Evergreens in Wintry Days: Saehando

National Museum of Korea – January 2021

Leaflet of the Saehando exhibition

Saehan (歲寒) means a sturdy mind during cold wintry days like a songbaek (松栢) – a white pine tree. It means a hope to survive hard days. 

             As the political power weakened by the Andong Kim family, Kim Jeong-hui lost in a war and exiled to Jeju island in Korea. He spent 8 years and 4 months in Jeju and was tired of living foreign and poor life. He endured isolated lifestyle and weakening mind thanks to his friends, and letters and books sent by his family. His disciple Lee Jung-suk had consistently sent him books to read for him to stay strong. Kim Jeong-hui was inspired by his disciple’s unshakable loyalty and painted the Saehando. 

             The whole scroll of the Saehando is 14.695m long, and traditionally patterned silk is wraped around the scroll. The Saehando has multiple authors with 4 sections, where the 2nd part is Kim Jeong-hui’s painting of Saehan. The other parts include 16 reviews from the Qing dynasty’s Chinese, and 4 reviews from Koreans. The most important part of Kim Jeong hui’s painting and poem is the 2nd part of this long scroll, where the painting is drawn with a dry brush to roughly paint the pine trees to illustrate the arid wintry days. I have only seen the Saehando in history textbooks before, and seeing this great work with my own eyes was very valuable. I could hardly imagine how hard it would be to endure such difficult times, and how hard it would be to express them in just words and paintings. The words on the left of the painting describe Kim Jeong-hui’s thankfulness towards his disciple for his unchanging loyalty even when Kim was an exile. From a very rich family, Kim must have gotten through a tougher time than one could imagine, and to him, his disciple might have been a silver lining in a dark cloud. 

             The 4th part of the scroll consists of the Koreans’ review of earlier history. It tells the story of how Son Jae-hyung had gone to Japan even in a rough time such as the Pacific War to save this Saehando. Son had gone to Tokyo multiple times to get the Saehando back in Korea but he was rejected. However, after 2 months of repetitive visiting, he could retrieve the Saehando back to Korea in December 1944. Soon, the US raided Tokyo. If Son didn’t manage to bring the Saehando back, perhaps there wouldn’t even be the remains of it today. 

The ownership of the Saehando had changed 10 times and came back to Korea through Son Jae-hyung’s hard work. Recently, his grandson had given his family heirloom Saehando to the National Museum of Korea in 2021, to allow the public to admire this significant work that is praised by renowned men in 3 countries: China, Korea, and Japan. 

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