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Sunday, 24 November 2013

Confucian Confusions in Korea, Part X: Byeongsan Seowon, Andong, Northern Gyeongsang


The Byeongsan Seowon (BSSW; Hanja: 屛山書院) is a seowon located at 35-2 Byeongsan-ri, Pungcheon-myeon in the city of Andong, Northern Gyeongsang Province, South Korea. Seowon is a type of local academy during the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910). It is one of beautiful traditional buildings in Korea.  The name of Byeongsan Seowon was from the fact a mountain across Nakdong/Rakdong River from Seowon looks like Byeongpung (a traditional partition).

BSSW is included in 5 Seowon in Joseon Dynasty, with Dodong Seowon (Dalseong County, Daegu Metropole), Dosan Seowon (Andong, Northern Gyeongsang), Sosu Seowon (Yeongju, Northern Gyeongsang), and Oksan Seowon (Gyeongju, Northern Gyeongsang). In accordance with the principle of “a school at front, a tomb at back”, the front area of Seowon was built for a school and the back area where was the highest location was used for a shrine.

It was first established as Jondeoksa (尊德祠) by local Confucian scholars especially Jeong Gyeong-se (鄭經世) in 1613, the fifth year of King Gwanghae's reign, to commemorate the scholarly achievement and virtue of the notable Confucian scholar and politician Seo-ae Ryu Seong-ryong (Great-grandfather of Korean Singer/actor, Ryu Si-won). The predecessor of the seowon was Pungak Seodang (淵岳書堂) which was an educational institution located in Pungsan to teach the Poongsan Ryu clan during the Goryeo period. Ryu Seong-ryong moved the seodang to the current place in 1572. It inherited the traditions of early Seowon, such as Sosu Seowon and Dosan Seowon very well and showed the soundness of Confucian studies before the studies were gone for theories and formalities as the model Seowon.

The mortuary tablet of Sir Seo-ae Ryu Seong-ryong is enshrined at this school. Around the time of 1863, Confucian schools enjoyed many freedoms under the Joseon rule, students and scholars of the school were exempt from taxation and other expenses. Byeongsan Seowon was one of 47 places in all of Korea and 2 in Andong not destroyed during the rule of Heungseon Daewongun [Politician of Joseon Imperial family, Born: 1820 - Died: 1898] in 1868. 

The Nakdong/Rakdong River is situated just in front of the Confucian Academy. Cross the river and the Mount Byeongsan can be found. By forming a folding screen like shape around the academy, the mountains both protect and add a serene beauty to the area.

Particularly, understanding of the location and relationships among the buildings shows the flexibility of ancestors. Traditional geomantic principles and Confucian ideologies which endeavors for the Utopia of respects were well-compromised.