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Hahoe and Yangdong Villages

Posted August. 02, 2010 11:25,   


North Gyeongsang Province has run since last year interactive tours at traditional Korean folk villages. Mostly urbanites come to the villages with their families, stay overnight at homes hundreds of years old, and experience the culture of scholars and traditional foods. The National Folk Museum is running the event “Let’s Go to South Chungcheong Province Folk Villages” from this year. As the program has gained popularity through word of mouth, the number of applicants is more than 10 times that of available spaces. So participants are being chosen through a lottery drawing. Traditional folk villages, which had remained forgotten for a long time, are making a comeback as a tourism resource helping to galvanize provincial regions.

Hahoe Village and Yangdong Village, which were registered Saturday on the UNESCO World Heritage list, are the most representative among traditional folk villages in Korea. Located in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province, Hahoe is a village of noblemen where relatives of the same clan have lived together for more than 600 years. Yangdong in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, is where such people lived together for more than 500 years. It is a near miracle that the two villages have survived wars and the struggle to maintain their original forms over the years. In Seoul, one can hardly recognize the image of an ancient capital more than 600 years old. Even in isolated rural villages, modern buildings including apartment towers are being built. The listing of Hahoe and Yangdong is the tenth for Korea on the UNESCO list, but the two villages are the first of their kind in Korea to receive the honor. Residents preserved well not only traditional housing but also intangible culture of the two villages, including Confucian traditions, further increasing the value of Hahoe and Yangdong.

The registration of relics and natural beauties as World Heritage results in a surge of tourists. Since royal tombs from the Joseon Dynasty were registered as World Heritage in June last year, the number of tourists to the sites has jumped eight-fold. The number of foreign tourists to the tombs was 4,648 from January to June last year, but the figure shot up to 37,063 in the same period this year. It is desirable for the two villages to gain popularity as international tourist spots, but fears are rising over damage to the villages due to the rapid surge of tourists. As such, the registration of relics as World Heritage entails pride coupled with responsibility.

Hahoe is the birthplace of Yu Seong-ryong (pen name Seoae), the author of “Jingbi-rok,” which documents Joseon’s failure at the Imjin War when Japan invaded the Joseon Dynasty in the late 16th century and gives lessons to descendants. Yangdong produced Lee Eon-jeok (pen name Hoejae), a representative Sung Confucian scholar. On top of preserving the two villages, Koreans are equally responsible for maintaining the spiritual legacies of their ancestors. Korean tourists should feel and share the mental values that the villagers have inherited rather than focus the external look of these ancient villages.

Chief Editorial Writer Hong Chan-sik (chansik@donga.com)