The late Chosŏn period (17th-19th centuries) saw an unprecedented widening of cultural venues that evolved along with the broadening desires and needs of Koreans and their communities. Driving this surge of development was the rise of those with monetary power—largely from the middle class (chungin) and the powerful clans of the capital area (kyŏnghwa sejok)—as cultural leaders. These people, aware of the charm of cultural objects and their ability to disseminate messages and bring pleasure, propelled cultural appreciation in ways which insured maximum benefits to themselves.
This paper sheds light on the popularity of paintings of One Hundred Boys (Paektongjado), which exemplify this trend and elucidate the cultural function of such fashions. The paintings, thronging with images of boys in motion, were extremely popular among families which hoped to gain prestige and wealth through their sons. Concentrating on the paintings’ emphasis on a multiplicity of sons, I discuss the messages the paintings convey in terms of the late Chosŏn reality. Through an in-depth analysis of the artistic characteristics of the paintings, I expound how these paintings spoke to and for the hearts of late Chosŏn people, offering compelling images of capable boys but also elements of humor and entertainment. Finally, I argue that, through meta language, these paintings constituted a channel for Korean aspirations and rivalry to achieve happiness and prosperity for their families, heralding the importance of education and status in upward mobility.