Thursday, 28 May 2009

Dosan Seowon Confucian Academy

Scott and I decided that we needed to see more old things. We are living in the cultural epicenter of South Korea, but sometimes when we get free time all we want to do is collapse after a long week of teaching. Figuring out how to get there was really easy, but I have to give part of the credit to my encounter with the French man at City Hall when I did my ARC registration, because it was through helping him that I procured the map of Andong. The map includes sites of interest, as well as bus times and numbers to take, and where to find said bus. We took the 67 bus on a 40 minute ride north for only 1,100 won (about $1).

Dosan Seowon is the oldest Confucian Academy in Korea, and is built into the side of a hill overlooking a river. The architectural style is much like other old buildings and temples in the area, curved to complement the lines found in nature, with striking details painted in bold colors on the undersides of all the roofs.

I like finding the buildings that haven't been as carefully maintained with their painting, although the richness of color in the ones that have is still breathtaking. For the entire lifetime of some of these buildings there have been people climbing under these roofs and painstakingly following the pattern of the original design, which indicates a reverence and respect that is fascinating to see.

The location of the academy is perfect. It is up high enough that you can look out and view the entire river valley below, the distant mountains, the forests stretching out for miles beyond the walls. However, the trees in the front block anyone from seeing the Academy from below.

Just across the river is a small round hill on which Sisadan is located (a memorial to an overpopulated examination once taken on the riverbank- more on that in Scott's blog), and even from there the academy view is obstructed by the trees.

It's fitting that way. The buildings themselves serve to blend in with nature, and the essence of Confucian thought is to focus on cultivation the individual and study- which is dramatically served in such a place.

The Academy was built under the teachings and influence of the Confucian scholor Yi Hwang, but wasn't fully completed and chartered until after his death. Being there though, you'd almost think that there was never a more important man at the academy, as his memory is everywhere. The letters he wrote above all the building entrances, the lotus pond he put in that is now home to dozens of frogs, the bamboo garden that he tended and is still growing wild today. There is also a small museum now in one of the buildings where you can view some of his writings, carvings, and even the broom he used to sweep the floors and pot he used to spit in.

The who academy is open to the walking public, with the doors of the old store houses, dormitories and main lecture hall open (provided you please take off your shoes before you enter). The only buildings left locked and sealed are the building where they printed their books (below), and the library which seem the most untouched by restoration. Their purposes have long been served; empty vessels for ancient Confucian air.

Aside from the museum and a guard post on the grounds, the academy is left alone by modern devices. Although, behind every building you will spy a fire extinguisher. A decent precaution, considering the rate of Arson against sacred relics in this country.


  1. Great post! I think I must have missed some of the more subtle details you uncovered while I was learning to fly.

    "Their purposes have long been served; empty vessels for ancient Confucian air."

    Sounds like a line out of Dickens or Crane. You sure you don't want to ditch this teaching thing and just start that writing career?

    Happy Birthday!!!!!

  2. Birthday girl,
    I love picture #8 - may I have a copy?
    <3 Mom

  3. What a great writer! I love reading your postings. Happy Birthday