The legend of Janghwa and Hongryeon that turned into virgin ghosts, is a classic Korean ghost story that continues to inspire and scare. 

The Korean Folktale and ghost legend of Janghwa Hongryeon jeon is one of Korea’s most well known ghost stories. It means The Story of Janghwa and Hongryeon(장화홍련전) and originate in the Joseon-era, a five century lasting kingdom from the 1300s all the way to 1897. When and who wrote the tale is unknown. 

The legend of Janghwa and Hongryeon that turned into virgin ghosts, is a classic Korean ghost story that continues to inspire and scare. A Tale of Two Sisters | Netflix
Famous: Many adaptation of the story has been made over the years.
Screenshot from the movie, ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’.

It is a classic tale of an evil stepmother like in fairy tales like Cinderella, Snow White etc, but not ending in them becoming princesses in any way. It is also a story about wrongly accused looking to set things straight, and that karma always will get you in the end. 

The legend has been remade to both k-dramas and movies many times with a new movie adaptation of the legend coming out almost once a decade. The most famous is perhaps ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ from 2003 by Kim Jee-Woon. Although it is based on the legend of Janghwa Hongryeon jeon, it is a very different story and situation with a more psychological emphasis on the story than the haunting elements. This also got an American remake in 2009 by The Guard Brothers called ‘The Uninvited’. 

The Legend of Janghwa Hongryeon jeon

The Story of Janghwa and Hongryeon starts with a classical once upon a time. There once was a man named Bae Mu Ryong that lived in Chul-San-Gun in the Pyong-An province, in today’s North Korea. He was a man of means and his business was going well. The only thorn in his side was that there were no children to pass his name onto. 

His wife, Jang, once had a dream where she was given a beautiful flower by some form of celestial being. The wind blew and the flower turned into a beautiful girl. That is why she named her first born daughter, Janghwa, meaning Rose flower. Two years later they had another daughter they named Hongryeon, meaning red Lotus. And although the parents desperately wanted a son, they loved their daughter all the same. 

The mother died, however, of an illness when Hongryeon was only five years old. Their father chose to remarry to continue the family line. According to most versions, the new stepmother was both ugly and extremely mean to the two girls. She hated them, but hid her feelings away and pretended in front of the father that she loved the girls like her own children. That was until she had given birth to three sons. This gave her a great deal of power and she started to torment and abuse the daughters. The sisters never told their father about the abuse because they didn’t want him to worry, and the years went by. And like their mother, the sons followed in her steps and treated their sisters horribly.

The Wedding Plans and the Evil Plan

This continued until Janghwa came of age and she got engaged to be married. She was told to be a great beauty, inside and out. She had fallen in love and she was thinking of planning the wedding soon. The stepmother was instructed to help her plan the wedding ceremony, which was something she refused to go through with. She couldn’t bear the idea that the family money that she considered her son’s future to be spent on those girls. 

That is why she made her eldest son and confidant put a skinned and bloody rat in Janghwas bed while she was asleep. He was eager to help as it was he who was to inherit the money. And the less that went to his sister, the more for himself. The next morning the stepmother brought the father to Janghwas room and showed it to him. Without knowing the truth, the sight could have seen like a bloody miscarriage. The stepmother accused Janghwa for becoming pregnant out of wedlock and leading a sinful life. The father believed this no matter how much Janghwa tried to explain. 

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The stepmother showed the so-called fetus so that the whole village could see what kind of woman Janghwa truly was. Without knowing what to do, she ran out of the house to a small pond in the woods to calm down. The eldest son followed per the stepmother’s orders to push her into the pond to drown her. But as he was watching her drown, suddenly a tiger attacked him, taking both a leg and an arm in the attack. 

So she got what she wanted, the death of her stepdaughter, but at the cost of her son’s well being. So she was far from pleased and turned her anger to Hongryeon, and the abuse got worse than ever. The little sister couldn’t bear the torment, especially without her sister and drowned herself in the same pond. 

The Ghosts of The Sisters

The legend of Janghwa and Hongryeon that turned into virgin ghosts, is a classic Korean ghost story that continues to inspire and scare. 
The virgin ghosts: Poster from the 1972 movie adaptation, Janghwa Hongryeon jeon

Strange happenings started to befall on the village. Whenever a new mayor was appointed to uphold justice, he was found dead soon, often the following day after his arrival. These strange and mysterious deaths kept happening and although no one knew for sure about what was happening, rumours started to spread throughout the village. And most of the rumours were about the two sisters that drowned in the pond. 

But things were about to change when the young mayor came to the village. He was aware of the deaths that had occured, but had no fear for his own life. Sitting in his room at night, the candle was suddenly blown out. Horrible noises and screams from nowhere filled the room and the door flung open. The air itself became damp and a smell of moss slithered in like he was in the bottom of the pond himself.  

First he couldn’t see anyone, but then the mayor saw the two girls as the ghosts they were. He thought they looked just like living human beings. When he asked them why they had killed his predecessors, they started weeping. Janghwa told about the lies the stepmother had told about her and that all she wanted was the truth to be known. She had not been an unchaste woman that committed suicide out of shame, but in fact killed. the mayor asked for evidence and Janghwa told him to examine the fetus of the miscarriage. 

The Truth Is Out

The very next morning he did just this. When examined more closely, it was revealed that it was in fact a rat. Both the stepmother and the eldest son that had played a part in her evil plan was sentenced to death. The father on the other side was let go as they thought he had also been deceived. And the tale of the two sisters ended with justice.

Many years later, the father remarried again. In a dream he had on his wedding night, he saw his two daughters and they told him that everything was alright and as it should be, that they missed him and wanted to come back. The wife of the third wife delivered twin girls and the father named them Janghwa and Hongryeon, and according to legend of Janghwa Hongryeon jeon, they lived happily ever after. 

The Korean Virgin Ghost

This is one of the most well known tales of the quintessential virgin ghost in Korean folktales. It is when unmarried women die before their wedding and the remorse of it all makes them into a vengeful ghost. The ghost itself has gone through many changes throughout the ages, and if anything, become more violent and bloody than in this classical ghost story. But nonetheless, the tale of the two sisters keep on lingering in the back of Korean culture as an undying story.  

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References

JangHwa HongRyeon | USC Digital Folklore Archives

Janghwa Hongryeon jeon

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