by Patrick Jerry


A style of Korean folk painting that depicts plants and birds. Highly realistic depictions of flora and fauna are coupled with deep symbolic meaning based on qualities attributed to the birds and plants depicted. For example, because ducks mate for life, and do not seek new mates after their partner dies, they represent familial happiness and the love between spouses. Hwajodo is often used as a symbol of a couple’s love because Hwajodo paintings generally depict birds in pairs or with their young. Additionally, Hwajodo has a specific set of rules that defines which birds should be depicted with which plants. For example, cranes (representing longevity) are always paired with pine trees (representing integrity). (Yoon, 2002)


Often regarded as the feminine counterpart to Hwajodo, Chochungdo (or Ch'och'ungdo) paintings symbolically depict plants and animals, but where Hwajodo focuses on tall, sturdy trees and birds, Chochungdo focuses on delicate insects, flowers, and annual plants. Chochungdo paintings were said to instill spiritual quiet in the viewer, and could often be found in the wife’s room in a Korean home. Chochungdo paintings are divided into a number of subcategories based on what they depict: wonsodo (vegetables and fruiting branches), ch’unggumdo ( birds and insects), sungjopdo (flies and butterflies), pongsondo (bees and cicadas), and paekjobdo (one hundred butterflies). (Yoon, 2002)


Shipjangsangdo (or Shipchangsaengdo) paintings convey the early Korean desire for longevity, that is the desire to live a long and healthy life. In Shipjangsangdo, this desire is communicated through the depiction of objects associated with longevity in Korean culture. The ten objects most commonly associated with longevity are the sun, clouds, rocks, water, pine trees, bamboo, red-crested cranes, deer, turtles, and immortal’s fungus. The origin of Shipchangsaengdo painting is said to lie in the Koryo dynasty, when a sick man hung images of and wrote poems about these items, because of their association with health. Shipjangsangdo paintings can be difficult to classify, as the ten items listed above are only the most commonly depicted items, and cultural differences may result in other items representing health and longevity. (Yoon, 2002)


Meant to act as talismans against evil spirits, Yongsudo paintings depict divine animals said to act as guardians. The paintings have different purposes based on the qualities of the divine animals depicted. For example, paintings of the sashindo (the four animals that guard the cardinal directions) are meant to protect the dead from evil spirits, based in Chinese spiritual principles that were central to Korean life. Yongsudo paintings of the rooster were hung to chase away evil spirits while bringing light and happiness (because of how the rooster crows to meet the dawn), while pictures of the hen were said to aid in the prosperity of one’s descendants (symbolized in the hen’s ability to produce large numbers of eggs). (Yoon, 2002)


Also known as Munchado, these paintings depict Chinese characters and symbolic objects based around a particular theme in the hope that displaying them would help the individual to realize the depicted quality in their own life. Moonjado paintings incorporate symbolic objects into the design of the characters they depict, overlaying them on top of the character or in some cases replacing lines in the character with objects of a similar shape. Moonjado paintings were exclusively possessed by the upper classes until the 1800s. The specific subject matter of Moonjado paintings varies according to the themes they are designed to convey. For example Moonjado paintings based on filial piety, or hyojedo, may incorporate the bamboo shoot or the carp into the character hyo, as those objects are associated with filial piety in Korean folklore. (Yoon, 2002)


All Hodo paintings have tigers as their subject matter, though the role and symbolism of the tiger depicted can vary widely from painting to painting. For example, some Hodo paintings also fall into the Yongsudo genre, as they depict the White Tiger, guardian of the West, one of the four sashindo whose image could dispel evil spirits. The majority of Hodo paintings seem to be depictions of Korean folklore involving the tiger. Hojakdo paintings depict the tiger, the magpie, and the pine tree, prominent elements of a traditional Korean tale wherein a woodcutter relies on the wise magpie to escape being eaten by an ungrateful tiger that he rescued. (Yoon, 2002)


Chaekgado paintings depict books, stationery, and other objects of scholarship to convey the scholar’s desire to seek knowledge and virtue. Chaekgado paintings could also depict items not specifically associated with learning (for example, wine bottles and tobacco holders) as long as those items would not be out of place in the home’s study. Additionally, chaekgado paintings were also placed in children’s rooms to encourage them to seek scholarly ideals. These children’s chaekgado paintings would depict items more appropriate for children while still maintaining a scholarly character. (“Chaekgado”, 2013)