Andong, a Mecca of Traditional Korean Heritage

Boasts a rich depository of traditional heritage, including Hahoe Village,
the Andong Int'l Mask Festival & Dosan Seowon

Hahoe Village is a center of traditional Korean heritage that blossomed with harmonious ensembles of culture among yangban and commoners as well as a refreshing combination of tradition and openness. One would be remiss to miss out on one of many masked dance plays or the opportunity to have a family dinner after a day of touring the ancient structures and lifestyle on display, Rep. Kim Gwang-lim, of the Grand National Party (GNP), said. The following are excerpts from an interview between NewsWorld and Rep. Kim, who hails from Andong, in which he
introduced the city's precious and world-class cultural assets and heritage.
Question: You were one of the decision-makers in economy-related ministries over the past three decades, a period that was essential for the nation's economic development. Please look back at your career as a government official, and what legislative activities do you now focus on?
Answer: I've been with economic ministries, including the now-defunct Economic Planning Board, the now-defunct Ministry of Planning & Budget, Cheong Wa Dae, the Korea Intellectual Property Office, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance and the National Assembly Budget Settlements Committee for the past 30 years after passing the 14th higher administrative examination. A majority of my government career was devoted to budgetary jobs. I had been engrossed with managing the state coffers from a time when people could only afford to fill their hungry stomachs with corn cakes, to an era in which Korea has risen to become a global top 10 economic power without significant attention devoted to rural development. Fortunately, I played a part in the development of my native town of Andong -- assisting in the construction of the Yongsang Overpass in Andong while serving as a five-class official with the Ministry of Economic Planning Board Budget Department as well as participating in the implementation of a project to develop Confucian culture while working as director general of fiscal planning at the Ministry of Planning & Budget.
Originally, I had no intentions of entering the political field, but I wanted to work for education as a university president after quitting officialdom as the vice minister of strategy and financing. I made my mind to run for representative of Andong during general elections of the 18th National Assembly upon repeated calls from many people there demanding a turnaround in the economy of the city. I have since devoted myself to invigorating the regional economy with a vision of ushering in an era of prosperity rather than becoming a skillful politician with the air of a showman.
My legislative top priority is to bring the economy of Andong alive. I constantly look around at the on-site developments of the city, contemplating what steps need to be taken next to stimulate the stagnant economy. It is also my responsibility to inspect the funneling of budgetary money into on-site fields without waste. I want to instill vigor into Andong, where the moribund economy has hit the middle-class and led many of the younger generation to seek fortunes elsewhere. I hope my dream of a prosperous Andong comes true through the blossoming of cultural resources in the city on the basis of material foundation, and by doing so I will do my part in boosting the morale of low-income people in Korea.
Q: Will you introduce Andong?
A: Andong is famous as a town of substantial land, water and manpower. The city is 2.5 times as spacious as Seoul and the largest among 51 cities across the nation. There is copious water flowing through Andong from the Nakdong River. Andong boasts a breathtaking landscape with many mountains, streams and rivers, including the Nakdong River, Banbyeon Stream, Gilan Stream and Songya Stream, on top of waterworks such as the Andong Dam and Imha Dam, which account for 10 percent of the nation's total water reserve together. In the past, areas with many dams and abundant water were perceived as backwards, but towns with affluent water will be the best places to live in the future as water increasingly becomes a precious asset.
Andong has few products due to the scarcity of fields and abundance of mountains, but the immeasurable depth of beauty with streams and mountains was the habitat for many Confucian scholars content with honest poverty in ancient times. A geographical book, authored by Lee Jung-hwan during the reign of King Yeongjo of Joseon Dynasty, revealed that half of the dynasty's elite were scholars who hailed from Gyeongsang provinces, half of whom were from Andong. To name a few who hailed from the city, there were as many as 311 scholars who passed the higher civil service examination during the dynasty,; the city produced the highest number of independence fighters against Japanese colonial rule, including Lee Yuksa, the famed poet arrested for his movement against Japan and Lee Sang-yong, the first prime minister of the Korean interim government.
TRADITIONAL KOREAN HERITAGE ? - Andong is a mecca of traditional Korean heritage that has been passed down from generation to generation with the traces of ancient Confucian scholars. Nearly half of the decades-long traditional structures are found in northern Gyeongsanbuk-do, particularly in the Andong area, and there are 45 seodang (ancient village schools), 14 of which are designated as cultural property assets, and 97 residences of main family houses and ancient structures with cultural value. Hahoe Village in which main families still preserve the traditional Korean lifestyle is the first cultural heritage with living quarters still in use and has been placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. There are approximately 4,000 members associated with Confucian organizations and some main family households there still lead a Confucian lifestyle. Andong, which was chosen as the seat of the Gyeongsangbuk-do provincial government in June of 2008, dreams of the resurgence of the heartland of ancient governments.
Q: Will you explain the significance of Hahoe Village's placement on the UNESCO World Heritage List?
A: Visitors to the village have to walk through the streets since tourist vehicles are banned from coming within 1 km of the entrance to the village. Electricity poles and electric wires cannot be seen, but a quiet, cozy landscape with 100-odd ancient houses, roads studded with stones and a steam of the Nakdong reveals the luxury of enduring brief inconveniences as well as the harmony of traditional heritage and nature.
Hahoe Village is nicknamed Korea in Korea because it is a showcase of the harmonious combination of ancestral spiritual cultural heritage and their descendant's lifestyle.
The village has established itself as one of Korea's must-see attractions for Koreans and foreigners alike as global notables, including Queen Elizabeth II, former U.S. president George H.W. Bush and his son, and Queen Margrette II of Denmark toured the village. Hahoe Village has gained global recognition through its placement on the UNESCO World Heritage List with Yangdong Village last year.
ENSEMBLES OF TRADITION & OPENNESS AS WELL AS YANGBAN & COMMON CULTURES ? - From ancient times, Hahoe Village was considered disobedient. Some arguments say that the village was too authoritative and inflexible as the village of Poongsan Ryu clan families, who produced prominent Confucians such as Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong. Paradoxically, the village has preserved for hundreds of years traditional heritage such as Hahoe Byeolshingut Talnori, the village's representative masked dance play, leveling satires at yangban and noblemen and containing didactic expressions punishing evil and rewarding good.
Hahoe Seonyujulbul Nori is a decades-old traditional fireworks festival, mainly organized by noblemen, a play of enjoying the flowers of fire from burning pine trees being tossed over the cliff of Buyeong Peak when each poem was composed and read in summer nights. A fire burns along a rope knotted with pine sap and paper hung from the beach to a cliff. As the fire moves upwards the knots sparkle, dropping sparks like falling rain onto the river. This already amazing effect is enhanced by the thousands of lanterns floating by and the burning of branches tossed from the cliffside.
Hahoe Village is a center of traditional Korean heritage that blossomed with harmonious ensembles of culture among yangban and commoners as well as the harmony of tradition and openness. One would be remiss to miss out on one of many masked dance plays or the opportunity to have a family dinner after a day of touring the ancient structures and lifestyle on display
Q: Will you be more specific about Andong Mask Dance?
A: The language of human facial expression is communicable at any place around the world. Mask dances in many countries tend to be tools to easily express human beings'joy, anger, sorrow or happiness. Wearing masks makes everyone stand on equal footing as the theme of the Andong International Mask Dance Festival, Make Me a King indicates.
Hahoe Seonyujulbul Nori is the city's representative play to present the diversity of human beings' emotions and innate nature. The play employs 11 Hahoe masks, designated as Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 121, which have been preserved as the oldest existing masks, and two Byeongsan masks. The masks are made with alder trees and painted with lacquer to preserve them, in a sharp contrast with masks, made with paper and gourds in other regions, which were burned or destroyed after finishing performances.
Despite the more than 800-year-old tradition, Hahoe Seonyujulbul Nori appeared to have almost been extinct when the play ended in 1928. It was thanks to the association of preserving Hahoe Seonyujulbul Nori together with the Andong City government, that the play, designed as Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 69, has managed to be preserved as it is now. The Andong International Mask Dance Festival, an annual event held in the fall, became the top prize-winning festival from the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism for the seventh consecutive year in 2010.
Q: Will you introduce Yi Hwang, one of the great Korean Neo-Confucian scholars, and Dosan Seowon (Academy)?
A: Andong was once nicknamed as Churo in Haedong, named after the native towns of Menchius and Confucius, indicating the fact that the city produced such great Confucians as Yi Hwang. Confucian forces controlled the state and society of the Joseon Dynasty during the late 16th century. Yi was a scholar of the times who offered a rationale of governing state and society, and he transformed the function of Seowon (Academy), which served as a place to offer religious services, into a space of academic teaching and the cultivation of self-discipline. Dosan Seowon was built in 1570 during the 3rd year of the reign of King Seonjo four years after Yi's death in celebration of his scholastic pursuit of national development and stability based on the integration of academic learning into daily life as well as political morality. Dosan Seowon was the site of Yi's academy where he devoted his life to academic study and the teaching of his disciples after quitting his official position in 1561 during the 16th year of the reign of King Myeongjong.
DOSAN SEOWON, CONFUCIAN CENTER - Visors to the academy will be surprised to find its simplicity and plainness with no excesses or deficiencies in terms of substance internally.
The famed Korean novelist Kim Hoon depicted this, Whenever you go there, you may see the light of Yi Tae-gye, Yi Hwang's penname. Dosan Seowon was not only the site of the academy where the Confucian scholar taught his disciples in the past, but is also a place where Yi's enduring sprit and inspirations still live on.
In commemoration of his achievements, the Andong City government inaugurated the Dosan Seowon Noblemen Culture Training Center this year. Students from Korea and abroad, including China, have streamed to the academy to experience the Confucian scholar's teachings and lifestyle. The number of his disciples has jumped to a 55-fold surge over eight years ago. nw

Rep. Kim Gwang-lim speaks at a parliamentary interpellation of the government.

Rep. Kim discusses Andong's cultural heritage with a descendant of the famed Confucian Yi Hwang.

Rep. Kim mingles with the residents of Hahoe Village at the Andong International Mask Dance Festival.

Rep. Kim explains about Yi Hwang, who is put on the 1,000-won bill, at Dosan Seowon, the site of Yi's academy.

Photos on Courtesy of the Rep. Kim's office

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