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Friday, 10 January 2014

Inside Changdeokgung, Part III: Taegeukjeong Pavilion - A Briefing about Taegeuk

Taegeukjeong is one of the five pavilions in the Ongnyucheon area of the rear garden at Changdeokgung (창덕궁 후원). The pavilions allow visitors to enjoy the stream and this area from any angle. Ongnyucheon has a small stream where the king and his entourage sometimes held parties and composed poetry while sending wine cups afloat on the water.

Taegeukjeong and Juhamnu (주합루) each at the beginning and the end of the garden mean the beginning and the completion point of space, respectively, and may be divided into Juhamnu for learning, Yeon-gyeongdang Hall for banquet, and Ongnyucheon for resting according to their purposes.

The 'digeut/ㄷ'-shaped waterway dug into the rock between Cheonguijeong and Taegeukjeong was designed to change the direction of the water in front of Soyojeong. It was created as a waterway down which to float liquor glasses to the king and his vassals, who would sit around the waterway and have drinks. This kind of drinking event was known as 'goksuyeon/곡수연' (banquet of poems and water). The name 'Ongnyucheon' was inscribed on the rock by King Injo, the 16th king of Joseon. King Sukjong, the 19th king of Joseon, added the following inscription:
"Like a bird, the water flies for 300 cheok (척/ancient unit of measurement)
It even flows to the far-off nether regions 
while watching, a white rainbow arises 
and claps of thunder sound throughout the entire valley."

What is Taegeuk?
Taegeuk (also rendered as Taeguk) is the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese word taiji which is translated as "great polarity" and commonly associated with certain philosophical values. It is also the symbol that makes up the center of the South Korean Coat of Arms inside the Sharon Rose, Mugunghwa (무궁화) and South Korean Flag from the source for its name, Taegeukgi.

The taegeuk design dates back to the 7th century in Korea but recent excavations go back even further. There is a stone carved with the taegeuk design in the compound of Gameunsa Temple, built in 628 during the reign of King Jinpyeong of Silla Dynasty. Traces of taegeuk designs have been found in the remains of the ancient cultures of Korea; in a Goguryeo tomb and in Silla remains. Recently however, a 1,400-year-old artifact with the taegeuk pattern has been found in Bogam-ri Baekje tombs at Naju, Southern Jeolla Province, making it the oldest taegeuk symbol found in Korea, which predates by 682 years what had been the oldest artifact that held the taegeuk pattern, found at the Gameunsa Temple.

The taegeuk design was also used to drive off evil spirits. In the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties, the design was later used to represent Korean taoism and to express the hope for harmony of eum and yang to enable the people to live happy lives with good government. The blue and red swirling semicircles of the Taegeuk pattern have existed since ancient times.

The Taegeuk symbol is most prominently displayed on South Korea's national flag, called the Taegeukgi (along with four of the eight trigrams used in divination). Because of the Taegeuk's association with the national flag, it is often used as a patriotic symbol, as are the colors red, blue, and black. The “geon” trigram represents the heaven, spring, east, and justice. The “gon” trigram symbolizes the earth, summer, west, and vitality, the “gam” trigram the moon, winter, north, and wisdom, and the “ri” trigram the sun, autumn, south, and fruition. The four trigrams supposedly move in an endless cycle from “geon” to “ri” to “gon” to “gam” and back to “geon” in their pursuit of perfection. The white background symbolizes the homogeneity, integrity and peace-loving nature of the Korean people. Traditionally, Koreans often wore white clothing, earning the nickname “white-clothed people” and therefore the color white epitomizes the Korean people.