Posted by: rbbadger | September 5, 2010


Seoul’s royal palaces suffered greatly during the time of the Japanese occupation.  The largest of them, Gyeongbokgung, suffered quite a few losses as well.  While the complex of buildings is indeed impressive to look at, it is but a shell of what it once was.  More than half of the buildings were razed. 

The main gate leading into the place is known as Gwanghwamun (光化門).  During the Japanese occupation, it was moved to the side to make way for the Japanese government building which would later serve as the National Assembly building of the Republic of Korea until the 1970s.  The gate was destroyed during the Korean War.  Following the war, the governement of Park Chung-hee rebuilt it, complete with a calligraphic plaque in hangeul written by President Park himself.  President Park, like educated Korean men of his time, was a skilled calligrapher.

It was decided to move the gate back to its original location following the demolition of the Japanese government building in 1996.  Also, it was decided to rebuild the gate strictly on historical principles.  Like all the other buildings in the palace complex, it is brightly painted with those complex patterns known as dancheong.  A new calligraphic plaque was done, this time in Chinese characters.  During the time of the rebuilding, the gate was covered by a big, ugly metal structure that looked like this.

It is not very appealing, is it?  The new Gwanghwamun was unveiled to the public on Liberation Day, August 15th.  I must say that the results are impressive and I am happy that downtown Seoul now has something to rival Beijing’s Tian’anmen Gate.  (And happiest of all, it lacks a huge portrait of a dictator on it, too!)



  1. yeesh, that first picture is awful! the gate is beautiful though! glad it’s lacking the giant dictator too. 😀

  2. Aw, but we like giant dictators. 😉
    This is very nice. 🙂

  3. Our brother in law Tom could tell you a thing or two about the joys of reading Chinese, especially reading Chinese in Taiwan. The calligraphic plaque on the gate reads from right to left (門化光). Often, it is printed in vertical, as opposed to horizontal columns. Sometimes it reads left to right, other times right to left, and often from top to bottom.

    Until fairly recently, Korean newspapers used to be printed in veritcal columns. You would start at the rightmost column, read down to the bottom, and then go onto the next one reading from top to bottom. Also, back in those days, the newspapers were printed in a mixture of Chinese-characters and Korean alphabetic script, sort of like the situation which persists in Japan to this day.

    Back when Korea was first liberated, every word which was of Chinese origin was printed in Chinese characters. Words of Korean origin and grammatical particles used the Korean alphabet. About 70-80% of a given text would be in Chinese characters. Then, it got to be less and less to where seeing Chinese characters is very rare indeed.

    The tendency now is to only use them when absolutely necessary and then only in parenthesis. Many Koreans feel that Chinese characters are a foreign script unsuited to the language.

  4. that makes me crazy just thinking about it. i don’t think i’ll ever be literate in another language!

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