Beacon Ceremony at Namsan Beacon Mound
By Shim Hyun-chul
Having been invaded by other countries on numerous occasions, Korea used the smoke signal system to alert the central and province military of emergencies. The system held an important role in military communication, as it helped prepare and overcome national crisis and protect our land and people.
The act of lighting the beacon is called bongsu, and the stations are called bongsudae. There are a total of 673 bongsudaes dotted around the nation.
The bongsudae at Mt. Namsan was the central station where signals from across the country headed. The system used fire and smoke to send warnings to central and border fortresses, as well as to warn citizens of emergency situations developing on the borders.
The one on Mt. Namsan was built in 1394 during the third year of King Taejo of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910), during which the capital moved to Seoul, from Gaeseong. The station was used for more than 500 years up to 1895, the 32nd year in the reign of King Gojong. It was also called ``Mt. Mokmyeon's bongsudae,'' as Mt. Namsan was once called Mt. Mokmyeon and even ``Gyeongbongsudae'' as it was located in Seoul, or ``Gyeongseong'' which it was called during ancient times.
The five signal systems at Mt. Namsan followed the bongsu that came through the main routes from around the country, and whenever there was an emergency in one of the provinces, the signal would come through Mt. Namsan within 12 hours.
There are five stages when signaling or 5-geohwa, and it depends on the situation. One smoke signal, which is normally carried out every day, is called 1-geo, two smoke signals or 2-geo mean the enemy have been sighted, three means the enemy is close to the borders, four warns the possibility of war and five, a declaration of war.
The system used smoke in the daytime and torches at night but when it was exceptionally foggy, the soldiers used flags or even went out to spread the word themselves.
With the exception of Monday, visitors can watch the bongsudae ceremony from 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 at Mt. Namsan. Visitors can also watch the traditional patrol processions, the guards' ceremony and also the beacon ceremony before the signaling.