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Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Six Jiphyeonjeon Buddies died during Sayuksin Incident.

Definitely, Meia... except for one of them: Ryu Seong-won.
By now you’ve probably noticed that this show is often equal parts travel and history. I guess that’s inevitable when you’re profiling a city as ancient as Seoul. Case in point is Sayuksin Park a.k.a. Six Martyred Ministers Park (Hanja: 死六臣公園) at Noryangjin-dong, Seoul Dongjak-gu, a patch of green that’s located about 400 meters east of the Noryangjin Wholesale Fisheries Market on the southern bank of the Han River.

Walking along the busy Noryangjin Avenue, the park is hard to miss because of the beautiful stone and tile wall that’s covered in traditional geometric patterns. It’s obvious that the park represents something important. In fact, it’s the burial site for six government ministers who were martyred in the mid-15th century.

Known as the “Sayuksin Incident,” the name refers to a particularly bloody power struggle during the Joseon Dynasty’s early years. When an ailing King Munjong died after just two years in office, his 12-year-old son became King Danjong. Sensing the boy-king’s weakness, court officials and two of his uncles all jostled for control of the kingdom. Ultimately, one of them – Grand Prince Suyang – staged a coup, and in 1455 pronounced himself Sejo, Joseon’s seventh king.

Sejo’s usurpation didn’t go unchallenged. Young Danjong was seen as the rightful king by many members of the Hall of Worthies, an influential institute set-up by his grandfather, King Sejong the Great. The ministers sought to reclaim the throne for Danjong. But one of them foiled the plot by revealing it to his father, who in turn told King Sejo. Once in custody, torture, pledges of clemency and even poetry were employed to get the ministers to repent and acknowledge Sejo’s legitimacy. However, they all refused, and were subsequently executed, along with scores of their family members.

Although Sejo went on to complete what most regard as a successful reign, it was the relentless loyalty of the six martyred ministers that has inspired Koreans for centuries. In 1681, King Sukjong ordered a Confucian school to be built near the burial site. King Jeongjo had a stele erected in their memory in 1782, and in 1955, the newly established Republic of Korea built a monument in the park in their honor.

Today, the park’s focal point is the Uijeolsa Memorial Hall. Upon entering through the Bulimun Gate, you’ll come upon a wide paved walkway lined with trimmed boxwood. The hall isn’t large – just six pillars support its front beam, but it’s a solemn and beautiful monument to the loyal ministers.

Behind the shrine is a small grove of Korean pine, which partly conceal two sets of tombs. In traditional fashion they’re tall, grass-covered mounds with a stone stele and slab for offerings. Curiously, there are a total of seven tumuli for the six martyrs. As it turns out, an additional tomb was constructed in 1977 after some scholars insisted that one of the ministers had been misidentified.

In any case, last year, a complex was constructed inside the park. The two-story, 813-square-meter building also includes a cinema room and exhibition hall – all designed to tell the ministers’ story. Best of all, admission is free. The park grounds also include a traditional 8-sided pavilion, an outdoor stage and there’s a sizeable wildflower garden on the park’s far western end.

Sayuksin Park isn’t just any park. Then again, with six hundred years of history as Korea’s capital, it can feel as if every square meter of Seoul could tell a fascinating story.

What is Sayuksin?
The six martyred ministers or Sayuksin were six ministers of the Joseon Dynasty who were executed by King Sejo in 1456 for plotting to assassinate him and restore the former king Danjong to the throne.

The Six were Seong Sam-mun, Park Paeng-nyeon, Ha Wiji, Yi Gae, Yoo Eung-boo and Ryu Seong-won. Most were members of the Hall of Worthies, a royal research institute, who had been appointed by King Sejong the Great. Both King Sejong and King Munjong had charged them with looking after King Danjong (grandson and son respectively), and they reacted with outrage to Sejo's usurpation of the throne in 1455. Together with Kim Jil, they plotted a coup to coincide with the visit of a Ming Dynasty envoy. When the banquet and subsequently the assassination plot were postponed, Kim Jil lost his heart and betrayed the plot to his father-in-law, who reported to Sejo. The Six except Ryu Seong-won, who committed suicide with his wife, were seized and tortured.

Sejo felt deeply betrayed for he had valued the six scholar-officials very highly and promoted them to high positions in favor of his own supporters who helped him take the throne. He tried to force them to repent their deeds and acknowledge his legitimacy with combination of torture, offers of pardon, and even poetry. He sent Kim Jil to their cells to recite a poem that King Taejong of Joseon had used to test great Goryeo scholar Jeong Mongju's loyalty to Goryeo dynasty. Seong Sam-mun, Park Paeng-nyeon, and Yi Gae all answered with poems that reaffirmed their loyalty to Danjong. (These famous death poems cemented their reputation in Korean history.)

When Park continued to refuse to address Sejo with royal title, Sejo argued that it was meaningless to deny his legitimacy now since Park had already called himself a "royal servant" and received royal grains from him. Park, however, denied this and it was indeed discovered that Park had purposefully misspelled words "royal servant" (He wrote word meaning "huge"(巨) instead of "royal servant", 臣) in all of his reports and never used royal grains but instead put them unused in a storage. Park died from torture in prison, and the rest were executed.

Although the Six were the most famous, more than 70 were put to death for their suspected involvement in the plot or sympathy with Danjong. As was common with treason cases, the penalties were not limited to the individual but extended to the entire family. The men of the family were put to death and the women were made slaves.

There were also many officials who were not involved in the plot but had retreated to rural provinces in protest to Sejo's usurpation. Six most famous men - Kim Si-seup, Seong Dam-soo, Won Ho, Yi Maeng-jeon, Jo Ryeo and Nam Hyo-on were called "Six living ministers" (생육신).

After Sarim faction came to dominate Joseon politics, national opinion came to revere the Six martyred ministers as model subjects, and numerous shrines and seowon were erected in their memory. This attitude continued in the 20th century, with philosopher Ham Seok-heon praising their conduct and saying that "The shame of the five centuries of Yi Korea were more than offset by this event." The story of the Six has been also often dramatized in literature and TV series, the latest being a historical drama produced in North Korea. This show, which was the first North Korean drama to be aired in the South, was broadcast in South Korea in August 2006.