Stories of Korea’s nine seowon

Introduction to 9 seowon, UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Korea’s first seowon Sosuseowon Yeongju (Historic Site No. 55)

“Teaching begins with the elevation of the virtuous person. We must build shrines in the memory of meritorious persons and seowon in order to perpetuate their teachings.
Truly, education is an even more urgent priority than preventing disasters and saving people from hunger.”

All sound files (아래 목록을 클릭하시면, 해당 부분의 sound files을 들으실 수 있습니다.)

  • 개요(0:00)
  • 제향(4:25)
  • 강학(6:34)
  • 교류 및 유식(7:32)
  • 문화재 & 기념물(8:15)

Important functions of seowon

  • Outline
  • Veneration
  • Learning
  • Interaction
  • Other aspects

Outline 음성 파일 (0:00)

“Teaching begins with the elevation of the virtuous person. We must build shrines in the memory of meritorious persons and seowon in order to perpetuate their teachings. Truly, education is an even more urgent priority than preventing disasters and saving people from hunger.”
This was stated by Ju Se-bung, the individual who founded Baegundongseowon to commemorate the accomplishments of great scholars and teach Neo-Confucianism to future generations of scholars.

Scenery of Sosuseowon

Sosuseowon, which is located in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do, is Korea’s first seowon. Its design and construction were spearheaded by Ju Se-bung (1495-1554), the magistrate of Punggi-eup, in 1543 to preserve the memory of An Hyang, a scholar from Sunheung-myeon who brought Neo-Confucianism to Korean soil in late the Goryeo dynasty. After a shrine was built to house the spiritual tablets of An Hyang (1243-1306), Baegundongseowon was constructed to the east of the shrine to teach Confucianism. Later, Baegundongseowon became Korea’s first royally sponsored seowon (after Yi Hwang received a name board in 1550 engraved with “Sosuseowon” by King Myeongjong). It received supplies of books (such as Four Books and Five Classics and other Confucian classics) and slaves—a sign that its social function was recognized by the state. The word “sosu” means “to revive and advance the broken pieces of Confucianism.” Sosuseowon commemorates four individuals: An Hyang, who brought Neo-Confucianism to Korea; his descendants, (prominent scholars) An Chuk and An Bo; and Ju Se-bung.

Right next to Sosuseowon is a large forest of old pine trees that were planted by the literati (and nicknamed “scholar trees”) in the hope that the trees would be influenced by the powerful aura of the seowon. To the east flows the clear waters of Jukgye Stream, which makes Sosuseowon surrounded by a beautiful natural environment on all sides. As we can see from the two stone flagpole supports that stand in front of the seowon, the land occupied by the seowon was originally the site of a Buddhist temple, Suksusa Temple.
  • Munseonggong Shrine

  • Myeongnyundang

  • Gyeongryeomjeong

To the east of the seowon’s main gate, Jidomun, is Gyeongryeomjeong, a pavilion for rest and relaxation. The first building that is visible upon entering the seowon is the main lecture hall, Myeongnyundang, which faces east. Sosuseowon is made up of three spaces: for veneration, teaching, and rest. The eastern part is devoted to learning and teaching, while the western part is devoted to veneration. This is quite different from the prototypical layout in which the learning and veneration spaces are at the front and rear sections of the seowon. The layout of Sosuseowon can be explained as adhering to the traditional Korean view that the “western side is best.”

Next to Dongjae and Seojae (which are also called Jirakjae and Hakgujae, respectively), which are the student dormitory buildings located above Myeongnyundang to the right that form an upside-down “L”-shape, are Ilsinjae and Jikbangjae. Munseonggongmyo is located to the northwest of Myeongnyundang, and is surrounded by a low, well-maintained wall and faces south.
  • Sosuseowon signboard

  • Record of Jukgye

Record of Jukgye, which was written by Ju Se-bung, includes a list of principles that must be followed by all inhabitants of Sosuseowon, including: conducting rituals with devotion, having respect for the teachings of meritorious persons, making sure the shrine is well-kept, using materials and money frugally, and making sure that books are in good condition. This set of rules later influenced many subsequently founded seowon.

In 1871, the eighth year of King Gojong, the royal decree to close down the seowon led to many being destroyed. Today, however, we still have many seowon, each of which has a special history and characteristics. In today’s fast-changing sociocultural environment, people are beginning to think about how the seowon can adapt to modern society and play a role in our future. We hope thatSosuseowon, as Korea’s first seowon, Sosuseowon will play a leading role in this process.

Veneration at Sosuseowon 음성 파일 (4:25)

Munseonggongmyo of Sosuseowon is a shrine that was built in memory of An Hyang, An Chuk, An Bo, and Ju Se-bung. Of note, the character for “grave” (廟) is used instead of the (usual) character for “shrine” (祠) to elevate the shrine’s status.
Sosuseowon is Korea’s first seowon and has the oldest surviving holgi, or a document on which the procedure for rituals was written. The holgi includes content that is not found at other seowon: namely, the singing of Dodonggok, a song praising An Hyang’s bringing of Neo-Confucianism to Korea, each time the officiants, called choheongwan, aheongwan, and jongheongwan, raised their liquor cup. Dodonggok was composed by Ju Se-bong himself and is about the basic tenets of Confucianism and how to practice them, the Taoist ideals of Confucius and Zhu Zi, and An Hyang’s bringing of Taoism to Korea.
  • Munseonggong Shrine

  • Hyangsa (prayer recitation)

Venerated individuals

  • An Hyang

  • Ju Se-bung

The Neo-Confucianism that was imported by An Hyang from China during the Goryeo dynasty eventually took root as the founding philosophy of a new dynasty: Joseon. An Chuk (1287-1348) and An Bo (1302-1357) were descendants of An Hyang. An Chuk was a member of the literati class who served as a central government bureaucrat in Punggi-eup, a district of Yeongju, and was the writer of Gwangdong Byeolgok (Song of Gwandong) and Juggye Byeolgok (Song of Jukgye). He also wrote “Gwandong Waju,” a poem that calls for faithfulness to one’s country and love of one’s people. An Bo was a bureaucrat of late Goryeo who is famous for his filial piety. When An Bo expressed his desire to resign in order to take care of his mother, the central government made arrangements with An’s home city so that his mother would be cared for while he served as a bureaucrat in the capital city. Ju Se-bung, who founded Sosuseowon (Korea’s first seowon), was highly regarded for both his filial piety and integrity as a government official. The tradition of performing venerations for not Confucius but local individuals of merit began at Sosuseowon.

Learning at Sosuseowon 음성 파일 (6:34)

  • Myeongnyundang

Except for times of national chaos, such as the Imjin Invasions and Manchu Invasions, Sosuseowon never stopped teaching and educating. Surviving lists of dormitory students show that people came from not only various parts of southeastern Korea but also regions known today as Seoul, Chungcheongnam-do, Chungcheongbuk-do, Jeollanam-do, Jeollabuk-do, Gangwon-do, and Gyeonggi-do. About 30 students were accepted each year. By 1888, the year that the last student was accepted, Sosuseowon had produced approximately 4,000 literati—a testament to its commitment to the proper training of people and advancement of Neo-Confucianism. Yi Hwang, who believed that all people have the right to learn regardless of their social class, frequently reminded his students to stay focused on their studies and not think of other things, not fool themselves, always be respectful of others, and practice restraint even when no one is watching.

Interaction at Sosuseowon 음성 파일 (7:32)

Chwihandae is a pavilion near Sosuseowon that was named after the beauty of Yeonhwasan Mountain and the clear waters of Jukgye Stream, which was supposed to “intoxicate” the viewer into writing poems and enjoying the natural surroundings. There is also Gyeongryeomjeong, a pavilion near Jukgye Stream where people gathered to compose poetry and have parties because of the richness of the sunlight and wind there. When looking across the stream from Gyeongryeomjeong, visitors can see what is known as “Baegundong’s Gyeong rock,” which is engraved with a large red Chinese character (pronounced “gyeong” in Korean) for respect (敬). It is the first character of Confucianism’s basic tenet(敬天愛人; “Gyeongcheonaein” in Korean, a phrase that means having respect for heaven and love others) and part of the founding philosophy of Sosuseowon along with “理” (“li” in Korean; principle of heaven).
  • Gyeongryeomjeong

  • Rock engraved with Chinese character “敬 (gyeong)”

  • Chwihandae

Other aspects (cultural heritage items and memorial objects)음성 파일 (8:15)

  • Myeongnyundang (lecture hall of Sosuseowon, Treasure No. 1403)

  • Munseonggong Shrine (Treasure No. 1402)

Sosuseowon is located in Yeongju, a city in Gyeongsangbuk-do, and is designated as a national heritage in Korea (Historic Site 55). It is home to Korea’s oldest portrait painting (Portrait of An Hyang, National Treasure 111) as well as several other treasure-grade heritage items, including a painting of Confucius and his disciples at Sosuseowon and a portrait of Ju Se-bung. Munseonggong Shrine and Myeongnyundang are also treasures. Two gingko trees (also called “scholar trees”) that stand at the seowon’s entrance are currently protected and managed by the Korean government.