Go to contents

[Opinion] Pond In Front of Royal Tomb. Acceptable?

Posted July. 08, 2002 00:58,   


Eye of History/Restoration and Use of Eu Mausoleum

Our one-month long party, which grabbed the world’s attention, is over. This is an amazing, new experience for our nation, which has witnessed the decline of its power in the 19th century, victimization of itself by the Japanese imperialism and division of the Korean Peninsula.

Through this World Cup, we have changed our image the world had about us. The world remembered us as a country suffering from the Korean War and hunger.

The World Cup also served as a turning point. We got to overcome our inferiority to the Western countries and regain self-esteem.

Soccer originated in a Western country. It means lots of difficulties for Asians in terms of physical structure and strength. Nonetheless, we hired a Western coach to learn them more, and it paid. It demonstrates our national power and experience has improved considerably. Now we may feel proud of ourselves.

But restoration of our pride brought about through the World Cup is temporary and superficial in nature. Now, we have to focus on the restoration of pride inside.

The new efforts are closely connected with consolidating our identity and should be based on true understanding and love for our history and culture. Understanding of our history in turn requires efforts, for example, of overcoming the distorted historical views left from the Japanese occupation, and straightening it out. It also takes a long time to do so. Thus, for short-term measures, we should restore our cultural heritage, which is the living culture of us. The field needing the most imminent attention is in preserving the ones that are dying out.

One good example lies in restoring the royal palaces and mausoleums. Most palaces were damaged by the Japanese during their occupation. On the other hand, royal tombs are being destroyed by ourselves. It’s really sad. Especially, the tombs of Chosun Dynasty scattered around Seoul are losing their original shape due to our demands in life.

In addition, other factors are also worsening the situation. Some people believe respecting our royal heritage is a legacy of neo-nationalism of some sort. Others, especially some scholars, consider old-fashioned or pre-industrial if someone majors in subjects related to the royal history. The royal heritage, however, is symbol of a higher culture, which all Koreans share.

The mausoleums were intended as afterlife shelters for kings and queens. Moreover, ancient Koreans counted reverence for their parents as the NO. 1 value. Thus, the best technology and art skills available at each time were employed in construction. Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China mobilized the whole country to construct his tomb.

But in our culture of ancestor-worship, our kings’ graves served as altars for the successive kings to revere their predecessors. They are cultural items enabling us to appreciate, for example, the ancient way of thinking and view of life.

The mausoleums serve as wonderful art work, and good data in restructuring the history since we can learn a lot from studying the size and location of them, the existence of shielding stone tablets, co-internment of the queen with a certain mistress out of the others, the size, location and sophisticatedness of tombstones, and the surroundings.

The Eu Mausoleum in Sukgwan Dong, Sungbook Gu in Seoul, exemplifies to what extend we have destroyed our cultural valuables. This tomb was built up for Kyong-Chong, the 20th King of Chosun Dynasty, and one of his mistresses. I spent my high school days in this area. The tomb offered me a place of comfortable break from my walk along the tracks east on the Chunchang Moiunt.

And 40 years have passed. I visited the tomb as a commissioner handling cultural heritage. I found myself shocked to see how obsolete the tomb has become. All the beautiful pines were all gone, and a pond has been created before a kiosk. In addition, trees of Japanese origin filled the garden. All I can find familiar are two junipers near the kiosk. The idea of geomancy can no longer found on the hill. The whole scene reflected our modern history, and seems to mirror the unorganized life we have lived. I felt really sad about it.

It is unbelievable to create a pond in front of a king’s tomb. It is urgent to fill up the pond and restore the tomb and its surroundings to the original.

We could handle the remaining buildings according to their duration period. But, we first demolish the nearby buildings and commission the ones still usable to an institute that manages or studies our heritage. By that way, we can contribute to the management, preservation and restoration of the Eu Mausoleum.

Chong Ohk-Ja (Professor of SNU, Korean History,and Curator of Kyujanggak Archives)