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Chuseok and Imjin War

Posted September. 13, 2022 08:05,   

Updated September. 13, 2022 08:05


Chuseok has been a celebrated holiday in Korea with a very long tradition. Joseon Wangjo Shillok (Annals of the Joseon Dynasty) records ancestral memorial services at the palace in Chuseok. However, the scale was relatively smaller than other memorial services, as the royal family had more authentic ceremonies to look after.

Back then, Chuseok was not celebrated as a major event as it is today. Families did not travel far to reunite, as they do today. Chuseok was not even an official holiday. Historic records stated that the royal family visited the family shrine and held a memorial service. After that, the king went to business as usual. Ancestral memorial services commemorating the late king were held as a national and official event, while those held in Chuseok were more like a more personal event of the royal family.

What was Chuseok like during the seven years of the Imjin war, when the Japanese invaded Korea in the 16th century? In Chuseok of 1592, when the war first broke out, King Seonjo

escaped to Uiju. There was no mention of Chuseok in historical records, the topic was about rewarding those who contributed to the war, how to execute prisoners and providing military food for the Chinese army who came in support. Chuseok in the following year was even more hectic, as the king was returning to Seoul, which the army had managed to recover. The king spent Chuseok in Bongsan, Hwanghaedo, north of Seoul. Though brief, there was a happy and festive moment for the royal family, as the king reunited with his sons, who the Japanese had captured.

Chuseok during the Imjin war stayed the same. Simple ancestral memorial services were held, but they might not have been recorded in the annals. Even after the war, Chuseok was hardly mentioned in historical records. During the later years of King Seonjo, however, history recorded that the crown prince paid a visit to the king. However, that was all. There were no other official events on that day. Perhaps Chuseok during the Imjin war had been unusual, after all.

What had Chuseok been like for the everyday people? There was no mention of the holiday in the War Diary of Admiral Yi Sun-shin. He was too busy fighting the war, worrying about the disease and his family. During the war, even the noble died of hunger and many people suffered terribly. Chuseok was a luxury they could not afford.

For the first time in three years since the COVID-19 pandemic, families are traveling from far to reunite and celebrate Chuseok. Some families must have met for the first time in three years. What would Chuseok have looked like if we had spent three years in the war, instead of a pandemic? We should never forget that we can enjoy the peace of the holidays and family reunions thanks to those who have protected our country and still do to this day.