|Ambassador of Tourism & Sports Mrs. Dho
Young-shim (Chairperson of Visit Korea Year),
who organized this ceremony,
introducing it to the VIP audience.
|Seoul's Imperial Temple of Heaven
and the Revival of it's Ceremony in June 2002
Few people even know that Korea has it's own "Temple of Heaven", but it does -- semi-hidden on the grounds of a
5-star hotel in the center of downtown Seoul. It has few visitors apart from the hotel guests (not being on any official
tourist maps, and appearing in only a few guidebooks); but with the revival of the Imperial Ceremony to Heaven,
it may now become better known.
The Japanese imperialists took over Korea in a step-by-step fashion over a 15-year stretch, from 1895 to 1910.
Back in 1897, just a hundred and five years ago, King Gojong took what turned out to be a disastrous defensive step
(suggested/encouraged by some of his courtiers), declaring Korea independent from its longtime feudal semi-subordinate
relationship with China. Gojong was enthroned as an "Emperor" instead of a mere "King", putting him (in theory at
least), on an equal status with the Chinese and Japanese Emperors. The name of Korea was changed from the Joseon
Dynasty Kingdom to Daehan-jeguk, or the "Great Korean Empire".
The royal court hoped that this "independence" would inspire the Western powers to protect Korea from Japanese
imperialism, but that tactic failed; the move only became a first major step towards Japan's absorption of Korea. So
long as Korea was a subject of the Chinese Emperor, the Japanese Emperor couldn't "legally" take it over under the
classical East-Asian world-order; but this "independence" became an intermediate stage on the dark road to colonial status.
Leaving aside international imperial politics, this brings us to this Shrine and its Ceremony. You see, there is a significant
difference in religious rank between king and emperor -- both pray for proper weather and good harvests, but a king only
worships the Earth and the Grain Spirits (as was done for 500 years at the Sajik Shrine to the northwest of downtown
Seoul). An emperor is authorized to conduct worship of Heaven itself, as he was regarded as Heaven's progeny.
Therefore this Wongu-dan or "Temple of Heaven" or "Heavenly Altar" was constructed here, so that
Emperor Kojong could act as "the son of Heaven", performing the Spring and Autumn ceremonies praying
for good harvests for all of Korea. The actual 3-tier stone altar for animal sacrifices was located where the
Ninth Gate Restaurant and hotel lobby now are. The present extant building, faithfully reconstructed after
the Korean War, is called the Hwang-gung-gu [Yellow Palace Shrine]. It was the site of Emperor Kojong's
prayers to Heaven itself, which was regarded as his ultimate royal ancestor.
It is loosely modeled after the very famous "Temple of Heaven" in Beijing (one of the world's most beautiful
buildings), although that one is round and this one is eight-sided and smaller. The entire shrine-complex was
designed to symbolize the various natural elements of the Universe, such as mountains, rivers, the sun and
moon, and so on. The site right between Bugak-san [North Peak Mountain] and Nam-san [South
Mountain] was chosen by the royal geomancers as highly auspicious by the ancient principles of Korean
Geomancy [pung-su jiri]. They determined that this small hilltop was shaped like a ceremonial table piled
high with offertory foods for exactly this kind of ritual, and was thus a place of Good Fortune.
The Japanese authorities tore down the entire Temple of Heaven in 1913, after their conquest was
completed. The Chosun Bando Hotel, which was Korea's first modern-style public accommodations,
was built over its ruins, slightly to the east of where the Westin Chosun now stands. Since this site is
still an auspicious one according to geomancy, any guests who eat, drink and sleep there will receive
the blessings of Heaven. In theory. (continued...)
|the original complex, 1900 or so