Monday, August 8, 2016

Cheong Wa Dae, The Blue House- Hoyer- SNU- Summer Language Grant

Outside Cheong Wa Dae

Greetings From Seoul,
            I was able to take part in a Cheong Wa Dae compound tour. Cheong Wa Dae is South Korea’s Presidential residence and executive office.  The tour was an outside walking tour and did not include the opportunity to enter any facility other than Chunchugwan, the press hall, where the tour began.  The tour included a viewing of the Nokjiwon, the Presidential garden; Gyeongmudae, the site of the former Cheong Wa Dae building; the Grand Garden in front of the main building; Yeongbingwan, the State Guest House; and Chilgung, the location of seven enshrined royal concubines’ ancestral tablets.

          The outside of the Presidential compound was beautiful.  Picture taking was limited for security reasons.  The limiting of photos allowed me to be fully engaged in the tour, as well as the translated informational audio.  The most interesting part of the tour to me was the historical commentary of the development of the current presidential compound.
The elevation of the location now hosting the presidential compound is believed to have begun during the Goryeo period when the city now known as Seoul became the Southern Capital of the Goryeo Dynasty.  During the Joseon Dynasty, it became the back garden of the Gyeongbokgung Palace—the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty—and served as the location for Hoemaeng, an allegiance ritual before the spirits of heaven and earth during which merit subjects received rewards.  Gyeongbokgung Palace was constructed in 1395 during the Joseon Dynasty and was burnt down during a Japanese invasion in 1592.  Gyeongbokgung was not reconstructed until 1867 and in 1910 was once again mostly destroyed by the Japanese colonial invasion, during which the Japanese Governor-General’s office was erected on the site of what is now Cheong Wa Dae. 

Grand Garden

Chilgung, Ancestral Tablets
Yeongbingwan, the State Guest House

Nokjiwon, Presidential Garden
Beginning in 1990, the South Korean government began an effort to restore Gyeongbokgung Palace as well as other historical sites.  This restoration included the construction of what is now the presidential residence, Cheong Wa Dae.  Before the construction of Cheong Wa Dae, South Korea’s executives resided in the old Japanese Governor-General’s building.  This building was used until the construction of the new Cheong Wa Dae.  After completion of the new presidential residence, the former building was torn down in a symbolic act of severing historical ties with the Japanese occupation and with symbols of its colonial power.  While the former building was torn down, the historical importance of its existence and demolishment is highlighted by the inclusion of the former site, Gyeongmudae, and the stone marker that took its place, during the official tour.

My personal translator after my audio died
The location of the Presidential residence, built in the back garden of the Gyeongbokgung palace, being in such proximity to Seoul’s preeminent historical sites, reveals a palpable effort to preserve and infuse the historical into the current symbols of Korean national identity and power.  Like museums, preserved historical sites serve to conserve and propagate particular and chosen historical narratives which shape contemporary views and identities.  The very reconstruction and preservation of Gyeongbokgung Palace and other historical sites, and the location of the newly constructed, adjacent presidential residence serve as important markers of historical resilience and the deep-seated memory that forms Korean identity and power structures.

Chilgung, Site of Seven Ancestral Tablets

Sources referenced:
“Place and Buildings.” Republic of Korea Cheong Wa Dae. Accessed August 6, 2016.
“History of Cheong Wa Dae.” Republic of Korea Cheong Wa Dae. Accessed August 6, 2016.
“Gyeongbokgung Introduction.” Gyeongbokgung Palace Office. Accessed August 6, 2016.

Verónica María Hoyer, B.A., International Affairs 2017,
Sigur Center 2016 Korean Language Fellow,
Seoul National University, South Korea.

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