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Gwanghwamun Signboard and 4-river Project

Posted November. 05, 2010 11:21,   


The traditional Korean gate Gwanghwamun, the main gate of Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul, has suffered many hardships. It was burned down in the Japanese invasion of 1592 and restored by Yi Ha-eung, regent of the Joseon Dynasty. The gate was moved north of Geonchun Gate in the palace under Japanese colonial rule and its wooden tower disappeared in the Korean War. Restored in 1968, Gwanghwamun ended up being located 10 meters from its original site. Worse, its tower on the stone structure was made of concrete.

In time for Liberation Day this year, the traditional gate was restored to its original site but its signboard got cracks. Many experts say the cracks were due to the signboard being made from pine wood that was not completely dried. On the contrary, artisans who joined the making of the signboard said they dried it for more than three years. A further investigation will find the exact cause of the fissure, but the shortening of the restoration period could be part of the cause. The work was slated to be completed at year’s end but the completion date was advanced twice to mark Liberation Day Aug. 15 and prepare for the G-20 summit.

The Cultural Heritage Administration said, “Cracks are common in pine wood and the signboard of Daehanmun at Deoksu Palace also has cracks,” adding, “This naturally occurs because wood contracts when weather gets dry in autumn.” This was a manmade disaster, however, since the cracks appeared less than three months after the restoration. In the restoration of cultural assets, all options should have been considered and the proper preparation should have been made. This incident must have left a bitter taste in the people’s mouth since this is reminiscent of the old practices of government officials to avoid immediate responsibilities.

This incident also has huge implications for the four-river restoration project. The national venture goes beyond the interests of a specific administration. If shoddy work is conducted and mistakes arise, this will undermine the entire project. Worse, political forces who fear the success of the project still oppose it. So the government, provincial authorities and construction companies should do their utmost to carry out the work without problems.

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-hwal (shkwon@donga.com)