Revaluing South Korea’s Heritage

Ann Hills on how Korea’s rich history is displayed.

Ch'anggyonggung Palace in the centre of Seoul, South Korea, is pristine after a three year restoration programme focusing on its origins in the reign of King Sejong 1418-50. Under the eves of dipped and gabled roofs visitors gaze on intricate, traditional patterns painted in red, green and gold: a rainbow of colours. Garden ponds are linked to fountains; stone bridges have arches and date-less carvings.

Restoration began by removing all traces of Japanese influence; even the cherry trees were replaced. The Palace, destroyed in the Japanese invasion in 1592, suffered yet again (after a series of disasters) under twentieth-century Japanese occupation when its status was reduced with a zoo and botanical garden in the grounds. The Japanese finally left in 1945, though they are still much in evidence as tourists because South Korea is cheaper than Japan. But rivalry is ever-present and the bad old days are recalled by the older generation who reiterate accounts of oppression, such as the banning of their own language and the han’gul alphabet.

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