Stories of Korea’s nine seowon

Introduction to 9 seowon, UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Keeper of information
on the seowon’s economic basisPiramseowon Jangseong (Historic Site No. 242)

Kim In-hu (1510-1560), a renowned Neo-Confucian scholar of the 16th century, was said to have read Great Learning (one of the “Four Books” of Confucianism) over 1,000 times.
He always reminded his students that without Great Learning, there was no way to arrive at the truth (道).

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Important functions of seowon

  • Outline
  • Veneration
  • Learning
  • Interaction
  • Other aspects


Kim In-hu (1510-1560), a renowned Neo-Confucian scholar of the 16th century, was said to have read Great Learning (one of the “Four Books” of Confucianism) over 1,000 times.
He always reminded his students that without Great Learning, there was no way to arrive at the truth (道). Kim’s point was that studying other subjects without reading this book was like building a house without first laying a foundation.

Scenery of Piramseowon

Piramseowon, the center of academic learning in Jangseong, Jeollanam-do (which was regarded as the center of the “academic web” in southwestern Korea), was established in 1590 by local Neo-Confucian scholars to commemorate the academic learning of Kim In-hu.

Piramseowon is located on a flat, wide lot with a large field in front of it. After passing the red spiked gate, hamaseok, and an old gingko tree, one arrives at the main gate: Hwakyeonnu. The gate’s name Hwakyeon (廓然), means “as clean and impartial as the heart of Kim In-hu.” After passing through Hwakyeonnu, which was also a resting area for students, one reaches the main learning area: Cheongjeoldang, which means “to enter government office with a spirit of integrity and moral cleanliness.”
Behind Cheongjeoldang are Jindeokjae and Sunguijae, which face each other. At the upper left of Cheongjeoldang is Gyeongjanggak, whose name means “to respectfully preserve the relics of kings and one’s ancestors.” The name board of Gyeongjanggak was written by King Jeongjo, and the building is characterized by the three dragon heads on each of the roof’s four raised corners. The reason the dragons were placed on the roof is because the building holds royal relics (dragon ornaments are found on the roofs of palace buildings as a symbol of the king). At the age of 34, Kim In-hu served as the teacher of the crown prince, who would later become King Injong. The crown prince was impressed with the learning and integrity of Kim In-hu and is said to have created for his teacher a painting of bamboo trees. This painting was kept at Gyeongjanggak for many years, after which it was donated by the descendants of Kim In-hu to the Gwangju National Museum.
  • Udongsa

  • Cheongjeoldang

  • Hwakyeonnu

After passing through a gate on the right, one arrives at the shrine: Udongsa. The shrine, whose name means “Kim In-hu, a teacher who was born with the help of heaven in the East,” houses the ancestral tablets of two individuals: Kim In-hu in the center and Yang Ja-jing (who was Kim’s son-in-law) on the right.
At Piramseowon, the main learning area and Dongjae and Seojae all face the shrine, as if showing respect. It is considered the prototypical flat layout of a seowon that values respect for great thinkers. To the east of Udongsa’s clay wall is Jangpangak, which preserves the woodblocks that were used to print students’ books. The learning area, shrine, and miscellaneous facilities are, in a sense, strictly separated by walls. But they can also be easily accessed through the doors of varying sizes in the walls.
  • Jangpangak

  • Gyeongjanggak

Piramseowon, which was a key station of uibyeong (righteous soldier) activity by the Jeolla-do sarim resistance to Japanese forces, was burned to the ground during the Hideyoshi Invasion and rebuilt in 1624 in Jeungsan-dong, Hwangryong-myeon. In 1659, students wrote a petition asking for the seowon to be supported by the king. In reply, King Hyojong sent a name board on which he had written the name “Piramseowon.” The word “piram” (筆巖), which literally means “brush rock,” is said to have been given because the king’s hometown had a rock that was shaped like a brush. Piramseowon was moved to its current location in 1672.
Today, Jangseong-gun is working to globalize Piramseowon’s literati culture through programs such as a seowon stay and traditional culture experiences and creating an exhibition space for seowon records.

Veneration at Piramseowon

On the day before a ritual, officiants would gather together at the main learning area for a ganghoe, a meeting in which everyone would take turns reading aloud favorite sentences from books. On the day of the ritual, each participant would read aloud the poem he’d written based on the given topic. This event is unique to Piramseowon and aimed to “awaken” the current generation to the teachings of past intellectuals. Also, unlike other seowon, at which the chukmun was read aloud only for the individual enshrined in the center (usually the most prominent or important individual), at Piramseowon, the chukmun was read for all three people. After the ritual, the officiants would gather at the main learning area and take turns reading aloud from Baekrokdonghakgyu.
  • Udongsa

  • Jeonsacheong

  • Naesammun

Venerated individuals

Kim In-hu was a Neo-Confucian scholar who was widely known for his integrity and upright character. Kim had been regarded as a genius since his childhood. Described as “a person like clean water and a jar of ice in fall” at age 18, Kim took the Samasi exam (entry-level exam required to qualify for the civil service examination) at age 22 and took the civil service examination at the age of 31. This was when King Injong had just been named as the 12th king of Joseon. King Injong tried to stabilize various aspects of life by never losing sight of the common people, but died suddenly after just eight months on the throne. Kim then returned to his hometown, where he dedicated himself to the study of Neo-Confucianism. Kim studied not only Neo-Confucianism but several other subjects as well, including astronomy and medicine, and was an associate of Yi Hwang at Seonggyunkwan. He was also a prolific poet, leaving behind over 1,600 poems, including Forty-eight views of Sosoewon. Kim was a scholar who contributed significantly to creating the foundation for Neo-Confucianism in southwestern Korea, and is one of the 18 Neo-Confucian scholars who are enshrined at Seonggyungwan’s Munmyo.
Yang Ja-jing (1523-1594) studied and strived to, from a young age, put into practice the content of the Chinese educational text Lesser Learning. Yang was so knowledgeable that he fully comprehended the Confucian classics and Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian at age 15. He also studied under Yi Hwang and Yi Yi and served as the governor of Geochang and Seokseong during the reign of King Seonjo. Yang was Kim In-hu’s son-in-law and student.

Learning at Piramseowon

Piramseowon was frequently visited by intellectuals from central and local governments who enjoyed discussing academic issues, as evidenced by the large number of name boards and writings that can still be seen at the seowon today. These records also show that Piramseowon’s academic influence was felt not only in the Jangseong area but throughout the country.
On the first day and full moon of each month, a ganghoe was held at Cheongjeoldang. The most outstanding participant was given paper as a prize.
  • Cheongjeoldang

  • Gyeongjanggak

  • Jangpangak

Interaction at Piramseowon

Piramseowon was built on a flat plot of land. Therefore, one can only see the wide field in front of the seowon from the highest building: Hwakyeonnu. The pavilion was visited by students, exhausted by constant reading in the closed-off spaces of the learning area, to take a break and refresh both their bodies and minds. The presence of a rest area was probably a great comfort to the students, for whom the heavy academic workload was sometimes a very onerous burden.


Other aspects (cultural heritage items and memorial objects)

Piramseowon has many documents that list the names of the seowon’s staff, students, slaves, and directors as well as information on the seowon’s assets. These documents, which make up 15 books, are now designated as Treasure No. 587 (Documents of Pilamseowon Confucian Academy). The list of slave names (called a “nobibo”) is especially important because it is the only one of its kind. The list includes information on the slave’s birthplace and family relations.
Jangpangak houses about 700 woodblocks, including 649 for the Complete Writings of Haseo, 18 for Choseo 1,000 Characters, 18 for Haejamuigugok, and 13 for Baekryeonchohae.
The shrine, Udongsa, is decorated with wall paintings depicting the philosophies of the enshrined individuals, which help us understand the individuals’ characters and value systems.
  • Documents of Piramseowon (Treasure No. 587; Cultural Heritage Administration)

  • Woodblocks for Collection of Writings by Haseo (Jeollabuk-do Tangible Treasure No. 215; Cultural Heritage Administration)

  • Set of woodblocks for calligraphy by Haseo(Jeollabuk-do Tangible Treasure No. 216; Cultural Heritage Administration)