Posted by: rbbadger | September 2, 2008

Chuseok

Soon, one of the traditional festivities of Korea will take place, namely Chuseok.  Chuseok, which is sort of the Harvest Festival, is one of the occasions when the ancestral rites are performed.  Food and drink are offered to the dead ancestors on a table setup that looks like this.

There is a very strict order as to where which food is placed where.  Korea is sort of famous for its strict maintance of some of the Confucian ceremonial, some of which has died away completely in China.  In fact, there is no place in China today where you can see the Imperial Ancestral Rites.  You can only see them in Korea at the vast shrine at Jongmyo in Seoul.  Also, there are annual memorials of Confucius at Sungkyunkwan University (founded in 1394) which would rival anything done in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, or SIngapore.

The Chinese observe similar rites, though there is an element which is not done in Korea, namely the burning of hell banknotes and other combustible luxuries.  Like the Ancient Egyptians, the Chinese have historically believed that you can take things with you into the afterlife.  This explains some of the truly fantastic tombs of the emperors, involving vast armies of soldiers made out of terra cotta.  In Daoist temples, it is quite common to see people burning things for their ancestors.  It is believed that by doing so, they will benefit their ancestors in the afterlife, and thus gain blessings for their families and themselves here.

While such things as fortunetelling and geomancy (feng shui) may seem more common in China, they nevertheless do exist here.  When my boss in Gwangju built a new building, he held the dedication on a numerologically auspicious day, namely July 7, 2007 (07.7.7).  Feng Shui practitioners are consulted especially on the auspicious placement of gravesites.  In Korea, though, they do not seem to consult on the auspicious placement of furniture in a house or building, as is very common in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and to a lesser extent in the People’s Republic of China.  The Communist Party has expelled cadres for consulting feng shui practitioners.

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