Monday, January 24, 2005


The Chosun Ilbo reports that the signboard presently hanging from Kwanghwamun which was written by former President Park Chung Hee (Pak Chông-hûi) is due to be taken down. The Korean Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) announced the move, stating that the signboard isn't consistent with "the character of Gyeongbok Palace, the main palace of the Yi Dynasty" (not to mention the fact that it is written right-to-left rather than left-to-right as most traditional signboards are).

The conservative Chosun Ilbo cries foul, noting that the decision to remove the signboard can be taken as a sign of disapproval of Pak and his dictatorial rule. In addition, the decision to replace the signboard with caligraphy from the Chosôn King Chôngjo (r. 1776-1800) is thought to be politically motivated as some have attempted to compare President Roh Moo-hyun with Chôngjo. Some of the specifics of the objections follow:
But there are other matters to be examined.

One is that the present Gwangwhamun was moved to the east of Gyeongbok Palace in 1926, when colonial Japan attempted to demolish it while building its Governor General Office. It was again moved and rebuilt at the present site in 1968. There the gate now stands, 14.5m to the east of the original site and with its wooden upper story rebuilt in reinforced concrete. It is thus not unreasonable to suspect an ulterior motive in the CHA's sudden rush to replace the signboard without a complete restoration of the structure.

Next, the characters that are to be used in the new signboard have been chosen from a scroll King Jeongjo presented to a temple in Hamgyeong province. Calligraphy for the signboard of a main gate of a palace should be different from that used for a temple epigraph in both strength and feeling.

Third, the CHA disapproves of the current signboard because it was written by a non-expert and a man of power. There are also stories making the rounds that the administration wants use King Jeongjo's scroll because the current government’s management style is similar to the monarch's - championing reform and attempting to move the capital. However, comparison between King Jeongjo's reforms with those of the incumbent administration is perhaps a little awkward.

The Gwangwhamun signboard written by ex-president Park, having hung there for 37 years now, has attained a certain historic value all its own. If it must be changed, it won't be late to do so as and when the reinforced concrete structure is replaced with a wooden one.
Tempest in a teapot? Perhaps, but symbols and rituals are far from inconsequential even in modern polities.

Kwanghwa-mun. Click to enlarge and you can barely see the signboard in question Posted by Hello

UPDATE: More thoughts on this matter here.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?