SEOUL — In a precedent for this male-dominated culture, the likeness of a woman will appear on a South Korean bank note, specifically the central bank's 50,000-won bill.
The bill, worth about $36, will show a portrait and the work of painter and calligrapher Shin Saim-dang, who died in 1551. She has long been praised as a model of Confucian ideals.
While some applauded the move as an equal rights gesture in a country where men control nearly every facet of society, others say choosing Shin reinforces sexist stereotypes about women's roles.
Known as Eojin Eomeoni, or "wise mother," Shin for 500 years has been a model of both excellent mothering skills and filial piety, according to Bank of Korea officials.
Shin was the mother of seven children, including Yi I, a famous Confucian scholar whose image adorns the nation's 5,000-won note.
The officials point out that Shin was a respected female figure in Korea's Joseon Dynasty, which ruled from 1392 to 1910.
Shin's success in fulfilling her duties as a mother, wife and daughter while succeeding as an artist has brought her great respect in modern-day South Korea, the proponents add.
Others say the new bill should have featured Ahn Jung-geun, a male Korean independence activist.
"I don't like having a woman's face on my money," said Seoul convenience store worker Lee Young-hyun. "I wish they would have chosen a man."
Added Lee Ji-eun, a university student, as she rode the subway today: "Mrs. Shin was not as compelling as the other choices. I hope people don't think she represents women in this culture. She doesn't."
The 50,000-won bill, officials said, will be South Korea's largest-denominated note.
Ju-min Park of The Times' Seoul Bureau contributed to this report.