(Bell Essay 5) The Ancient Korean Bell and Magoism by Helen Hwang

Part V: The Nine Nipples and Korean Magoist Identity

Bell, Yongjusa, Korea
Bell, Yongjusa, Korea

Part V demonstrates the difference in bells of Korea, China, and Japan with regard to the relief of nine nipples. Chinese bells after the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) got away with the nipples wholesale, whereas Japanese bells inaccurately mimicked nine nipples. On the other hand, the nine nipples continued to be sculpted on Sillan Korean bells and throughout history. In fact, the nine nipples became the hallmark of Korean bells.

Why did post-Han China discontinue the nine nipples, a legacy from Shang and Zhou times? What made Japan mimic the nipples on the bell? What does it mean that Korean bells kept the nine nipples intact throughout history? These questions remain unanswered without the framework of the mytho-history of Old Magoism that defines ancient Korea as the creator and defender of Magoism in pre- and proto-Chinese times.

The fact that bells with the nine nipples re-emerged during 7th-8th century Silla (57 BCE-935 CE) is no accident. In fact, it supports the premise that Old Magoism during which Magoist female shamans ruled was revived by Sillan leaders. Silla Koreans took the role of witness to the legacy of Old Magoism before it vanished into the subliminal memory of history once and for all. Like other symbols of the number nine such as the nine dragons, nine-tailed fox, and nine maidens that I have shown in a series of preceding essays, the nine nipples are the cultural/conceptual relic from the bygone Magoist history underlying Sinocentric historiography of East Asia. On one level, the relief of nipples forged on the bells from Korea, China, and Japan in one way or another at some point of history substantiates the cultural influence of Old Magoism across the national boundaries of East Asia. On another level, the fact that the nine nipples characterize Korean bells throughout history suggests the primary association of ancient Koreans with Magoism. Korean bells have served the mission of carrying the cultural memory of Old Magoism.

Let us backtrack a bit and ask: Is it possible to conclude that the Zhou bell was the original model of the Sillan bell? It is dubious to deem that the Sillan bell took the model of the Zhou bell solely. That is primarily because the Sillan bell is far more explicit than the Zhou bell in female symbology. The Zhou bell’s nipples are not even called nipples. Foremost, official history of ancient China has no explanation for the female principle embodied in the nine nipples of Zhou and Shang bells.

It appears that the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) was the landmark that defined China without regard to its attitude toward Old Magoism. The umbilical cord was not only cut off but also used to matricide, marking the birth of full-fledged patriarchy. The bloody hand was washed in falsified historiography. The Han dynasty marks the period of transition from the pseudo-Magoist to the anti-Magoist for China. In other words, China as a political force began, or rather continued, to abandon the legacy of Old Magoism and forged a new identity of patriarchal rulership in writing. In about four centuries thereafter, we find the bells of the Dang dynasty (618-906) utterly non-traditional in style, showing no sign of female symbology.

Bell, Han dynasty
Bell, Han dynasty, China
Bell, 575 CE, Chen China
Bell, Chen dynasty, China, 575 CE
The Jingyun Bell, cast in 711 during the Tang Dynasty. 247 cm high and 6,500 kg
Jingyun Bell, Dang dynasty, 711 CE
(247cm in height and 6,500 kg in weight)
Bell in the Bell Tower of Xian, Ming dynasty, 1384 CE
Bell in the Bell Tower of Xian, Ming dynasty, 1384 CE
Bell, Qing dynasty, 1657
Bell, Qing dynasty, 1657 CE

Protruded knobs are expressed in Jingyun bell cast in 711 CE but hard to associate them with nipples. The number nine symbology is no longer included. Instead, the magnitude in size and weight (247 cm and 6,500 kg) was there to adumbrate what has gone into oblivion, the magical work of epiphany. Discontinuity between Zhou bells and Dang bells cannot be more overt. As seen in above images, Chinese bells of the post-Dang period are adorned in entirely new styles among which the convoluted end-lines are one of the most distinctive features. Creativity without harmony is no ingenuity but an expression of confusion. Power without harmony is only a disguise of fear and guilt. And harmony comes from the Great Goddess, Mago. The contrast of the Dang bell is heightened when it is juxtaposed with the contemporaneous Sillan counterpart.

It is unequivocal that the Sillan Korean bell is closer to the Zhou bell in appearance than the Dang bell to the Zhou bell. Experts may deem this as a corollary that ancient Silla was under the influence of Zhou culture. However, I suggest that both Silla and Zhou took the footstep of the pre-Chinese tradition of Old Magoism. Put differently, there were older models that are not fully exposed at this time. Precisely, Sinocentric thinking is under investigation. On the part of proto-Chinese Korean history, according to mainstream historians, Joseon (2333 BCE-232 BCE) is rendered a myth lacking historicity. Silla not only duly inherited the heritage of Old Magoism but also sought to revive the rule of Old Magoism whose political stance strikingly differed from her contemporaneous neighboring state, Dang China. In fact, the Dang dynasty (618 CE-906 CE) coexisted with the united Silla period (668 CE-936 CE), shorter than the last third of the Silla period (57 BCE-935 CE). What prevents one from thinking that Silla inherited the symbolism of nine nipples directly from pre-Chinese East Asian/Korean Magoist Culture?

Interestingly, Japanese bells have nipples whose numbers are, nonetheless, inconsistent, more than nine. While showing no overt symbology of female sexuality, the Japanese bell displays the nipples in the four corners aligning with its predecessors. In comparison with Korean bells, nonetheless, they are evidently monotonous in artistry. Absent are the breast circumferences as well as the seats for nipples. Neither goddess images nor intricately designed  rinceau designs are employed. However, a hue of mimicry is echoing.

Bell, Chion-in Temple, Japan
Bell, Chion-in Temple, Japan
Bell, Royanji, Kyoto Japan
Bell, Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto, Japan
Bell, Japan 15th C, 天守閣 일본 小田原오다와라城
Bell, 15th C,
castle tower, Odawara, Japan
Bell, Japan, Edo period, 17th-18th C
Bell, Edo period, 17th-18th C, Japan

The lack of originality in Japanese bells seemed plainly noticed by the Japanese themselves upon encountering Korean bells. More than fifty Korean bells were taken to Japan during the colonial period (1910-1945) and even before then and still remain there. Among them, six bells are known from Silla, cast before the 10th century CE. In fact, the bell in Unjuji, Japan, is alleged to be the oldest Sillan bell, perhaps slightly preceding the Sangwonsa bell cast 725 CE.  That the earliest bell of Silla was taken to Unjuji, a temple located in the Izumo region, “the birthplace of the Japanese spirit” suggests the subsequent nature of the Japanese pantheon. [See Notes below for the editor’s comments]. That a large number of Korean bells were taken to Japan warrants the significance of the former not merely as a cultural treasure. It signifies the unspoken competition for the cultural hegemony of East Asia on the part of Japan. Put differently, it reflects the idea that whoever owns the authentic bell of East Asia, s/he is the heir of the Source of East Asian civilization: the Great Goddess, Mago, whose name is kept secret in patriarchal times.     

Distribution of Korean Bells in Japan
Distribution of Korean Bells in Japan
Korean Bell, Unjuji Japan
Korean Bell, Unjuji Temple, Japan
Bell, Japan Goryeo dynasty, 1032
Korean Bell in Japan, Goryeo dynasty, 1032 CE

Female symbology inscribed in Sillan bells continued to be reproduced throughout the forthcoming Korean dynasties, Goryeo (910-1392) and modern Joseon (1392-1910). It is true that small alteration was rendered on the Korean bells of the post-Silla period. The fact that goddess images (celestial nymphs) engraved on the bell were replaced by Buddhist figures gives the impression that the bell was Buddhist rather than Magoist. Nonetheless, the basic structure of Sillan bells remains intact.

Bell, Cheonheungsa,
Goryeo dynasty, 1010 CE
Bell, Goryeo dynasty, Goheung, Jeonnam Korea
Bell, Goryeo dynasty, Goheung, Jeonnam, Korea
Bell, Goryeo dynasty, Ansusa, Sangju Korea
Bell, Goryeo dynasty, Ansusa, Sangju, Korea
Bell, Joseon dynasty, Gokseong, Jeonnam Korea
Bell, Joseon dynasty, Gokseong, Jeonnam, Korea

Korean bells cast during particular times in history reflect the vicissitudes of Korean ethos with regards to Magoism. Art historians may aptly read the epochal spirit of each dynasty subtly expressed in styles and designs. As seen in below images, Korean bells show another innovation in design undertaken in the early 14th century under the influence of Mongolian rule.

Bell, late Goryeo (1392), returned by the Japanese in 1954
Bell, late Goryeo (1392),
returned by the Japanese in 1954
Bell, date unknown, Korea
Bell, date unknown, Korea
Bell with taegeuk, Daehungsa Korea
Bell with taegeuk, Daehungsa Korea
Korean Bell with taegeuk, Japan
Korean Bell with taegeuk, Japan

The design of the Great Ultimate (taegeuk) engraved on the lower body of the bell sheds a fresh insight in that, among others reasons, taegeuk, the familiar symbol in the Korean flag perceived as a modern invention by moderns, proves to be pre-modern. Furthermore, I would say that the entry of the taegeuk design on a bell was an expression of Korean Magoist identity, not the Korean nationalist identity per se. Faced with the crisis of sovereignty under the Mongolian control, late Goryeo Koreans appear to have resorted to Magoism as a unifying ethos for Koreans. Self-affirmation of Magoist identity for Koreans in the face of crises is no new apparatus, however. The very making of bells as the symbol of the Great Goddess, Mago, during the united Silla period itself was a way of coping with domestic and foreign threats, promoting the communal or supra-nationalist (non-nationalist) identity of Korea. Such understanding holds the key to the nature of Korean identity in pre-modern times.

Summarily, the nine nipples, together with the sound control tube and celestial nymphs (see Part II), stand as the authentication of ancient Korean bells having characteristically provided Koreans with the ethos of Magoism in each period. (I do not rule out the existences of Korean bells following the Chinese model. Nonetheless, they are few in number. Most of all, they are recognized as of the “Chinese style.”) In addition, the fact that Korean bells, specifically jong (zhong, the metallic large bell), exceed her Chinese and Japanese counterparts by far in number corroborates my assessment that ancient Koreans were the primary bearer of Magoism.


Editor’s note by Rosemary Mattingley:

The following link should go to the very brief English description of Unjuji temple and the fact that it has a Korean bell. The organisation has put together a pilgrimage of 20 Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in the Shimane and Tottori Prefectures, on the Japan Sea side of Japan. In these prefectures is the Izumo area, where the first goddess and god (Izanami and Izanagi) of Japan appeared. Maybe significant that this bell ended up there?

The main Buddhist figures of the temple include the Kannon of conceiving and rearing children, and 地蔵, who is the guardian deity of children and of aborted or miscarried children. I wonder whether there might have been something of a goddess figure before the temple was built, in 1322. Just wondering… nothing definite.

The bell is referred to as: 高麗梵鐘(朝鮮鐘・国重要文化財)said to be the oldest bell in Japan of the Silla period.



My response to Rosemary Mattingley’s comments:

I find significant that the Sillan bell was taken and housed in Unjuji, Japan, located in the Izumo region, “the birthplace of the Japanese Spirit.” It supports my assessment that Japan needed to own a Sillan bell, the authentic bell of East Asia, to “prove” its cultural hegemony and ultimately to justify its colonialist crime against Korea and Asia.

The above website’s description about the bell, “The bell is referred to as: 高麗梵鐘(朝鮮鐘・国重要文化財), said to be the oldest bell in Japan of the Silla period” demonstrates Japan’s colonialist attitude in two ways. First, it defocuses the point when it comes to its admission of Korean history. Let’s take the first part of the phrase, “Goryeo Buddhist Bell, Bell of Joseon, Important National Significant Cultural Heritage 高麗梵鐘 (朝鮮鐘・国重要文化財).” Japanese history books and scholarly articles refer to ancient Korea as many names achronologically. One may as well suspect that Japan, the colonizer of Korea, deliberately confuses the reader. Here, when it should have simply said “Silla,” it employs “Goryeo” and “Joseon.” East Asian historians know that Japan also favorably refers to Goryeo in place of Goguryeo. This is misleading to non-experts in East Asian history. In other cases, Japanese authors refer to “Northeast Asian people” in place of Korea. Or, they wrongly attribute to China in place of Korea. As a result, readers are hampered to form a clear understanding of ancient Korean dynasties that influenced Japan throughout history. Put differently, that is how ancient Korean history characterized by the female principle, which I call Magoism, is further dismembered and erased by Japanese historians sponsored by its colonialist government.

Secondly, its caption, “the oldest bell in Japan of the Silla period,” adds validity to the theory (任那日本府說) invented by Japanese historians that ancient Korean States in the South were ruled by Japan from 4th to 6th century. This theory debated and disavowed by scholars today is a typical example of Japanese colonialist attitude that has systematically distorted ancient Korean history. Nonetheless, this farfetched theory dies hard on the part of Japan in that it seems to be the sole stopgap that legitimizes its war crimes against Korea through history. Reconstructing the mytho-history Magoism has everything to do with deconstructing historiography done by the ethnocentric and/or colonialist perspective of China and Japan as well as the toadyist perspective of Korea.

(To be continued to Part VI, Read Part IV)

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“Creativity without harmony is no ingenuity but an expression of confusion.” So true.