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Hemp (Cannabis) Cultivation and Use in the Republic of Korea

  • International Hemp Association

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This paper summarizes the history of hemp (Cannabis) cultivation and traditional use in the Republic of Korea and investigates the cultivation and processing techniques currently being employed to produce hemp ribbon and seed and weave hemp textiles. Recent production levels and market conditions are reviewed. Hemp is cultivated for bast fiber and seed in several of the numerous fertile inland valleys of the Republic of Korea. Present distribution and level of production are much reduced in comparison with the 20th century. There is no local tradition of its use as either medicine or inebriant. Comparisons with European hemp cultivation and processing, (representative of commercial Western hemp production), Chinese hemp cultivation and production in Shandong Province, (representative of modern Chinese commercial production), and Vietnamese Hmong-Miao cultivation, processing, and weaving, (representative of traditional non-commercial Asian hemp production), are provided where appropriate. Comparisons to hemp growing in the Republic of Korea during the 1950s and early 1960s are made.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Hemp (Cannabis) Cultivation and Use
in the Republic of Korea
Robert C. Clarke
ABSTRACT. This paper summarizes the history of hemp (Cannabis)
cultivation and traditional use in the Republic of Korea and investigates
the cultivation and processing techniques currently being employed to
produce hemp ribbon and seed and weave hemp textiles. Recent produc-
tion levels and market conditions are reviewed. Hemp is cultivated for
bast fiber and seed in several of the numerous fertile inland valleys of the
Republic of Korea. Present distribution and level of production are much
reduced in comparison with the 20th century. There is no local tradition of
its use as either medicine or inebriant. Comparisons with European hemp
cultivation and processing, (representative of commercial Western hemp
production), Chinese hemp cultivation and production in Shandong Prov-
ince, (representative of modern Chinese commercial production), and
Vietnamese Hmong-Miao cultivation, processing, and weaving, (repre-
sentative of traditional non-commercial Asian hemp production), are pro-
vided where appropriate. Comparisons to hemp growing in the Republic
of Korea during the 1950s and early 1960s are made. [Article copies avail-
able for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH.
E-mail address: <> Website: <http://www.> ©2006 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.]
KEYWORDS. Korea, hemp, traditional weaving, production levels
Robert C. Clarke is Projects Manager, International Hemp Association, Postbus
75007, 1070 AA Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Journal of Industrial Hemp, Vol. 11(1) 2006
©2006 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1300/J237v11n01_07 51
Hemp is called sambe (pronounced saam bay)ordae ma (pronounced
day maa; from the Chinese da ma) and has a long history on the Korean
peninsula. Hemp threads and bone needles were recovered from the
Goongsan archeological site (circa 3000 BC) and traces of hemp cord
and cloth have been discovered from the Gojoseon period (2333-108
BC) sites. At that time, Korean hemp was well known and an important
item of trade with neighboring countries. During the Song Dynasty a
Chinese envoy to Korea, in the book Goryeo-Dogyung, stated that
“Goryeo [Korean] ramie and hemp products are as clean and white as
jade” (Sim, 2002).
Since ancient times, hemp cloth has been classified based on thread
count, color, production area, and use. Fine high yarn count hemp fab-
rics approximately 50 cm in width were an essential item of trade with
China during the Unified Silla Dynasty (676-900 CE). During this pe-
riod, higher count fabric was reserved for use only by members of noble
families and coarse lower count fabrics were used by commoners; fine
hemp fabric was used for the emperor’s crown. Koreans particularly ap-
preciated bleached hemp, as white was the color of choice for clothing
(Min, 1985).
Isabella Bird, an intrepid European explorer, recorded an unusual
method of hemp processing. The “steaming” of hemp stalks is unique to
the Korean Peninsula and one of the defining features of Korean hemp
At the bottom of a stone-paved pit large stones are placed, which
are heated from a rough oven at the side. The hemp is pressed
down in bundles upon these, and stakes are driven in among the
stalks. Piles of coarse Korean grass are placed over the hemp, earth
over all, well beaten down. The sticks are then pulled up and water
is poured into the holes left by them. This, falling on the heated
stones, produces a dense steam, and in twenty-four hours the hemp
fiber is so completely disintegrated as to be easily separated. (Bird,
In this article, the name “Korea” refers to the Republic of Korea
(Figure 1), commonly called South Korea, which lies mostly between 34
and 38north latitude. Although hemp distribution and production data
are presented for North Korea, officially named The Democratic Peoples
Republic of Korea, no first-hand observations of hemp production in
North Korea are presented here. However, in light of the depressed
economic conditions prevailing in North Korea for several decades, the
production of hemp for localized use may be much more widespread in
North Korea than in South Korea. Hemp cultivation in South Korea was
formerly much more widespread than it is today. Field research was car-
ried out by the author from June 20 to July 22, July 28 to August 3 and
October 17 to 24, 2004.
Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea)
Hemp is likely still grown throughout much of North Korea on a
village subsistence level, much as it was at the end of the Korean War in
1953. Present-day commercial production regions apparently include
the area around Sinuiju City located on the border with the Peoples
Robert C. Clarke 53
FIGURE 1. Map of hemp production areas in the Republic of Korea.
Republic of China near the Yellow Sea in Pyeonganbuk Province and
Hwangju County of Hwanghaebuk Province (Lee C-s pers. com., 2004).
Republic of Korea (South Korea)
There are three major and several minor production areas in the Re-
public of Korea. The Andong region is best known for its high quality
commercial hemp cloth and specialty cloth. The Boseong region pro-
duces more hemp cloth than Andong, although it is of lower quality.
The Jeongseon region is the largest producer of hemp seed. The regions
described in this report are as follows:
Andong region. Fiber and cloth production only
Kumso and Panbien Villages, Imha Township, Andong City
District along the Nakdong River valley and several villages
throughout Gyogam and Pongyang Townships, Bonghwa County,
Gyeongsangbuk Province.
Boseong region. Fiber and cloth production only
Many villages throughout the Sungjin River valley in Boknae,
Mileok, Nodong, Uleh, and Geumbaek Townships, Boseong
County, Jeollanam Province.
Jeongseon region. Fiber, cloth and seed production
Gohan, Sabuk, Shindong, Dongmyoung, Nammyoung, Bukmyoun,
Bukpyoung, and Limgae Villages, Jeongseon County, Gang-won
Geochang region. Limited production of fiber, cloth and seed
Jungchon, Changson, Galgye, and Yongsan Villages as well as
several more villages in Puksang, Caju, and Kabuk Townships,
Geochang County, Gyeongsangnam Province.
Muju region. Limited production of fiber, cloth and seed
Chibuk Village, Muju County, Jeollabuk Province.
Gokseong region. A traditional weaving center where hemp is no
longer grown, but cloth is still woven.
In 1963, hemp fiber was grown in every province in South Korea and
82% was grown in the same five provinces where production continues
today (Ree, 1966). Korean hemp fiber yields were below the averages
reported for other hemp producing regions. Ree (1966) reported that in
1960-1961 the average yield of hemp fiber in South Korea was 710 kg/
ha and that during the same period, Japan averaged 835 kg, Italy 920 kg,
and France 1160 kg. The higher efficiency of European water retting
and breaking may account for this difference (Ree, 1966). Increased
yield per hectare in the 1960s was likely a result of the introduction of
water retting and breaking of the dried stalks.
Consistently higher yields reported from the Andong region (Table 1)
in comparison with other hemp growing regions (Tables 2, 3, 4 and 5)
may result from extremely dense sowing of the fields, resulting in many
small thin stalks. In 1963, the average size for a South Korean hemp fi-
ber field was 75 m2(Ree, 1966). In 2004, there were an additional 60
families with small hemp fields, farming a total of approximately 3 ha in
the Bonghwa County area of the Andong region.
In 2001, approximately 10 ha of fiber hemp was grown in the
Geochang region and 44 families were involved in cultivation with an
average of 2273 m2per family. By 2004, there were less than 10 fami-
lies growing hemp (Seo, pers. comm., 2004). In the Muju region less
than two hectares were grown for fiber in 2004. Therefore, in 2004, ap-
proximately 500 families in South Korea grew fiber hemp on less than
70 ha. In addition, fewer than 100 families grew hemp seed on less than
70 ha. In total, hemp fiber and seed production in South Korea presently
employs approximately 600 families and occupies less than 140 ha.
Cloth production levels from 1920 through 1930 were well above
those of recent years (Table 6). During 2000-2003, approximately 2000
to 3000 rolls (approximately 14,000 - 21,000 m2)ofhempclothwerepro-
duced annually in the Andong region, which accounts for more than half
of the production in South Korea. In the Muju region, where production is
relatively small, nearly 2 ha were grown for fiber and approximately 100
rolls of hemp cloth are produced each year.
Traditionally the majority of hemp fiber was used in the farmer’s
household to weave cloth for summer clothing. During the 1950s, the
industrial uses of hemp included twine, sewing thread, packing materi-
als, canvas, and sailcloth (Ree, 1966). As petrochemical based alterna-
tives to industrial hemp and affordable imported cotton and synthetic
clothing came to dominate the Korean marketplace, hemp fiber and
cloth production levels plummeted from a high during the late 1920s
through the early 1970s, to less than one tenth of one percent of levels
40 years earlier. Fiber production made a slight resurgence in the 1990s
and early 21st century, but production levels fluctuate annually and
future trends are impossible to predict.
Robert C. Clarke 55
TABLE 1. Hemp fiber production figures–Andong City (Andong City Agriculture
Department, pers. comm., 2004).
Year Hemp
fiber field
Number of
fiber hemp
field size
1960 281.0 5,185 540 309,000 1100
1965 156.4 4,169 375 181,000 1080
1970 121.1 2,955 410 179,000 1420
1975 12.3 355 346 15,000 1150
1976 3.4 110 309 4,400 1300
1977 3.3 107 308 4,000 1300
1978 4.5 127 354 6,300 1400
1979 5.2 158 329 7,300 1400
1980 7.7 281 274 9,000 1170
1981 6.0 181 331 7,600 1200
1982 5.0 105 476 6,000 1200
1983 6.8 97 701 9,500 1400
1984 13.1 170 771 13,400 1020
1985 8.8 102 863 9,000 1000
1986 11.1 133 835 11,000 1000
1987 12.7 149 852 13,000 1000
1988 25.9 153 1693 26,200 1020
1989 20.3 223 910 20,500 1010
1990 19.6 147 1333 19,700 1010
1991 26.0 249 1044 28,100 1080
1992 25.2 160 1575 27,000 1070
1993 15.3 107 1430 16,300 1070
1994 12.3 72 1708 12,700 1030
1995 20.7 96 2156 21,900 1060
1996 17.5 87 2011 18,400 1050
1997 15.9 91 1747 16,500 1040
1998 19.1 102 1873 18,900 990
1999 23.2 125 1856 23,200 1000
2000 22.0 107 2056 22,000 1000
2001 17.6 101 1743 18,300 1040
2002 25.6 137 1869
2003 30.7 160 1919
2004 27.5 155 1774
All hemp growers in Korea are licensed by the government through the
Agricultural Extension Department associated with each production re-
gion. The farmers must register their name and address and the sizes and
locations of their fields. There is one license required for hemp fiber culti-
vation and a second for hemp seed cultivation. A farmer who harvests
hemp fiber in June, and decides to leave the plants along the margins of
the field for later seed harvest in October, is required to have both
Robert C. Clarke 57
TABLE 2. Hemp fiber production figures–Present-day North and South Korea
1911-1935 (Lee, 1936).
Years Hemp fiber field
area (ha)
Gross yield
1911-1915 19,000 10,382,000 547
1916-1920 25,000 16,374,000 655
1921-1925 27,500 20,797,000 770
1926-1930 28,000 20,880,000 770
1931-1935 775
TABLE 3. Hemp fiber production figures–South Korea (Ree,1966; Uniconsult
Incorporated, 1968; Chen, 1970).
Years Hemp fiber field
area (ha)
Gross yield
1926 17,900
1926-1930 17,728 12,513,000 700
1931-1935 16,348 11,557,000 702
1936-1940 15,380 10,300,000 660
1941-1945 20,172 12,610,000 638
1946-1950 9,509 6,253,000 660
1951-1955 10,632 6,606,000 630
1956-1960 9,032 6,628,000 723
1958 9,475 6,735,000 711
1958-1962 740
1960-1961 710
1961-1963 7,043 5,605,000 797
1967 6,000 6,100,000 1000
licenses. There is no fee charged for hemp cultivation licenses and farm-
ers are not required to have their crops monitored for cannabinoid con-
The traditional division of labor in Korean agrarian society stipulated
that men worked outside of the home and women worked within. This
traditional system is echoed in the present-day division of hemp labor.
Men are generally responsible for growing the crops, processing the
stalks and transporting them back to the home, where women take over
the duties of stripping the bark from the plants, spinning yarn and weav-
ing cloth. To my knowledge, there are no male hemp weavers in Korea
and men are only rarely called upon to assist in other aspects of hemp
work within the home. Presently, women also assist in weeding the
fields, harvesting the stalks, removing the leaves and anxiously moni-
toring their precious hemp crop during post-harvest processing. There-
fore, hemp labor is predominately the work and responsibility of women
and men play only a seasonal role with fieldwork.
TABLE 4. Hemp fiber production figures–Boseong County (Boseong County
Agriculture Department, pers. comm., 2004).
Year Hemp fiber
field area
Number of
growing fiber
Average hemp
field size
2001 24.5 252 972
2002 31.2 295 1058
2003 35.4 300 1180
2004 29.8 243 1226
TABLE 5. Hemp fiber and seed production figures–Jeongseon County
(Jeongseon County Agriculture Department, pers. comm., 2004).
Year Hemp fiber
field area
Number of
fiber hemp
fiber field
Hemp seed
field area
of families
growing seed
seed field
2004 6.6 18 3667 63.1 65 9706
The Korean hemp landraces are apparently entirely dioecious (Ree,
1966). Plants are generally moderately branched and 2.5-4.0 meters in
height at maturity. The foliage is medium to dark green and the leaves
have seven or nine medium to broad leaflets. The inflorescences are
relatively sparse and seed yield is low compared to improved European
varieties. Although some individuals elaborate resin glands, they appar-
ently produce little, if any, of the primary psychoactive cannabinoid
THC, and the local landrace cannot be considered a drug variety. For-
merly, East Asian hemp varieties from China, Korea, and Japan were
considered by the vast majority of taxonomists to be members of Can-
nabis sativa L. Hillig (2005) has reported compelling data indicating
that East Asian broad leaf hemp (BLH) is more accurately circum-
scribed by C. indica and he proposes the designation chinensis as the
biotype or subspecies name.
Robert C. Clarke 59
TABLE 6. Hemp cloth production figures–Present-day North and South Korea
1920-1930 (Anonymous, 1930).
Year Estimated hemp cloth
production (m2)
Province name Estimated hemp cloth
production (m2)
North and South Korea Present-day South Korea
1920 11,000,000 Gang-won 1,800,000
1921 17,000,000 Gyeonggi 210,000
1922 10,000,000 Chungcheongbuk 60,000
1923 11,500,000 Chungcheongnam 430,000
1924 10,750,000 Jeollabuk 910,000
1925 10,500,000 Jeollanam 1,470,000
1926 11,000,000 Gyeongsangbuk 1,920,000
1927 10,000,000 Gyeongsangnam 2,530,000
1928 11,250,000 Present-day North Korea
1929 11,500,000 Hwanghaebuk and
Hwanghaenam 40,000
1930 14,000,000 Pyeong-anbuk 1,500,000
Pyeong-annam 580,000
Hamgyeongbuk 800,000
Hamgyeongnam 1,750,000
1930 Total (m2)14,000,000
Hemp seed crops are grown in much more limited regions of Korea
than fiber crops. The Korean hemp landrace variety presently produced
in Gang-won Province is called Eul-shi’. However, in the 1950s and
1960s a landrace from Tochigi Prefecture in Japan was also grown and
some breeding experiments were carried out at the Agricultural Experi-
ment Station in Suwon city south of Seoul (Ree, 1966). Seed for the fol-
lowing year’s sowing is obtained from two sources. The largest portion
of the seed comes from fields that were planted for hemp seed produc-
tion. The secondary source of seed is from branched plants left along the
margins of fields when the hemp fiber crop is harvested. Since hemp fi-
ber crops are harvested before they flower, no seed is produced.
Commercial seed production takes place mostly in the Jeongseon
region, with a small amount grown in the Geochang region as well,
where crops are grown specifically for seed production. In the Bonghwa
area of the Andong region, and also in the Muju region, some hemp
farmers leave the plants growing along the margins of their fiber fields
for seed production. These plants are unsuitable for weaving, as they
have branched by the time of the fiber harvest in late June. The vast
majority of farmers in the remainder of the Andong region, as well as
those in the Boseong region, buy seeds each year from suppliers in
Jeongseon. Seeds grown in the Geochang region were used primarily to
supply sowing seed for farmers in the surrounding area, although in
2003 and 2004 acreage was much reduced because the local Korean
Hemp Company Ltd. spinning and weaving factory ceased operation
(Lee, J-d, pers. comm., 2004). Seed not used for sowing is sold to bird-
seed processors and traditional medicine companies. Neither hemp
seed, nor hemp seed oil, is commonly eaten in Korea. (This is in direct
contrast to much of China where whole hemp seeds are eaten uncooked
or roasted as snacks and oil is also sometimes pressed from the seed.)
Seed hemp fields are usually planted in early to middle May. (In
China seed crops are planted in late May or early June and in Europe in
April or early May.) Northern temperate seed crops are usually har-
vested in the middle of October). Fifteen to 30 seeds are sown in tight
groups about 1.0-1.5 meters apart and the seedlings grow in clumps.
This allows farmers space to cultivate between the rows to control
weeds as the crop grows. (In Shandong, China, cultivated seed fields are
usually sown in late May or early June in clusters of 4-5 seeds at approx-
imately 15-50 cm intervals in rows approximately one meter apart in or-
der to allow sufficient branch development and increased seed yield. In
Europe, seed crops are commonly sown in rows approximately 60 cm to
one meter apart and thinned to 15-30 cm between plants within each
row. Hmong-Miao seed crops are sown far from villages on steep
mountain slopes and are often intercropped with maize.)
Seed crops ripen in about 150 days and are harvested in middle to late
October. The plants are stacked in the field until dry and then threshed to
remove the seed. Seeds may be dried more thoroughly by spreading them
in the sun before they are placed in sacks of 60 kg each. Seed yields aver-
aged 370 kg/ha (Ree, 1966). (Average seed yields of European varieties
range from 600-1000 kg/ha.) Seed sells for varying prices depending on
availability, e.g., size of previous harvest and time of year marketed. In
early 2004, hemp seed harvested in the Jeongseon region in autumn 2003,
was purchased by the Imha Hemp Cooperative farmers in the neighbor-
ing Andong region for 7,800 Won (US$7.00) per kg. In Jungchon Vil-
lage, Caju Township of the Geochang region seed usually sells for 10,000
Won (US$9.00) per kg, but sold in 2003 for 12,000 Won (US$11.00) per
kg, and some farmers paid as much as 15,000 Won (US$14.00) at sowing
time in 2004. Prices were higher than average, as much of the 2003 seed
crop was destroyed by typhoon weather in late August.
Fiber hemp is a spring sown crop grown in rotation with other field
crops such as paddy rice, peanuts, chili peppers, onions, watermelons,
soy, wheat, sesame, maize, and tobacco. Apples and grapes are also
common crops in the hemp growing regions and 45% of the green tea
produced in Korea comes from the Boseong region. In the Andong City
District, hemp fiber fields are large, as family farmlands are grouped
together on the valley floor on land that can be flood-irrigated. In the
Boseong region, hemp fields tend to be small and sited on slightly slop-
ing ground just above the valley floor. Soil moisture must be adequate
throughout the growing season. Well-drained, fertile, medium to heavy
soils are best suited to hemp growing in Korea (Ree, 1966). Common
fiber cultivation practices and regional variations are as follows:
1. Fields are plowed in late winter and early spring, until the soil is
finely divided and weed free.
2. Fertilizer is applied and plowed into the soil or applied as a
top-dressing before the seed is sown.
Robert C. Clarke 61
In the Andong region, chemical fertilizers are more commonly
used, although animal manure may be used as well. A common
fertilizer application rate is 300 kg/ha of a fertilizer containing
N 21%: P 17%: K 17% (Imha Hemp Cooperative, pers. comm.,
In the Boseong region, animal manure and green fodder are usu-
ally the sole sources of nutrition and they are plowed into the soil a
few weeks before the seed is sown (Lee C-s, pers. comm., 2004).
3. Hemp fiber crops are usually sown in early March. In the 1950s
and 1960s crops were sown in late March through middle April (Ree,
1966). Seed for fiber production is traditionally sown by hand at a seed-
ing rate of approx. 75 kg/ha. (Chinese, European and Hmong-Miao
farmers either broadcast sow or sow seeds in rows at approximately the
same rate.)
In the Andong region, seeds are usually sown in rows approxi-
mately 25 cm apart, the seeding rate can be very high (up to 300
kg/ha), the resulting crop density is very high (200-400 plants/m2)
and the average stalk height is only 1.5-2.0 meters and the stalk di-
ameter is quite small (0.5-1.0 cm). These small plants are used to
spin fine yarn and weave the highest quality cloth.
In the Boseong region and most other production areas, seeds are
usually broadcast sown, the seeding rate is much lower (30 kg/ha),
the resulting crop density is also much lower (50-75 plants/m2) and
the average stalk diameter is much larger (1-2 cm). These plants
are used to spin a more coarse yarn and to weave lower quality
Row planting results in much higher yields. In the early 1960s,
seeds were sown at about 50 kg/ha (Ree, 1966). Present-day higher
seeding rates result from an effort to produce smaller stalks with
thinner bark for weaving fine textiles.
4. Hemp fields sown in rows are hand weeded if required, when the
plants reach approximately 30-50 cm in height and may be weeded
twice. Few weeds appear, but these are removed to assure a weed-free
crop. If spring rains are insufficient, flat field crops will be flood-irri-
gated, to keep the soil moist and promote even crop growth.
5. Hemp fiber crops are harvested during the last week of June after
100-120 days of growth, before the monsoon rains begin and the
weather is likely to be sunny. In the 1950s and 1960s crops were usually
harvested in late July or early August (Ree, 1966). Hemp fiber crops are
considered ripe and ready for harvest when the stalks turn from shiny,
dark green to dull, yellow green, and the bottom two-thirds of the stalks
have lost their leaves.
6. The hemp fiber crop is harvested in its entirety in the last week of
June, before the plants begin to flower, allowing sufficient time to sow
the field in paddy rice or vegetable crops (Photo 1). Plants range in
height from 1.5 to 4.0 meters. The average height of healthy stands of
hemp is 2.0 to 3.0 meters. The majority of plants have ceased rapid stalk
elongation as they approach flowering. (Hemp fiber crops in Shandong
Province, China and Hmong-Miao hemp are also harvested before
plants begin to flower. European fiber hemp is harvested when it begins
to flower and the male plants shed pollen, but very few viable seeds
form before the crop is harvested in late August.)
The hemp crop is harvested by cutting all of the stalks at the soil line
with a short-bladed sickle, taking care not to pull up any roots. Dry soil
is more convenient for harvesting, because the shallow roots stay in the
ground rather than pulling out. Branched plants at the margins of the
fields are usually discarded or occasionally saved for seed production.
In the 1960s, a 0.1% Endrin solution was sprayed on fiber crops to
control stem borers (Grapholyta sp.) (Ree, 1966). Presently, only one
insect pest seems to cause economic damage to hemp fiber crops. A
small shiny black, hemp flea beetle (Psylliodes attenuata) infested the
majority of fields to varying degrees. In fields where insufficient fertil-
izer was used, and crop growth was not quite so vigorous, the beetle
infestations were more severe. (Hemp flea beetles occur in every tradi-
tional hemp growing region of Eurasia.) Herbicides and insecticides are
rarely used on hemp fiber crops, as they are expensive inputs and few
pests threaten to cause serious economic damage, although Korean
hemp seed crops are occasionally sprayed if flea beetle infestations are
severe. (Few if any pesticides or herbicides are used on hemp fiber and
seed crops in most regions.) Hemp fiber fields are planted so thickly that
weeds are usually shaded by the dense canopy and crowded out. Weed-
ing is usually necessary in widely spaced seed gardens and only rarely
in properly sown and irrigated fiber fields.
Present-day Korean hemp fiber yields are approximately 1.0-1.4
tons/ha of processed bark. (Shandong crops produce approximately
8-12 tons of dry stalks and 0.7-1.0 tons/ha of first and second quality
(long and medium length) saleable bark ribbon. Western European hemp
fields produce 5-10 tons/ha of dry stalks or approximately 1.0-2.5 tons/
ha of total fiber.)
Robert C. Clarke 63
PHOTO 1. Hemp fields are harvested by hand and the stalks are sorted by
length in the field.
The processing of hemp fiber, from harvest through weaving cloth,
involves many stages that vary only slightly from region to region. In
general, Korean hemp weaving is very similar to traditional Japanese
weaving and to that of the Hmong-Miao and other indigenous minority
groups of Southwest China and Southeast Asia. (Significant differences
with other hemp producing regions will be noted in parentheses.)
Korean hemp harvest, processing, spinning, and weaving procedures,
including some regional variations, are as follows:
1. Stalks are cut a few centimeters above ground level with a hand
scythe of the type used to harvest rice.
2. A handful of five to fifteen stalks is gripped just below the terminal
leaves, held aloft vertically and the significantly shorter stalks are re-
moved and discarded.
3. Each handful of selected stalks is gripped toward the base and the
leaves are removed with a bamboo or wooden cutlass, by beating them
from the stalks with an outward slicing motion, directed away from the
bases of the stalks. Mechanized rice threshers may also be used to
remove the leaves. Traditionally, the leaves were left on the field as a
green manure, providing a rich supply of nutrients, particularly for
paddy rice production (Ree, 1966). Presently, the leaves are raked into
piles and burned to appease law enforcement agencies intent on pre-
venting the diversion of leaves into the illicit drugs trade, although
South Korean hemp landraces are very low in drug content.
4. The stalks are placed in groups (usually three) based on their
length. Shorter stalks (1.5-2.5 m) with thinner bark are used to make
very fine yarn, medium sized stalks (2.5-3.5 m) are used to spin medium
diameter yarn, and larger stalks (3.5-4.5 m) with thicker bark are used to
make coarser yarn.
The stalks from the Andong region range from 1.5-3.0 m in height
and 0.5-1.0 cm in diameter. Up to 25% of the stalks are too small
for processing and are discarded.
The stalks from the Boseong region range in height from 2.5-4.5 m
and 1.0-2.0 cm in diameter. Nearly all of the stalks are suitable for
processing and few are discarded.
5. Sorted piles of stalks are gathered into small bunches, with all of the
root ends to one side and the growing tips to the other, and then the small
bunches are bound into bundles 30-40 cm in diameter containing
500-2000 stalks, depending on the stalk diameters.
Robert C. Clarke 65
6. The bundles of stalks are either placed in a steaming cabinet or
covered with a plastic tarp. (In Shandong, the stalks are separated and
laid out in the sun in a single layer across the empty harvested field for
2-4 days until they are partially dried. European farmers either dry the
stalks completely and then water ret either in the autumn or the follow-
ing spring and summer after the weather warms or lay the stalks on the
field to dry before baling. Hmong-Miao farmers strip the bark from
fresh green stalks immediately following harvest.)
7. Live steam is introduced through the stalks from below continu-
ously for three hours and is trapped under the lid of the steaming cabinet
or plastic tarp. Steaming is faster, more controllable and less polluting
than water retting in open ponds. The small village steaming cabinets
hold 12-14 large, 30-40 cm diameter bundles of stalks and a fee of 5,000
Won (US$4.50) is charged for each loading of the steaming cabinet.
Small traditional steaming cabinets are heated from below by burning
brush and the wood of peeled hemp stalks collected the year before.
In the Imha Township of the Andong region, a steam-processing
factory was built in 1996, with one very large pressurized tank ac-
commodating two metal racks each containing 48 bundles of
stalks (Photo 2). The factory charges 50,000 Won (US$45.00) to
steam 48 bundles of stalks every four hours.
8. After the stalks have cooled for an hour they are removed from the
steamer, the fibrous bark is stripped from the wet stalks by hand and, the
bark strips are hung in the sun to dry. In the 1950s, when hemp was pro-
duced for cordage and sacking it was water retted for about a week,
dried in the sun for 5-7 days, and broken to free the fiber as in Europe.
Farmers can hand strip about 6 kg (dry weight) of hemp bark in 12
hours, while farmers who used a hemp break could separate 30 kg of re-
fined fiber in the same time (Ree, 1966). Wider hemp strips from larger
stalks are suitable for weaving heavier cloth and narrow strips from
smaller stalks are suitable for weaving the finest hemp cloth. The hemp
stalk steaming process is unique to Korea.
In the Andong region, the stalks are sunned on the ground for sev-
eral days to dry them and bleach some of the chlorophyll from the
bark. Care is taken to choose clear weather, as rain causes the
stalks to discolor and the quality of the fiber is reduced. Then the
stalks are wetted again before the bark is removed and hung to dry.
In the Gokseong region, the bark strips were traditionally washed
with lots of fresh water and pounded with rocks or treaded under
foot to free the chlorophyll and begin to soften the fiber. Then the
bundle of parallel strips is folded in half and wrung out to remove
excess water (Anonymous, 1982).
(In Japan, the stalks are boiled for one or two minutes and then
sunned before water retting and peeling of the bark. In all other hemp
producing regions, with the exception of localized regions of China
where hemp is produced for the Korean and Japanese markets, steaming
and boiling are omitted. In Shandong, the partially dried stalks are bun-
dled together approximately 200 at a time and immersed in a pond,
stream, or brick tank for 1 to 3 days of retting. European retting takes a
week or ten days in much cooler water, or only a few days in warm geo-
thermal water.)
Agriculture officials promoted water retting, drying and breaking
of stalks and, scutching of the fibers during the post-war era as a way to
make hemp fiber appropriate for flax spinning mills and thereby in-
crease the market for hemp. However, farmers preferred to steam stalks
as it was less work to peel the bark by hand (Ree, 1966). Water retting is
no longer practiced to any great extent in South Korea.
9.The dried bark strips are rewetted by soaking them in water for a
few hours.
Robert C. Clarke 67
PHOTO 2. Bundles of fresh hemp stalks are lifted into the commercial
steamer in Andong. The batch of stalks on the floor in the background has al-
ready been steamed.
In the Andong region, the wetted bark strips are scraped to remove
the epidermis and coarse fibers, by drawing them under a blunt knife
called a sam top held tightly against a wooden anvil (Photo 3). They
are then dried and bleached once more in the sun (Photo 4).
In the Boseong region, the bark strips are not scraped before they
are split.
After scraping and drying the hemp bark strips can be coiled and
stored. (Scraping hemp bark strips is omitted in all other hemp produc-
ing areas, with the exception of Japan and localized regions of eastern
China, where hemp is produced for the Korean and Japanese markets.)
10. The bark strips are slightly remoistened if they have become too
dry and are then split into narrower strips. The thumbnail is used to split
PHOTO 3. In Andong, the remoistened hemp bark strips are scraped to re-
move the cortex and any fragments of hurd.
the bark near the root end and a finger is slid through the split from the
basal end to the tip end to pull the narrow strips apart. The middle of
each bark strip is stretched around a short wooden peg, so the whole of
the strip remains within easy reach of the worker. Wider or narrower
strips are formed depending on whether coarse or fine yarn will be
(Chinese and European spinning mills remove the individual fiber
elements or fiber bundles from the hemp bark strips by mechanical and/
or enzymatic processes and then spin the extracted fibers into yarn.)
11. The narrow split strips are twisted together and tied at the basal
ends to form small bundles and hung to dry.
12. The root ends of the dry split strips are scraped to make them thin-
ner and fray them slightly, which makes them easier to join together. If
the split strips have become too dry, they are rewetted before the root
ends are scraped and the individual strips joined together.
Robert C. Clarke 69
PHOTO 4. Scraped hemp bark strips drying in the sun.
13. Two types of working patterns may be employed for linking the
hemp strips. Jarigae is a system where the workers are paid according
to the amount of strips joined together and duresam is a reciprocal sys-
tem where, “I will help you link strands today and you will help me next
time.” One bundle of split strips at a time is suspended horizontally be-
tween two short notched bamboo poles, separated by nearly the length
of the strips, so they are within easy reach of the woman seated on the
floor (Photo 5).
14. One narrow strip at a time is removed from the bundle. The base
end is linked to the tip end of the previous strip and joined with a twist.
The join may be made by inserting the tip end of the previously linked
strip through a small split in the base of the strip being added or both
ends may be split to form the join. The split in each end of the strip is
usually made with the teeth. The join is twisted by rubbing it across the
thigh or by rubbing it across the surface of a small oval-shaped cloth pad
mounted on short legs. It is important that the strips are always worked
from base to tip. Traditionally, women would bite into unripe persim-
PHOTO 5. The communal joining of hemp bark strips to make yarn in the
Boseong region.
mons as they worked (despite their very bitter taste) as the persimmons
contain compounds that reduce the slippery texture of the moist hemp
strips as they are split between the teeth (Kim, J-h.(a), pers. comm,
2004). The joining process is repeated over and over and the length of
joined strips is coiled into a wide basket covered in layers of smooth pa-
per or a plastic basin.
15. Before the next process can begin, the coil of joined strips is
inverted so once again the fiber can be worked with the strips oriented
from base to tip. The base-to-tip orientation is a vital consideration
when working any strips of bast fibers and their resultant yarns, as
working in reverse (from tip to base) would cause individual fiber bun-
dles along the bark strip to be loosened, resulting in tangles and in-
creased breakage of the yarn.
16. Additional twist is added to the joined strips using a wooden,
hand-operated, single-spindle spinning wheel to secure the joins and
create a stronger and more easily woven yarn (Photo 6). As the yarn is
twisted, it is wound onto a dried cornhusk wrapped around the revolv-
ing metal spindle of the spinning wheel. When the corn husk covered
spindle is filled, the spool of yarn is removed from the spindle and the
process is repeated.
17. The coils of yarn are unrolled onto a revolving straightening
frame measuring one to two meters across, made of two wooden or
bamboo sticks crossed at their middles and placed atop a vertical axis,
so that the horizontal frame spins freely. As each coil of yarn ends, the
beginning of another is joined to the end of the preceding coil to form a
length of yarn long enough to lay a warp (the long, tensioned yarns car-
ried on the loom) for weaving. This also allows the yarn to be restored to
the vital base-to-tip orientation required during weaving (Photo 7).
18. At this stage, the yarn may receive its first alkaline bleaching and
softening treatment with an aqueous solution of ash or caustic soda.
Treated yarn is referred to as “cooked” hemp. Untreated yarn is called
“raw” hemp.
In the Andong region, the yarn is usually soaked only once in ash
water, so it retains its natural color unless it is later dyed.
In the Boseong region, the yarn is soaked in ash water and sunned
several times until it is nearly white.
In the traditional Gokseong region method, the large 2-4 meter
long yarn coil from the straightening frame was wetted and sus-
pended between two women who dragged it back and forth across
a pile of rice straw ash spread on the ground to evenly coat each
yarn. The large coils were then rolled into tighter coils of 30-40 cm
Robert C. Clarke 71
PHOTO 6. Women of the Boseong region using traditional spinning wheels to
add twist to hemp yarns.
PHOTO 7. The twisted hemp yarn is wound from the spindle onto the revolving
straightening frame.
in diameter, which were placed on an approximately 35 degrees
Celsius heated floor (ondol) and covered with piled rice hulls and a
rice straw mat or plastic sheet to contain the heat for a few days.
This allows the ash sufficient time, heat, and moisture to bleach the
yarn (Anonymous, 1982; Kim, J-h.(a), pers. comm., 2004). The
ash (or ash water) is then rinsed off with fresh water as the yarn is
pounded with a wooden mallet and tread under foot. After rinsing
and softening, the yarn is hung across a line to dry and allow sun-
light to assist in the bleaching. This process is repeated several
times until all of the ash is washed from the yarn and it has turned a
light straw blonde or nearly white color.
19. Traditionally the yarn (or cloth) was dyed by wetting it in water
percolated through rice straw ash and then soaking it in a solution of dye
extracted from jasmine (Gardenia jasminoides) fruits for approxi-
mately four hours, resulting in a pale orange-yellow color.
In the Andong region, the finished cloth is dyed rather than the
yarn, or dying may be omitted entirely, if the natural color is de-
sired (Kim, J-h.(a), pers. comm., 2004).
In the Boseong region, the cloth is dyed as in Andong, or dying is
omitted to make their characteristic bleached, nearly white, cloth
(Lee, C-s, pers. comm., 2004).
In the Gokseong region, the yarn was traditionally dyed with
jasmine before weaving (Anonymous, 1982).
Ree (1966) reported that cloth can also be softened by soaking in
an aqueous solution of potassium hydroxide, which turns it light yellow
due to the action of the alkaline solution on the cellulose in the fibers.
20. The yarn coil (dyed or natural color) is then stretched once again
onto the straightening frame. The yarn is uncoiled from the frame into a
basket to form loose coils and restore the base-to-tip orientation.
21. If the loose coils are to be used to form the weft, the untensioned
yarns carried by the shuttle and woven back and forth from selvage to sel-
vage through the warp threads, are wound back and forth (much as balls
of twine are wound) onto a removable mandrel, forming a size conve-
nient to fill the boat-shaped shuttle that will carry the weft threads during
weaving. This allows the yarn to pull easily from the inside of the weft
yarn coil during weaving, while preserving the base-to-tip orientation.
22. If the loose coils are to be used to form the warp, ten coils are se-
lected, placed near each other on the floor, and covered with clean
coarse river sand or uncooked rice grains. This covering holds the coils
in place as the yarn unwinds, so the coils do not lift up and the yarn
becomes tangled (Photo 8).
Robert C. Clarke 73
23. To form the warp, a right-angled wooden warping frame with
four or five vertical wooden pegs (about 15 cm in length and spaced
about 15-20 cm apart) along one leg and a last wooden peg at the end of
the other leg, is placed on the floor (Photo 8). A smaller wooden warp-
ing frame with a pair of vertical pegs of the same size is placed on the
floor opposite the larger frame at a distance measuring half the length of
the completed warp (pil). Each of the two warping frames is weighted
down with rocks so they will remain stationary while the tensioned
warp is laid out.
24. Each of the 10 yarns is individually threaded through one of ten
wire loops fitted along a horizontally oriented warping guide and
PHOTO 8. Equipment set up for laying the warp–a large wooden warping
frame in the foreground, with the warping guide and coils of warp yarn covered
with gravel in the background.
gathered together on the other side of the guide (Photo 8). The group of
ten threads is walked around the warping frame in a circular path, once
again preserving the base-to-tip orientation, so the yarns will slide
smoothly through the metal loops and the worker’s fingers. After the
yarns are passed around the double small pegs of the warping frame,
they are stretched back to the larger warping frame and passed around
the single peg, back and forth through the other pegs. This process is re-
peated until enough yarns are laid into the warp.
25. The process of walking the warp is repeated in a circuit such that
each time the set of pegs on the warping frame is passed, the ten yarns
are threaded through them in the opposite configuration from the previ-
ous round of ten yarns. This key step establishes the crossed yarns that
will later form the shed and counter-shed of the warp yarns where the
shuttle will carry the weft yarn during weaving.
26. Every eighth pass around the warping circuit a small stick is in-
serted to mark each sae (one sae being 80 warp threads). The number of
sae in the warp is the determining factor of the finished cloth quality.
The warp must first be laid in a circuit, and later cut to make a linear
warp, in order to preserve the base-to-tip orientation of the warp yarns.
27. When enough passes have been made to form a warp of the de-
sired quality, commonly ranging from No. 4 (four sae or 320 warp
threads) through No. 9 (nine sae or 720 warp threads), the crossovers
are preserved by threading a small rope through them (Photo 9), the
warp is cut between the single peg and the first of the pegs forming the
crossovers, and the warp is coiled and carefully stored until it is fitted
onto the loom.
28. When the warp is to be fitted onto the loom, a shed stick approxi-
mately 50 cm long is threaded through each of the three crossovers,
replacing the wooden pegs of the warping frame, and the rope tie is
29. The floating comb is installed on the warp by threading the base
ends of a pair of warp yarns through each of the gaps in the comb. A
knot is tied in the warp yarn ends after each five pairs are threaded
through the comb, to hold them in place, and a stick is inserted below
the knots preventing the yarns from sliding back through the comb.
30. After the comb is threaded, the warp is stretched out and the other
end is attached to a weighted skid. The stick at the comb end of the warp
is attached to a warp beam around which the warp will be wrapped and
mounted on the loom. Each crossover eye is passed through the comb
and a pair of shed sticks are threaded through the warp yarns one on
Robert C. Clarke 75
each side of the crossover and tied at their ends with a cord, so they can-
not slide back through the crossover.
31. The warp is then ready for starching and is stretched out horizon-
tally over an open piece of ground and suspended near the warp beam
end over a brazier or bed of warm live coals of burned rice hulls.
32. As the warp yarns are warmed by the coals, a thick slurry of
starch is made by boiling rice or millet grains for several hours. The
starch is applied to the warp yarns by hand and worked into the yarn
with a stiff brush wetted with water and the floating comb is moved up
and down the warp to separate each of the coated yarns as they dry
above the coals (Photo 10). As each section of the warp dries it is wound
upon the warp beam, small bamboo sticks are wrapped in the warp to
prevent it tangling and the next section is treated. The process is re-
peated until the entire warp has been coated with starch, dried, and
wound onto the warp beam.
33. When the entire warp has been treated, another stick is inserted
through the warp ends at the far end from the warp beam so the breast
beam (the stick attached to the weaver by a back strap where the finish
cloth will be wound) can be attached when weaving begins.
PHOTO 9. The finished warp is secured with ties to preserve the crossover
point before the warp is removed from the warping frame. The fine golden yarn
from Andong is used to weave the highest quality hemp cloth in Korea.
34. The warp is placed on the loom, the breast beam is attached to the
weaver by a strap around her waist and weaving commences. Tradi-
tional Korean wooden looms are of the foot-activated, single-heddle,
body-tension type, with the bench seat attached to the loom frame. The
heddle is lifted by a curved heddle shifter stick attached by the heddle
shifter cord connected to a straw slipper pulled with the right foot.
35. The warp is held down by a warp restraining stick and the float-
ing shed spreader is installed between the upper and lower warp yarns to
create the shed (and counter-shed) where the shuttle will pass carrying
the weft yarn. The wooden frame is attached to the top and bottom edges
of the comb to house the comb beater (Photo 11).
Looms in the more northern areas are set at a steeper angle (nearly
45 degrees) and those of the far south are set nearly flat. This type of
Robert C. Clarke 77
PHOTO 10. Master weaver Kim Joem-ho starching hemp wrap yarns over a
bed of coals.
loom was once used for all traditional weaving in Korea, e.g., hemp, ra-
mie, cotton, and silk. Presently, few traditional looms are still in use, the
vast majority having been replaced by double-heddle, foot treadle-oper-
ated, frame-tensioned looms.
36. The finished piece of cloth is stretched a meter or two at a time
between two persons to even the selvages.
37. The cloth is folded into measured lengths, placed atop a smooth
stone or wooden anvil, and pounded with wooden fulling bats to soften
it, tighten the weave, and smooth the surface. The cloth is now ready for
dying or may be marketed or used as is in the household for clothing,
etc. Hemp cloth is usually starched and ironed after washing to make it
stiff, smooth, and shiny.
The basic Korean measure of length is the ja. However, the length of
one ja varies from region to region. Throughout much of Korea one ja
PHOTO 11. Master weaver Kim Jeom-ho seated at her loom wearing a tradi-
tional Korean hemp hangbok summer garment.
equals 60 cm, although in Andong it measures 55 cm. To further com-
plicate matters, cloth is sold by the pil, which is the length of one warp
(loading of the loom) and varies in length from 12 meters (20 ja of 60
cm) in the Boseong region through 22 meters (40 ja of 55 cm) in the
Andong region. In the Boseong and Gokseong regions, one pil tradi-
tionally corresponded to the length of cloth required to sew one peasant
outfit consisting of a short-sleeve waist-length shirt and knee-length
pair of loose-fitting trousers (danae). In the Andong region, one pil was
sufficient cloth to fashion a full-length coat with full sleeves and a long
pair of trousers worn by the privileged classes.
Cloth of commercial quality must be of even weave and consistent
color, whether natural, bleached white or dyed or it is unsuitable for
sale. All hand-woven hemp cloth in Korea is approximately 35 cm wide
from selvage to selvage. In ancient times, hemp cloth was more com-
monly 50 cm wide (Koh, pers. comm., 2004, Sim, pers. comm., 2004).
The quality of hemp cloth is designated by a number, corresponding to
the number of sae (80 warp threads) in the warp, cloth of commerce
usually ranging from No. 4 to No. 9. Therefore, cloth of No. 5 quality
contains five sae (400 warp threads) and cloth of No. 8 quality contains
eight sae (640 warp threads). Master weavers in the Andong region pro-
duce cloth of up to No. 15 quality containing 1200 warp threads.
Geochang region hemp cloth was simply called goreyopo (Korean
cloth), in Jeongseon County it is called gangpo and in the Andong re-
gion it is called andongpo (po means cloth in Korean). Traditionally,
lower count cloth was used for everyday peasant clothing, while me-
dium count cloth was reserved for the privileged classes and the highest
count cloth could only be worn by royalty. In the Gokseong region, No.
4 and No. 5 cloth were called nongpo and were used to sew peasant
clothing and as corpse shrouds, No. 6 and No. 7 cloth were called
jungpo and were used for middle class clothing, while No. 8 and No. 9
cloth were reserved for the clothing of the wealthy and government
workers. Hemp cloth in the Muju region is of No. 3 and No. 4 quality.
Hemp cloth produced in the Geochang region is of No. 6 to No. 9
quality. Coarser grades of hemp cloth (Nos. 3-5) called musam were
traditionally used for rice sacks or bedding and are presently used for
furniture seat pads and other furnishings. In the Andong region, a
weaver can produce five or six pil (110-132 meters) of coarse musam
Robert C. Clarke 79
hemp cloth (Nos. 3-5) each year, while only a single pil (22 meters) of
Nos. 13-15 cloth can be woven annually.
Women who hand-sew wrapping cloths (pojagi) and other traditional
textiles can distinguish between genuine Korean hemp and imported
Chinese hemp by repeatedly creasing it sharply with a thumbnail and
opening the crease. Chinese hemp cloth becomes weak and will crack
and tear, while genuine high quality Korean hemp cloth can be creased
and opened many times without damage (Kim, J-h.(b), pers. comm.,
Andong City has a small street near the central market where several
shops sell hemp bark, yarn, and cloth. There is also a hemp section at the
community market in Boseong City held every fifth day, where yarn
and cloth are traded. Bleached yarn, ready for weaving, is sold by the
gun (600 g) (Table 7) and the quality number corresponds to the quality
of cloth that can be woven from it.
In 1963, hemp cloth sold for the equivalent of US$2.15 per m2. The
total value of raw hemp fiber production equaled US$4.9 million. Esti-
mating a 20% loss in processing this made approximately 28.6 million
m2of cloth valued at US$61.5 million. The annual production of hemp
cloth was sufficient to cloth an estimated one third of the population that
wore hempen summer clothing (Ree, 1966).
In the Boseong region, finished cloth is sold by the pil (one pil is 20 ja
(60 cm) and is approximately 12 meters long and 35 cm wide). At the
Imha Hemp Cooperative in the Andong region, finished cloth is also
sold by the pil (but, one pil is approx. 22 meters long and 35 cm wide)
(Table 8).
Prices of bark, yarn, and cloth vary somewhat during certain times of
the year depending on availability. In addition, the price of cloth can as
much as double during lunar leap years (every fourth year, such as
2004) as cloth produced during leap years is considered to be lucky
when used for funeral clothing and will protect the descendants of the
deceased form hardship and disease, ensure their long lives and increase
family wealth.
Traditionally, medium weight cloth was used to make peasant
farmer’s clothing, consisting of a hemp jacket and danae trousers worn
during farm labor throughout the year. The danae trousers are loose fit-
ting and baggy enough to allow women to wear them over their tradi-
tional skirts to protect them and tie them at the ankles to allow freedom
of movement during field work. Danae trousers were also worn by men
as they were the most comfortable and practical clothing for field work.
Another use of fine and lightweight Andong hemp cloth woven from
untreated “raw” yarn is used for fashioning summer clothing, as its stiff
hand allows it to both breathe and wick away moisture. However, hemp
clothes are even more expensive then hand-loomed ramie (moshi) sum-
mer garments. Cloth woven from treated “cooked” yarn is used to make
spring and autumn clothing, bedding and monk’s robes as it is softer and
warmer than “raw” cloth.
Robert C. Clarke 81
TABLE 7. Boseong City yarn prices in 2003.
Yarn price per
gun (Korean
Yarn price per
gun (US$
No. 4 40,000-45,000 35.00-40.00
No. 5 55,000-65,000 50.00-60.00
No. 6 70,000-80,000 65.00-75.00
TABLE 8. Boseong and Andong regions prices for various grades of hemp
cloth in 2003.
Cloth quality Cloth price per
No. 4 Boseong 30.00
No. 5 Boseong 36.00
No. 6 Boseong 45.00
No. 6 Andong 90.00
No. 7 Andong 100.00
No. 8 Andong 115.00
No. 9 Andong 140.00
The majority of Korean hemp cloth is used to sew su-ui, funeral
clothing used to dress the corpse prior to burial. Su-ui usually consist of
20 garments covering the corpse from head to toe and require up to 100
linear meters (35 m2) of fabric. In addition, the dressed corpse is
wrapped in a coarse hemp cloth shroud before it is placed in the coffin.
A set of hemp su-ui purchased in the region where it was produced (and
sewn from hemp cloth woven in a non-leap year) costs from 2,500,000
Won (US$2,250) when made from coarser No.4 grade cloth from
Boseong up to 5,000,000 Won (US$4,500) when made from finer No. 7
grade cloth from Andong. Su-ui from even higher grades of cloth would
cost proportionately more. In urban areas, su-ui cost even more and con-
stitute the largest single expenditure at a funeral, even more than the
Contemporary hemp products include, bedding items (e.g., covers
for bamboo pillows, pillow cases, sleeping mats, and blankets); men’s
underpants, shirts and trousers, and women’s blouses, traditional jack-
ets (hanbok), skirts and trousers; apparel items (e.g., slippers, sport
shoes, sachets, and handbags) and household items (e.g., wall cover-
ings, cushion covers, chair pads, curtains, table cloths, place mats, tea
mats, coasters, and food covers). All of these items are very expensive
costing two to ten times when compared to similar products made from
other fibers such as cotton, ramie, and silk.
Several commercial factories weave hemp as a portion of their pro-
duction. Much of the yarn they weave is purchased from the Peoples
Republic of China. The only totally vertically integrated hemp company
in Korea–which grew hemp under contract with local farmers, pro-
cessed the hemp in their factory, extracted fiber and wet-spun yarns,
wove hemp cloth and marketed products–was the Korea Hemp Com-
pany Limited of Caju Town, Geochang County, Gyeongsangnam Prov-
ince. The factory was established in 1993 and ceased production in June
of 2003 because they were unable to compete with imported Chinese
hemp cloth. During this period, they annually contracted for 4-7 ha of fi-
ber hemp with 12 families. Because this factory extracted the fibers
from the stalks, and then spun them on wet-spinning frames, they were
also able to use the fiber from seed plants to spin yarn (Lee, J-d. pers.
comm., 2004).
Hemp Korea is presently the only vertically integrated hemp textile
company in Korea. Hemp Korea is located south of Seoul near Tang-jin
city where they grew hemp on approximately 10 hectares of land in
2005. They are also developing a new hemp variety called ‘Chungsam’
or “Green Hemp.” Approximately 10 percent of their total production is
based in this new variety, while the remainder of their seed is supplied
by farmers in the Jeongson region. Hemp Korea operates a primary pro-
cessing and spinning facility near Tang-jin and sub-contacts weaving
through Korean textile mills. They offer a wide range of blended hemp
fabrics as well as hemp seed oil body-care products (Lee, B-s pers.
comm. 2005).
There are numerous weaving cooperatives scattered throughout
Korea in regions of present or former hemp production. The coopera-
tives often assist farmers by providing advice, procuring seed, and in
marketing yarn, cloth, and cloth products. In the Andong region, the
Jeojeon Hemp Cooperative consists of about 30 weavers and the Imha
Hemp Cooperative represents over 100 weavers. Several hemp cooper-
atives and companies may be contacted through the Internet, such as the
Jeojeon Hemp Cooperative <>, the Imha
Hemp Cooperative <> and the Boseong Hemp Cooper-
ative <>.
Hemp weaving is considered to be Intangible Cultural Asset No. 1 of
the Andong City District. Kumso Village of Imha Township in the
Andong City District is the home of about 70 weavers and several mas-
ter weavers have been designated as Intangible Cultural Assets of
Gyeongsangbuk Province. The oldest is Bae Bull-young who (in 2004)
turned 100 years old, although she is no longer an active weaver. The
most well known is Kim Jeom-ho aged 79, who has been nominated for
national status as a master weaver and a book has been written about her
life and craft (Photo 11).
Hemp weaving is also recognized as Intangible Cultural Asset No. 32
of Jeollanam Province. Kim Jeom-sun lives in Gokseong village and is
another Provincial Intangible Cultural Asset. She was featured in a doc-
Robert C. Clarke 83
umentary (Anonymous, 1982) about traditional Korean hemp weaving
and is presently 90 years of age. Next to her family home stands a small
studio with a room for weaving and a museum collection of traditional
tools and photos taken at the time the documentary was made. Her
daughter-in-law Yang Nam-suk and two other women in the village are
also recognized as master weavers.
Although hemp production in Korea has stabilized in the past three
decades, present production levels are far below those of the early
1930s. The vast majority of hemp weavers are women of at least 60
years of age and presently few if any women are learning the many
complicated and rigorous steps involved in hemp processing, spinning,
and weaving. Modern young women are encouraged to go to college
and to seek employment in urban areas, rather than learn traditional
crafts in their rural hometowns. However, the aging weavers are stoi-
cally optimistic and feel that as long as there are people to farm the land,
hemp will still be grown and woven.
On the other hand, Korean hemp is exorbitantly expensive when
compared to other production areas. Hemp of nearly comparable quality
imported from China sells for less the 25% of the price of Korean hemp
and has flooded the Korean market. Even the modern vertically inte-
grated Korean Hemp Company Limited in the Geochang region was un-
able to compete with Chinese imports and has gone out of business.
Only wealthy Koreans with a strong appreciation for traditional crafts
afford to buy Korean hemp and the majority of Koreans cannot distin-
guish true Korean hemp cloth from imported cloth. Although ramie
cloth is nearly as expensive to produce in Korea, it is much more popu-
lar for summer clothing, weaving is mechanized on a factory scale, the
production volume is much higher, competition is keen, and the price is
about half that of hemp cloth. Even so, traditional hand-woven Korean
ramie cloth production is also threatened by Chinese imports.
A system of government certification of retail outlets selling only
genuine Korean hemp could be initiated and learning centers could be
set up in rural areas to educate younger people about hemp weaving.
However, without government subsidies for hemp farming and weav-
ing families, accompanied by strong embargoes to limit the importation
of Chinese hemp and thereby raise its market price within Korea, tradi-
tional Korean hemp weaving is very likely to fade away along with
other traditional crafts such as basketry and papermaking.
Hemp growing and weaving are ancient traditions of the Korean Pen-
insula. Processing and weaving techniques have remained relatively un-
changed for centuries. Some processing techniques (e.g., steaming the
stalks) are apparently indigenous to Korea, while other techniques are
shared only with Japan (e.g., scraping the bark strips) or the Hmong eth-
nic group of Southwest China and northern Southeast Asia (e.g., loom
construction and other weaving tools). The ramifications of these
connections are yet to be investigated.
This comparative study of the historical and current techniques of
hemp cultivation in the Republic of Korea provides insights into the
relatively unchanged traditional practices of peasant farmers. More im-
portantly, fieldwork documents traditions quickly fading away in the
modern world. An understanding of traditional hemp farming and pro-
cessing strategies will also allow advisers to make more appropriate
suggestions concerning the modernization of local hemp production.
Anonymous, 1930. Choson Vice-regal Central Japan Government Research Center
Report No. 11. [in Japanese], Government Research Center, Tokyo, Japan.
Anonymous, 1982. Documentary depicting traditional hemp weaving in the Gokseong
region of South Korea, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Bird, I., 1898. Korea and her neighbours: a narrative of travel, with an account of the
vicissitudes and position of the country. John Murray, London, United Kingdom.
Chen, C-s., 1970. Agricultural Geography of Korea, Research Report No. 31. Geo-
graphical Research Centre, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong: 54.
Clarke, R.C., 1995. Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) cultivation in the Tai’an District of
Shandong Province, Peoples Republic of China. Journal of the International Hemp
Association 2(2): 57, 60-65.
Clarke, R.C. and Gu, W., 1998. Survey of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) use by the
Hmong (Miao) of the China/Vietnam border region. Journal of the International
Hemp Association 5(1): 1, 4-9.
Hillig, K.W., 2005. Genetic evidence for speciation in Cannabis (Cannabaceae) Ge-
netic Research and Crop Evolution 52:161-180.
Imha Hemp Cooperative, pers. comm. 2004. The Imha Hemp Cooperative handles
seed distribution and marketing of hemp cloth in the Andong region.
Robert C. Clarke 85
Kim, J-h.(a), pers. comm. 2004. Kim Jeom-ho is a 79 year old master weaver residing
in Kumso Village in the Andong City District where she is considered an Intangible
Cultural Asset.
Kim, J-h.(b), pers. comm. 2004. Kim Ju-hyeom is an artist and seamstress of traditional
Korean wrapping cloths living in Busan, Republic of Korea, who exhibits her work
both in Korea and internationally.
Kim, M-s, pers. comm. 2004. Mr. Kim Myoung-seob is director of the Andong Sambe
Company specializing in selling hemp funeral su-ui and sangbok.
Kim, Y-j pers. comm. 2004. Dr. Kim Young-jae is a Curator of Textiles at the Korean
National Folk Museum in Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Koh, P-j, pers comm. 2004. Dr. Koh Pu-ja is a Professor at Tang-kuk University in Se-
oul, Republic of Korea. She is a leading expert in the study and conservation of an-
cient and traditional Korean costumes.
Lee, B-s, pers. comm. 2005. Mr. Lee Byong-soo is President of the Hemp Korea com-
pany and one of Korea’s strongest advocates for industrial hemp.
Lee, C-s, pers comm. 2004. Lee Chang-sik is head of the Samberang Hemp Company
located in Boseong City, Jeollanam Province, Republic of Korea.
Lee, H.K., 1936. Land Utilization and Rural Economy in Korea. Kelly and Walsh,
Limited, Shanghai: 66.
Lee, J-d, pers comm. 2004. Lee Jong-dae is the General Manager of the Korea Hemp
Company Limited located in Caju Town, Geochang County, Gyeongsangnam
Province, Republic of Korea.
Min, G-j, 1985. Ancient Korean specialty fabrics. Kookmin University Educational In-
stitute Report No. 5: 113-120, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Ree, J.H., 1966 Hemp growing in the Republic of Korea. Economic Botany 20(2):
Seo, Y-j, pers comm. 2004. Seo Young-jin is the Agricultural Extension Advisor re-
sponsible for hemp licenses in the Geochang region of Gyeongsangnam Province of
the Republic of Korea.
Sim, Y-o, 2002. 500 Years of Korean Textiles. Institute for Studies of Ancient Textiles,
Seoul, Republic of Korea: 14.
Sim, Y-o, pers comm. 2004. Dr. Sim Yeon-ok is a Professor at Kookmin University in
Seoul, Director of the Institute for the Study of Ancient Textiles and a member of
the Special Committee of the Korean Cultural Properties Administration. She is a
leading expert in traditional Korean weaving.
Uniconsult Incorporated, 1968. Agricultural Survey and Demonstration in Selected
Watersheds - Republic of Korea, Vol. 3 Agronomy, forestry and pasture improve-
ment. FAO United Nations, Rome, Italy: 13.
... Sowing should be done when the soil temperature reaches 8-10 0C (2). Soil moisture and temperature are important for rapid seed germination and plant growth (9,11). If the purpose of growing cannabis is for fiber, it should be planted as early as possible, and if it is to be grown for seeds, it should be planted relatively late so that the vegetative part does not develop too much. ...
... (Figure 7). Harvested hemp stalks contain 75-80% moisture (11). Harvested hemp stalks are bundled by bringing together 25-30 plants to facilitate drying and pooling (Figure 8). ...
... Because the records of hemp from Badanital and Nepal may suggest early linkages to East and Central Asian trade routes, some selected examples with direct evidence of ancient cloth and textiles are pointed out below. In Korea traces of hemp thread, chord and cloth are reported from the Goongsan and a Gojoseon site dated to c. 3000 BC and 2333-108 BC, respectively (Clarke, 2006). In China, weaving of hemp cloth dates back to the Shang dynasty in the second millennium BC (Booth, 2003;Li, 1974). ...
... However, the Hochdorf cloth was shown to be made from unretted or not fully processed hemp fibres (Banck-Burgess, 1999;Körber-Grohne, 1985). Remarkably, fibres directly peeled from the stalks are sometimes also used in modern traditional processing of hemp in Nepal, Vietnam, Korea and China (Clarke, 1995(Clarke, , 2006(Clarke, , 2007a(Clarke, , 2007b and similar techniques are known in Europe (Ottich, 2006). ...
Full-text available
... Because the records of hemp from Badanital and Nepal may suggest early linkages to East and Central Asian trade routes, some selected examples with direct evidence of ancient cloth and textiles are pointed out below. In Korea traces of hemp thread, chord and cloth are reported from the Goongsan and a Gojoseon site dated to c. 3000 BC and 2333-108 BC, respectively (Clarke, 2006). In China, weaving of hemp cloth dates back to the Shang dynasty in the second millennium BC (Booth, 2003;Li, 1974). ...
... However, the Hochdorf cloth was shown to be made from unretted or not fully processed hemp fibres (Banck-Burgess, 1999;Körber-Grohne, 1985). Remarkably, fibres directly peeled from the stalks are sometimes also used in modern traditional processing of hemp in Nepal, Vietnam, Korea and China (Clarke, 1995(Clarke, , 2006(Clarke, , 2007a(Clarke, , 2007b and similar techniques are known in Europe (Ottich, 2006). ...
This study is focused on a 3.55-m-long sediment core retrieved from Badanital (i.e. the BT core) in 2008. Badanital (30°29′50″N, 78°55′26″E, 2083 m a.s.l.) is a small lake located in the upper catchment area of the Ganges in Garhwal Himalaya, northern India. The lake and the regional broad-leaved semi-evergreen forests are under the influence of the Indian Summer Monsoon (ISM) and westerly associated cyclones. Palynological investigation of the BT core revealed past vegetation changes reflecting both climate and human impact during the last 4600 years. Maximum spread of oaks occurred during c. AD 550–1100 and c. AD 1400–1630, that is, the intervals which partly overlap with the ‘Medieval Warm Period’ and the ‘Little Ice Age’, respectively. Three intervals of decreased oak pollen percentages are attributed to (1) continuously drier and cooler climatic conditions and fire activity (c. 2600–500 BC), (2) severe reduction in oak forests followed by secondary succession of alder woods (c. AD 1150–1270) and (3) pre-modern settlement activities since the British imperial occupation (after c. AD 1700). We argue that the high percentages (i.e. up to 28%) of Humulus/Cannabis type and Cannabis type pollen point to intense local retting of hemp c. 500 BC–AD 1050. Based on our age model, Cannabis fibre production at Badanital is contemporaneous with archaeological records of ancient hemp products from different parts of Eurasia suggesting possible linkages to early trade and knowledge exchange routes connecting India and the Himalaya with Central and East Asia and possibly Europe.
... However, as a number of soaking verbs developed secondary meanings such as 'to stain', 'to paint' and 'to bleach' or derived nouns meaning 'clothes', some may be connected to textile production. As evident from the present-day commercial production process in Northeast Asia, tree bark, ramie and hemp need to be soaked before they can be turned into thread, and hemp strips and thread are repetitively soaked and heated in the process of weaving (Clarke 2006). ...
Full-text available
Archaeolinguistics, a field which combines language reconstruction and archaeology as a source of information on human prehistory, has much to offer to deepen our understanding of the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Northeast Asia. So far, integrated comparative analyses of words and tools for textile production are completely lacking for the Northeast Asian Neolithic and Bronze Age. To remedy this situation, here we integrate linguistic and archaeological evidence of textile production, with the aim of shedding light on ancient population movements in Northeast China, the Russian Far East, Korea and Japan. We show that the transition to more sophisticated textile technology in these regions can be associated not only with the adoption of millet agriculture but also with the spread of the languages of the so-called 'Transeurasian' family. In this way, our research provides indirect support for the Language/Farming Dispersal Hypothesis, which posits that language expansion from the Neolithic onwards was often associated with agricultural colonization.
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Traditional European and East Asian cultures have for centuries grown hemp (Cannabis) to make homespun yarn and weave linens (plain weave fabrics) used both in ritual and secular contexts. Even so, few academic sources have discussed fine hemp linen fabrics and how they look. In publications concerning textile plants and the fabrics made from them, when hemp is mentioned, it is usually relegated to the weaving of coarse fabrics used by the poor lower classes. Unrecognized is that by employing only manual methods hemp fabrics can reach fine qualities, and that they were used by people of many social strata. Also frequently overlooked is that coarse fabrics were made from a range of other fiber plants including flax and ramie. In addition, that “coarse” and “fine” are relative terms subject to various interpretations makes textile comparisons difficult. This paper explores a collection of representative textiles from Europe and Asia made of homegrown and homespun hemp, with a focus on the various fabrics. Also discusses the importance of their cultural contexts as reasons for their preservation. Initial examination was performed by manual fiber identification protocols and a digital microscope was used to measure and record yarn diameter and fabric density.
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Documentation of household textile plant cultivation is sparse and has been largely overlooked in textile research. This is especially true with hemp (Cannabis) and hop (Humulus). Existing references were rarely written by the growers themselves, and this has contributed to misunderstandings regarding the terminology of plant gender and fibre identity. By contrast, sources concerning those plants as highly valued economic plants of commerce are much more extensive but cannot be reliably applied to household production. Cultivation in small fields such as kitchen gardens combined with manual methods made it possible to extract extremely fine fibres, although yields were lower because only hemp and hop male plants were used to produce fine textiles. Topics covered include botanical factors, manual fibre extraction strategies, and the differences between household and commercial production.
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A systematic review of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental records of cannabis (fibres, pollen, achenes and imprints of achenes) reveals its complex history in Eurasia. A multiregional origin of human use of the plant is proposed, considering the more or less contemporaneous appearance of cannabis records in two distal parts (Europe and East Asia) of the continent. A marked increase in cannabis achene records from East Asia between ca. 5,000 and 4,000 cal bp might be associated with the establishment of a trans-Eurasian exchange/migration network through the steppe zone, influenced by the more intensive exploitation of cannabis achenes popular in Eastern Europe pastoralist communities. The role of the Hexi Corridor region as a hub for an East Asian spread of domesticated plants, animals and cultural elements originally from Southwest Asia and Europe is highlighted. More systematic, interdisciplinary and well-dated data, especially from South Russia and Central Asia, are necessary to address the unresolved issues in understanding the complex history of human cannabis utilisation.
Full-text available
Clarke, R.C. 1995. Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) Cultivation in the Tai'an District of Shandong Province, Peoples Republic of China. Journal of the International Hemp Association 2(2): 57, 60-65. This paper summarizes the history of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) cultivation and traditional use in the Tai'an District of Shandong Province in the People's Republic of China, and investigates the cultivation and processing techniques currently being employed to produce hemp ribbon and hemp seed. Recent production levels and market conditions are reviewed. Comparisons with Hungarian hemp cultivation and processing, being representative of Western hemp production, are provided where appropriate. Wild types and escaped plants are also described.
Full-text available
Sample populations of 157 Cannabis accessions of diverse geographic origin were surveyed for allozyme variation at 17 gene loci. The frequencies of 52 alleles were subjected to principal components analysis. A scatter plot revealed two major groups of accessions. The sativa gene pool includes fiber/seed landraces from Europe, Asia Minor, and Central Asia, and ruderal populations from Eastern Europe. The indica gene pool includes fiber/seed landraces from eastern Asia, narrow-leafleted drug strains from southern Asia, Africa, and Latin America, wide-leafleted drug strains from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and feral populations from India and Nepal. A third putative gene pool includes ruderal populations from Central Asia. None of the previous taxonomic concepts that were tested adequately circumscribe the sativa and indica gene pools. A polytypic concept of Cannabis is proposed, which recognizes three species, C. sativa, C. indica and C. ruderalis, and seven putative taxa.
Hemp is a major fiber crop in Korea and is grown on both upland and paddy. The fiber is stripped by hand and made into durable work clothing worn by the majority of the rural population. The area cultivated to this crop has been more or less constant for the past 13 years. Production in 1958 was 6,735 metric tons of raw fiber which was grown on 9,475 hectares. The value of the fiber produced was equivalent to US $4.9 million and was made into an estimated 28.6 million square meters of cloth valued at US $61.5 million. It is estimated that one third of the population wear hemp clothing during the summer season. The yield of hemp per unit area is not satisfactory, but can be increased through improvement in present fertilizer practices and replacement of the present local variety with either the higher-yielding Japanese variety Tochikee or a hybrid of this variety with a common local variety. The use of water retting instead of steam retting would result in a hemp fiber that could be processed into industrial fabrics by the existing flax mills. This might create a commercial demand for the fiber and reduce flax fiber imports.
Lee Jong-dae is the General Manager of the Korea Hemp Company Limited located in Caju Town
  • J-D Lee
  • Pers Comm
Lee, J-d, pers comm. 2004. Lee Jong-dae is the General Manager of the Korea Hemp Company Limited located in Caju Town, Geochang County, Gyeongsangnam Province, Republic of Korea.
Dr. Koh Pu-ja is a Professor at Tang-kuk University in Seoul, Republic of Korea. She is a leading expert in the study and conservation of ancient and traditional Korean costumes
  • P-J Koh
  • Pers Comm
Koh, P-j, pers comm. 2004. Dr. Koh Pu-ja is a Professor at Tang-kuk University in Seoul, Republic of Korea. She is a leading expert in the study and conservation of ancient and traditional Korean costumes.
Agricultural Geography of Korea
  • C-S Chen
Chen, C-s., 1970. Agricultural Geography of Korea, Research Report No. 31. Geographical Research Centre, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong: 54.
Land Utilization and Rural Economy in
  • H K Lee
Lee, H.K., 1936. Land Utilization and Rural Economy in Korea. Kelly and Walsh, Limited, Shanghai: 66.
Ancient Korean specialty fabrics
  • G-J Min
Min, G-j, 1985. Ancient Korean specialty fabrics. Kookmin University Educational Institute Report No. 5: 113-120, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
Mr. Kim Myoung-seob is director of the Andong Sambe Company specializing in selling hemp funeral su-ui and sangbok
  • M-S Kim
Kim, M-s, pers. comm. 2004. Mr. Kim Myoung-seob is director of the Andong Sambe Company specializing in selling hemp funeral su-ui and sangbok.