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A New Addition to the UNESCO World Heritage: Korean Seowon
Date 08-09-2019 13:37
A New Addition to the UNESCO World Heritage: Korean Seowon

The nine remaining private Confucian academies established in Korea during the Joseon era, known as seowon, were added to the UNESCO World Heritage early in July. Seowon were recognized as having an “outstanding universal value” as conduits of neo-Confucian teachings during the Joseon era and embodying the key elements of that philosophy in their unique architectural designs. Here are three of the better known seowon in Korea today.

The First-Ever Seowon Introduced in Joseon:
Sosuseowon Confucian Academy, Yeongju

Sosuseowon Confucian Academy was the first of its kind to be erected in Joseon in 1543, under the reign of King Jungjong. It was originally built as a shrine commemorating the life and teachings of An Hyang, a founding figure of neo-Confucianism in Joseon, and was later converted into a learning institute. It was a major establishment back in its day, producing some 4,000 seonbi (learned men of noble origins) over a period of 353 years.
Initially known as Baegundongseowon Confucian Academy, this seowon came to receive its current name from Myeongjong, the 13th king of the Joseon dynasty, who awarded it with a new signboard bearing the name. The newly given name captured aspirations “to rebuild Confucianism from its collapsed state by having disciples practice it again.” Such signboards granted by the royal court served as marks of accreditation for private learning institutes.

Address: 2740, Sobaek-ro, Sunheung-myeon, Yeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do
Tel. +82-54-634-3310

Home of “Toegye” Yi Hwang: Dosanseowon Confucian Academy, Andong

It seems the spirit of the revered Joseon neo-Confucian scholar Yi Hwang (pen-name: Toegye) still pervades Dosanseowon Confucian Academy today. Yi Hwang was venerated nationwide for establishing the basics of neo-Confucianism as it came to be practiced in Joseon. The sprawling academic establishment is mainly divided between Dosanseodang Village School and Dosanseowon Confucian Academy. The former is where Yi studied and taught neo-Confucianism. The latter was added as a commemoration to the great man after he passed away.
You can find an illustration of Dosanseowon Confucian Academy on the back of the Korean 1,000-won bill, suggesting the particular import of the building among Korea’s cultural and historic heritage. The signboard of Dosanseowon Confucian Academy is also famous as a work of Han Seok-bong, by far the most renowned calligrapher of the Joseon era.

Address: 154, Dosanseowon-gil, Dosan-myeon, Andong-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do
Tel. +82-54-856-1073

Situated in Gyeongju, a City of Living Historic Heritage in Korea:
Oksanseowon Confucian Academy, Gyeongju

Gyeongju is famous for being a treasure trove of heritage from the Silla period, founded over a millennium ago. It is home to Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Grotto, and Cheomseongdae Observatory. The designation of Oksanseowon Confucian Academy as one of the nine seowon added to the World Heritage has given the city yet another must-see site. Oksanseowon Confucian Academy was built to commemorate Yi Eon-jeok (pen-name: Hoejae), a leading neo-Confucian scholar of the Joseon period. Yi was a pioneering figure in the discipline whose seminal works went on to influence Yi Hwang.
Oksanseowon Confucian Academy boasts the largest collection of books among seowon in Korea today. Its signboards, written by the most renowned calligraphers of the day, such as Han Seok-bong and Kim Jeong-hui (pen-name: Chusa), speak to the kind of stature and respect it commanded.

Address: 216-27, Oksanseowon-gil, Angang-eup, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do
Tel. +82-54-761-2211