Posted by: rbbadger | June 29, 2009

Royal tombs make the UNESCO list

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization often identifies certain places as World Heritage Sites.  The sites chosen are significant historical or cultural sites.  Often, they are quite unique.  Seoul has a couple of UNESCO World Heritage sites, namely the Jongmyo Royal Ancestral Shrine and Changdeok Palace.  Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, boasts a large number of UNESCO World Heritage sites such as Bulguksa, the Seokguram Grotto, the Shilla Tombs, and so on. 

In and around Seoul are the tombs of the Joseon kings.  My city, Namyangju, has a couple of them as well.  Two of them are unique in that they aren’t the tombs of kings, but the tombs of emperors.  Back in 1897, King Gojong decided to elevate Korea’s standing on the world stage.  Thus, he inaugurated the Great Korean Empire (大韓帝國) and became the first Korean emperor.  He was eventually forced to abdicate and his son, the Emperor Sunjong was put on the throne by the Japanese.  He was eventually forced to cede Korea to Japan.

We took the students to the tombs of the Gwangmu Emperor (King Gojong) and the Yonghui Emperor (Emperor Sunjong) and their wives.  I had long wanted to visit these, but this was a day that I forgot to bring the camera and I didn’t know where we were going.  Anyhow, Robert Koehler took a beatiful photo of the tomb of the Gwangmu Emperor which you can access by clicking here.  The Gwangmu Emperor died in 1919, having lived to see his country turned over to Japanese rule.  His tomb was modelled after the Ming Tombs near Beijing with all sorts of statues of auspicious animals and court officials carved out of granite.  In the hill behind the building is where he is buried.  His wife, the Empress Myeongseong, one of the greatest of Korea’s queens is buried nearby.  

UNSECO has decided to add the Joseon Royal Tombs to the list.  Scattered throughout Seoul and surrounding Gyeonggi Province are the tombs of Korea’s past monarchs.  My city also has the tomb of Crown Prince Imperial Eumin, the man who would have become king had not the Japanese taken over.  Crown Prince Eumin’s wife, Princess Nashimotomiya Masako, known in Korea as Princess Bangja, is also buried there along with their son, Hereditary Prince Imperial Gu.     

There are a number of other things associated with Korea’s royal past which have been similarly honoured by UNESCO.  Among them are the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty.  Written in classical Chinese, professional historiagrophers granted an unusual degree of independence, kept excruciatingly detailed records of the life of the king, national affairs, the weather, daily life in Joseon, and much more.  The king was forbidden from reading these.  Such a degree of independence was unusual for the time.  The records were also very meticulously printed, rather than written out by hand, as in China.

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