Changgyeonggung, the Quiet Grand Palace, Part 2

Sunmundang Corridor

Sunmundang Corridor

This post is a continuation of Changgyeonggung, the Quiet Palace, Part 1.

Changgyeonggung is in Seoul's Jongno district.

Changgyeonggung is in Seoul’s Jongno district.

On the left side of the picture below, you can see a pavilion. According to the guide, King Yeongjo used to read to his grandson, who later became King Jeongjo, at that pavilion. I’ve already mentioned the story of King Yeongjo, his son Crown Prince Sado, and Prince Sado’s son (King Yeongjo’s grandson) King Jeongjo in my post about the palace in Hwaseong Fortress. The building behind the pavilion (which you can see through the pavilion’s pillars) is where King Jeongjo was born.

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Since this was the English language tour guide, she did not know that I know Mandarin. So when she was about to describe the Chinese characters on the signs inside the pavilion and their meanings, I told her that I read Chinese, and was able to state the English meanings of most of the characters (the characters I didn’t know are very obscure and rarely used in modern times). The guide was very impressed. She said that she had never met a non-Asian before who could read Chinese characters.

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Behind the building behind the pavilion are two buildings built to serve as womens’ quarters. These are the only buildings in Korean palaces built specifically for women in the Joseon era which survive to the present day, and thus are of great value for better understanding Joseon architecture. The guide said that these also happen to be her favorite buildings in Changgyeonggung.

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King Yeongjo wanted his son, Crown Prince Sado, to die, and ordered him to commit suicide. Crown Prince Sado refused to comply with the order. Due to court rules, even the King could not kill or order the assassination of a Crown Prince. In order to get around the court rules, King Yeongjo ordered Prince Sado to enter a rice chest, which was locked, King Yeongjo ordered that the rice chest be left outside in the summer heat, that the chest be sealed, and that nobody open the chest for eight days. When the chest was opened, Crown Prince Sado was dead. The guide pointed out the exact spot where the chest was placed for those eight days.

The concubine chambers have been rebuilt, so the guide brought me inside the courtyard, and said that these chambers (or rather, the chambers which had existed in this spot in the 18th century) were where Crown Prince Sado was born. Neither of King Yeongjo’s queens ever had children, and Crown Prince Sado’s mother was a concubine. King Yeongjo had gotten permission from Prince Sado’s mother to … bring about their son’s death.

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Since I was the only person on the tour, the guide didn’t have to stick to the standard itinerary as strictly as she would have with a larger group, so we ended up getting into some conversational digressions. She thought it was interesting that I had been to every province in South Korea, and she wanted to know about why I was so interested in South Korea. I mentioned my interest in South Korean comic books, and I said that Goong (which I have mentioned before) is one of the reasons I was so interested in visiting the palaces. Though she has heard of Goong, the guide never read the comic book or the TV series, which I found a little surprising considering how popular it is in East Asia, particularly South Korea.

That was the end of the guided tour, but there is more to see in Changgyeonggung.

The Japanese had moved the placenta jar of a Joseon king to Changgyeonggung (like the one in Gyeonggijeon), as well as a Buddhist pagoda, which would have never been inside a palace in Joseon times – the Joseon rulers generally opposed Buddhism and banned Buddhist temples in Seoul. Most of what the Japanese installed in Changgyeonggung has been removed by the South Korean government by now, but I suppose the placenta jar and the pagoda remain because they are authentic Korean artifacts, even if they are in a place no traditional Korean would have put them.

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The Japanese also made the pond shown in the photo above. I suppose that removing a pond is not as simple as removing a building, and that it’s lovely enough to stay.

I think the guide said that the area where the pond now was originally used for farming. Since agriculture was by far the most important endeavor in the Joseon kingdom, even the king was required to be a farmer so that he could advise his subjects in agricultural matters, and so rice and some other crops were grown on palace grounds. I asked whether the king personally supplied the labor required to maintain the plot, and the guide said that he probably supervised it while letting servants do most of the physical tasks.

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The one building constructed under Japanese rule which the South Korean government decided to leave intact is the greenhouse, built in 1909. It was designed by a European, and is the first building of its kind in all of Korea, therefore the government decided that its historical value justified its preservation.

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Changgyeonggung is not the most impressive palace in Seoul – after all, only 20% of the original palace still stands / has been rebuilt, but it is my favorite. I like that it’s not as busy as the other palaces, I think the buildings which are there are lovely, I had good rapport with the guide, it’s at the heart of the drama of King Yeongjo / Crown Prince Sado, and I think what’s left of the Japanese modifications add interest. In fact, my visit to Changgyeonggung is one of my favorite memories of South Korea.

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6 Responses to Changgyeonggung, the Quiet Grand Palace, Part 2

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