By Chung Ah-young
A sculpture of a scholar stands at the mouth of ¡°Seonbichon¡± or a scholars¡¯ village in Yeongju, North Gyeongsang Province.
/ Korea Times Photo
by Shim Hyun-chul
Yeongju ¡ª Yeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, is blessed with the natural beauty of Mt. Sobaek and its numerous valleys. But Yeongju is better known as a region holding a lot of relics from Confucian traditions represented by the Sosu Seowon (Confucian School) and ``seonbichon'' or a scholars' village. The city was home to scholars called ``seonbi'' during the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910).
In this fast-changing era of information and technology, the region offers a glimpse of the mental and ethical values of olden times.
Sosu Seowon, the first private institute established in Korea, was a birthplace of Confucian education and a cradle of prominent scholars. About 4,000 scholars, including the pupils of Confucian scholar Toegye Yi Hwang, studied at the institute.
As the first Confucian school financially supported by the king, it was established by Ju Se-bung, the governor of Punggi in 1543 during the reign of King Jungjong of the Joseon Kingdom.
There are several old buildings where scholars learned and studied loyalty, filial piety, manners and knowledge.
Surrounded by a tranquil and natural environment, the school has various traditional halls in which students resided for their studies.
Ganghakdang, the study place, features unique architectural styles such as a four-sided wooden verandah and entasis columns.
The institute has also the Munseonggong Shrine, which was built to enshrine An Yang, An Bo, An Chuk and Je Se-bung, where a memorial service takes place on the first day of the third and ninth months of the lunar calendar every year.
The basic principle of Chinese architectural arrangement located the study place at the front of the structure and the shrine to the rear, as seen in most Korean Confucian academies.
``But our Confucian institute is based on the arrangement of the study place in the east and the shrine in the west, while putting more emphasis on the east,'' said Kwon Hwa-ja, curator of the Sosu Seowon.
Kwon said that students usually stayed in a house located behind their teachers, which means students highly revered their teachers as the old Korean saying goes that a pupil does not dare step on his teacher's shadow.
``When people visit here, they can see the moral values and ethics based on Confucianism, which is manifested even through the construction arrangements. We are living in a modern era but can learn many things from Confucian values,'' she said.
Kwon explained that a large number of the institutes were constructed throughout the southeastern Gyeongsang area, eventually amounting to some 400 in the reign of King Cheoljong.
Unfortunately, they were mostly removed by the government policy to abolish Seowon under the Seowon Abolishment of Heungseon Daewongun Regent (1820-1898) in 1871 (reign of King Gojong 1863-1907). Now 14 of 47 remaining Seowon are located in the Gyeongsang area, considered to be the origination of them.
Sosu Seowon survived and it has been well preserved to keep its old structure. ``That's why the region is called home to Seowon,'' said Kwon.
An average of 800,000 tourists visit here every year. Seowon received a royal charter, which was hung on a board by King Myeongjong in 1550 at Gyeongryeomjeong Pavillion at the entrance of the institute.
Seowon functioned as the most common type of educational institution in Korea during the mid-to late Joseon Kingdom. They were private institutions but combined the functions of a Confucian shrine and a preparatory school.
In educational terms, the institutes were primarily occupied with preparing students for the national civil service examinations. In most cases, they served only children of the aristocratic ``yangban'' class.
``But Toegye allowed a smith named Bae Sun to study there as he had a high state of knowledge, although the institute only permits the noble classes,'' she said.
Seowon first appeared in the early Joseon Kingdom. Although the exact year of their introduction is not known, King Sejong issued rewards to two scholars for their work in setting up the institute in Gimje and Gwangju in 1418.
Inside the institute, there is also the Sosu Museum which exhibits a wide range of traditional Confucian cultural assets and to help visitors trace the historical roots of the national spirit through Sosu Seowon.
In addition, a large number of Yeongju's precious cultural relics are exhibited to allow visitors to personally experience local history.
``Seonbichon,'' the adjacent village for scholars, is located inside the old institute. The village is designed to give an idea about the everyday lives of scholars, from both a physical and spiritual perspective, and their connection to Confucianism.
The village offers a variety of events including exhibits and programs available for those wanting a cultural experience and personal participation in the life of scholars.
The village was recreated as a teaching place, aiming to foster loyalty and filial piety in the scholars' spirit as a basic philosophy to revive Korea's disappearing traditional culture and values.
Spanning an area of 57,712 square meters are traditional houses where the scholars lived, two lecture halls, a pavilion and a building with a funeral bier.
There are tile-roofed houses called Manjukjae, Haewudang, the Kim Mun-gi's House, the house of Jang's family based in Indong, and the old houses of Kim Se-ki and Kim Sang-jin to name a few.
There are also traditional houses with thatched roofs which show the lives of the lower-class people and a marketplace selling traditional food, souvenirs, crafts and local specialties.
``We offer various programs in which visitors can stay a night or more in the traditional houses. Visitors can experience how our traditional houses are scientifically constructed,'' the curator said.
Visitors can enjoy various traditional programs such as calligraphy lectures, performances of farmers' music, a traditional wedding ceremony and folk games.
The cost varies between 45,000 won and 150,000 won for a one-night stay depending on the size of the room.
|How to get there|
From Yeongju Bus Terminal, take the bus bound for Sunheung and get off at Sosu Seowon, which runs about eight times a day and takes 30 min.
From Punggi station, buses run about 15 times a day and take 15 min. Admission 3,000 won for adults, 2,000 won for teens and 1,000 won for children, free for seniors 65 and older and kids 6 and under. Admission includes entrance to Seonbichon and the Sosu Museum.
For more information, call (054) 638-6444 for Seonbichon and (054) 634-3310 for Sosu Seowon.