Posted : 2007-10-22 21:31
Updated : 2007-10-22 21:31

10 Influential Women on the Cultural Scene (1950-2007)

The Korea Times, the nation’s first English daily, turns 57 on Nov. 1. The TOP 10 Series will feature the biggest news stories, scandals, events, figures, surprises and memorable moments in the coming weeks, in celebration of the anniversary. The series will allow our readers to revisit these moments of the past. Current and former staff members of the oldest English daily selected the Top 10s through internal meetings, online surveys and advice from outside experts. If you have differing opinions, let us know by email (

Choi Seung-hee (1911-1967), a pioneer dancer in Korea, introduced modern dance costumes to the country. She also contributed to popularizing Korean dance through the “fan dance” and “Hwagwanmu,” a creative dance performed while wearing ornamental crowns.

Choi earned fame both in Korea and Japan during the colonial era for her versatility mastering traditional as well as modern styles. Her defection to North Korea in 1946 dealt a particularly harsh blow to the South’s dance community. She continued performing in the North until she was purged by the Communist Party sometime in the 1960s.

Kim So-hee (1917-1995), one of the nation’s legendary singers, was born in Gochang, North Jeolla Province. She started learning “pansori,” or traditional Korean vocal music, at the age of 13 and began recording and performing as a teenager, becoming one of the great pansori performers of the 20th century.

In 1964 she was named an Important Intangible Cultural Property Holder for pansori music . at that time one of just six people who were given this honor. She earned her reputation from masterful performances of “Heungboga,” “Chunhyangga,” and “Simcheongga.”

Known for her crystal-clear vocals, Kim was a teacher of Ahn Sook-sun, another celebrated traditional singer.

Lee Hyo-ri, 28, is undoubtedly K-pop’s reigning queen. A former member of the popular girl group Fin.K.L, Lee reinvented herself as a sexy singer in 2003, with hit songs like “10 Minutes.” The Lee Hyori syndrome spread around the country, her style was copied and she was considered the ideal sexy woman. She is considered a fashion icon, one of the most sought-after product endorsers and currently the highest-paid female singer in Korea. Never mind that her forays into acting bombed, Lee’s sweet face can sell any product, from black bean tea drinks to cars.

Most Koreans would be familiar with the name, Park Kyeong-ri, 80, as she is considered one of the most important living writers of contemporary Korean literature. Born in Tongyeong, Gyeongsang Province in 1926, Park boasts an extensive writing career of over 50 years. Among Park’s many accomplishments, she is best known as the creator of the highly acclaimed historical novel “Land” (Toji), made up of five volumes, which she wrote over a period of 25 years.

Hong Ra-hee, 62, is a highly distinguished figure in the art circle as director of the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, which also operates the Ho-Am Art Museum and Rodin Gallery ― some of the most prominent art galleries in the country. As one of the biggest art collectors in the country, her influence is so great that her art taste is known to have set trends in the local art market in the past. Hong is the wife of Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee.

Trot queen Lee Mi-ja won the hearts of Korean audiences with her strong, unique voice and charm, when she debuted in 1959. Throughout her singing career, she has released 500 albums with over 2,000 songs. Her famous hit songs include “Camellia Girl, Innocence of Nineteen,” “Crying Wind” and “Woman’s Life.” The 66-year-old is considered one of the top national singers in Korea. She was the first pop artist invited to perform at the Sejong Center for Performing Arts, and the first South Korean artist to perform at a special concert in Pyongyang, which was broadcast in the two Koreas.

The 82-year-old artist is one of the most prominent women in Korean contemporary art, with even a permanent exhibition hall dedicated to her at the Seoul Museum of Art. Rightly so, as her presence in the art industry has been ongoing for more than 60 years, having held her first solo exhibition back in 1946. She was given numerous awards in the past including being selected as one of the artists that shone in the 20th century by the Korea Art Critics Association in 1999. The artist’s works are now among the priciest pieces on Korea’s art market.

The coloratura soprano, 44, has not only captivated the world with her “voice from above” ― as maestro conductor Herbert von Karajan called it ― but has also become a cultural icon in Korea, and has highlighted the opening ceremony for the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup. A disciple of Maria Callas and Dame Joan Sutherland, she gained recognition in all corners of the globe, from Italy and South Africa to the Americas and Asia. She continues to straddle a good balance between her recordings and stage appearances.

The acclaimed violinist, 59, was a child prodigy who, by the age of nine, was playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. She is part of the famous Chung trio with her siblings, conductor/pianist Myung-whun and cellist Myung-wha. In 1967, the Edgar Leventritt Competition awarded two first prizes to Chung and her competitor Pinchas Zukerman ― a first in its history. She has played with major world orchestras and continues to inspire young musicians.

The 34-year-old has emerged as one of the most high profile stars in Asia after being crowned Best Actress at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival ― a first for a Korean. She is much loved for her chameleon-like acting, playing multifaceted roles ranging from an AIDS-stricken prostitute to a traumatized widow in “Secret Sunshine,” which won her the prestigious French award. She has recently appeared on CNN’s weeklong special report on Korea “Eye on Asia” along with Korea’s heartthrob Jang Dongkun.
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