form and seducing unsuspecting humans. While predominantly female in Chinese folklore, there are also numerous examples of male fox spirits. In traditional Chinese medical lore, fox spirits are responsible for Koro, a culture-specific syndrome noted in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual, also known as Genital Retraction Syndrome. Despite their apparent vampiric need for human life force in order to sustain their immortality, the Chinese characterization of the fox spirit has numerous positive aspects. “Chinese foxes are earnest scholars, dedicated rakes, devoted lovers, seductresses par excellence, tricksters, poltergeists, drinking companions, karmic avengers, and always, always great moralizers” (http://academia.issendai.com/). While regarded as mischievous and perhaps sly, the fox is thusly accorded great respect in terms of intelligence, devotion, and the quality of its company. The behavior of the fox is relegated more to the realm of playing “pranks” than to evil intent. The main goal of the fox seems to be to seduce. Despite the somewhat ambiguous attitude towards the fox-spirit, the element of parasitism is clearly evident, as the fox spirit must find a human and induce them to fall in love, since only through copulation can it maintain its immortality, and ultimately the fox’s love interest will die from this relationship.
At the age of fifty, a fox can change into a woman. At the age of a hundred, it can change into a beautiful girl or a wizard or a man who seduces women; it can know about happenings a thousand li distant; it can bewitch people, leading them astray and causing them to lose their wits. At the age of a thousand, it can communicate with heaven and become a celestial fox. (Kuo Po, 324 A.D.)
There was a man surnamed Li living in T’sao Chou. He possessed the greatest wealth in town. Behind his mansion, he had an empty lot which was going to waste. One day, an old man came to him and offered to rent the property with one hundred pieces of gold. Li refused on the ground that the lot had no house on it. The old man said “Please accept the money and don’t worry about the rest.” Li didn’t understand, but he accepted the money just to see what would happen. After several days, the old man came to him and said “I already moved in, but we’re so busy setting up our new household that we neglected good manners. Today, my children shall prepare a banquet for you, the landlord. We hope you will grace us with your presence.” Li went to the lot and, to his surprise, discovered a brand new mansion there. As he entered, he saw that the inside was lavishly decorated and furnished. Jugs of wine lined the walkways and the scents of good tea wafted from the kitchen. As the banquet began, he was toasted by the old man. The wine tasted of the finest vintage. He saw and heard many men, women and children, maybe more than a hundred in total, living in the mansion. He then knew they could not be ordinary human beings, but fox spirits. As he returned from the banquet, he returned with death in his heart. He bought sulfur and other flammable material from the city market and, with the help of his servants, secretly placed them all around the new mansion. When he was finished, he ignited it. The fire blazed and sent black smoke upward toward the heavens like a black and evil mushroom. The smell of burning flesh and the screams of the dying filled the senses. When the fire died, he and his servants went into the wreckage. There they found the charred bodies of hundreds of dead foxes. While he was inspecting the carnage, the old man entered the mansion. The old man’s face was contorted with grief and anger. He said “I have never wronged you. I gave you hundreds pieces of gold in good faith. That is not a small amount of money. How can you bury your conscience and slaughter us! I must avenge the cruel deaths of my family.” Then the old man left. Li thought the old man would just try some supernatural tricks on his family, such as throwing bricks at his house, but years passed and nothing happened.
Then tens of thousands of bandits gathered in a nearby mountain. The local officials could not gather enough forces to suppress them. Li worried about the safety of his large family as well as his rather large fortune. Then an astrologer who called himself the Old Man of Southern Mountain arrived at the town. The astrologer became famous because he seemed to know everything and everything he predicted came true. Li invited the astrologer to his home and asked his future fortunes. The astrologer stood up from his seat in respect and said “This is the true emperor!” Li was both afraid and astonished. Then he accused the astrologer of lying. The astrologer said “Since ancient times, all the dynasties are founded by emperors who came from common birth. Who among them are born emperor?” Li began to believe him. The astrologer offered to become Li’s military advisor and asked him to prepare armor and weapons. Li worried that no one will follow him. The astrologer said “I will go into the mountains and speak for the true emperor. I shall tell them of your grand destiny and the bandits will surely follow you.” Li became glad and sent the astrologer along. Li than began to prepare as the astrologer instructed. The astrologer returned a few days later and said “Your great prestige, plus my tongue have convinced all the bandits to follow you.” Li looked outside and saw thousands ready to follow him, so he made the astrologer into his chief advisor. He then made a great banner, proclaiming his own imperial status. He then fortified his positions in the mountains and the sound of his name shook the neighboring prefectures. When the prefecture sent an army against, Li’s army, the astrologer led the defense and easily destroyed the small government army. The prefecturl magistrate became sorely afraid and asked for help from the principality magistrate. The principality magistrate dispatched a larger and better equipped army. That army went into an ambush prepared by the astrologer and was again destroyed. The prestige of Li became great and his army swelled. He then styled himself the King of Nine Mountains. The astrologer told Li that the army needed horses. He told Li of a caravan transporting imperial horses from the capital. Li ambushed the caravan and took all the horses. His prestige swelled still more and so did his pride. Li now gave the astrologer the title of Lord Protector. As for himself, he believed that he would soon wear the dragon robe. The provincial governor was very alarmed by his robbery of the imperial horses. He received reinforcement from the imperial government. He divided his army into six columns and attacked Tsao Chou. The banner of the imperial army filled the mountain valleys around the King’s fortress. The King of Nine Mountains became afraid and asked the astrologer for more advice, but his subordinates could not find the astrologer. The great king looked down on his enemies and said “I never realized how powerful the imperial government is.” Soon, his fortress was broken and he was captured. Because he commited the crime of attempted usurpation as well as banditry, Li and his entire family were executed. It was only then he realized that the astrologer was the old fox he betrayed (Liao Tsai Chi Yi, “King of the Nine Mountains”, Qing Dynasty).
The rise of Confucian standards that emphasize the importance of the social hierarchy and familial order originate in China. The Confucian model of social harmony was based on the Wu Lun (the 5 relationships) of ruler to subject, father to son (and mother to daughter), husband to wife, elder to younger, and friend to friend, which identified structured and clear social parameters for the relationship of feminity to masculinity. These relations, although clearly hierarchical and subordinating women to men are characterized by a high degree of reciprocity, that is, mutual obligations entailed even in subordination. It seems that we can see the notion of reciprocity as fundamental to understanding the characterization of the fox spirit, who depending on treatment can be generous or vindictive. The notion of mutual obligation is nascent in the ambivalent attitude towards fox spirits. Much like the faeries of Europe, the social interaction between human and fox spririt is the true determinant of the outcome. Thus we see the nature of a Huli Jing in any given fox spirit story to be directly related to the behavior of humans towards the Huli Jing i.e. love reciprocates love, betrayal is reciprocated by vengeance.
The Japanese Kitsune also seduces humans, but their depiction is of devoted lovers, friends, and faithful wives, and as the Chinese Huli Jing, with age, their wisdom and magic increases. The older and wiser a fox spirit is, the more tails it has, with a nine-tailed fox being the pinnacle of divinity. Over time, the Kitsune became closely associated with Inari Okami, depicted as messengers of the Shinto spirit of fertility, agriculture, industry and worldly success. The Kitsune are regarded as romantic figures, and numerous stories of young men unknowingly marrying a Kitsune emphasize the devotion of the fox spirit, often a human child is borne of this union and is endowed with supernatural abilities. There is a distinct trend in fox spirit folktales for the man to be the deceived party, but more importantly, fox-spirits tend to “possess” women. We do see this in some elements of Huli Jing traditions, but it is far more concrete in Kitsune lore. Interestingly, the possession is not regarded as entirely malign.
It was very long ago. The Emperor Kinmei reigned over this country. A man lived in Minonokuni (Gifu prefecture). One day, he rode on a horse and went out to looking for a beautiful girl. By chance, in a spacious field, he met a lovely girl. This woman looked bewitching and coquettish. She was trying to entice the man with her charm. She approached him in familiar manner. The heart of the man was filled with joy, so, he gave her a wink. He asked, “I say ! Where are you going?” The woman answered, “Well, I’m going around looking for a nice husband.” Then, the man asked her, “Could you be my wife? “The woman accepted his proposal. ” Yes. I will be. ” The man came back to his house accompanied by this woman. They got married, lived together. The passage of months, several days elapsed. The woman became pregnant and gave a birth to one boy on the day 15 December. Well, well, in the same day, on the same time, a bitch that the man kept bore young. This puppy, day by day, when he looked at this woman, he opposed her, felt hostility toward her, was angry at her, growled, bearing his teeth. The puppy barked at her, flaring up. The woman was very frightened, trembled with fear. One day, she entreated her husband. “My dear……, kill, beat that puppy ! Please ! ” But, her husband, of pity for this puppy, he could not decide to kill it. The time had passed, it was from February to March. It was the season of rice polishing for refine it in a mortar. At the time, the wife entered in a mortar cabin to prepare afternoon snacks for young girl workers. Suddenly, the mother bitch of the puppy, began to pursue with growl. Barking, flying into a rage, jumped, sprang on the woman. The woman was in fear, trembled with terror. At once, she transformed herself into vixen, immediately run away, climbed onto a bamboo basket, and sat on it. Her husband’s eyes caught her. He said to her, “My dear, …… I love you……, honey…… We… you and I, we are living together, we are going well, having good close friendship……, don’t we ? Luckily, we were blessed with a child like this ! I never forget you…… Come to me, as you want to see me, anytime…… I want press you to my breast, in my heart. I ardently wait for you……” And. Thus, that’s why a vixen often visited this house and met a man who was her husband. She had remembered his words. So, she stayed at night with him. Since then, this woman was named kitsune (ki-tsu-ne) which meant “come, love, sleep”. One day, this wife came to his husband. She wore a beautiful long skirt colored pink of dawn. Her skirt was shading into a dreamy rose. She had an air elegant, grace. And…, she went away somewhere no one knows. Swaying in the wind, she disappeared from view with her long beautiful skirt of rose. After that days, the husband never forgot her. He longed for her figure, embraced her in his deep mind. He had been lovesick. He composed one love poem and sang it for her: “In my heart, has been left entangled many languorous paths, because of you; you left far away, fading away in the faint sun shine; eternally, I miss you”. So, The boy who was born of the man and his wife vixen named “Ki-tsu-ne”. He also called “Kitsune no Atae” : fox officer. This boy was so strong, herculean, run very fast as speed of a bird in flight. Here is, the origin of the name of “Kitsune no Atae” (Nihonkoku Genpō Zen’aku Ryōiki, 8th Century A.D.)
Historically, Japan developed a very different view of sexuality than China, where monogamy was prized and the Confucian view of marriage dominated. Monogamy was historically not as obviously emphasized, prostitution was considered far more acceptable, and acceptable pornography is evident as early as the Edo period (1603-1808). Women held a remarkably different historical status in Japan, Shinto offering greater elements of women’s empowerment, although this has varied over time due to the important, but not overwhelming influence of imported Confucian doctrines. Despite the myths we have about the women of Japan in the West, traditionally, “It is argued that once you go beyond the surface of Japanese society and mingle with Japanese women and men on a personal basis, you realize it is, in fact, women who run men not the other way around. We are told the Japanese housewife holds and exercises dictatorial power over household affairs and enjoys unlimited autonomy” (Lebra, 1984, p.IX). While this may be something of an exaggeration, it is clear that the status of women in Japan involves a higher degree of empowerment, at least in terms of the social structure, although this may be hidden under rituals of subordination. This do we see our familiar fox spirit characterized as an individual, an autonomous creature with its own wants, needs, emotional expectations, and the ability to develop meaningful relationships with humans. Some elements of this appear in the extensive Chinese literature of the Huli Jing, but Huli Jing mythology places a great deal more emphasis on cause and effect. Is this the difference between female sexuality as a platonic ideal and female sexuality in reality? The Huli Jing is an archetype for desired behavior, while the Kitsune is the archetype for complex sexual relations in reality.
The Korean Kumiho is an entirely different kind of creature in contrast with the Huli Jing and Kitsune. “In Korean folklore the fox is female, sexually deviant, a demon, and a cannibal. She is a genuine man-eater consuming men’s flesh literally and figuratively. Her overt sexuality is something that men cannot control, so they seek to eliminate her. Men will also sexually assault her in order to reveal her animalistic nature. Some stories use the symbolic ripping of the fox-woman’s clothing to portray this” (Hong, 2012, p.7).
There was once a wealthy man who had a son but no daughter. So badly did he want a daughter that he spent much of his time praying at temples and consulting fortunetellers. Finally, his prayers were answered and a girl was born: she was the apple of her fathers’ eye and could do no wrong. When she was fifteen years old, the girl went mushrooming on the mountainside and was so engaged in her task that she did not notice the gathering shadows of dusk. Meanwhile, at home, her parents were becoming anxious, and they formed a search-party to comb the hills. However, just as they reached the top of a ridge they spotted the girl through the gloom in the valley below. Her father was much relieved. ‘Where have you bee, my dear?’ asked her father ‘We were so worried for you; a wild beast could have killed you.’ ‘Forgive me, Father,’ she replied. ‘I was so tired I fell asleep beneath a bush; when I awoke the sun was already going down.’ The incident was soon forgotten. But a few days later a strange thing happened: one of the master’s cows died in the night. Next night another died, then another. The bodies showed no sign of wound or illness. The master was so concerned he ordered the cowherd to keep watch all through the night to catch the culprit. That night, the man hid behind some hay in the corner of the cowshed and waited patiently. At midnight he was astonished to see the master’s daughter creep into the shed and approach a cow. Anxiously he watched her oil her hands and arms with sesame oil; then to his horror, she slipped her arm into the cow’s belly and pulled out its liver. And she ate it. The poor cow rolled over and died. In the morning the cowherd went to the master and recounted all he had seen. The father, who loved his daughter with all his hear, shouted angrily at the man, ‘How dare you invent such wicked stories against my daughter. You will pay for these lies.’ And the man was dismissed. Next night a second cowherd was set to guard the cows. He too hid behind some hay and witnessed the daughter’s odd conduct: she oiled her hands and arms, thrust one arm into the cow’s belly, pulled out the liver and ate it. And the cow rolled over and died. Next morning he went to the master and told him the story. The father still would not believe such tales of his beloved daughter. So the man was dismissed. A third herdsman spent the night in the cowshed and reported all he had seen. He too was sacked. Thus it continued: each night a cow died. Then, when no cows were left, the pigs began to die, and then the horses all of the same mysterious ailment. In the end, all the cowherds, swineherds, and stable boys were dismissed and no one from the village would work for the rich man. All that was left of the once-mighty herd of cattle was a solitary old horse.
Next night, the master sent his only son to solve the mystery. The young man concealed himself behind some hay and kept watch. In the middle of the night he heard footsteps and the barn door opened. It was his sister stealthily entering. In his relief, he was about to cry out to her. Yet something in her look stopped him: her eyes were sly and narrow, her thin lips cruelly curled, her face stony and stern. He stared in disbelief as she greased her arms and thrust them into the horse’s belly, pulling out its liver. With blood dripping from her lips, she then chewed and swallowed the steaming meat. He dared not breath until she had returned to the house. At dawn he called his father into the barn and showed him the dead horse. ‘Father,’ he said grimly, ‘you will not like what you hear; but I must tell you the truth. It is my sister. She it is who came in the night and ate the horse’s liver.’ His father stared at him with hurt and anger in his eyes. He was silent for a moment, then shouted at his son, ‘you must be madly jealous of you sister to make up such tales. No doubt you fell asleep and had a nightmare. Get out of my sight, I don’t want you in my house.’ Not knowing where to go, the disconsolate son wandered off into the hills. After several months he came upon an old monk struggling across a mountain stream. Having helped the monk to safety, he was invited to stay the night at a nearby temple. And there he told the story of this sister. The old man nodded sadly. ‘Yes, I understand,’ he said. ‘That night, when your sister was in the hills, she must have been eaten by a fox who took her form, the very likeness of your sister. So it was really the fox who killed the animals.’ ‘Then I must return at once,’ the lad exclaimed, ‘and warn my parents.’ ‘I fear it is too late,’ said the old monk. ‘Morning is wiser than evening. Set out tomorrow.’ Next morning, the young man was given three small bottles: red, green, and blue. ‘Take this horse,’ said the monk, ‘and use the bottles as I have instructed.’ With that the boy thanked the monk and rode off down the mountain track. It was several days before he arrived home. Once there, he could hardly believe his eyes: the house and yard were overgrown with weeds. And there, in the middle of the yard, was his sister, sitting in the sun, catching lice and worms, and eating them. ‘My dear brother,’ she cried on seeing him. ‘Where have you been all these months? How I’ve missed you.’ She went to hug and kiss him, but he drew back in alarm. Where are Father and Mother?’ he asked. ‘They lie in their graves,’ she replied, giving no explanation for their deaths. Realizing that she had eaten them too, the young man knew he had to escape before she killed him as well but how? Suddenly he had an idea. ‘Dear Sister, I have come a long way and I’m very hungry,’ he said. ‘Could you prepare a meal?’ He thought he would escape while she was cooking. But the fox girl was cunning. ‘Assuredly, dear Brother. But I shall tie a rope to your leg and the other end to my waist.’ She left him in the yard while she went to prepare some food; every now and then she tugged on the rope to make sure he had not run away. After some time he managed to undo the knot, tie the rope to a gatepost and ride swiftly away on his horse. It was some time before the fox girl realized she had been tricked.
She rushed after him with the speed of a fox and it was not long before she was gaining on him. He glanced back and, to his horror, saw her rapidly catching him up, reaching out her hand to grasp his horse’s tail. Recalling the old monk’s instructions, he swiftly took the little red bottle from his pocket and threw it behind him. The bottle instantly burst into a ball of red fire, blocking the fox girl’s path. Although the flames singed her hair and clothes, she raced round the fire and was soon overtaking her brother again. This time he threw down the green bottle and straightaway a dense green bush of brambles sprang up, barring her way. Although she was scratched and bleeding from the thorns, she fought her way through and began to catch up with the fleeing brother. Just as she was about to grab the horse’s tail, however, he took out the blue bottle and desperately cast it behind him. This time it formed a mighty blue lake that soon engulfed the fox girl who splashed and thrashed in the water before sinking below the waves. As the brother watched from the shore, he saw the dead body of the fox float to the surface of the lake. At last he had killed the fox who had taken his sister’s form (Korean Folktale).
Korea, highly patriarchal to begin, with adopted the Confucian attitudes towards sexuality, and later Christian attitudes. Korea has historically been far more rigid about the status of women, and female sexuality that either Japan or China. “Throughout Korean history, a woman’s self-worth and honor were measured by her chastity and adherence to men. Females have consistently been expected to be obedient, fertile, impalpable, and above all, sexually abstinent. The kisaengs, however, contradicted Korean expectations for women; for hundreds of years, they served as sexually promiscuous performing artists who offered intelligent and charming company to wealthy and influential men. Due to the influx of foreigners in the twentieth century, kisaengs, whose colorful personalities and beauty set them apart for centuries, were reduced to the same status as common prostitutes. Unprecedented demand for sexual services caused the South Korean prostitution industry to expand, and despite the emphasis placed on sexual abstinence and chastity, millions of men frequented red-light districts while thousands of women found employment in sexually oriented establishments. Due to this, the role of kisaengs greatly decreased but the Korean fixation with sexual abstinence remained. Although the kisaengs contradicted traditional Korean expectations concerning females and chastity, their existence is indicative of the emotional and sexual oppression that has pervaded throughout Korean history” (Maynes, 2011, p.1). Hence we see the absolute demonization of female sexuality in the character of the Korean Kumiho fox spirit.
The fox spirit appears in these three cultures as an erotic figure, a seducer noted for its hyper-sexuality and attraction to humans, either theologically, emotionally, or parasitically, but where the motivations of the Huli Jing are complex, the Kitsune are vaguely romantic, and the Kumiho absolutely malevolent. The depiction of the fox spirit is highly dependent on the status of women and the regard for sexual power in a specific cultural milieu. The fox spirit, in its complex motivations appear to us as an analogue for the complexity of human male-female relations, or as aptly observed in 1789 by Ji Yun in Notebook from the Thatched Cottage of Close Scrutiny “Humans and beasts are different species, but foxes are between humans and beasts. The dead and the living walk different roads, but foxes are between the dead and the living. Transcendents and monsters travel different paths, but foxes are between transcendents and monsters. Therefore one could say to meet a fox is strange; one could also say it is ordinary.” Or in simpler terms, when we meet a fox spirit, we are meeting a reflection of ourselves.
Foucault, Michel. History of Sexuality: Volume 1. Tr. Robert Hurley. New York: Pantheon, 1978.
Hong, Christine J. “Korean Folklore and Implications for Korean-American Women”. UCLA Thinking Gender Conference, 2012.
Lebra, Takie S. Japanese Women: Constraint and Fulfillment. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984.
Maynes, Katrina. “Korean Perceptions of Chastity, Gender Roles, and Libido; From Kisaengs to the Twenty First Century.” Grand Valley Journal of History 1:1, p.1-19, 2011.
Wallner, Astrid. “The Role of Fox, Lynx, and Wolf in Mythology”. From Workshop on Human Dimensions in Large Carnivore Conservation, ed. Dora Strahm. Landshut, Switzerland: KORA, 1998.